As the Times Christmas charity appeal gets into full swing, reporter Adam Hignett visits one of the recipients, Fegans, to find out what they do…
Its heritage stretches back over one hundred years, but while its methods have changed its mission has remained the same, to help some of the most vulner-able children in society.
Fegans, a Tunbridge Wells based charity, offers counselling services to school age children and some-times their parents, in an age when mental illness is becoming more recognised but also more prevalent.
Ian Soars, the chief executive, said: “Having the Times support us is so welcome. We are really excited about what we do. Looking after children is in our DNA.”
Although the charity does charge for some services, it is on an affordability basis and those seeking help are not means tested.
And if circumstances change, and a family can no longer afford to pay, the charity will carry on provid-ing the counselling regardless.
This leaves financial strain on Fegans, which also ensures all office staff pay comes out of reserves, leaving the money they have to be used to fund coun-sellors to go into schools or work form the office.
Mr Soars said increasing demand for their services is also putting on financial pressure, with Fegans looking to increase the number of counsellors employed to 30 by next April, up from 18 today.
Explaining how the 145-year-old charity has adapted over time, from running boys’ orphanages in the 19th century, to counselling services today, Mr Soars said: “Times have changed. Fifteen-year-olds face different types of stress to what they did back then.
“We make sure we have continually evolved to the change in needs accordingly.”
Mr Soars said there was a ‘perfect storm’ of issues putting increasing amounts of pressure on young-sters today.
He explained: “Our culture is now too complex to define just one cause. Partly the rise in mental health issues is due to the internet. While we love it and think it is brilliant, it has created new chal-lenges and pressures for children.”
Part of this is down to cyber-bullying and ‘trolling’, he said, which means bullying is no longer confined to the classroom but can follow a child home.
It also paints an unrealistic depiction of the ‘per-fect lifestyle’ and a ‘Hollywood ideal’ of what peo-ple should look like, with friends posting pictures which do not truly reflect reality away from the web.
This is coupled with a greater awareness among children of sexuality and more traditional causes of mental health problems, such as academic pressure and family problems.
But although Mr Soars praises schools for their commitment to improve the mental health of their pupils, and its increasing recognition by society at large as a serious problem, some issues remain taboo.
He said: “We would love to able to remove the stigma surrounding these issues, but there is still some of it about.”
But Mr Soars is still optimistic, and believes Fegans can make an increasingly important differ-ence to many young lives.
He said: “It is good to get this in proportion. The majority of children are doing great, but we are here for those who are not. This fund raising effort will help us go the extra mile.”
All donations to the Christmas appeal will automatically be split between the Times’ three chosen charities. To give, visit uk.virginmoneygiving.com/TimesofTunbridgeWellsChristmasAppeal