​A WILTSHIRE Community Foundation grant will help a relationship counselling charity prepare for a surge in calls from couples pushed to crisis point in lockdown. Relate Dorset and South Wiltshire, which covers Salisbury and surrounding area, has already seen the effects of troubled couples being trapped together over the past month and is bracing itself for a rise in domestic abuse and marriage breakdown.

The charity has been given £5,000 from the community foundation’s Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund for laptops to help staff adapt their service counsel couples via video and to help fund low cost or free sessions for people left penniless by being furloughed or losing their jobs.

The fund, launched a month ago, has now raised £420,000 and more than £260,000 has been distributed to more than 60 voluntary groups to help them meet the need caused by the pandemic.

Relate director Sheila Maycock said: “We are using our Wiltshire Community Foundation grant to support people with free or low cost sessions because the money is just not going to be there for them. The grant has made a real difference, we’ve sourced some new laptops for staff who are working for home and it will allow us to let people they can afford to get this help.”

“We have seen an increase in inquiries across the whole range of our services, couple counselling, family counselling and children and young peoples’ counselling. There is a lot of increase in anxiety for children and young people.

“All the stresses on relationships anyway will be more so. Our peak times for getting new clients usually is immediately after the summer holidays and after Christmas, because that’s when people have spent time together with loved ones and realised where the cracks are, and this time is the same.”

The group has had to abandon face to face meetings and move all its counselling online. “We have taken what we normally do and moved it into a new environment rather than completely recreating because we have got to provide that professional service, it is not just a chat on the phone and that’s difficult for people on the phone who are in lockdown, who are in conflict. We have had people who are in counselling who have had to go and sit in the car because that’s the only space they gave got,” said Mrs Maycock.

Vital programmes such as its Perpetrator Programme, which works with men with a track record of domestic violence, has had to be adapted. “we run we are doing regular calls to some of the men to give them extra support and the victim support arm of that is contacting the partners as well to make sure they are okay. There’s one where we’ve had to put extra safety planning in place for because this situation has exacerbated the problem,” said Mrs Maycock.

“We have been working with the perpetrators in meetings and they are just beginning to trust us and now it is about making sure they don’t slip back into those habits or the learned behaviour they have always had, which is why there has been a problem anyway.”

Worries about money and an inability to plan ahead are seen as key triggers for deepening cracks in relationships. “Financial pressure has a massive impact on relationships as well and now with people on furlough, having fewer hours or having lost jobs that’s going to be a tremendous impact on relationships and that’s going to run and run,” said Mrs Maycock.

“The uncertainty really impacts on relationships as well as we all like to have plans, a picture of what things are going to look like but none of us do, and that creates a lot more anxiety for people, a lot more depression and that makes it difficult in relationships to enjoy the space and time we might have together. Fear and anger are very linked and if people are fearful about Covid or about their job then that often comes out as anger as well.”

Mrs Maycock and her team of 20 councillors, some of whom are working the maximum permissible 20 hours a week, expect the volume of inquiries to rise steadily as the lockdown ends. She said: “Our normal experience is that we see a 25 per cent increase in calls after summer holidays and Christmas and we expect that after lockdown. It won’t be the same because there won’t be a cliff edge where lockdown ends, it will be a gradual thing. People will take time to reflect and realise there is support out there if they need help.”

To find out more about Relate go to relate.org.uk.

To donate to the foundation’s Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund, or to apply for a grant, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk