Praxis gears up for UK expansion

Praxis Care Group, the new mental health and learning disability charity formed by the merger of four voluntary organisations in Northern Ireland last week, plans an expansion of its service role to the rest of the UK.

The charity, now the biggest in Northern Ireland, has taken over three children's homes in Leicester from the Children's Society, opened the only learning disability facility on the Isle of Man and is developing mental health accommodation places in Manchester.

According to Douglas King, assistant director of communications and income generation, Praxis plans to expand further outside of its base in Northern Ireland. "We have a three-year strategic plan and have agreed that there should be no geographical barriers. It shouldn't be an issue if the competency and skills base is there. We are proactively looking at other schemes to emerge with statutory agencies," he said.

The charity is actively negotiating with another two local authorities in England and one in the Irish Republic over the provision of mental health and learning disability services.

The merger has been prompted by the Treasury's cross-cutting review of the voluntary sector's involvement in public services, and the four organisations have come together "to put into action what the Government believes to be the way forward".

Praxis is also looking to form alliances with not-for-profit groups that want to expand but need the involvement of "a related competency".

Praxis has been formed by the merger of Praxis Mental Health, which works with people with mental health problems, Challenge, for children and adults with learning disabilities, Respond, a charity for the elderly, and the Northern Ireland Agoraphobia and Anxiety Society. The merged body now has 450 staff, 150 volunteers, services in 30 locations, and an annual turnover of £8 million which is expected to increase to £10 million next year. However, each of the groups will retain their own identity for fundraising and marketing purposes.

Speaking at the launch of Praxis in Belfast on 10 October, Seamus McAleavey, director of the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, said that charities in the province would welcome the merger and that the move would help beneficiaries.

Nevin Ringland, chief executive of Praxis, said: "The joined up organisation will benefit from the cross fertilisation of ideas and economy of scale and will ultimately deliver better services to the users of services."

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