A LEADING figure in the once-doomed charity Relate has hailed its "staggering turnaround" in the past year.

Last December, the North-East branch of the marriage guidance service was facing collapse in the face of huge debts.

It had earmarked its five regional offices, in Sunderland, Durham, Darlington, Middlesbrough and Scarborough, for closure, and issued redundancy notices to staff in its charity shops.

It was only saved by an eleventh-hour cash injection from an outside benefactor, on condition that they remain anonymous.

One of the major reasons for Relate's debt was the cost of amalgamating the North-East's separate offices, which was grossly underestimated.

It was also seriously understaffed due to several counsellors leaving.

But in the past few months, it has taken on new staff, embarked on an advertising campaign, and expanded into outreach centres.

Thanks to a radical recovery plan, its finances are now back on track.

Acting chairman Nat Smith said: "A year ago, our losses topped £100,000 for the year, and we were losing £10,000 a month. For the first half of this financial year, we have broken even. It's a staggering financial turnaround."

Mr Smith said another major difference was staff morale, which was at a low ebb a year ago.

"Everyone is full of plans as well as goodwill and optimism," he said.

"We are beginning to replace counsellors and we hope to get even more next year.

"We also plan to establish outposts in Northallerton, Bishop Aukland, Hartlepool and Peterlee, as some people find it difficult to travel."

To emphasise its recovery, Relate is organising a conference with Teesside University, entitled Relationships in the 21st Century, due to take place on April 12 and 13.

Mr Smith said: "We would not do all this unless we were optimistic for the future.

"Not only have we survived, we have done incredibly well financially and gained staff rather than lose them."

Anyone who can help by volunteering as a counsellor or trustee should ring (01325) 461500.

To book an appointment for counselling in relationships, ring 0800 980 5907