In 2000, Beverley Costa, the Director, was working at the Workers' Educational Association (the WEA, a multicultural learning centre for women) teaching students who had an array of problems that they wanted to talk about but could not find an outlet for discussing their issues. For many, they could not access the mainstream help available because of language barriers and, for others, there were cultural obstacles of seeking help outside the immediate family. Many of the issues involved domestic violence, cultural identity and family problems. In discussing this problem with other teachers and her peers, Beverley found this was a recurring issue. She then set up a meeting to discuss what options there could be to tackle this problem. Thirty-six people attended from the statutory and voluntary sectors, showing the overwhelming support for the initiative and Mothertongue was born.
A steering group was set up and once start-up funding had come from the PCT a business plan with a needs analysis was carried out. On the evidence of this, a pilot scheme was operated. This was started at a doctor's surgery in Reading with one counsellor, Ila, who could speak several languages. A GP surgery was chosen as the pilot satellite as it was a non-stigmatizing, acceptable and accessible venue for our clients. The pilot achieved the target set and further funding was awarded. The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) was utilised as a second satellite so that hours available were doubled. At the same time the volunteer training programme was initiated, recruiting and training volunteers. The volunteers have played a huge part in the success of Mothertongue as they have engaged communities in activities, which have then led to acceptance and trust in the service across cultures.
Other successful funding bids meant that it was possible to recruit a part time volunteer co-coordinator. In April 2003 Jean Turton was recruited into the role and strengthened the recruitment, training, retention and activities of the volunteers. Office space was rented out at No.5, a Youth Counselling Agency, and at the Oxford Road Community Centre. The Baker Street Clinic became the third satellite. The first Big Lottery grant was awarded in 2003 for two years. This was a substantial grant. By 2004 Mothertongue now had a pool of 4 counsellors delivering between 12 and 20 sessions a week.
By 2005, Mothertongue became the first counselling service in Reading to be accredited by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). This was a new initiative by the BACP, which set a benchmark for high quality counselling services. The BACP stated that the application for accreditation was of a very high standard - representing a thoughtfully managed and effective counselling service working in a vital area of counselling provision. In the same year volunteers helped increasing numbers of clients with practical support, such as accessing social services, housing and education. In May 2005 the Cross-Cultural Support Project was piloted, where paid freelance Cross-Cultural Support Workers (CCSWs) delivered practical support to clients. From May 2005 to April 2006 over sixty clients were helped and 1000 hours delivered. The pilot was funded by Reading Borough Council and in 2006 funding was secured from the Home Office Connecting Communities Grant. The CCSWs were all former volunteers from the BME community and Mothertongue enabled them to access their first experience of paid work through its activities. In 2005 Mothertongue was awarded a Big Lottery grant for three years which secured future delivery and ability to consolidate its position. In 2006, Kim Armstrong was recruited as the Operations Manager to strengthen the infrastructure and streamline the professional procedures. Following the business plan, in 2006 new office space was found to house all staff and activities. In March 2009 funding ended for the CCSW project and the project finished. The management structure of the organisation was changed to reflect Jean Turton's retirement and the loss of the paid project workers. In 2009, a third Big Lottery grant was awarded for the continuation of the core service.
In 2008, Mothertongue attempted to address the need for specially trained interpreters to work in a mental health context. They created a training DVD and training programmes which illustrate the collaborative model for mental health clinicians and interpreters to work together. This requires a range of skills and behaviours that differ from other contexts. Berkshire West PCT funded Mothertongue to run a pilot Mental Health Interpreting service for their clinicians and extended the funding to 2011.
In 2010 Mothertongue ran its first national conference: 'Mothertongue or non-native language? Working effectively across language in frontline services'. As a result of the success of the conference Mothertongue formed the national Bilingual Therapist and Interpreter Forum. As well as the one to one counselling, Mothertongue now runs a number of therapeutic initiatives including cross-cultural parenting interventions and a new culturally sensitive communications for relationships counselling service. Mothertongue is currently conducting research in collaboration with Birkbeck College on the experiences of multilingual clients. This research follows on from their research on multilingual therapists which received the BACP Equality and Diversity research Award in 2013.
In 2013 the organisation is run by 2 paid full time workers, the CEO/Clinical Director and the Operations Manager. All clinical counselling provision continues to be delivered from the satellites. All supervision of freelance counsellors, volunteers and freelance consultants is conducted by the CEO. The Mental Health Interpreting Project provides interpreting for mental health services. The partnership with Reading Citizen's Advice Bureau helps to provide language support for non-English speaking clients.