A COUNSELLING service has been launched as a "stepping stone" for children accessing under-pressure mental health services in the North-East.

North Star Counselling CIC is the first business to be launched as part of a programme encouraging start-ups in Sunderland.

Counsellor Nicola Pallas, who set up the business in Kayll Road with fellow directors Joanne Pallas and Kirsty Miller, said: "Mental health services in our area are under incredible pressure – especially those designed for children. We often hear horror stories of children being turned away when they are at the point of crisis and having to wait up to two years for appointments.

“Our motivation for setting up this new business is to run group sessions to help plug a gap in what is available to support children in real need.

"We can act as a stepping stone until children can access more intensive support from the NHS or from other private services like us.”

The project will work in the Pallion, St Anne’s, Barnes, Silksworth, St. Chad’s and Sandhill areas and will deliver workshops and one-to-one meetings.

By intervening in early life, the aim is to help children understand how they feel, normalise the topic of mental health and reduce the risk of crisis.

The not-for-profit enterprise, extends the services Ms Pallas is able to provide through the existing counselling business she has run for two years.

It was launched through the Prospecting for Enterprise Initiative, which began last September and helps business owners access expert support of advisers from the North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC).

She added: “I approached the BIC for help setting up a new venture that could raise money to do good in the community and found out we were eligible for this brilliant initiative.

“The advice of Kevin Marquis and Ernest Dodds has been spot on. They are real experts in social enterprise so walked us through the differences in being set up this way and showed us how to apply for funding.

"Proof of their good advice came almost immediately, when our bid for a grant of £6,296 was approved by the Hays Foundation, meaning we can guarantee at least one monthly workshop for a whole year.”

Kevin Marquis, Social Enterprise Manager at the BIC, said: “The beauty of this initiative is the way it is delivered in the heart of the community – making expert support convenient and easy to access.

"We’ve had a really good uptake and our team is currently working with 35 potential new businesses who we are providing intensive one-to-one guidance and practical support."