A chat with Niki Clarke regarding her My Black Dog Charity

Although water safety/drowning prevention and swimming are in the primary school curriculum, I found that over half the schools I visited didn’t do any of this!

By Sarah Thornely

I spoke to Niki Clarke, Founder and CEO of a small charity offering peer-to-peer support for people struggling with their mental health.

Niki founded the Charity after her experience with clinical depression for most of her life. One of the things she struggled with most was finding someone to talk to who could relate, and after a particularly traumatic time, being prescribed drugs and put on a waiting list, Niki realised the only way to re-surface was to set up her own charity. Having been signed off work, she wanted to take control of her life and ultimately help others. She also knew how painful it was to feel alone and scared. 

My Black Dog (MBD) is a free, confidential, online chat service. Guests can visit as many times as they like with no time frame being given with no personal details taken. 

It was important for Niki that the volunteers had lived experiences of mental health issues to create an inclusive and non-judgmental space for people to talk. The volunteers also have their own community, as their welfare is as vital to the charity as those in need through the chat line. 

Eddy Temple Morris
Eddy Temple Morris, a DJ on Virgin Radio, is a patron of My Black Dog. Niki met him through a very tenuous link and openly admitted that she didn’t know who he was, but she chatted to him about her ideas, and Eddy responded with a, “Consider me in cahoots with you.” That was four years ago. Eddy is one of the most positive people on the radio, and in his own life and a real do-er, so it was a perfect partnership. 

Volunteers are easily found, but it is only for some. There is complex content to deal with, so MBD must find those who can cope. Kindness is generally abundant from the volunteers, and there is a lot of in-house training, scenario-based but never scripted. The volunteers are not necessarily solving problems or giving advice but listening and giving a safe space to talk. If callers need more, My Black Dog have huge resources of information and partners, so they have plenty to offer more specifically. 

Niki’s face lit up when talking about the volunteers, and it was evident that there was a wonderful community feel as they were giving their time and part of themselves to other people. Some have been helping for years, and Niki feels like she has found her ‘pack’ with some great friendships forming. 

The kindness of strangers
I asked Niki where the funding came from and how it is spent; she told me that it is difficult to find funding because it is such a small charity, and they rely on the kindness of strangers. CarFest, Chris Evans’ festival for charities, has helped them to grow, and there are plenty of individuals doing their fundraising. 

The fact that GBSUP has recognised MBD has given Niki a real thrill; she is always surprised when someone finds MBD and wants to support them. 

They are a service-based organisation, so trying to deliver that service needs funds, from recruiting and training the volunteers to ensure they have support for the few staff they have – paying for tech, time and volunteers. 

We can help by sharing this small charity through all our social media channels, as it’s all about exposure. 

Green chat box
If you need MBD at any time in your life, you can access the chat line on a smartphone, tablet or laptop – go to the website, and there will be a green chat box that will pop up, and you will chat to a real person, real volunteer in real-time who has a lived experience. 

It’s not a 24-hour service, as it should be noted that it is not a crisis helpline, the Samaritans have that covered, but MBD provides preventative care and post-care, especially if you are on a long waiting list to see a specialist. 

MBD recently did a social media post about the benefits of paddleboarding, so they appreciate all the help we give them. 

Such a pleasure to speak to Niki, and we applaud her for setting up My Black Dog to help others and herself.


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