Support service opts out of merger

STACEY KNOTT
Last updated 13:00 10/02/2014

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LifeLine Nelson has split from LifeLine New Zealand to go it alone under the new guise of Life LInc.

The free support network, which provides adults with phone and face-to-face counselling, has been operating independently in Nelson for 38 years.

However, about three years ago LifeLine New Zealand, the national umbrella group LifeLine Nelson worked under, decided that in the interests of improving its services, all LifeLine centres should merge to become one entity. Eight centres did and are now operating under the single incorporated society LifeLine New Zealand.

The Nelson service decided it did not want to be part of the merger, amid fears of losing its independence and the house it operates from.

As of February 1, it is no longer operating under the LifeLine name and phone number. It is now Life LInc, with the new numbers 03 546 8899 and 0800 46 88 99.

When it was LifeLine Nelson, the organisation was part of the national helpline, and would pick up calls from all over New Zealand.

Like other centres, it operated as an individual entity with independent management and governance. Counsellors were all volunteers, and the centre survived on donations and funding grants.

Clinical manager of the new Life LInc, Harriet Denham, told the Nelson Mail it was not an easy decision to split from the well-established LifeLine brand.

Ms Denham began working with the organisation in 2006, and worked her way up from being a volunteer telephone counsellor to become manager.

The merger wanted to offer one phone system for all the LifeLine centres, with government funding as well as uniform training for counsellors.

However, the Nelson branch was wary of the move, because it felt it already offered excellent training and did not want to risk this being changed.

It was also concerned about ownership of the house it operates from, as it had been bequeathed the deposit on the property and then worked to pay it off over the years.

"It was going to become the property of LifeLine New Zealand, and that made everyone nervous," Ms Denham said. "We worked our butts off to keep this house and pay off the mortgage. It would no longer belong to the community. It didn't taste right to a lot of members here."

Ms Denham said three board members resigned over the issue, while the counsellors and other board members felt uneasy about the merger.

"There was a lot of anxiety. Ironically, that's what we help people with - anxiety, because life is changing.

"There were genuine concerns it wouldn't work with our community. We have very good training."

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Board chairperson of Life LInc, Rebecca Young, said all the centres were to put their funds and assets into a pot, but Nelson was not willing to do this with the house, as it feared it would be sold, and the centre did not know where its future would lie if this happened.

Likewise, management issues kept "chopping and changing", the local board would be dissolved, and there was no certainly that the counsellors and staff would have any say on a regional LifeLine committee.

Ms Denham said an average month saw the Nelson centre handle about 250 calls, from throughout New Zealand. She expected this to drop under the new name and number, but the centre would still offer the same services.

It is calling for fundraisers to help establish the new Life LInc and get the new name out to the public.

Jo Denvir, chief executive of the new LifeLine New Zealand, said all centres needed to be "all in or all out" on the merger. She said other centres had properties that went into the pot.

She said the benefits of the merger were being able to answer calls more quickly, uniform training, including a programme on suicide prevention, and more funding for infrastructure from the Government. All local boards had been dissolved, and the new board was "skills-based."

She said LifeLine New Zealand did not have any plans to sell or divert any assets.

No centres were forced into the merger, and they had to do what they thought was right for their communities, she said.

"We are happy Nelson made the decision that was right for them. We wish them all the best."

- Nelson

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