FOR more than two years, Alternatives has been providing crisis pregnancy advice in Stamford, writes Jan Konik.
Clients have ranged from 15-year-old schoolgirls to 40-year-old career women and advisers have a simple mantra - they are pro-woman.
“Everything we do is completely confidential,” said Ian Scott, chairman of the board of trustees for the centre.
“We advise women on the options available - abortion, adoption or keeping the baby. We are a listening station and we are pro-woman, not pro-life or pro-abortion.”
Based at The Evergreen Trust offices on the Uffington Road side of the Stamford Hospital site, Alternatives, the Stamford Pregnancy Advice Centre is one of 157 centres affiliated to Care Confidential, an umbrella organisation providing national online pregnancy counselling and a 24-hour helpline.
Stamford is still a stand-alone, self-financing facility. Since opening in July 2009 it has received more than 300 contacts and held 160 counselling sessions, with 150 clients currently being dealt with - proving there is a real need for the service in the community. Two of the seven trustees are local doctors.
“Our core work is crisis advice - dealing with unplanned pregnancy,” says Ian, who says he was hijacked into helping by his wife Alice after she trained as an adviser.
The centre is open Monday-Thursday from 9am-5pm, appointments can be made, people can be seen out of hours and there is a 24-hour mobile phone line. A team of 14 volunteer advisers, who have each undergone a 60-hour training course, provide the service on a rota basis.
Ian said that women and girls are given the time and space to talk things over with a trained adviser who can signpost them if required to other agencies such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service while offering support.
In the two years they have been open there have been some surprises.
“We’ve had whole families turn up - husbands, grannies, brothers, sisters, or a mum may arrive and say her daughter’s pregnant.”
One breakthrough has been to win the trust of health professionals and they now get 80 per cent of new referrals from GPs, hospitals and social services.
“It’s very important that the medical services now trust us.
“We mostly get GP referrals as they only have a 10-minute consultation time and can’t deal with this.
“Referrals have come from as far away as Northampton,” Ian says.
“They can talk to us for as long as they want. We may only see them once and so will not necessarily know what their decision was.”
The centre also offers post-abortion counselling for women who are struggling with the effects of a recent abortion or one experienced 20 years previously.
There is a 12-week programme called The Journey that helps women to move on - the centre has 12 clients participating.
They can also provide baby equipment and can introduce clients to a YEP - a befriending group for Young Expectant Parents.
Two new education programmes, one entitled Evaluate and the other as yet unnamed, are being rolled out to schools in the Stamford area. With the aim of preventing unwanted pregnancy by focusing on relationships and personal self-esteem and aspiration, these will be handled by trained presenters and a separate team of volunteers. Alternatives, along with others, is also at New College Stamford once a fortnight to discuss health issues.
The centre receives no government or NHS money.
It costs £20,000 a year to run, which covers rent, rates and a salary for the manager and an assistant.
One hundred per cent of funding is from donations but it’s hoped The Big Society idea might produce some official assistance at some point.
Money is raised through sponsored walks and runs, being Stamford High School’s chosen charity last year raised £760 and a bag-pack at Morrisons well supported by staff and customers.
The centre will soon launch its own website.
Ian says the service is running well but is always short of money.
“In the early days people said we didn’t need this kind of service in Stamford but the number of new referrals each and every month indicates that we do. Unwanted pregnancy can cause a massive crisis when it hits the family, the effect of it can be devastating.”
l A fundraising banquet for Alternatives raised around £15,000 for the charity.
Local founder Helen Walton, centre manager Donna Dickinson and Paul Stadey, chief executive officer of Care Confidential, were speakers at Stamford School Hall when 130 guests attended.