Saturday, 20 April 2024
Saturday, 20 April 2024

Wiltshire Community Foundation launches Cost of Living Crisis Appeal

WILTSHIRE Community Foundation is responding to the increasing hardship being felt by people in the county by launching a Cost of Living Crisis Appeal.

The appeal will generate vital funds to help grassroots voluntary groups and charities in Swindon and Wiltshire that are supporting families and individuals in the face of escalating rent, food and energy prices.

Community foundation joint chief executive Fiona Oliver said:

“We are hearing of increased need across the county with food banks running out of food and more and more people unable to afford to eat or heat their homes to a safe level.

“The price of food has risen faster in the last year than at any time since 1980, typical energy bills have doubled, rents and other household costs are escalating.

“This new fund will support projects which are keeping people fed and warm and provide additional practical support and advice to help people cope throughout this period of great hardship.”

Citizens Advice Wiltshire has said it received more enquiries about water and energy debt in the first two weeks of October 2022 than in the whole of October 2021.

A survey by Citizens Advice Swindon found one in five of 1,200 respondents have skipped meals to reduce costs and one in two said the costs of living crisis had negatively affected their mental health.

Mrs Oliver said the tougher the financial pressures placed on people the more the effects ripple out into other areas of their lives – with poor mental health, low self-esteem, domestic abuse and family breakdown all attributed to increased poverty.

She said:

“Young people’s education is also harmed – it is hard to concentrate at school when you are tired, hungry and worried about what is happening at home.” 

Charities in Swindon and Wiltshire, including foodbanks, debt advisors, family support and mental health groups, have told the community foundation they have seen a sharp rise in demand for their services in recent months – at a time when their own costs are rising.

She added:

“Many of the groups and charities we work with are small and they face the same pressures as the people they seek to help, with energy, rent, fuel and other running costs eating further into their income and leaving them with stark choices about which services they maintain – at the very point when people need them the most.” 

HEALS of Malmesbury, which provides debt advice and support, says it has seen a steep rise in people seeking help.

Chairman Gavin Grant said:

“The number of foodbank vouchers we distribute is 75 per cent up on this time last year. It is purely demand-driven, we are seeing a lot of new people who haven’t been to us before.”

The group has opened a community fridge and freezer in the town hall, which is supported by the Co-op and Aldi. Its opening has been extended to six days a week to meet demand.

Gorse Hill Baptist Church in Swindon began distributing food bags to struggling families in June 2021 after receiving a £5,000 Wiltshire Community Foundation grant. It is now sending out up to 80 a week and has also opened a community fridge.

Heather Prictor, one of the organisers, said 150 people a day, three times a week are coming for food. The group has opened the hall as an all-day café on Mondays. She said:

“With the winter coming and food and gas prices going up people are wanting to save money so we have a full hall every Monday. They are coming and staying to chat and keep warm.”  

Counselling and advice group Crosspoint in Westbury says it has received double the number of visitors between July and September than it had between January and March. It is now setting up a Money Advice Centre in response to the growing calls for debt advice 

Help Counselling in Trowbridge said in September it saw an 80 per cent increase in people needing help compared to September 2018. It has increased its counsellors from 12 to 24 but is still struggling to keep pace with demand.

Mrs Oliver said households with lower incomes are less able to cope with rising costs or unexpected expenses because they are less likely to have savings. 

She said:

“Everyone is facing an extra squeeze on their finances at the moment but any amount donated to the appeal will help some of the amazing groups across Wiltshire and Swindon maintain the support they are giving to families and individuals.

“Some people have already kindly made a donation of all or part of their Winter Fuel Allowance or Energy Bill Discount as they are in a position not to need all of it and we are able to direct this generosity to where it is needed most. It’s at times like these that Wiltshire and Swindon’s boundless community spirit shines through.”

Find out more about the appeal and donate at: localgiving.org/appeal/costofliving/ or call the donation line on 01380 738989 from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

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