A Sunderland counselling service with a mission to improve the mental health of its local community has expanded to reach more people reeling from the impact of the pandemic.

After working with specialists from the North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC), Creative Minds – run by North Star Counselling CIC – has secured a total of £55,000 of grant funding targeted at helping the recovery of Covid-stricken communities.

The money – from sources including the National Lottery, Barbour Foundation, Hadrian Foundation, Postcode Lottery, Clothworkers’ Foundation and the Government – has allowed Creative Minds to grow its team to 11 counsellors. They are now delivering wide ranging, free support to children, adults and families struggling with issues including grief, anxiety, domestic abuse and suicide prevention.

Creative Minds was the first business to be born from the city’s Prospecting for Enterprise Initiative in 2019, a programme which aims to encourage start-ups in the west area of the city. The business was set up as a social enterprise by North Star Counselling Founder Nicola Pallas and fellow directors as a way to extend the services offered by their existing counselling business to those who otherwise could not afford to pay for private sessions.

Nicola said: “Our original motivation to set up Creative Minds as a social enterprise was to create a way to reach out to those who are in crisis and this has worked incredibly well when it came to responding to the pandemic.

“We’d not have been able to support our community in the same way if we’d not already put in the ground work with the BIC that allowed us to access funding for new services. They’ve been with us every step of the way from setting up our payroll to writing funding bids.”

Grants secured have allowed the counselling team to adapt the way it works to provide free online and telephone counselling sessions and workshops, as well as a range of programmes specifically focused on suicide prevention, grief and the mental health of young people.

Nicola said: “Covid is having a devastating impact of the mental health of people of all ages in our society. Isolation has heightened pre-existing struggles and has created new crisis points in children and adults alike.

“I feel incredibly proud of our team and what we are managing to do to bring some relief to those who are struggling. But it’s been a two-way process because our clients have helped us to get through these strange times too. We feel so connected to the community – there is so much community spirit out there.”

Creative Minds now aims to make more links with other partner organsations and charities to support their clients with mental health needs. Its core mission is to support families, children and adults who face lengthy waits for therapies – providing vital support in the meantime.

Kevin Marquis, Social Enterprise Manager at the BIC, said: “Creative Minds is a fantastic example of an ambitious social enterprise that is rising to the challenge of Covid-19 to help its community. It’s also a great example of how Prospecting for Enterprise is bringing about positive change to the people of Sunderland.”

The Prospecting for Enterprise Initiative delivered by the BIC, aims to reach as many people as possible who live in the Pallion, St Anne’s, Barnes, Silksworth, St. Chad’s and Sandhill areas and who have an idea to start up a business or want to explore self-employment. Advisers are also helping to strengthen voluntary organisations and support social entrepreneurs who want to do good in the neighbourhood.

Backed by Sunderland’s Community Led Local Development (CLLD) Programme, and the West Area Committee the programme will run until December 2021. The CLLD Programme is a five-year strategy aimed at delivering local jobs and economic growth, supported with funding from the 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme.

To find out more about Prospecting for Enterprise, or any other start-up services, call Kevin Marquis on 0191 516 6131 or email kevin.marquis@ne-bic.co.uk