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SERC graduates social enterprise makes a real difference

North Down locals Pamela Kirkpatrick and Cara Swanston who have completed a part-time counselling course at SERC have spoken of how their courses have been time and money well spent.

Since completing their course, Cara and Pamela have set up their very own social enterprise, uHub Therapy Centre, a counselling service offering a range of services to adults and children.   The duo established the business shortly after they graduated in 2016 and have helped the local community with a range of issues ever since.

The co-founders met while Cara was on work placement at East Belfast Community Counselling, which was part of her studies. Pamela was already working there at the time as a counsellor.

Pamela said “By creating uHub we have been able to tailor a counselling service for the local community which is accessible. We use the skills, experience and knowledge we learnt on the course and still keep in touch with our tutor for advice.”

The duo attended an open day and enrolled onto the level 2 and 3 combined counselling skills course before progressing to the level 4 in therapeutic counselling and later the level 5 diploma in cognitive behavioural therapeutic skills and theory.

34-year-old Cara who retrained from being an accountant said “When researching where to study, I heard that SERC counselling graduates are sought-after within the industry, so I decided to attend an open day and speak to the tutors.

“When I initially enrolled I didn’t think I would end up studying there for four years. It’s like a family and I didn’t want to leave. The tutors are very supportive, and I can honestly say, being a university graduate, that the learning and teaching environment is the best educational experience I have ever received. The learning was very practical incorporating role play, debate and open discussion which suited me.

“SERC was my way of getting the confidence I needed to continue learning. The chance to go on work placement gave me the opportunity to put my skills into practice and really see if this was the career path for me. I was 27 when I started the course and was worried that I would be the eldest in the class, but I was actually one of the youngest.”

Having been out of education for nearly 10 years, Pamela was apprehensive about returning to college, but she wasn’t going to let nerves get the better of her. She said: “As soon as I met my tutor Paul Casey I was totally at ease, he was fantastic and really helped me settle back into the classroom environment. I have learnt that with the right encouragement and help, I was able to do things I never thought possible. I was petrified about coming back to education, but everyone in the class helped each other. The payment options also meant that I could spread the cost of the course which made it more affordable for me.

“I would recommend studying a part-time to anyone thinking of returning to education, SERC really gives you the skills and insight to be able to help people in this arena and know what to do when faced with various situations, putting the theory into practice.”

Helping the next generation of counsellors, uHub Therapy Centre also provides training opportunities for people who are looking to pursue a career in this field and provides valuable work placements to SERC students who are completing their 100 hours of clinical training, a compulsory aspect of the course.

Tutor Paul Casey said: “We understand that returning to education is a daunting prospect for many and that is why we aim to make the learning experience a positive one. We have many mature students who are returning for a variety of reasons from retraining or coming back to get the qualifications they didn’t get when they were younger.  And that is the beauty of having your local college on your doorstep.”

uHub Therapy Centre provides support for children and teenagers for almost all problems, including mental health, autism, substance abuse and addictions and offers a range of services including face to face counselling, life coaching, play therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy. They also collaborate with other agencies to offer support and advice.

The business is going from strength to strength as they have recently secured significant funding from the Social Innovation Fund to develop a digital mental health support platform, which will aim to help reduce deaths by suicide and reduce reliance on statutory services. They have also been shortlisted for a £50,000 Lottery funded Peoples Project, making it through to the final 5 from an initial 2,500 applicants.




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