Relating to the same old problems

SINCE first ditching its ageing 'Marriage Guidance' tag some years ago, Relate has transformed itself into an organisation that not only helps couples – but singletons and youngsters too.

By Debbie Watson

SINCE first ditching its ageing 'Marriage Guidance' tag some years ago, Relate has transformed itself into an organisation that not only helps couples – but singletons and youngsters too.

Here, Debbie Watson visits the busy Ipswich branch and discovers just what a valuable role our Suffolk business community could play in the charity's survival.

DAY after day, hour after hour, the door to the Tower Street office of Relate's Ipswich branch routinely swings open on another personal crisis.


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And, be it a couple or an individual who should cross that threshold in need, the dedicated team of part-time counsellors are there – ready and waiting – to discuss all manner of relationship problems.

Since mid way through the last century, the same principles of Relate have been actively applied throughout the UK.

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Originally under the guise of the National Marriage Guidance Council, the charity has helped millions of couples to tackle the emotional problems at the heart of their household.

And today, to the credit of that original vision, the same body has proved itself one of the most successful charitable 'chameleons' of recent times.

In 1988 It emerged as the more appropriately labelled 'Relate', and that, according to its committed staff members was a timely re-branding that has helped to shape into a more able and approachable 21st century service.

"The new image was exactly what the charity needed – without any doubt," insists branch manager, Dawn Henry. "A lot has changed in the make-up of day-to-day society and we absolutely had to reflect that within our organisation if we were going to keep on successfully serving the needs of people that came to see us."

Nowadays, Relate boasts the fact that it is indeed far more than the 'couple counselling' facility of old.

Once upon a time, it was, perhaps unfairly, dished the very general tag of being a 'tea and sympathy' organisation, which focused merely on cementing marriages back together.

However true that may ever have been in the bygone days of the NMGC, Relate's current shape is barely recognisable to the former one.

"First and foremost, we've had to take greater account of the broader types of people that want help," said Dawn. "It's not about middle class heterosexual married couples alone, and when we changed the name, we also had to change the perception of what we did.

"We're here for everyone 16 and over who has issues with a relationship of any kind, regardless of sexual orientation, ethnicity, living arrangements or marital status.

"We're also about something more than keeping marriages together. Very often, it's about helping a couple to be happy in achieving separate pathways for themselves."

The Relate reinvention has not stopped with the name. It has continued to take shape throughout recent months, and that's very apparent within the list of services offered by Ipswich's branch alone.

Psychosexual therapy has been in place for some time now – addressing what are some of the more common-place reasons for sudden relationship difficulties.

Jackie believes very convincingly in counselling people of all ages and all backgrounds.

Indeed, she stresses that youngsters have fewer boundaries with which to work these days, and that it would be valuable to have more referral services working with Suffolk schools …..if only they could afford to keep such modern ambitions alive.

As modern UK charity's go, the newly branded 'Relate' service is hardly the foremost target for our fundraising attempts.

Instead, despite its wealth of experience and expertise in helping the nation's network of relationships, this well-used organisation tends to rank as a rather lowly 'poor relation' when it comes to feeling the contents of our purses.

Thus, it isn't always easy to fund the projects which the counsellors would like to.

"Nowadays the demand for our services is far greater," added Jackie. "I see all the time that people in society are generally suffering more depression, more panic attacks, and more of the connected problems that could be related to something of a relationship-origin.

"Fortunately, people are more willing to admit to the problems and come and ask for help, so we could really be achieving so much – but we need money to be able to do that."

Indeed, this is one of the biggest hurdles for Relate.

Typically, it takes some £5,000 and two years to train a counsellor, and on top of that, the organisation needs continual funds to help it maintain an improving modern facility.

And that's exactly why Ipswich's Relate is on the look for businesses in the area who might just be able to help.

"I think people tend to forget about the fact that we're a charity and that we do require funds just like animal charities and childrens' charities," said Jackie. "Perhaps we're not quite such an appealing cause in that sense, but we do need help, and we have given a great deal of though to how we might be able to get this.

"It would be ideal if we were able to reach out to local businesses and perhaps ask them for help; perhaps encourage them to sponsor one of our dedicated counselling rooms for a year, or sponsor our counsellor training."

In fact, while the average UK company might find it all too easy to dismiss the charitable requirements of an organisation like Relate, research suggests that they would be foolish to do so.

Not so long ago, a report by the Lord Chancellor suggested that some £5 billion is lost every year in industry through problems which members of the UK workforce have.

"We tend to think it's really easy to shut ourselves off from a service like Relate unless we require the facility ourselves," said Dawn.

"With one in three couples getting divorced, and more and more young people suffering mental health problems, perhaps it is time that we all realised the likelihood of needing a charity like ours.

"We can only hope that the reality will encourage local bosses to put their hands in their pockets – if they did, it would surely help us to sustain our future."

Weblink: www.relate.org.uk

Call Ipswich Relate on 01473 254118.

FACTS:

- The number of marriages in the UK has dropped from 404,737 in 1971 to 263,515 in 1999.

- One in three marriages now end in divorce.

- Relate delivered relationship and education training courses to 14,000 people in the year April 2000 to March 2001.

- Almost 5,000 people were helped by Relate's psychosexual therapy service in the year April 2000 to March 2001.

- 315,000 hours of counselling were provided by Relate between April 2000 and March 2001

IT'S not just adults who can now benefit from Relate for a year Ipswich Relate has been developing a very unique facility in collaboration with one Suffolk school.

"We've been piloting a scheme with Farlingaye High School in Woodbridge whereby the school can refer its pupils to us (if they have parental permission to do so) when they think the youngster would benefit from it," explained Dawn.

"It might be that they are showing signs of relationship problems at home, with peers, or with teachers. By talking to them, we may be able to tackle self-esteem issues in the very early stages."

This very modern move compliments Relate's general step toward counselling more youngsters (aged between 11 and 25) at its branches.

The intention is that the organisation can surely now play a valuable part in helping a generation who are increasingly in committed relationships in their youth, and who tend to have more troubled views of life.

"I don't think it's ever too young an age for us to be making counselling available," said branch supervisor, Jackie Buckler.

"There are certainly a lot more troubled youngsters out there, and they are feeling under enormous pressure to achieve.

"If we see them at school age when they are going through feelings of vulnerability, stress or lack of confidence, then hopefully we can help make their future far better."

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