Addiction service hit by 'cuts and red tape'
A FREE service that supported Sutherland folk fighting an addiction to alcohol and their families, is closing down, it has been announced.
The Board of Alcohol Counselling Services Ross and Sutherland (ACSRS) will shut its doors on April 30.
A number of factors are said to be behind the move with funding cuts and increasing red tape the major causes.
Recovering addicts have expressed dismay at the closure with one stating: "ACSRS played a major part in my recovery. If that help was not there when I needed it, then the outcome would have been very different."
Founded more than 25 years ago, ACSRS offers a free, professional one-to-one counselling service for those affected by their own or a loved one's addiction.
It is the only voluntary organisation of its type in Sutherland and its neighbouring county and it complements the work done by NHS Drug and Alcohol Recovery staff.
Around 60 people with alcohol dependency are referred to the organisation each year and 30 service users are currently on the books. Six trained volunteer counsellors work with ACSRS.
The group needs up to £50,000 a year to operate and has received funding from NHS Highland.
But with NHS Highland conducting a review of third sector input, it will only guarantee its funding up to June.
The loss of NHS funding would make it much more difficult for ACRS to win the support of other funding bodies.
ACSRS coordinator Chris Cochrane: "This decision (to close) has not been taken lightly. There are many reasons why this course of action is necessary, the main one being the struggle to secure sufficient finances to run the organisation.
"As with other voluntary organisations, the burden of bureaucracy has increased without a corresponding increase in income and the task of securing additional funding has become more challenging."
She added that the group's board of management was actively pursuing alternative arrangements for service users and volunteer counsellors who wished to continue.
Ms Cochrane paid tribute to counsellors and the hours of work they had put in over the years.
"ACSRS has been indebted to many people over the years who have given their time and expertise freely as volunteers," she said.
"Some have assisted in the management of the service as board members providing governance and support for staff and volunteers.
"Others have given thousands of hours of their free time as trained volunteer counsellors. The training for these counsellors was previously provided free. It now requires a source of additional funding."
She added that ACSRS wanted to publicly thank everyone who had made it possible for the group to serve the communities for over quarter of a century.