By Margaret Nicholls
There can’t be many places in London where you can receive professional counselling, free of charge and without an appointment. Perhaps even more surprising is that such a place exists in one of the busiest parts of the west end.
The hectic stretch between Green Park and Piccadilly Circus is a microcosm of central London. Workers, tourists, the rich and the poor bustle along Piccadilly, competing for space on the pavement. But a stone’s throw from the hubbub, in the grounds of St James’s Church, a small shepherd’s hut offers a refuge of calm.
Known as ‘The Caravan Drop-In’, it provides a welcome haven of listening and emotional support to anyone who needs it.
Co-ordinator of the Caravan, Ian Burton, explains: ‘Some visitors are passers-by who notice the sign outside and pop in for a quick chat, others want to talk more deeply about what is troubling them.’ Sessions usually last between 20 and 50 minutes, at the discretion of the volunteer.
People come in from all walks of life.
‘We see the poor, the wealthy and the homeless,’ Ian says. ‘Our visitors reflect the range of people you would find in the area around Piccadilly.’
Open seven days a week, the service is run by the charity CCPE (Centre for Counselling and Psychotherapy, with support and facilities provided by St James’s Church. It is staffed by 21 volunteers, most of whom are undergoing professional training as psychotherapists.
The shepherd’s hut is small and cosy, accommodating one visitor and volunteer at a time. Ian says: ‘If it is busy then we try to fit people in later on that day or week, but essentially it remains a drop-in service with no appointments.’
However, it is possible for visitors to enter into a formal counselling agreement, which has a more focussed approach. ‘The service is free,’ Ian adds. ‘But users can make a donation according to their means in order to help with the running costs.
‘A chat and a little human warmth can go a long way to helping people cope.’
For further information about The Caravan, go to www.thecaravan.org.uk