18 months into Covid, we ask what are the needs of local charities?

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We've supported 1,000+ projects such as Inns Court Residents Groups since those first Covid grants in March 2020. They're pictured here with their Vice Chair Ted Bowden, left, who’s now sadly passed away

23 September 2021 marked 18 months to the day since Quartet made its first Covid Emergency Response Grant. It was a time of enormous upheaval and uncertainty. It was a time when so many of you stepped up to help us and the communities in your midst.

Since then, we haven’t stopped, responding to each changing phase of the pandemic with new funding streams for local organisations, including a programme of Resilience grants. Now, as we move into autumn, we’re beginning to make our new Recovery grants.

We thought you’d like to hear from some of the organisations who received those early grants. We catch up with Talking Money advice service, who outline how they’ve responded to the pandemic, and highlight the needs they’re seeing today. We also hear from Caring in Bristol about their work to support our homeless citizens. 

Steven Dodds, Head of Partnerships and Impact at Caring in Bristol. © Photography by Khris Cowley for Here & Now (fb.com/wearehereandnow)

1. Caring in Bristol – preventing homelessness

With Bristol one of only two core cities where homelessness is rising, we speak to Steven Dodds, Head of Partnerships and Impact at Caring in Bristol about the needs they’re seeing – and how we can all help local people experiencing homelessness. 

Getting people off the streets and into safety in lockdown 1:0

“When the pandemic first happened, ‘Everyone In’ was a massive intervention,” explains Steven Dodds, “the Government-funded scheme temporarily housed people experiencing homelessness – primarily those sleeping rough – in self-contained accommodation during the first wave of the pandemic. According to government estimates, 90% of people rough sleeping were given an offer of accommodation via Everyone In (Kerslake Commission Interm Report)“.

The pandemic changed the shape of homelessness

Caring in Bristol responded to the pandemic by launching the Cheers Drive project, providing hot meals, activities and care to people experiencing homelessness in Bristol.

The project has slowly wound down and the hotels are back to their normal business.

“The Everyone In intervention changed the shape of homelessness. Street homelessness reduced to 35-40 people in Bristol, so very little street homelessness relative to previous years” explains Steven.

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Record numbers of homeless people in temporary accommodation

“When Everyone In ended, the local authority had a duty to house everyone concerned. We now have record numbers of homeless people in temporary or settled accommodation in Bristol.

“Street homelessness has started to increase again, but the vulnerability has also grown amongst people not living on the streets but still in insecure housing of different sorts. We need to support them, this is preventative work to stop them returning to street sleeping, or helping them access and maintain good housing.”

Growing need to support young people

Caring in Bristol, formerly known as Caring at Christmas, first formed in 1987. Their remit has grown in response to local need, and they’re increasingly focused on trying to prevent homelessness, as well as supporting people in crisis. A large proportion of their work is with people aged 16-25 – their Project Z team provide Bristol’s only floating support service for young people – a flexible service which helps people secure and maintain their tenancy. And a new project in the pipeline will see them open the city’s only dedicated youth shelter, providing accommodation and support.

“We’re seeing a growth in demand from young people aged 16-25 who are vulnerable to losing their accommodation.”

The pressure is on this autumn

“As well as the need to support all those in temporary and settled accommodation, there’s also a need to support the new demand from those that will become vulnerable to losing housing due to the end of the eviction ban, the end of furlough and the end of the Universal Credit uplift.”

Reflections on the last 18 months

Reflecting on the last 18 months, Steven says: “We had an overwhelming level of support from the city through the pandemic and we’re now investing in new projects to prevent homelessness in different forms.”

Along with many others, they were forced to close their night shelter – communal dormitory-style overnight accommodation – due to the pandemic and many of the city’s shared overnight shelters haven’t been able to reopen safely.

“But if you’re looking for positives from the pandemic” Steven says, “the alternative – private rooms – is a lot better for people.”

Their new youth shelter will be a five bedroom house, everyone with their own room, plus communal spaces.

How can the local community, and funders like Quartet, help Caring in Bristol and hundreds of vulnerably housed people in the city?

“Clearly homelessness doesn’t begin or end in the city centre. It’s about people in our communities across the city that don’t find the support they need, when they need it. We all need to think about how we can make our city and communities more supportive, and how we can be more understanding of those who need help.

“And to funders we say – help us build on the changes that have been forced on the homelessness sector during the pandemic, but that are actually positive. We need to focus more on prevention, on high quality housing and support, and on working better together as a city.”

Supporting projects tackling homelessness

Quartet Community Foundation has been funding projects preventing and tackling homelessness, including advice and mental health support, for many years. As well as funding the Cheers Drive project, we also awarded Caring in Bristol a grant earlier this year to boost the capacity of advice services.

Anna Brown, Chief Executive Talking Money

2. Talking Money advice service

Throughout the pandemic, the need for quality, accessible advice has been key. This need continues as local people struggle with debt, surviving on minimum wage jobs, rising fuel bills, the end of furlough, rising housing costs and changes in state benefits, among other issues. As one of the first charities to receive our Covid response grants in March 2020, we hear from Anna Brown their Chief Executive about how they responded – and the needs they’re seeing this autumn.

How is your service shifting this autumn?

Anna Brown, Talking Money Chief Executive:

“With high vaccination levels across the country and an attitude of some return to normality with other sectors reopening, we felt it important to offer clients the option of face-to-face support when they request help.

“All clients are now offered the choice of face-to-face, video link or telephone appointments. 

“So far, 42% have chosen to have their advice session face-to-face and the remainder have chosen a telephone session.”

Overnight shift from office to home working

In March 2020 Talking Money switched from office based to home working in just 48 hours. This move has remained longer-term, but they’ve continued to be quick to respond to their clients’ needs. So, when we were first out of lockdown in summer 2020, they started to re-introduce some face-to-face work for clients who could only access help in this way. 

Many clients can’t get online

When so many organisations moved to online working, this just wasn’t suitable for Talking Money as Anna explains:

“We were able to offer online video link meetings to clients from an early point in the pandemic but found that most clients didn’t have the equipment and/or the knowledge to use this effectively.

“From September 2020, we reinstated some outreach sessions at a local venue, and we used video-link with volunteers helping clients to get onto the equipment and a Talking Money adviser assisting them digitally from home.”

Growing need for support from clients twinned with difficult funding environment

Anna Brown, Talking Money Chief Executive:

“The funding environment has become increasingly competitive and challenging over the last 10 years, including cuts to some statutory funding. This has occurred in tandem with growing demand for our services due to greater numbers of people experiencing poverty and the complexity of people’s lives increasing.” Consequently, Talking Money are actively looking for new funding and grant opportunities to support this vital work.

Hear how Talking Money helped Jackie through a tricky time

Jackie was self-employed and her income was significantly reduced due to the coronavirus pandemic. She had lived in her flat for more than 20 years and was settled with good and supportive neighbours when her Housing Benefit was reduced by the bedroom tax, and an overpayment which happened when the Self- Employed Income Support Scheme grant was retrospectively applied as her income. Despite accessing the government Bounceback loan and a small Self Employed Income Support Scheme grant, Jackie was still struggling to afford her rent. 

Talking Money applied for help to top up Jackie’s rent to cover the bedroom tax, obtained a short-term grant from a local charity, to support her with her health which had recently deteriorated and applied for a grant towards her winter fuel bills that she hadn’t been aware she was entitled to.   

Jackie said: “I was beginning to get quite despondent about my health, the bad weather and the impact of both on my ability to work over winter. Getting the grant has helped lift the anxiety and has enabled me to start thinking more constructively about what strategies I can develop to deal with my health and work issues over the next 6 months.”