In this guest blog Catherine Pymar, Executive Director of Hillside Clubhouse, shares how her charity is navigating the cost-of-living crisis and the challenges that have emerged. Opinions are the author’s own.
At Hillside Clubhouse, we work with people in Camden and Islington who have a mental health condition and support them into employment. We’re a medium-large sized, co-produced, local charity. Our tailored, personalised programme of support helps people to achieve their goals and aspirations, with a focus on wellbeing, training, volunteering, and employment. The members (beneficiaries) of our charity are integral to the running of it and we work in a very local and individual way. Therefore, the way we work and the support we offer is dictated by the pressures and challenges that our members face.
The cost-of-living crisis has had a seismic impact on our community; putting extreme pressure on those we support, squeezing our organisational resources and placing a strain on our members mental and physical health. People with severe mental ill-health (SMI) are often unemployed for long periods of time and face huge stigma when they enter the workforce. Most people we work with are on benefits and experiencing multiple complex challenges, which create barriers for participation in the wider community. Many more of our members have had to turn to food banks and alternative sources of food, such as community fridges. Whilst those on benefits are forced to make them stretch further, creating more uncertainty for people when they enter the jobs market.
Our members have often been on benefits for long periods of time, and many are in receipt of legacy benefits (e.g., job seekers allowance and ESA). Better off calculations are performed for members when they’re job hunting, so that they can have a clear understanding of the financial impact of employment. For some, employment doesn’t equate to more money in their pocket, especially when they’re part of a family whose income is dependent on benefits. The cost of workwear, IDs for proof of right to work and travel all act as barriers for people, who are already nervous about returning to the workplace. Many are worried about what will happen if they find work, come off their benefits and then lose their employment, particularly as this has been a common experience for many in the past.
How we’re responding to the cost-of-living crisis
Organisationally, we’ve worked hard to respond to the new needs of our members, whilst ensuring that they’re linked in with other local organisations who can provide additional support. We have secured funding, that has allowed us to offer grants to members who need to make a small upfront purchase to support their wellbeing e.g., a monthly travelcard to enable them to start work. We also have an onsite commercial kitchen that forms a training space for members and caters for local events. Partnerships have played an important role, through working with our local food partnerships, we’ve secured funding to enable us to provide a weekly hot free meal for members and local residents experiencing food insecurity. We’ve also collaborated with other local organisations, who provided a warm space over the winter to local residents and hot soup each week. As we move into the summer months, this partnership is continuing as a ‘welcome space’, providing local residents with a place to get a free meal and support.
We’ve found partnering with other local organisations to be one of the most effective ways in which we can address the cost-of-living crisis for our members. This has taken many forms, including participating in local networks, supporting members to access resources and specialist support, and working together to address need. Internally, members looking after our marketing, promotional materials and publicity have added a cost-of-living update to our weekly newsletter. This provides members with information on the latest talks, provision, and support available in the borough.
We’re conscious that the cost-of-living crisis has had an impact on our staff, as well as our members, and we’ve tried to provide support where possible. Despite many of our contracts and grant funding being set for the next few years, we made the decision to increase salaries in line with National Joint Council recommendations. We also offer flexible working and wellbeing support, and we try to be open and transparent with staff, members, and funders. Honest communication and strong relationships have been key to mitigating the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, allowing us to provide support to our members and staff.
If you’d like to find out more about the work of Hillside Clubhouse, you can visit their website, or take a look at their LinkedIn and Instagram accounts.