Simply Farewell: Paul Falkingham

Two factors prompted me to start counselling training in 1999. I’d worked for the Probation Service for thirty years and didn’t like two developments affecting it. Firstly, there was an exclusive use of cognitive behavioural theory and practice as if no other modalities existed. Secondly, there was a government policy steer towards privatisation of the Service. I thought that if I gained a counselling qualification, in the short term, it would give me the authority to argue for other therapeutic models; in the longer term it would provide an alternative mode of employment if the Probation Service ended up being run by Virgin Trains or Group4 Security!

I started on the certificate course at Plymouth College and was lucky enough to get a placement with the counselling service operated within Virginia House Settlement. Those were the heady resourcing days when Plymouth Social Services Department funded a ‘free’ counselling service which was able to employ a small team of counsellors. My involvement gave me a second advantage when counselling staff at Virginia House approached Plymouth College for permission to run a Diploma course for its volunteers and, fortunately, I got a place on it. This meant that I was trained by practising, inspirational and experienced counsellors. I suppose today the course would be described as integrative in that it examined a range of counselling models. In 2003 I obtained the European Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling. 

I had hoped to work as a volunteer at Virginia House post qualifying to thank them for their support. In the event, Plymouth City Council was struggling with central government cuts and withdrew funding from Virginia House and the counselling staff lost their jobs. However, a successor service was started at the Scott Healthy Living Centre by volunteers and I also volunteered there until my paid work commitments became too demanding. I promised myself I would go back when I had retired from the Probation Service and had more time.

On retirement in 2007 ‘going back’ actually meant meeting M-L and becoming involved with the fledgling operation she had created in the old police cells in Devonport Guildhall after the Scott arrangements had collapsed. It is difficult to credit how much has been achieved, very largely by M-L’s drive and determination, over the past 11 years and I have been proud to be a small part of those developments. Simply Counselling now has a staff team of over 30 people and occupies welcoming premises of an appropriate size and shape in Stoke, rather than the three Devonport dungeons!

One of the many outstanding benefits of working at Simply has been the access to in-house training opportunities and continuous professional development which M-L has always regarded as a priority and attempted to fund or subsidise. As a result, I was able to gain, amongst many other valuable training experiences (couples counselling, domestic abuse victim counselling, working with young people etc.), a Certificate in Supervision which enabled me to supervise colleagues in the team.

I’ve often joked – I can hear colleagues groaning now – that Simply ought to have the strapline: ‘Our specialism is that we don’t specialise’. One of the greatest pleasures, and a professional opportunity par excellence, has been the diverse range of client age groups and presenting problems with which I have been able to work. Also, the time range has been so varied: from six sessions to working with some clients for several years. It is difficult to imagine another counselling organisation which could cater to such a wide range of client needs – or provide a volunteer with so many opportunities.

Over the past eleven years I have also worked with some wonderful colleagues, the vast majority volunteers like myself and some with the same length of service here. They are another element that I shall miss. In fact, if personal reasons weren’t taking me away from Devon, it is hard to know how I would ever have managed to sever the ties with Simply.