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Off the Record in Bristol

Practical support for young people and helpful advice for all

by Kailin Solomons

Spotlighted by our fabulous launcher Tamatha-Ann Harris, Off the Record (OTR) is a charity that provides mental health support to young people aged 11-25 in the Bristol and South Gloucestershire area. They have an open and thoughtful approach that focuses on nurturing mental well-being by empowering young people to facilitate, as well as participate in, socially conscious activities that build community. I had the pleasure of “sitting down” (zooming) with OTR’s Chief Executive Karen Black and Director of Engagement Liam McKinnon, to learn about how OTR has grown over the years and what projects they are currently excited about!

One of the oldest national mental health providers, Off the Record began as a joint effort between Bristol youth groups and family services. Both these local initiatives noticed there was a distinct lack of confidential counselling to support young people. A lot has changed since OTR’s beginnings in 1965. Mental health has become an openly discussed part of wellbeing and OTR is leading the charge in providing varying kinds of support to help with the many different challenges facing young people today.

They have grown significantly over the last decade, developing a person-centred approach that empowers young people to take ownership over their personal well-being. In addition to their long standing 1:1 therapies, they now host a variety of groups for and led by young people that range from boxing and book clubs, to music and nature groups.

A unique approach to mental health

OTR is a vitally necessary organisation as they hold important core values, stressing the importance of relationships, community and young people’s autonomy. In particular, Liam says that OTR supports young people to engage in "activism as self-care, make a difference, leave a legacy with yourself, equip yourself with the tools and the techniques to be resilient when life gets difficult". OTR doesn’t see mental health in isolation, but rather Karen stated that "it’s very much influenced by what’s going on around you" and that recognising this is extremely important in developing resilience and taking action against injustices that may quite rightly be causing distress.

In these unprecedented times they have moved their services online with great success. In particular, Liam reflects that "lots of young people are telling us that there’s elements of this that they prefer, because coming to access some kind of mental health support can feel daunting and…the online format reduces some of that anxiety". Despite being their longest running service, and Karen says, "historically slow to change", OTR continues to adapt with the times and plans to continue offering 1:1 Therapies online as well as in-person when that resumes.

OTR has a fantastic new initiative called Diffusion. This includes webinars and bespoke workshops run by OTR’s team of experienced trainers that can help you ensure your business is carrying out good mental health practices and supporting employees. This is an excellent way to support OTR as it provides unrestricted funds so that they can continue to develop non-tradition models of support for young people. To learn more about Diffusion go to

Top Mental Wellness Tips from Karen and Liam

Karen: Don’t expect too much from yourself or others at this time, it is ‘not sustainable and not required’ to producing effective and valuable work.

Liam: Staying connecting to hobbies you already enjoy, rather than feeling pressure to learn new skills.

Both say following OTR on social @otrbristol is a great way to keep your mental health in tip top shape, and extra points for spending extra time with your furry friends.

Our Charity Spotlight Series is written by Kailin Solomons. If there are charities or organisations you would like us to feature please get in touch.

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