Counselling service Lifeline receives a lifeline

Lifeline's phone lines will stay open for at least the next year-and-a-half (File)
Lifeline's phone lines will stay open for at least the next year-and-a-half (File)

New Zealand's only free 24-hour counselling service Lifeline has received a lifeline of its own, with charitable trust Presbyterian Support Northern (PSN) committing 18 months of operational support towards the cash-strapped organisation.

This means the phone lines will stay open for at least the next year-and-a-half, much to the relief of Lifeline's executive director Glenda Schnell.

"For our staff and our clients it really is a lifeline that we have another 18 months to have a really good look at what we need to do going forward for sustainability."

Lifeline receives around 18,000 calls a month and lost a significant amount of Government funding over the past year which threatened its existence.

PSN has been involved with Lifeline since it was set up in the 1960s, and chief executive Dr Rod Watts says it was vital that the trust stepped in to help.

"When we heard the lines might be shutting and knowing how valuable the service is, that's what got us involved in seeing what we could do."

PSN provides health and community services across the upper North Island, such as disability care and social services for at-risk youth.

Dr Watts says the trust will not only keep the phone lines open, but improve what it already offers.

"In the new year we'll look at development, because we think Lifeline has far more to offer than it is currently, so we'll explore those options."

Despite PSN's help, Lifeline is still under huge financial pressure - and Ms Schnell has not ruled out approaching the Government for funding in the future.

"That will be part of our strategy going forward and being very clear with Government funders about how they can support us," she said.

"It is one strategy; there are a number of others that we will also consider."

Calls to Lifeline are increasing monthly and Ms Schnell say it is needed now more than ever.

"The demand is out there and people are seeking help which is fantastic - but we need support from the New Zealand public to continue the service that we offer."

Lifeline will continue to operate 24 hours a day under the same number - 0800 Lifeline (0800 543 354).