104 Off The Record


Location: BRISTOL


I never knew when I decided to get dreads, that I would have them for 10 years, it was certainly never intentional, they’ve just continued to be a part of my life. I have always said that when the time came to get rid of them, that I would shave my head for charity, so that’s what I’m doing! I have battled with various aspects of my mental health, throughout my teenage years especially, and so knew I wanted to fundraise for a mental health charity. I spoke to a couple of charities, but it was the guys at Off The Record in Bristol who really made me feel welcomed, listened to my story, and understood that cutting my dreads off, isn’t just a hair cut. They invited me down to see their space at Inspiration Works and to meet some of their team members. Since then I have been in contact with Liam McKinnon, who is their Head of Marketing, and he very kindly agreed to answer some questions for The Spiralling.

Off The Record (OTR) provide free, confidential and self-referral mental health support and information to young people across Bristol and South Gloucestershire. “We think it’s crucial to promote positive mental health and the resilience of all young people. In doing this, our mission is to challenge the wider social and structural inequalities that lead to poorer mental health and life chances.” 

OTR has been running in Bristol since 1965, “We’re one of the oldest services of our kind in the country. Over the years we’ve constantly looked to innovate in our ideas to support young people – that includes opening up group sessions, creative and arts-based therapeutic work, offering specialist services to communities such as LGBTQ+ and BME young people, and generally doing what we can to be there for young people.” Through the various services OTR offer, young people can contextualise their issues, work through them, understand themselves and the world around them, and get the support they need.

Over the last five years OTR has grown rapidly and now has over 120 Staff and Volunteers working in different areas across Bristol and South Gloucestershire. “We’re a diverse group and we all have different backgrounds and specialities, but we join together in our belief that all young people, irrespective of their social, economic and cultural background, have the right to accessible, free, meaningful, therapeutic support. Although what we do can be pretty serious, as a group of Staff and Volunteers we do have a great laugh together.”

Currently OTR is much larger and has a far greater impact than at any time in their fifty year history. “Our 50th anniversary a couple of years back was a massive milestone for us to hit – we see over 3,000 young people a year in Bristol, so over 50 years – well, you do the maths! As a charity, and particularly one in the mental health field, we find ourselves in a challenging position. Demand for our services outstrips our capacity to meet it by about three times! The wider system of children’s and adult mental health services into which we fit, is impoverished and fundamentally failing.” Their biggest challenge is a significant ongoing issue with ‘supply and demand’. “We need to be able to continue to keep an open door and not turn young people away. Our longevity, and how we continue to overcome these challenges, is by nurturing a culture of improvement and betterment at all levels of OTR. That’s not just about raising and spending more money (although that obviously helps massively); it’s as much about good service design, active participation, trying new things out, and mobilising the resources we can draw on other than money.” 

One of the participation groups OTR runs is called The Mentality Project. It’s full of young people who have overcome various mental health needs and challenges. “We’re super proud when we see these people who become involved in OTR and go on to achieve, prosper and do great things. They’re the most inspiring people we’ve met! They design mental health anti-stigma campaigns, go into schools and colleges to deliver talks and sessions, they challenge government – and this is all from a bunch of young people who maybe as little as a  year ago, didn’t want to leave their house, or might have been struggling with self-harm or depression. The Mentality Project has won various awards, received Comic Relief funding and been on radio and TV more times than we can even remember, so we’re really proud of what they’ve achieved. We’re constantly inspired by the young people we meet and talk to. Young people have the best ideas, the best sense of humours, and the warmest personalities. It’s a pleasure for us to be able to help in some way.”

OTR run a series of weekly events, and many other groups and workshops too. Details of all of these can be found on their website. At the moment they are in the early process of putting together a new way for young people to access their support.”In the coming months we’re excited to be rolling out a membership scheme – like a sports club, with the concept that OTR will be like ‘a gym for the mind’. Young people will be able to log on, select whatever options they feel they need support with, and access different services/groups/sessions from OTR. This is a bit of a re-imagining of young people’s relationship to their mental health and puts an emphasis on self-management, self-directed choices and self-care/help; much as it does with a gym membership.”

If you want to come and witness my transformation, then OTR have kindly allowed me to host my event at Inspiration Works on May 16th 2017, you can read more about it here. If you’d like to make a donation towards my £1000 total (I’m halfway there with 50 days to go!) then please use this link https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/spinheadshave and by all means, feel free to share it! Thank you for taking the time to read what is a very important post, and thank you to anyone who makes a donation to help this fantastic organisation.

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