Off The Record

We headed to West Street to chat to the lovely folk at Off The Record (OTR) – self described as a mental health movement, a charity focused on supporting 11-25 year olds. We spoke to Sylwia, OTR Community Champion, whose role it is to support the supporters. 

Supporters: anyone who wants to fundraise, donate their skills or just get involved will be welcomed by Sylwia

OTR started in 1965 and was one of the first youth counselling services the country, set up by a group of marriage counsellors who decided that young people also needed support. Hence, OTR focuses on 11-25 y/os, going through 3 major life transitions: primary-secondary-university-into adult life.

OTR still offer counselling, but have expanded in recent years to answer demand for a wider range of services and workshops. From group sessions, one-to-one, drop-in sessions, workshops teaching resilience, using VR… – there’s something to suit everyone’s needs, all needs are different and they want to cater for as many people as possible.

One of the best things about OTR is how people driven they are. They listen to young people and are always adding new initiatives to their offering based on what young people want! Donations allow them to test these innovative schemes before applying for funding, allowing them to respond quickly to demand. Young people therefore play an active role in designing, delivering and communicating these services as well as accessing them.

Anyone can access the service – you don’t have to have a diagnosis, worry about being’ unwell enough’ or you might just want help for a friend. Importantly, they offer free confidential self referral.

“The underlying principle is that mental health is just like physical health – we need to take care of it, some days it can just feel better or worse.”

Depending on what’s going on in your life you will have different needs at different points in time – hence the wide range of services available.

The first step if you decide to seek help or advice would be to check out their website or show up to one the the hub sessions- they won’t turn anyone away if you knock on their door! Mondays or Saturdays are best as peer navigators will have time to pay attention and have a proper conversation with you to help decide what next step is best for you. Coming through the door during the hubs can seem hard, but the welcoming people and environment really help. Plus, they’ve seen some amazing results from people who have taken that first step!

You’re the expert of your own mental health” -There is no one size fits all when it comes to getting better.

How to get involved: fundraising is always appreciated, and there is also the positive wellbeing effect of doing something good for the community. Having a community that believes in what they do helps massively too: they have had elderly people wanting to fundraise because they wished such a service existed when they were younger, they really see the value of it. OTR really appreciate all money from fund-raising as it is the money that they can invest into what people want to do  (funding money is more restricted, other donations allow them to be more flexible, responsive, and test exciting new projects!

Working with young people, OTR evidently have close links to both the University of the West of England and the University of Bristol. Collaborating with the Student’s Union at UoB, they have recently set up a scheme, Sofa Self-care, resilience lab style sessions in the SU living room (in Senate House). Find out more here!

Amongst Sylwia’s favourite OTR projects are Nature Works -nature-based wellbeing projects such as new roots garden activities, focused on reconnecting with nature- and ProReal -a modern initiative that uses VR to help people communicate thoughts surrounding their mental health. The latter has been particularly popular with young men, and promises to be a great stepping stone in erasing the gender bias stigma in mental health. These are just some of the great initiatives carried out be the charity!

Above all, Off The Record want to normalise mental health and ensure everyone gets the support they need, support that is suited to each individual. Supported by young people in many different aspects, the charity is able to deliver this and continue to develop innovative ways to help answer bug questions surrounding wellbeing.

Hubs take place Mondays 4pm – 7pm and Saturdays 10am – 1pm at Off the Record, 8-10 West Street, Old Market, Bristol, BS2 0BH and Wednesdays 3:30pm-5:30pm at Armadillo, Station Road, Yate BS37 4FW

Sessions in the SU Living Room at UoB will take place:

•    13th May 12-2pm
•    15th May 12-2pm
•    20th May 12-2pm
•    22nd May 12-2pm
•    3rd June 12-2pm

For more info check out Off The Record’s brilliant website:


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