Craig Billington Arc – A Lifeline

Craig Billington Arc – A Lifeline

By Kate Williams

Admiration for business people is always in abundance for me as I know how difficult it can be. Those who are offering services to help people – saving lives even – and relying solely on donations to achieve it, are right at the top of my list. Craig Billington is a senior clinician for Arc in Axminster which provides essential free counselling to the community, but it is a struggle to make the business succeed financially.

Striving to plan a financially-successful business model for Arc is the next stage to keeping this vital community service in East Devon alive.

December last year saw an all-time low in funds for this project which was first launched in 2007 and currently relies solely on donations and proceeds from its own charity shop and receives no money from the NHS or Government.

Arc (Axminster Recovery through Counselling) is based in the market town and provides easily accessible, flexible, local counselling and psychotherapy at the heart of the community. Running in conjunction with Axminster Medical Practice, the service is the only model of its kind in the UK.

It supports the personal recovery of local patients registered at the practice, who are seeking help through times of profound change, trauma and loss, and ensures that waiting times are significantly shorter than those through the NHS.

It is a life-changing and life-saving service which is vital in times where self-harm and suicide rate percentages are increasing.

Arc was created 12 years ago by founding trustees Catherine Davies – who launched the pilot project in 2007 and established it as a charity in 2009 – and Dr Barry McKenna – Senior Partner at Axminster Medical Practice who integrates Arc’s services with the medical practice.

Currently led by two accredited psychotherapists – founder Catherine Davies and Craig Billington – each session costs Arc about £45. Thanks to this unique professional integration and collaboration, any GPs and health professionals based at Axminster Medical Practice can refer patients to Arc for free counselling.

Counsellors offer one-to-one sessions, spending in-depth time with patients, looking at their needs and concerns individually.

Arc’s independent team of experienced and qualified therapists help patients readjust to some of the painful changes taking place in their life. Rather than offer advice, they will help patients understand their own challenges, find strength within themselves, discover new skills and strategies, develop a restorative new balance – and all this under a charitable status.

The clinical team also provides EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing), the specialist trauma treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder approved by both the Nice (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidelines and the World Health Organisation.

Clinical lead Craig – MBACP accredited with BA (Hons) in Integrative Counselling, Integrative Counsellor and EMDR Therapist – has been practising since 2013 and is dedicated to giving Arc a permanent future.

Craig explained:

“Arc provides a vital community service which is greatly supported by local people and other trusts and charities, but we need to ensure the model has a secure future financially.

“We support patients registered at Axminster medical practice who are seeking support. We are situated in an accessible, flexible and warm environment within the heart of our community and we continue to provide a service which I would want to be referred to! This is an approach to emotional health that we feel is essential to any community.”

Craig Billington of Arc smiling at the camera.

Arc is unique in what it offers as it provides a convenient, flexible and caring service with experienced trauma therapists which support clients through extremely difficult times in their lives within days of their initial GP referral.

Since 2007, Arc has supported an average of over 200 local individuals and families a year. This represents one in five of all patients registered at Axminster Medical Practice.

Craig said:

“It is the feedback from the local community which shows the value in the service. It makes such a difference to people’s lives, particularly when they are suffering from a loss or trauma. As it is integrated within the community, it is flexible to individual needs and it has built up an exceptional clinical reputation.  Ideally, there would be an Arc project in every town. And we have been contacted by several practices in other towns, but the sticking point is how do we make this a sustainable business model?”

Patients Participation Group (PPG) is a collective of service users of Axminster Medical Practice who give feedback to the medical practice on behalf of the community and play a role in the business side of the charity.

Craig explains:

“Their fantastic support has helped us in strengthening our business model with the input of business owners and other professionals to help explore making Arc sustainable.

“They are liaising with local organisations and supporting people in providing fundraising activities.”

The community is behind Arc with full force, with an abundance of fundraising initiatives taking place from coffee mornings to sponsored events and even a local talent show being planned for later this year. Most of the fundraising efforts come from people who have benefitted from the charity themselves.

The project has also benefitted financially from Axminster Medical Centre itself, which made a significant donation; Axe Vale Festival and many other local organisations have also donated.

Reaching an all-time low in funds in December last year, Arc faced complete closure, but a generous £10,000 lifeline was thrown by separate charity Axminster Care Service (ACS) which also works to help individuals and organisations in need.

Craig said there is a plan now, going forward, to secure the financial future of Arc.

He explained:

“We are working hard with the PPG which was formed in partnership with the medical practice to develop a business plan to ensure that Arc is financially sustainable and to continue to provide the excellent frontline clinical work.

“Our excellent clinical reputation has gained us the support of the wonderful community of Axminster and surrounding villages who are working in many different ways to raise money and awareness of our service.

“At the moment we have events coming up that include coffee mornings, talent shows and curry nights that all provide an amazing contribution to our service.

“Moving forward, the PPG is helping us create an emotional first aid training package that can be brought into businesses to help train and support staff.

“The purpose of this package will bring in much-needed funds as an independent way to provide income for the service costs.”

Craig continued:

“As well as this we have a wonderful charity shop in Chard Street, Axminster, managed by Jess Kielen who founded a scheme called ‘make and mend’.

“This is where items from the charity shop that have not sold are recycled into more personalised items that are then resold in the shop to help create a zero-landfill waste project.”

Craig explained,

“Jess works in partnership with the clinical team to support service users in stage three of treatment, this phase is likely to focus on renewing self-confidence, rebuilding a sense of structure, purpose and meaning into daily life, promoting a sense of restorative belonging and contribution. These interventions are generally best supported within our charity by the practical input of Friends of Arc and the individually tailored volunteering, social and creative opportunities they offer at the heart of the community.  Our social interventions are invaluable complementary assets to our clinical work: they encourage otherwise vulnerable traumatised and/or grieving individuals whose recoveries are often hindered by isolation and demotivation to feel purposeful again by re-entering community life.

“If Arc were to close, the effects would be disastrous.”

He added:

“Our feedback from the community is that it would be devastating; especially the people who have been supported by us or their family members who have experienced the service that we provide.

“We have supported one in five families registered at the medical practice and provide essential trauma treatment and social interventions with our make and mend group at the charity shop. Personally, it would be a tragic loss to not have this service and approach to emotional health that I am so passionate about. For me, every town should have an Arc!”

Craig’s role as clinical lead at this impressive charity has its highs and lows but his and his team’s passion and determination drive them to fight for it to continue long into the future.

Craig said:

“The challenging part is our uncertain financial future. We receive over 200 referrals every year and the busier we are the more we cost to run.

“The rewarding part is the therapeutic work in supporting clients through the most difficult periods of their lives to a place where they are more resilient to continue their lives, strengthened by new skills or insight.

“We aim to promote a service that we, personally, would like to be referred to. A service that is accessible, flexible and clinically effective.”

To learn more about Arc or to find out how to support it, visit the website or visit the JustGiving page for people’s individual stories.

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