Big wave breaking over a harbour wall

Organisation Updates: 2020

I just want to say thank you so much. It has been life changing counselling to help me overcome the life changing experience of losing my Mum. I feel more in control, I feel like I have learnt more about myself and life’s experiences, and I feel like I have the tools to cope better in the future.

Chair of the Board – Philippa Bayley

Dear friends and supporters of The Harbour,

Many of us will be looking forward to turning our backs on 2020. It has been an incredibly challenging year with health, social and economic ripples that will continue to shake us for some time. But at The Harbour, part of what we do is to turn in to difficulty and help people face some of the most challenging situations imaginable.

We are so glad that we have been able to keep doing our work during such a turbulent year, and have continued to provide people across Bristol with some shelter from the storm (or a safe harbour) when it was most needed. Please read what some of our clients have said about the service.

This has been my first year as Chair, and as I entered the role I wanted to see our organisation become more sustainable and more engaged with the diverse communities across Bristol.

On the first aim we have made strong progress in building our financial foundations and investing in our clinical and operational capacity. We are growing our ability to respond to the increasing number and complexity of cases we see with highly-trained, specialist staff.

We are also working to amplify our presence in Bristol, increasing our visibility and opening up new opportunities for partnership and support. We are particularly keen to reach out to communities in Bristol that we have not served well in the past, and to see our own organisation better reflect Bristol’s diversity in its staff and trustees.

We so appreciate the dedication of the whole community that supports The Harbour – our clients, staff, trustees and donors.

It would mean a huge amount if you felt you could support us in our work as we turn the leaf into 2021. We want to be there for as many people as possible facing death, dying and bereavement; thank you for enabling that work.


Having access to The Harbour counselling service has been a saving grace for me, I was in a fairly desperate emotional state prior to access and needed some professional support. I still think I have some way to go but appreciate your support, thank you.

Clinical Update – Paul North

We have seen 133 clients since the start of March.

As we reach the end of the year there is a sense of having survived something as an organisation.

I have a vivid memory of meeting with Sam our CEO in March as the enormity of the situation begun to dawn on us and we started think about the huge adjustments we needed to make in order to keep our clients and our staff safe; whilst keeping the service going.

The palpable sense of uncertainty about the future and whether we would be able to continue was initially shocking. However, we both knew The Harbour had a key role to play locally in responding to the pandemic and our clinical services would be needed more than ever as suddenly it felt like loss was dominating our national consciousness as we begun to face the implications of this global pandemic.

This loss was felt immediately with the decision to move our services remotely. We had to leave our building in Frogmore St, and all our staff begun working from their own homes.

This presented us all with the loss of contact with each other.

I was apprehensive about this as contact is the key to maintaining us in this difficult work. I felt anxious about how staff would manage working from home and I feared they would become isolated.

With this in mind Sam and I were keen to set up systems of support for staff and we initiated weekly Zoom support meetings that we encouraged all staff to attend. These meetings became an important part of the week as we were able to share the experience of working in a way which we’d had no preparation for.

We were able to share feelings of loss, along with surprise and pleasure at how the work continued to be possible. The support helped us as staff with our feelings of loss as we made the adjustment to a new way of working.

What of the clients?

To our surprise nearly all our clients made the transition to remote working and begun to engage. For some it was a lifeline.

After an initial lull in referrals at the beginning of the pandemic we have seen a steady rise in our referrals, particularly for bereavement counselling. Some of the people coming to us have been directly bereaved through CV-19. Others have experienced the impact of CV-19 on their ability to say goodbye to loved ones, or they had been bereaved before the pandemic and were experiencing feelings of isolation as a result of lock down measures.

For these clients we provide a space to help them to think and reflect upon their experiences in order to begin the process of mourning for what they have lost.

I feel very proud of this.

As we reach the end of this tumultuous year it feels like we have not only survived, but been able to grow and develop as an organisation. This feels so important as our services are needed now as never before.

The Harbour was very welcoming and I found my counsellor very easy to talk to. I have come to slowly realise with my counsellor’s help that it’s ok not to cope sometimes and that I can’t always fix things and make everything go away. I have found it helpful to just talk and be listened to without being judged or any expectations put on me.

Organisation Update – Sam Thomas

2020 has been a challenging year for all of us.

Here at The Harbour, the start of the year feels like a long time ago. Back then we were planning our organisational Away Day which was due to take place in mid-March, and we were thinking about how we could increase our financial sustainability and raise our profile off the back of a difficult six months which saw us finish the 2019/20 financial year with a significant deficit.

I’m very pleased to say that we are ending 2020 in a stronger position, in spite of the challenges brought by Covid-19.

Since the pandemic we have transformed how we operate, bringing digital working into the heart of the organisation. This has meant that we’ve been able to continue to support people throughout the year, and we’ve found ways to stay connected as a team. Financially, we have been able to secure funds earmarked for organisations who are responding to the pandemic, such as the Coronavirus Community Support Fund from DCMS, and from local funders who already know our work and have stepped up to support us once again. Many of our clients have generously donated to help other people access our service.

As we come to the end of the year we are looking forward to new staff members joining us in key roles across the organisation, and we have robust systems and processes in place to support our service going forward.

I’m incredibly proud of the staff team and our Trustees for how they’ve responded to the challenges posed by Covid.

I’m looking forward to 2021 with a sense of confidence that we can continue to grow and support more people who face death, dying and bereavement across all areas of Bristol.

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