Comfort in Crisis: A counselling service is offering support and guidance to our community’s most fragile during lockdown

A safe and non-judgmental platform to talk through your feelings and fears–that’s what Creating Expressions delivers via its affordable counselling to Haringey’s most vulnerable young adults and families.

It’s a grassroots organisation run by a group of professional counsellors who are directly engaged with the everyday social and economic challenges faced by Haringey, since they’re on the ground. “We’re not coming in from Hertfordshire or wherever,” founder Alecia May explains. “I've lived in Tottenham all my life. I know what happens here.” 

This is a community with a large Afro-Caribbean population who have suffered personal losses at the hands of Covid-19, and, because of lockdown, have been stripped of their “nine nights” funerary ceremonies.

Creating Expressions has had to be dynamic and reactive to the changing circumstances we are now living through. “Covid-19 has thrown family members together under one roof, continuously over a period of time,” Alecia says. Take a family unit already under financial and emotional strain, where there may be ongoing traumas linked to abuse or crime, and the situation can unravel very quickly. Denied the usual social contact with friends, work colleagues and school peers, at-risk members of the community are even more dependent on counselling services like Creating Expressions, for their mental health and self-esteem.

Thanks to our Haringey Giving’s Haringey Heroes, Creating Expressions has been able to open up these critical lines of communication to ten isolated elderly residents for three months, with a focus on Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) individuals.Alecia May

“The grant has given us the freedom to just be able to reach out to the community and say, "We're here," says founder Alecia May.

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We caught up with Creating Expressions founder and CEO, Alecia May, to find out how the project has evolved.

Hi Alecia! What’s Creating Expressions all about?

We're a group of counsellors who have come together to set up an organisation to provide counselling and emotional support for young people and families in the community via one-on-one and group sessions.

Has Covid-19 affected how the counselling service is delivered?

Actually, as counsellors, we began to make the transition from working face-to-face to online via either Zoom, Skype or over the phone, prior to lockdown.

What new anxieties, whether it’s mental health to emerging crises at home, are your counselees now confronting in the wake of the pandemic?

I’ve found the issues to be quite varied, but Covid-19 seems to be the trigger stirring up a lot of existing anxieties. Perhaps our counselees have managed these better in the past because they were at work, their children were going to school or their finances were more stable. One recurring topic, that said, has been the subject of grief. There's been quite a significant loss in our local community. We have a large cohort of Afro-Caribbean people here in N17 who aren’t able to practice “nine nights”–where friends and family come together repeatedly for nine evenings to honour their loved ones. So I found it’s been helpful for them to have that listening ear to share their tears and stories of loss.

In light of lockdown, who are the more vulnerable people you’re reaching out to with this support?

At first we thought it would be really helpful to focus on elderly people who could no longer attend their weekly day centre or Sunday church service–perhaps their only way of getting out of the house. But what we’ve found is that everyone's impacted by social isolation. There’s this assumption that the younger generation are always on their phones, always communicating with each other, and so they're fine. But what I've personally realised, is that, despite social media, they’re desperately missing that face-to-face contact with their friends.

How has Haringey Giving supported you during this time?

Well, they've been fantastic! The grant has removed that financial barrier, so it's no longer: "I really want to speak to somebody, but counselling costs, emotional support costs." Previously we were offering affordable counselling. These funds have enabled us to offer the service to individuals with extremely low budgets. Now we can say, "You need this service. We're here." We’ve used a portion of the grant to arm our younger clients with the technology (whether it be basic phones or internet) to download zoom or Skype.

Any final words you’d like to share?

Sometimes I think when Covid-19 finally comes to a rest, if it does, will we be a nation of people that are now allowed to grieve? We're all experiencing the impacts of Covid-19, but there is something about being able to give – the reward you get back from that enables you to keep going yourself. It's really worthwhile work and it brings us a lot of joy.

Creating Expressions Logo jpeg

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Haringey Giving wants to keep supporting more local community projects like this but we need the help of our Haringey Heroes. With your help we can fund more projects and support Haringey’s most vulnerable people.

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