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How advice services provide the ‘ultimate safety net’ for people in crisis

7 July 2015

As we launch our new funding programme to help people living in hardship, Director of the Advice Services Alliance Lindsey Poole explains why advice services are vital for helping people cope with crisis. 

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Lindsey Poole

I have a problem; I can’t describe what my job is. My job title is Director of the Advice Services Alliance, but if I try to explain that I run ‘an umbrella group for umbrella groups’ to a new acquaintance, they often raise a quizzical eyebrow.

But that is honestly what the ASA is, we represent the advice sector, but this is a long way from what my job is about. Like the famous NASA janitor who told President Nixon his job was ‘to put a man on the moon’, the purpose of my job is to help ordinary people manage extraordinary difficulties and hardship in their lives.

Advice centres have a long history of opening their doors to people at the most sensitive end of changes in the economic and political climate. Change hits these people first but they may live in an area that is particularly deprived or may lack the personal experience or resources to address their problems alone.

Advice workers provide the ultimate safety net for people, whether they are hit by a one off crisis like a relationship breakdown or short notice eviction or an enduring problem like disability, caring for a relative, or managing debts. Through engaging with people in crisis the advice sector can help them understand their legal rights and how to do deal with similar situations in the future.

Like many other parts of the voluntary sector, our work is often at its best when delivered in partnership with others. We can provide an essential part of the help a client might need, but the issues facing the people we see are often complex. It is by working in collaboration with others, that the client can have all their needs addressed and a circle of support put in place to provide resilience in the future.

So, to say the Advice Services Alliance is pleased with the announcement of new Help through Crisis funding is like saying 1 July 2015 was warm for this time of year! The advice sector is in no doubt about the challenges ahead, but we are ready to build on the partnerships of the voluntary sector and design our services around the client.

You can find out more about our Help through Crisis here. To find out more about the Advice Services Alliance, visit their website

Facing a positive future after crisis

6 July 2015

As we launch our new £30 million initiative to improve the prospects of people living in crisis as a result of hardship, we hear from Sean Gleeson. Sean’s life began to unravel 18 months ago after the death of his mother, but thanks to a local charity he has been able to get back on his feet and is now facing a more positive future.

Help-Through-CrisisShaun, 30, was working at a print firm and living at home in Wakefield with his mum when she sadly passed away. He continued to live in the three bedroom property on his own, but as the bedroom tax was introduced he quickly became unable to cope financially.

Shaun approached the council to request to be moved to a smaller property but was told he wouldn’t be able to because he was already in rent arrears. Unable to pay rent he was evicted and was forced to sleep on the streets. He was also struggling with anxiety, depression and stress.

Shaun had heard about a local charity – Community Awareness Programme (known as CAP Care) – from a friend of his and decided to ask them for some help. CAP Care, which has had National Lottery funding, was able to offer Shaun advice and support and put him in touch with Turning Point, where he was able to receive help for mental health issues, and Bridge-It Housing who were able to immediately arrange for him to move into shared accommodation.

Shaun’s situation has greatly improved thanks to the help he has received. He now volunteers three days a week at CAP Care and helps others to create CV’s and apply for jobs. Shaun said: “It really felt like it was the end of the world, but now I’m mentally and physically stable and have a really positive mentality. I’d be in a much worse position if it wasn’t for these organisations. I really enjoy using my background in IT to help others. It has given me confidence.”

If you want to find out more about our Help Through Crisis programme, please visit our website

Community rebuilds Winnie’s faith in human nature

26 June 2015

When the wall outside Winnie Moon’s beloved home was knocked down by vandals, it caused her a lot of worry and distress. But when the community rallied round, it wasn’t just the wall that was repaired…

Winnie-Moon-192 year old Winnie has lived in her home in the New Parks Estate in Leicester, for many years and keeps the house and garden immaculate. A few years ago the wall surrounding her property was knocked down; and although it was reported to police, the offender was never apprehended.

Soon afterwards Winnie won a little money and had the wall rebuilt, but again the wall was knocked and again the offender was not apprehended. This time Winnie didn’t have the funds to rebuild the wall and over the past year more and more of it was been knocked down, causing Winnie a lot of anxiety.

