For many households, the cost of living crisis has really begun to bite – with energy prices soaring and the cost of food steadily rising.
Sadly, here in Newham, it’s those who can least afford it who are being hurt the most. So, how are we responding and how can you get involved?
Higher costs for everyone
At our food bank and debt advice centre, guests have always been worried about the cost of living. But over the last year it’s become even worse.
As Gemma Stone-Wooster, our food bank co-manager explains, “Many of our food bank and debt advice guests are shocked and frustrated to find that items costing £1 last week are now £1.20.
“When you’re on a low income, it’s much more difficult to absorb the increase. They are increasingly forced to make impossible choices between paying utility bills and putting food on the table.”
Food bank volunteer Andrew believes that our food bank visitors could easily be facing an increase in weekly spend of £30 due to the rising food and utility costs, and the cost of providing services is also increasing for us as a charity. For example, just a few years ago we estimated the cost of providing an emergency food parcel for one person was around £10. Today it’s closer to £15.
“We already moved our food shopping to cheaper supermarkets like Lidl some time ago” says Gemma. “Now we’re finding that products such as rice – which were once a cheap staple and are much in demand from our guests – are becoming a much more expensive item.” The team has also had to reduce the amount of toiletries it gives out recently due to cost reasons, she adds.
Improved ‘wraparound’ support
A key priority for us at Bonny Downs has been to further build our ‘wraparound’ support services. These are designed to empower people to tackle the underlying causes of their current crisis – helping them to move into a more sustainable position for the longer-term.
In 2020, we launched a weekly Family Hub for low-income families with a focus on recent arrivals to Newham, including refugees and asylum seekers. Each Thursday, at a four-hour drop-in session, we offer information and support on areas such as money management. Just as importantly, it’s a safe space to make friends, explore talents and enjoy activities together, such as cooking.
In October 2021, we launched a new weekly Food Pantry in partnership with St. Bart’s Church. This was followed by a new weekly Community Food Club in September 2022. The idea behind these services is to provide additional, longer-term support to people facing food poverty, helping them address the underlying factors leading to their current challenges, while helping reduce their reliance on food banks.
We’ve also been working to connect up our services even better. For example, for several years our debt advice centre has offered appointments to our food bank guests and last year the team provided 278 hours of one-to-one support. Now, we’re integrating things even more closely, says Angie Allgood, Director of Partnerships. “We can now offer guests an initial face-to-face assessment during their visit to the food bank, and book them in for a full appointment before they leave. Our aim is to see people as quickly as possible before their situation gets worse.”
For older people, the cost of living crisis can sometimes be particularly challenging to navigate. Our befriending and advocacy teams have therefore been working hard to ensure that our over-65 neighbours are not forgotten. As an example, we have begun providing advice on Pension Credit, to help make sure that those who entitled to support do not miss out due to bureaucracy or a lack of information.
We’re pleased to have been selected to join a number of useful networks too. These include the London-wide ‘Advice in Community Settings Grant Programme’, which has been set up to help charities like our work together and give people access to a wider range of free, specialist advice that helps them escape or prevent financial hardship.
Another example is Cadent’s national ‘Centres for Warmth’ programme, for which we were chosen to become the first London hub in September 2022. This not only gave us the money we needed to keep running our Family Hub, but also lots of practical assistance such as hundreds of free energy-efficient slow cookers for local families.
Finally, in April 2022, our food bank joined the Trussell Trust, a network which approximately 2 in 3 food banks in the UK belong to. This enables our team to more easily refer and signpost our guests to other specialist help across the borough. It’s also helped us to increase the number of people we can help at our debt advice centre, through the award of a financial inclusion grant.
Targeting the best funding opportunities
We’re also fighting the cost of living crisis by applying for relevant grant funding opportunities.
One recent win was a grant of £10,000 from The National Lottery Community Fund’s Awards for All towards the running costs of our debt advice service. Our Fundraising Director Jess Craig says, “We’re relieved and thrilled that Awards for All is helping us protect the jobs of our food bank staff, helping our neighbours in need who are struggling to pay their bills and feed their families.”
Another example is a £13,755 grant from UK Power Networks to provide a drop-in Energy Advocacy Surgery for neighbours struggling with fuel poverty, including isolated older people. Steve Bynon, InterProject Coordinator, says: “This allows us to provide immediate practical support, such as advice on benefits and tariff-switching and assistance with applications and form-filling. It also enables us to expand our work with local people to tackle the root causes of the poverty they face.”
Nevertheless, competition for grants is intense and a number of funding opportunities that we were able to access during the height of pandemic have now sadly come to an end. We therefore continue to rely on the generosity of the community to help us keep our services running, and invite donations via our Localgiving page.