Relate North East: Our Story - my perspective
Aug 8th 2011, 13:31 | P3t3r
A personal history of Relate North East by Peter Thompson
RELATE North East
Our story – my perspective Peter Thompson: Current Chairman
I am told that all good organisations have a back story and Relate NE is of course is no exception.
We were formed in 2001 when five separate Relate offices in the North East were combined to create a super efficient organisation (!) covering a vast area south of the Tyne.
Unfortunately the road from then on was rocky and it was a roller coaster of good times and bad times. In hindsight efficient local management is the key to success. I do not want to dwell on the past, but suffice it to say if the management is either inefficient or not in touch with the real counselling world then bad times are inevitable.
I joined RNE in September 2009. I had been observing it from the periphery for some years as my wife has been a counsellor since 1998. I was not sure what skills I had that could contribute to the success of RNE. My forté is doing practical things and at first there seemed no opportunity to use this ability, but I was soon proved wrong.
My first challenge was when the Durham office had to vacate their long term premises in the County Hospital. We had an old prefab in the hospital grounds which was a rabbit warren of tiny rooms each with its own toilet. It was the old VD clinic. We moved out of the 19th century into swish premises in Gilesgate. One facet of RNE that I soon discovered was the ability to accumulate junk. Amongst all the other stuff I disposed of were six fax machines. The height of bizarreness was when I found myself with an angle grinder cutting up the most enormous steel cabinet which I could not fit either on or in my Landrover. The move went rather smoothly, but never fear, disaster was round the corner!
We have an office in Darlington in a charming Georgian building. Unbeknownst to us someone stole the lead sheeting from the roof. This was just before Christmas 2009. The first we knew of it was in the New Year when the massive snowfall of that time began to melt. The result was tragic: everywhere was saturated. The low point for me was on a Saturday morning when a group of us was sitting in the office discussing our options. When I stood up my trousers were soaked. We decided to convert the disaster into an opportunity. It took at least eight trips to remove a collection of detritus which was similar to that from Durham.
What about the decoration? The once magnificent Georgian interior was a mess of previous decoration regimes merged with all the water which streamed down the walls. I asked the Darlington staff to come up with a colour scheme that they liked and then we engaged a local painter. We struck really lucky: the results were excellent – superb transformation. So we were on the road to a fresh start!
Fortunately at this time we were just emerging from the financial doldrums. There was a little money to spend, but not much, and we prioritised training existing and new counsellors. This left nothing for other modernisations. The sore thumb was the communication system: it was a mix of paper, fax and telephone. The electronic age had not arrived at RNE. An audit showed a sad mix of elderly standalone computers that were used as word processors and for storing data on a data base that no-one knew how to interpret. So the task was to remove all the rubbish and get one or more computers for each office which would be suitable for broadband when we could afford it. By a stroke of luck I found out that the local YMCA in Barnard Castle had just received a grant to upgrade all its computers so there was an opportunity in our lap. The result was that by the dint of severe spring cleaning we had four serviceable computers. Broadband was eventually installed and RNE was almost fully electronic.
The big step that had yet to be taken was the appointment of a centre manager. One of the casualties of the last big crisis was that the post of centre manager was left vacant. This had been an essential measure but it meant that the development of RNE was frozen in time. So we badly needed a centre manager - but could we afford it? The trustees drew in their collective breaths and went for it. We planned and plotted and advertised. It was very gratifying that we had a superb choice of candidates and we chose.
Carol has been in post since January 2011 and is making huge efforts to improve our financial stability. If effort were the only criterion then we would be stable forever.
But unfortunately life is not like that. In April this year, we received a body blow. We lost a major NHS contract (which we had had for 10 years) by the thinnest of margins. This contract produced 20% of our turnover and must be replaced at all costs. What we need is time. With great good fortune we found a fairy godmother who gave us 12 months. The Tudor Trust has generously agreed to fund Carol’s salary for a year so we can take benefit from all these initiatives that are underway.
So in the short term, the crisis is over, but in this difficult financial climate we must use all means in our individual and collective power to get back to financial stability.
So please watch this space!
Peter Thompson August 2011
Relate North East
England: North East
Relate North East provides a wide range of relationship counselling services to people of Darlington, Durham, Teesside, Sunderland and Scarborough.