Cumbria Community Foundation launched the Cumbria COVID-19 Response Fund four weeks ago with an initial target of £1million to support community and voluntary organisations that are helping to feed and protect elderly and vulnerable Cumbrians as part of the county’s co-ordinated response to the pandemic.
In that time, more than half a million pounds has already been given out by the Cumbria COVID-19 Response Fund and the charity is now raising the target to £3 million.
The Cumbria COVID-19 Response Fund has helped to provide much needed food and medicine to isolated old and vulnerable people sheltering in their homes. It has helped families in poverty and those in temporary accommodation, women affected by domestic violence, and supported isolated and vulnerable young people. Grants have also been given to help charities that have seen a rise in demand for their services, such as mental health provision and carers organisations.
Throughout the county, thousands of volunteers have come forward to create new self-help groups, alongside support from many of the existing 6,000 charitable groups across Cumbria that are stepping up and working to reduce pressures on the NHS. Teamwork among public, private and charitable organisations means Cumbria now has a call centre and a network of hubs coordinating volunteers and delivery of food and medicines.
Andy Beeforth OBE, Chief Executive of the Community Foundation said: “Cumbria has been at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic with some of the highest recorded incidences of the disease. Our doctors, nurses, health workers and all key workers have all been magnificent and we thank them.
“As we enter a further three weeks of lockdown, many people are unable to work. Families are applying for Universal Credit for the first time and many businesses have been without income for weeks.
“The need is great and growing. Our charities are at the forefront of supporting people at this desperate time. The money we’ve given out so far has kept people safe but what we have raised will soon run out. Some of our most important charities are themselves facing financial problems and without support from the COVID-19 Fund they may have to close."
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Assistant Chief Constable, Andy Slattery, who chairs the Cumbria Covid-19 Strategic Coordination group said: “I have seen the way local charities and community volunteers have worked together in support of our most vulnerable people. I understand the significant impact the virus is having.
“It is vital that we have funds available for local charities and voluntary organisations to support people in urgent need.”
Colin Cox, Director Public Health, said: “Supporting older and vulnerable people to self-isolate is particularly challenging for community groups, as the situation is exacerbated by the remote, rural nature of our county. In addition, there are proportionally more people in the vulnerable self-isolating category as the county is characterised by a ‘super-ageing’ population, particularly in the more rural areas.
“The need for practical support will last for at least three months and may well be extended beyond that, such as the delivery of food and essential items to those who are self-isolating. There is also a need for other types of support, such as befriending, emotional wellbeing, mental health, bereavement and counselling, which will increase and be required over a longer period.”
One in eight households in Cumbria have an income of less than £10,000 a year. People locked in poverty are more likely to be in poor health, disabled, and to be caring for others. In addition, people stuck in poverty are more likely to experience anxiety, depression and other mental health difficulties.
The implications of COVID-19 also mean that many more people struggling to keep their heads above water could be swept into poverty as a result. The virus has forced many people to look for help in areas that they may have thought they’d never need, and local Citizens Advice have seen an unprecedented demand for their services.
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Andy Auld, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Carlisle and Eden, said: “Since the Coronavirus crisis started, we have seen an increase locally in the number of people seeking our help - particularly on the issues of unemployment, paying bills, furloughing and access to food. Residents contacting us often need to address multiple issues at once - getting food vouchers, applying for benefits, and preventing eviction and reorganising debt repayments longer term.
"The crisis is disproportionately affecting those on lower incomes – people working in service industries, those on zero-hour contracts are amongst the first to be dismissed or furloughed. Many working people are already on low incomes and will struggle with any further reduction. This will likely result in increased poverty and further ill-health. We are particularly concerned about the links between the lockdown, poverty and mental health problems – these can lead on to difficulties with debt, housing etc. Part of our work is to try to help break this cycle.”
Older people are particularly vulnerable to Coronavirus. Along with having isolation and mobility challenges, older people often have a weaker immune system and are also more likely to have conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes or kidney disease, which weaken their body’s ability to fight infectious diseases.
In South Lakeland, over a quarter of residents are aged over 65. The Fund has helped organisations such as Age UK South Lakeland to offer a variety of emergency services including telephone shopping and befriending, and a prescription collection and hospital transport service. Hugh Tomlinson, Chief Officer, said: With the extension of the current restrictions, we expect the need for services such as the befriending scheme to continue to rise. We should be under no illusion that the level of help required by these vulnerable groups will not end with any relaxation of the current restrictions and many will require support well beyond the lifting of social isolation measures.
At Age UK South Lakeland, we have taken the decision to continue to deliver as full a service as possible and have remained open throughout this difficult period. This decision was not easy because all our shops have had to close at this time, significantly reducing our income. However, we are here and ready to provide that support and deliver the services needed. The funding received from Cumbria Community Foundation will help us to do that."
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Much more needs to be done to support families with children in this time of national crisis. As unemployment rises over the coming weeks and months, many more families will require welfare support to get by. 12,000 children across Cumbria live in poverty and in Barrow, it’s one in three. Free school meals make a huge difference to those on low income, but we know there have been issues with children receiving the vouchers provided to replace the meals they would receive at school. Many more families will need to turn to food banks, which have also been hit by shortages and many are running low on essentials.
Love Barrow Families CIC works with families who live in the most deprived wards in the town. Many have relationship difficulties and mental health issues, which are exacerbated by the virus. The charity received £4,000 to enable staff and volunteers to work remotely and to cover costs associated with the food and prescription delivery service.
Trina Robson, Director at Love Barrow Families, said: “This crisis has taken away the place where our families came together, and we are doing our best to continue to reach out to everyone and to put people in touch with each other. We know that it is relationships and love that count, and we are finding as many ways as possible to provide this. One way is through our volunteers providing a home cooked meal for all the families who need it every week and an activity or challenge that families can complete. We are using various means of having fun and staying in touch remotely and the funding will help us to do this. For our families this is a lifeline. It means that they can access the right support, be that psychological or practical, from the right place at the right moment to stay well and keep going through this difficult time."
For all these reasons, Cumbria Community Foundation is asking those people who can afford to donate, to please do so and help them meet the new fundraising target of £3 million for the Cumbria COVID-19 Response Fund.
To make a donation and support local groups, please visit: www.cumbriafoundation.org