Thursday, September 21News For London

Thriving without money: Local London Charities tell the tale

With the country facing harsh financial climate, hundreds of charities in London are striving to create a better environment for local people. Despite their efforts, a new survey now shows that all of them are in danger.

How do local charities function and achieve their goals in London? What are the dangers that are stopping them from thriving?

Leah Robertson joined Mind in Harrow just over a year ago with a burning passion. Passion to help those in need, especially those who suffer from mental health issues. With experience in working at mental health care homes, she holds a postgraduate diploma in Mental Health Nursing from King’s College London. She is currently the coordinator of the Support & Wellbeing Information Service Harrow (SWiSH), and is in charge of supporting people with needs and helping them find a solution to their problems. “We direct people to Harrow Talking Therapy in Northwick Park Hospital, which people manage low to moderate anxiety and depression.”

“We are also able to direct people to crisis support via the Central North West London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWL) Single Point of Access Line if they require emergency or specialist mental health support.”, she added.

Support & Wellbeing Information Service Harrow (SWiSH) Launch Party (Photo Credit: Mind in Harrow)

As a SWiSH officer, she also enables callers to access support available for various other issues such as housing, money, and benefits. She recalls one of her recent cases “A gentleman came to me because his benefits had been stopped. He had no money and he did not know what to do. I supported him in calling up the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to figure out what went wrong”. It was a small yet impactful case where she was able to help someone who was in need and had no access to help.

Goals and Fundings: How local charities work

“For Better Mental Health” – Mind in Harrow

In the North West part of London lies a small yet inspirational charity called Mind in Harrow. It is a mental health charity that aims to improve lives of people dealing with mental health issues in the London Borough of Harrow. In comparison to a national based charity, it is concentrated in a specific region, Harrow, which makes it easier to spread its campaigns over the limited area. Founded in the 1960s, it has expanded with a current team of 20 staff members and over 60 volunteers. This is a huge number compared to many small charities.

Mind in Harrow leads a new service helping local residents called the Support & Wellbeing Information Service Harrow (SWiSH), which is run in partnership with 4 other charities. The service was commissioned in August 2015, as a part of Harrow Council’s obligations to implement the Care Act 2014. Anyone aged 18 and above who is suffering from emotional distress can contact the charity and be helped by one of the trained volunteers.

This includes providing information on local services available to manage finances, joining social groups, looking for work or even applying for a personal budget. Callers can be directed towards professional mental health support if necessary and are directed to Harrow Talking Therapies or CNWL mental health services.

Leah Robertson explains how a local charity in Harrow works and gets funding. She also mentions the challenges they face when it comes to running the SWiSH programme.

When asked whether there is a lot of competition between the big charities and small charities in London, she revealed that there is no such thing as competition.  “I wouldn’t say that we are in competition with the national charities. Even though we are affiliated with National mind, we are an independent charity. There are a lot of local charities in Harrow that we work in conjunction with specially for our SWiSH project.”

“Dig, Plant, Grow, Achieve” – Green Corridor

T5 Heathland Project – Green Corridor Charity Project (Photo Credit: Green Corridor)

Green Corridor is a small local charity aiming to make a big impact in the West London boroughs and is one of many charities that is facing lack of proper funding. The vision of this charity organisation is to connect young people and their communities by improving access of employment, education and training through practical environmental land based learning.  

The charity’s latest project called ‘T5 Heathland Project’, is a local employee volunteering project that will run its course over the next 18 months. With a huge variety of activities going on at Green Corridor, this project is said to be the biggest of all. Adjacent to the charity’s Learning and Developing Centre, the project will transform approximately 2.5 acres of scrubland into a vibrant growing space with wildflowers, vegetables, fruits and native heathland. The aim of the project is to regenerate part of the local environment around Heathrow Airport. It will also help aid young people with special educational needs and learning differences. They will be given the chance to help plant, grow and harvest a much greater volume of produce that will enhance their learning experience.

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Photo Credits: Green Corridor

Over 1,500 staff members will be donating their time every Friday by helping re-use soil to make wildflower bunds around the site. The project also aims to lay paths made from wood chip; create raised planting beds, as well as, beehive platforms using donated wooden pallets.

Nathan Gurland – Volunteer at Green Corridor (Photo Credit: Green Corridor)

Meet Nathan Gurland, a recent addition to the volunteering team at Green Corridor. He is currently an assistant to the horticulture assessor, guiding and helping the students in their tasks in addition to general gardening and maintenance of the grounds. He is soon going to be a part of the T5 Heathland Project , where he will help instruct other volunteers. Nathan believes that “the charity is lacking in staff and students with one of the assessors leaving.”  But what about the funding? Does the charity have sufficient fundings in order to achieve their future goals? 