It was at this point Police Community Support Officer Gillian Edwards stepped in. “I wanted to get the wall rebuilt to lift Winnie’s spirits and encourage her to get out more. Winnie has suffered the loss of two very important people recently and the anxiety of the vandalism to the wall has added to her stress. Living in fear of anti-social behaviour is very scary for older and vulnerable people.”

Gillian then contacted Sean Lynch, CEO & Founder of Vocational Training Enterprise Centre (VTEC), an organisation that provides training in construction to unemployed people, ex-offenders, those at risk of re-offending and those who struggle in mainstream school. Many of VTEC learners are from the New Parks Estate in Leicester.

Sean explains: “Some of our learners have committed crimes in the past, for various reasons and at different levels. When I first mentioned the possibility of the rebuild to my learners, they were all keen to participate and took it upon themselves to project manage it from start to finish.”

The project was supported by funding from our Awards for All programme, Travis Perkins Swan Street donated all materials and Winnie promised to make all the VTEC team tea and cake. Within three days the wall was finished.

Winnie-Moon-3VTEC learner John revealed: “I’ve spent over 10 years living on the streets and this rebuild has given me an incentive to do other things in life. Nobody knows when they may need help for whatever reason. If you can make a change to someone’s life its worth more than money, believe me.”

VTEC learner Mr Patel agreed: “This is the best choice I have ever made. The training has given me a new lease of life and opened many doors in a career I wish to pursue.”

Sean added: “I am so proud of them all. Who would have thought that a brick wall can bring a community together, putting smiles back onto people’s faces, changing people’s lives?”

And how is Winnie feeling now? “I just can’t believe it, how good some people can be. I never expected this; it’s given me back my faith in human nature.”

If you want to find out more about the Vocational Training Enterprise Centre (VTEC), visit www.vtec-leics.co.uk

Completing your application to the highest standard

23 June 2015

In a new series of funding advice blogs, our funding officer Richard McMullen has all the top tips you need to complete your application to the highest standard.

Read the guidance notes
Once you have identified the programme you want to apply to, it’s essential to read all the relevant guidance provided. Don’t let your enthusiasm or haste lead you to begin the form without reading the criteria carefully. This will give your project the best chance of being funded.

START360_-_Cool_Choices_Launch_(2)Demonstrate why the project is needed
Showing why a project is wanted is useful, as we need to know there is a demand for what you are planning. But we also want to know why a project is needed, what issues the project will help address and how you know this.

The best applications provide a range of evidence as to why the project is needed. This can include things like statistics, feedback from people who will use the project and proof your project fills a gap that current services can’t meet.

Be clear about what you are going to do
Although it’s helpful to summarise what your group does at the start of your application, most of the form should describe what you will actually spend this specific grant on, why you want to do this, and what impact this will have. You need to provide this information in as clear and concise a manner as possible.

Avoid jargon or buzzwords
The clearer your application is, the easier it is for us to understand it and make a fully informed decision. Why tell us you are ‘fostering real-time engagement using publicly accessible nodes’ when we’d be happy just knowing you are running open days at your community centre? Clarity is key.

Make sure you answer all the questions
It may seem obvious but we still receive lots of applications that are incomplete. If your application has information missing it can’t be assessed. It takes us longer to process these applications, as we have to get in touch to request the missing information before we can begin. Check you’ve filled in all relevant questions or fields before you send it in. Why not get someone else to check your form before you submit?

For more guidance on applying to the Big Lottery Fund, visit our website.

Bringing women in from the margins

22 June 2015

Last week we announced a £48.5 million investment in projects that support women and girls facing a range of complex issues, including domestic abuse and mental ill health. Today we hear from Jenny Earle of the Prison Reform Trust, about the support so many vulnerable women need in order to take control of their lives.  

The Big Lottery Fund initiative to channel resources into women’s support services is timely and could make a big difference to women’s lives, including the lives of women in contact with the criminal justice system.

