Twenty-five years ago, on 1st December, The Road Centre for counselling, training and human development opened its doors and welcomed its first client. Nuala Furlong and I, the first directors, were housed in two small rooms in Durham city and with hope in our hearts, waited expectantly.
As far as we knew, The Road Centre was the first of its kind in our part of the country. I had researched a similar centre in London and was told by the director, Louis Marteau (1922 -2002), that I would not get rich on counselling. At the same time, he was encouraging and supportive and I saw his optimism as a ‘green light’ for my business partner and me to begin our journey.
At first, customers were few and far between, if the ‘phone rang once a week, we thought we were doing well and if we took on one paying client a month, we thought we had hit the heights.
Our first real break came when a local medical practice asked us if we would be interested in doing some counselling for their patients; we of course said ‘yes’ and a regular stream of clients came our way. We were then joined by another surgery and more clients were added to our list. Our name was good and word of mouth advertising brought enquires from other medical practices. We were then invited to provide a counselling service for NHS staff and clients came from all sections of the health service.
During this time, our landlord unexpectedly terminated our contract and my business partner and I walked the streets of Durham, looking for possible premises. We had run out of places when someone said to us, ‘have you enquired at Alington House?’ We had not heard of Alington House, but nevertheless found our way there and were met by a delightful lady by the name of Joan Trowbridge. She listened with interest to our story and offered us two first floor rooms, both of which needed some renovation. One of them was big enough for use as a consulting room and an office (at different times of course) and the other, the smallest room in which I have ever counselled.
When we moved our belongings in, there was a sense of coming home and being here to stay. We enjoyed our time there and ended up using the whole of the first floor, as the business grew ever-larger.
As well as counselling, we stepped into the world of training and began working with a group of GPs on the theme of stress management. Training has become a significant part of our business and we provide a variety courses, all of which receive highly favourable evaluation.
The Road Centre continued to develop, adapt and grow. We relocated to Chester le Street, Nuala stepped down from director, and Oonagh Atkinson, a long-standing member of The Road Centre team became my co-director.
We now have thirteen qualified and experienced counsellors and therapists, each bringing their unique contribution to the work of The Road Centre. Collectively, they create a setting of warmth, welcome and therapeutic distinction, in which all the requirements of effective therapy are met in full.
We have several premises: our main office is in Chester le Street in County Durham and we have other offices in Newcastle and Hebburn; as well as these, we hire rooms in other parts of the region, to make it easier for clients to access our services. Consequently, we have a large organisational machine, efficiently directed by our business manager, Catherine. This is a far cry from our original two small rooms.
We are proud of what we have achieved and believe The Road Centre to be a place of excellence, in which all are made welcome and offered the highest standards of counselling and therapy.
The world of counselling is very different from how it was twenty-five years ago: large commercial companies have a tight grip on it and what used to be regarded as an art, is now packaged in mechanical and soulless procedures, that look for a quick fix, speedy turnover of clients and maximum benefits for shareholders.
As central government cuts to local authorities’ finances have curtailed the provision of psychological services to education, we have been asked on several occasions to place child therapists in schools, to work with individual children and address their personal needs. This part of our work continues to grow.
Whilst I may not see The Road Centre’s fiftieth anniversary, I believe it will still be there, adapted, as now, to the settings and circumstances of the times and still a place of excellence.
I want to record my immense gratitude to everyone who has contributed to making The Road Centre what it is today: current associates and those who have gone before; Nuala Furlong who believed in the idea of The Road Centre and worked with me to make it happen.Catherine Atkinson who manages the complexities of a busy, modern limited company.
I also want to record my thanks to the thousands (yes, thousands) of clients who have entrusted the staff of The Road Centre with their care. I hope we have always treated you well and that you benefitted from your experience of us and our service.
I have the pleasure and privilege of being a co-director with Oonagh Atkinson, who has the imagination, vision, energy, creativity and business acumen, to take us into the constantly-changing future. I am confident that The Road Centre is in very good hands and I look to its future with great optimism.