A Sunderland counsellor is on a mission to support armed forces veterans, third sector workers and others struggling with mental health issues by taking part in a pioneering project.

Former Royal Navy sailor Mark Walsh is one of a dozen social entrepreneurs to join Innovate for Good – the first business incubator in the region dedicated to developing social enterprises.

Launched earlier this month by the North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC), the incubator provides a six-month programme of training and support to businesspeople with ideas to change the world for the better.

Mark is now working with specialist advisors, a dedicated mentor and other social entrepreneurs to explore how his business, Lighthouse Therapy Group CIC, can reach more people and have a greater impact in the North East.

Mark said: “I joined the Navy at the age of 17 and became very aware of the mental health challenges facing veterans and those in service and always wanted to do something about it.

“That’s why I trained to become a counsellor and launched my own practice.

“Since then I’ve become aware of the pressures on so many others, including hard-working people who are simply struggling to balance the pressures of modern life and suffering with anxiety and low self-esteem.

“I’m determined to find ways to help people find some peace, to reconnect with the world around them, with each other and themselves.”

Mark has worked closely with the BIC’s Social Enterprise Manager Kevin Marquis to develop his community interest company as an extension of his existing counselling practice Lighthouse Therapy Group.

He is now working with Kevin, as well as a coach and a dedicated mentor, to grow the business to bring about maximum benefit to the community.

He is also collaborating with other social entrepreneurs to consider innovative solutions to real-world problems posed by regional organisations, including the need to provide training and work experience opportunities to people suffering with mental health issues.

Mark added: “Innovate for Good has provided me with a network of invaluable contacts and direct access to real-life scenarios that are already leading to inspiring ideas.

“This is an incredibly worthwhile initiative and the timing couldn’t be better for such an effort to bring about positive change in the world.

“I’d like to think that this is just the beginning of a new wave of socially-conscious businesses in the North East and it’s really exciting to be part of this process of change.

“It would be naïve to think that my individual project will lead to a huge shift in society but even small ripples make a big difference.”

Kevin Marquis said: “The social enterprise model enables businesses to explore new ways to fund services and reach more people so it was a perfect fit for Mark.

“It opens the door to joint working with other organisations and exciting possibilities to support charities with specialist services.

“There is now huge potential for Lighthouse Therapy Group CIC to do good in Sunderland and I can’t wait to see what plans come out of the work we’re doing within the Innovate for Good project.”

Based within the BIC’s new Innovation Zone at its Sunderland business park, the incubator is designed to provide the collaborative working space, practical tools and specialist support to stimulate new ideas and solutions to challenges of today’s world.

It aims to create a new community of next-generation social enterprises – businesses that value their social purpose as highly as profits, with profits reinvested or donated to improve people’s lives and the environment.

According to a recent report* by Social Enterprise UK, this thriving sector of 100,000 businesses contributes £60billion to the UK economy, employs two million people and is outperforming mainstream counterparts in nearly every area of business including turnover growth, job creation and innovation.

The facility’s first cohort are focusing on projects with potential to tackle issues including inequality, poverty, isolation, climate change, ill-health and disability.

Their ideas span everything from dementia support focused on using arts, activities and culture as an alternative to the traditional respite care model, to specialist training to get more disabled and disadvantaged women jobs in IT.

The BIC plans to recruit a second cohort of entrepreneurs to join Innovate for Good in the autumn of 2020. To register your interest email lilla.preston@ne-bic.co.uk

For more information on Lighthouse Therapy Group CIC visit https://www.lighthousetherapygroup.co.uk/