Too many women are sent to prison every year for minor non-violent offences (a Prison-reform-blogthird for shoplifting), for short periods, often leaving children behind. Very few women in prison have committed serious or violent crimes, indeed most of them have been victims of more serious crimes than the ones of which they are accused. Many a prison officer has said to me “a lot of these women shouldn’t be here”. They know as well as I do that most of the solutions to women’s offending lie outside prison walls in access to mental health and drug and alcohol treatment services, protection from domestic violence and coercive relationships, affordable housing, better job opportunities and childcare support.

Employment outcomes for women following short prison sentences are three times worse than for men, and many are trapped in a spiral of debt. The number of women in prison doubled between 1995 and 2010, and their profile – including their needs and the drivers to their offending – is strikingly different from men’s. The devastating impacts of incarceration are manifest not only in the high levels of mental illness and self-harm among women but also in the intergenerational effects on their children. As one woman who still bore the scars said to me “any prison sentence for a mum can be a life sentence for her kids”.

A good start in reducing women’s imprisonment has been made with local ‘women’s pathfinders’ that involve joined-up working between police, courts and women’s services to divert women from offending. The report Transforming Lives published recently by Prison Reform Trust with the Soroptimists, highlighted inspiring examples of services run by, with and for women – including one-stop shops, mobile and pop-up centres and outreach services – but found that uneven and unstable funding is hampering their effectiveness. Women’s community centres are often run on the smell of an oily rag, despite mounting evidence of their effectiveness in supporting women who have been failed by other services.

This new Lottery funding could help transform women’s justice by investing in the voluntary organisations and services that will help keep women out of trouble and offer them and their families a brighter future.

To find out more about the Prison Reform Trust visit www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk

Supporting dads to be the best they can be

21 June 2015

To celebrate Father’s Day, Pauline Wonders from the Tyne Gateway Trust, tells us how their Lads and Dads project is helping young fathers become confident parents and positive role models.

On Father’s Day it’s important to remember that some fathers struggle to find the support they need to improve their parenting skills and gain access to their children.

Pauline-Wonders---Tyne-Gateway-TrustWe recently received funding from the Big Lottery Fund, to help young dads in North and South Tyneside develop into the best fathers possible so that their children can grow up with a good male role model. The idea of the project came from previous work and feedback from parents in disadvantaged communities.

Many of these young dads haven’t had a role model themselves and have faced a range of difficulties, such as a lack of confidence in their parenting, the result of which is their children grow up without the benefit of joint parenting or with no dad in their lives.

David is a local father who was forced to give up work to look after his four-year old son after his partner moved out of the family home. The child’s mother has regularly missed contact visits and the little boy’s behaviour and confidence has been affected as a result. Tyne Gateway supported David with parenting skills, money management, self-esteem, boundaries and routines and also to be the link between school and home.

David felt very alone himself and lacked confidence to attend training or seek employment but with Tyne Gateway’s support he has taken positive steps to improve his parenting and take responsibility for his own future.

Scott is a local father of a six-year old. He recently moved back to South Tyneside after suffering domestic abuse from his ex-partner, who had severe drug and alcohol addictions, and having to fight for full custody of his child, which he won. He was also still grieving for his eldest daughter who was murdered a few years ago and felt isolated and helpless with nobody to turn to. With the support of Tyne Gateway he has undertaken a number of activities and services, is now confident and has developed a good healthy bond with his child.

Both David and Scott now look to support others in Tyne Gateways new project.

Academic and anecdotal research tells us that a child’s life chances improve significantly where they are jointly parented so the Lads and Dads project will support dads like David and Scott. It will help dads learn how to look after children in their care and build relationships with the child’s mother so joint parenting can be managed without stress or tension impacting the child.

Lads and Dads is currently supported by a three year Reaching Communities Grant of £424,268, to see how it can help you, please visit our website.

For more information on Tyne Gateway Trust please visit: www.tynegateway.co.uk

Why dedicated funds for women and girls are lifesaving

19 June 2015

In the week we launch our £48.5 million Women and Girls initiative we hear from Polly Neate, CEO of Women’s Aid, about why dedicated funds for women and girls projects are vital, and literally lifesaving…

Polly-Neate

Women’s Aid CEO Polly Neate

As Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, the national domestic violence charity that has been operating for over 40 years, I know that dedicated funds for helping women and girls are vital. The women and girl’s initiative demonstrates that there is recognition of this – a step in the right direction.

