London

Children in Need funding for Harrow support centre

A centre which supports young people who self-harm has received funding from Children in Need. Teenagers Abigail and Daryl explain how it has helped them.

The quiet, tree-lined street with its rows of neatly parked cars suggests suburban order and serenity.

Across the threshold of a particular doorway, beyond the traditional welcome mat, the sense of calm persists.

Harrow's WISH Centre is a sea of muted colours, disturbed only by the green and yellow leaf pattern on the sofas that echoes the pot plants on the pale wood floor.

It feels appropriate for this is a refuge for troubled teenagers, an oasis of normality where they can speak openly and learn how to rebuild their confidence.

The centre is the only one of its kind in London, treating about 200 young people each year with a further 1,000 supported online and through telephone and text services.

Like 18-year-old Abigail, they all share a pattern of self harming.

"It's a physical pain you can control," she explains.

"I was about nine when my Dad left home. Then our family situation turned difficult because he'd return and then leave again," she recalls.

'Never about trying to kill myself'

Feeling overwhelmed and isolated from school friends and teachers, Abigail went into her kitchen and got a knife.

"I knew it was a risk but it was never about trying to kill myself.

"There were occasions when I was scared because I was bleeding quite heavily, but the pain is concentrated in one place and it's leaving you with the bleeding.

"Afterwards, I would feel relief and a huge release of all these negative emotions," she adds.

WISH estimates that as many as one in five young people try to self harm, a condition affecting more girls in the main than boys.

Image caption Daryl was only 15 when pressures in his life began to upset him

Daryl was 15 when pressures in his life began to upset him.

He reels off a check list of the emotions he was going through - anger, depression, fear and anxiety.

"I relied on cutting myself and it was an addiction like smoking, something really difficult to give up," he admits.

The desire to self harm is a last resort, believes Rowena Jaber, WISH's centre director.

"It could be to do with family violence, sexual violence, child abuse or neglect, and the authorities may not be aware of what's going on," she says.

"Things are happening to these young people at home and in their lives and self harming is their only way of coping."

Facing the future

When Daryl and Abigail were referred to the charity's facility in Harrow, they found a self-reliant community offering counselling, group work and peer support.

"What we've learned in our work is what has largely been taught by the young people themselves," says Ms Jaber, referring to the centre's policy of using older mentors who have overcome similar problems.

The process can take up to a year or 18 months.

"It wasn't until I got here and was surrounded by people who understood what I was going through that I felt I could move on," says Abigail.

Image caption Abigail is now a mentor to other young girls at WISH

Both she and Daryl talk about going forward and facing the future. Abigail has come out the other side and is now a mentor herself.

Watching her talk to a young charge, a girl sitting opposite her on one of the centre's roomy sofas, is instructive and revealing.

"Are you taking care of yourself?" she asks. Then: "What's been a good thing that's happened to you this week?"

The session winds up with Abigail insisting she is only "a Facebook or text message away" should her charge need to reach her.

Meanwhile, things are working out for Daryl at a slower pace.

"I'm not as far behind as I used to be," admits the teenager, "I've learned so much."

There is a pause. "But I'm not quite there yet," he says.

The WISH Centre is one of several charities in London and the south-east to benefit from the BBC's Children in Need appeal.

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