Tim Knight – CEO of Green Corridor (Photo Credit: Green Corridor)

Tim Knight, CEO of the organisation shed light on how the funding works at Green Corridor, “We were reliant on one major grant aided project before my arrival as the new CEO just 10 months ago (95% of our income), and as a result I have had to substantially reduce core costs by 40% (through staff redundancies).” He said he aims to have a  50/50 split between fee-earned and grant income within the next 6 months.

The charity has started to refocus their target beneficiaries on young people with special needs who come with Education Health Care Plan (EHCP) funding. This in turn has helped raise fee-earned income.

“Be unconventional, Be a volunteer” – Time Bank

Time Bank is a national volunteering charity that was established in the year 2000. It helps recruit and train volunteers to deliver mentoring projects to tackle social problems. Their purpose is to enable outstanding volunteering experiences by making use of people’s skills.  One of their latest volunteering project called ‘Talking Together’ aims to provide informal spoken language training to predominantly Bangladeshi, Somali and Pakistani women living in small areas of London, Birmingham and Leicester. This creative project won £6m from the Department for Communities and Local Government, which enabled them to extend the project beyond the walls of London.

Sat  in a busy canteen of the building where several companies hold their offices, Helen Walker, the CEO of Time Bank explained how the charity gets its fundings. “We don’t have any core fundings, the core fundings are the hardest for us to fund raise for, and that is the salary for senior management for services like HR, finance, communications and IT”, she revealed.

‘Talking Together’ was a huge success in those regions of the UK. This shows that local small charities are achieving their goals outside of London as well. The case study external evaluation report can be found here.

Danger to the local charities:

According to the survey of UK charity chief executives published on 28 February by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), 18% of all UK charities are fearing for the future of their organisation. The survey suggests that one in five UK charities are struggling to survive, specially small charities with an annual income of less than £1m.

Tim Knight thinks that Green Corridor, like all small charities, faces tough times with reductions in central government funding to local authorities.  “For us this has meant that valuable development time has been spent creating good quality bids that are still not successful simply because the chances of success are so reduced due to increased competition.” The charity is facing a dilemma after having three bids turned down in last three months. “ (It) was nothing to do with quality, just that funder is overwhelmed and can only fund 5 or 10 % of the bids they receive no matter how worthy the rest!”, he explained.  

Although the survey suggests lack of funding being the key issue, it highlights another top challenge for charities in the UK: raising awareness.

Data obtained from the survey shown in the graph below reveals that national and international charities raise awareness of their own charity or cause (32% and 35% respectively), compared to local and regional charities (10% and 16%). This may be because local charities have less desire to increase their profile due to not being able to meet demands. It could also be because it is easier to raise awareness on a smaller scale.

Source: Social Landscape: the state of charities and social enterprises survey (Graph by: Khyati Rajvanshi)

How the charities battle the dangers:

Each charity has its own way of dealing with dangers such as lack of funding and volunteers. Mind in Harrow, Green Corridor and Time Bank encourage more volunteer work and donations. This is done via social media, posters, advertisements, and campaigns across London.

Leah Robertson, emphasised on the importance of volunteering work and how they help overcome not only the lack of fundings and resources but also raising awareness. According to her, narrowing their focus on Harrow as a region helps get more attention because all sources are based in one location. It also helps attract volunteers from Harrow.

Green Corridor, on the other hand has come up with a new joint venture with a private sector company to create a new social enterprise where profits from growing gourmet mushrooms cultivated in waste coffee grounds collected from the airport and then sold back to the airlines. This fee-earned income along with £350,000 raised over the year through volunteer work,  will enable them to be less reliant on the vagaries of grant funding as the business grows.

Helen Walker explains how volunteering has helped the charity bloom over the years. She also mentions how lack of funding can possibly alienate volunteers over time. “The challenge with telling people how amazing volunteering is that you need a charity sector that has a meaningful, flexible and impactful volunteering opportunities”. This could indeed be difficult with lack of funding and publicity.

While the lack of funding and resources cannot be solved overnight, these three local London charities have proved that one can still achieve good results in a harsh financial climate. With different marketing and volunteering techniques, each charity is aiming to achieve their goals and move forward with their upcoming projects.

Video and Audio by Khyati Rajvanshi