Childline celebrates 21 years of supporting children from its office in Leeds

It has been a lifeline for young people searching for support when they feel there is nowhere else to turn.

And the Childline service has today (Thursday) celebrated 21 years since the NSPCC first opened a base in Leeds.

The organisation has also revealed that, since opening an office in the city in 1997, it has now provided nearly 216,000 counselling sessions to youngsters across the UK from the Leeds base.

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Volunteers who have racked up more than half a century serving the charity were joined by Leeds-born pantomime star and comedian Billy Pearce for a celebration at Childline's office in Albion Street today.

King of Bradford Panto, Billy Pearce helps Leeds Childline base celebrate 21st anniversary pictured cutting the cake with Sam Firth, Child line Supervisor.

The 67-year-old, who will this year star as Wishy Washy in Aladdin at Bradford's Alhambra Theatre, told the YEP: "It's a brilliant charity.

"Because I do a lot of pantomimes, my name is synonymous with children, even though I'm an adult comic. I'm very happy to be here and involved with it.

"They have helped so many kids just in Leeds alone. I would encourage people to volunteer. I'm sure they need as much help as possible."

Childline's base at the St John's Offices in Leeds was converted into a dedicated online counselling session centre for children in 2011.

Trained counsellors now only offer confidential advice via email or live online chat messaging from the base.

It has been contacted more than 43,000 times by youngsters in need, providing some 9,500 sessions for children last year alone, on issues ranging from self-harm and suicide to sexual abuse.

Sam Firth, Childline supervisor in Leeds, said: "For the last few years we have been focusing on supporting people with online chats and emails because children and young people prefer that way of getting in touch with us.

"But we can only do that with the help of our volunteers."

Ms Firth has been involved with the charity for 13 years, volunteering for her first eight.

"It's the most rewarding job I have ever had," she said.

"We hear directly from young people about how much they value the service and, at times, how we have saved their lives."

Pride of woman who answered charity's first call at Leeds office

Among those who turned out to celebrate the occasion today was Sue Precious, the NSPCC's national service head for infrastructure, who more than 20 years ago helped set up the Leeds base.

The mum-of-one had been with the organisation since 1989 but in 1997, while working as a support manager, moved from London with her family to Leeds as the charity looked to broaden its reach.

After fundraising and completing the move, Mrs Precious, now 56, would eventually take the office's very first call in Leeds.

"When I answered the first call I was so proud," she said.

"I'm still so proud of that achievement.

"We built it up from scratch in Leeds, meeting local people, on-boarding volunteers.

"I'm massively proud now and it's incredible to be involved with such an organisation. It has just grown and grown since then."

Call for volunteers

The NSPCC is currently recruiting seven new volunteers to staff a new shift that will run on Monday afternoons.

It will take place between 1pm and 4.30pm and volunteers will answer emails from vulnerable young people.

Those interested need to be able to commit to at least 40 weeks.

Full training will be provided for successful applicants.