Domestic violence is a gendered crime and a gendered issue; it affects women and girls far more than men, with men overwhelmingly the perpetrators. The often-quoted ‘1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are victims’ statistic is a myth. It is a dangerous one too, as it can lead to a rebalancing of resources away from responding to and supporting women and girls.

Across England, the Women’s Aid Federation relies on grants and donations to continue helping women and children fleeing domestic violence every year.

We help women rebuild broken lives, providing support in their own homes and in the community, specialist counselling and advice, services for children and services to help with parenting, and refuge for those who have to flee. We empower women and children to move forward, free from the dark legacy of domestic violence. We keep survivors at the heart of everything we do, and respond to what they define as their needs.

Women’s Aid also provides expert training and consultancy, both to specialist domestic violence agencies and professionals, and to other services and organisations, to ensure we are delivering the best possible service to women and their children. Our services are lifesaving – literally. A refuge, or the right support at the right time, can mean the difference between life and death for some women.

The loss of ring-fenced funding and poor commissioning practice by local authorities have seen resources for specialist domestic violence services and refuges slashed by local authorities, cutting the support women desperately need. Since 2010, 17% of domestic violence refuges have closed down in England. The pressure on those still delivering services is severe.

On average, two women a week in England and Wales are killed by a partner or ex-partner. The impact of the loss of specialist domestic violence services can be fatal. So, funds for domestic violence services, like this Big Lottery fund, can truly help save lives.

Our survivors are extraordinary women, testament to the strength of the human spirit. We need to ensure that all victims of domestic violence are given the opportunity to become survivors, to thrive in spite of the abuse they have suffered – and funds dedicated to women and girls will help us to do this.

To find out more about the work of Women’s Aid, visit www.womensaid.org.uk

Why women’s organisations are the “net beneath the net”

18 June 2015

Today the Big Lottery Fund unveils £48.5 million investment for women and girls projects. Vivienne Hayes, CEO at Women’s Resource Centre shares her personal reflections.

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Sometimes it’s easy to forget that women’s organisations are the “net beneath the net” for many women. It might sound like a fantastical claim, but it is not. It’s the truth and these organisations save countless women’s lives.

Women’s lives and experiences are not compartmentalised, and so the best of the women’s sector recognise this and on average provide between five and eight different services to a woman.

We don’t often blow our own trumpet in the Women’s Sector, partly because we are just too busy, partly because boasting doesn’t usually come easy. But when I think about the hundreds if not thousands of women I’ve met who work in our sector, one thing stands out; their commitment, passion and what I call “human love”. That’s something you cannot learn nor be trained to do and I would argue that it’s what makes our sector unique and the services we provide better than any statutory or generic service.

So who are these women who work in the sector; the ones that go the extra mile, that don’t shut up shop at 6pm when there’s a woman at the door seeking support. Like me many of them are themselves survivors of various and multiple discrimination; male violence, racism, disablism etc etc.

And there is no us and them, it is we women who are all on a journey separately and collectively, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, a journey of recovery, healing, empowerment and activism. Like so many others who work in our sector, my initial involvement in women’s organisations was as a service user. I escaped to London in the 1980’s from a very abusive relationship with a man. After searching for support I found a tiny organisation (no longer in existence) called Lambeth Women and Children’s Health Project (LWCHP). This organisation and the women in it were my lifeline. I do believe that without them I may not have survived so well as I realise now that I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown (or breakthrough) as we used to say- LWCHP helped me breakthrough instead of breaking down.

Subsequently I became a volunteer for LWCHP, then joined the management committee and progressed on within the women and children’s sector to reach my current position as the Chief Executive of the Women’s Resource Centre, an award winning organisation (Third Sector’s Britain’s Most Admired Charity) and personally an award winner of the National Diversity Award 2013 for Gender Role Model.

So without women’s grass roots led by and for specialist organisations, many women would be lost, including me, and without us there is no sector.

You can find out more about our investment in women and girls projects on our website.  

To find out more about the Women’s Resource Centre, visit their website

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