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Bromley family mediation charity back on track

PUBLISHED: 15:17 02 February 2016 | UPDATED: 15:17 02 February 2016

Lord McNally (third from left) with staff at South East London Family Mediation Bureau

Lord McNally (third from left) with staff at South East London Family Mediation Bureau

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Staff had to be paid in arrears as the organisation came close to collapsing 18 months ago

An historic Bromley charity that was on the brink of collapse has made a dramatic recovery.

The South East London Family Mediation Bureau (SELFMB) in North Street was the first of its kind in the UK when it opened in 1977 in terms of offering couples an alternative to divorce court proceedings.

It grew in popularity and was soon dealing with 600 referrals a year as people considered the service a quicker, cheaper and less stressful process than going to court.

However, the not-for-profit organisation faced severe financial troubles 18 months and came desperately close to having to shut down.

Service manager Peter Coupe said: “We were in a position where we had to make some very difficult decisions.

“If it wasn’t for our staff agreeing to be paid in arrears we almost certainly would have had to fold which would have been a great shame.

“We were very grateful for getting through that sticky patch and the work is flowing back to us now.”

The trend of financial hardship was a nationwide one, as similar services in other areas of the country, such as Bristol, failed to recover and went out of business, leaving SELFMB as one of only a handful still standing.

A change in government legislation at the end of 2014 gave separating parents access to free family mediation sessions, even if just one of them qualifies for legal aid, whereas previously the ineligible parent would have had to pay.

Since then, SELFMB has enjoyed a remarkable turnaround, and business is booming once again, with more than 80 per cent of its clients reaching some sort of financial agreement.

The charity’s mediators are drawn from a variety of professional backgrounds, including family lawyers, academics, child counsellors, psychologists, social workers and family therapists.

Retired service manager Fred Gibbons said: “It’s fantastic to see it back on its feet, and hopefully it’ll continue to serve the people of Bromley for many years to come.”

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