Suffolk charities and community groups to 'play a crucial role' in 2022

Christine Abraham, CEO of Community Action Suffolk, said she fears for the future of local charities

Christine Abraham, CEO of Community Action Suffolk, said local charities will step up and continue to deliver - Credit: COMMUNITY ACTION SUFFOLK

Suffolk charities and community groups are set to play a crucial role in 2022 as hardships - including financial and mental health - continue to affect residents. 

More than 90% of charities were negatively affected by the coronavirus crisis, according to national research, and yet demand for services has only increased. 

Food banks visits are up and reports of loneliness and isolation are on the rise, at the same time as fundraising events are cancelled and groups are calling for further financial support. 

Also, the Community Action Suffolk (CAS) volunteering survey has found that patterns are shifting, with the very real prospect that the sector is "losing more volunteers than we are gaining" and that a more innovative approach may be needed.

This could include remote roles or more family volunteering opportunities. 

Volunteering is a big issue for Home-Start in Suffolk, a charity that supports families across the county. 

Chief executive of Home-Start in Suffolk, Tara Spence Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

Chief executive of Home-Start in Suffolk, Tara Spence Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH - Credit: Archant

Chief executive Tara Spence said: "There's no questioning that people need 2022 to be a good year, unfortunately the reality is already indicating that families are going to experience continued challenges. 

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"For many parents that Home-Start in Suffolk supports they are at breaking point. The worries, stresses, and loss that they have experienced over the past 22 months have taken their toll. 

"High fuel and food costs mean that families are still having to choose between heating or food.  The recent interest rate rise will see an increase in mortgage payments and we are continuing to see many families stuck in overcrowded rental situations as they struggle to find suitable available accommodation. 

"At Home-Start we know the difference that having an independent person to walk with you and your family through a stressful time can make. Our volunteers provide regular support not only at the point of crisis but when that crisis is lifting, as we know this is when you can be most vulnerable.  

"Home-Start in Suffolk is currently seeing a 40% increase in referrals, the need for support is increasing and we are working hard to meet demand for our service." 

The family support charity has increased SEN provision, opened more support groups - both on and offline - and recruited more members of staff to meet the higher demand, but still needs more help. 

A target to bring 100 new volunteers on board in 2022 is ambitious but necessary. 

Optimism is out there - the Suffolk Community Restart project, in partnership with a number of Suffolk councils, has awarded £500,000 to help more than 350 groups restart their activities. 

And people are applying to volunteer, with 150 applications submitted on the Volunteer Suffolk hub in the eight weeks before Christmas. 

Christine Abraham, chief executive of CAS, said: "Charities and community groups in Suffolk will play a crucial role in 2022. 

"Declining mental health and physical wellbeing, loneliness and hardship that we have seen throughout the pandemic, means our services continue to provide vital support at a time when they are acutely experiencing their own challenges, be that a lack of staff and volunteers, funding and resource, or managing increased demand for services during this time.  

"These organisations and groups have stepped up and delivered continuously throughout the pandemic alongside system partners, and I have no doubt they will do so however they can, for as long as they are needed, such is the nature of our incredible sector here in Suffolk."