Foundation Scotland has awarded £694,000 in crisis support to 185 local community projects in the north and north-east during the last 18-months.
Throughout the pandemic, many people have been placed into situations that we couldn’t have imagined dealing with.
It has been a particularly bleak 18-months, and for some, it has been far harder than others.
Dealing with local lockdowns, furlough and everything in between, the reliance on support services has never been higher.
The demand for foodbanks and outreach programmes has skyrocketed – and so too has the number of people relying on them to survive.
Thankfully with the help of local community groups supported by Foundation Scotland grants, many people have found the support they need.
Grants have been distributed to 185 different charities and grassroots groups across Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Moray and the Highlands.
The money has gone some way to promoting recovery in communities and many individuals’ lives.
Giles Ruck, chief executive at Foundation Scotland, said: “Community groups have been the beating heart of Scotland’s response, and we are proud to be the funder they know they can turn to in times of need.”
Child ‘bullied’ at school gains newfound confidence
Suffering from sight loss and being on the autistic spectrum, 12-year-old T has had trouble finding friends to play with.
Finding out that their child had been bullied and struggling to find them somewhere after school to socialise and do activities – T’s physical health was not that of a typical 12-year-old.
Wishing to stay anonymous, T’s mum turned to Young People’s Sensory Service (YPSS), which is a branch within North East Sensory Service (NESS), for help.
Provided with two separate grants by Foundation Scotland, equalling £4,857 and £4,007 respectively – the charity was able to continue helping the 6,500 sensory impaired people it supports across the north-east.
Since attending sessions put on by NESS, T’s confidence has grown massively, and they have even been able to make friends their age.
When restrictions allowed, the charity partnered up with Outfit Moray to put on several outdoor activities for sensory impaired children.
Initially too scared to participate in climbing and archery due to their sight loss, a mixture of group encouragement and newfound confidence allowed T to join in.
A proud moment for the NESS team, T’s mum said: “They’re so chuffed, they can’t stop talking about it.”
Helping ‘people to sleep at night’
Health Scotland defines food poverty as “the inability to acquire or consume an adequate or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so.”
It is an issue that only seems to be growing across the UK.
Thousands across the north-east found themselves with less income than before the pandemic.
Either through furlough or job cuts that have struck the region, it has become harder for vulnerable people to put food on the table.
Groups such as Stella’s Voice and local community outreach programmes such as Peterhead foodbank have been trying to ease the burden where they can.
Mark Morgan, European director of Stella’s Voice, said: “Furlough, job losses and cuts to universal credit have left people more vulnerable than ever.
“Countless people have found themselves having a hard time, suddenly out of work and unable to put food on the table.
“It is a slippery slope that without help can spiral out of control.”
Often, however, issues that charities try to tackle don’t scratch the surface of how bad things are for some of the north-east’s most vulnerable.
Mr Morgan added: “We always try and ask more questions of the people that come to us because it often isn’t just food or fuel that they are struggling with.
“We had a situation recently where an elderly woman’s washing machine had broken, and she was washing her clothes by hand.
“Thankfully, we were able to source a machine and fit it all for her, and she told us that it was the first time she had slept in weeks.
“That is what we do this for, taking that burden off people; sometimes it can allow people to sleep at night.
“Without the help given by donors such as Foundation Scotland, we couldn’t give out our number and say we’re here to help.
“It has been hard. The news came in one night that we’re closed because of Covid, and there are still people out there who need help.”
Grant recipients have further distributed money to aid community groups
Charities such as Stella’s Voice, which received two separate grants totalling £9,640, have also teamed up with other local community groups in order to help people.
Allison Mitchell, head of Peterhead foodbank, said: “This year, everyone has been in trouble. It feels like the struggling will go on for a while to come.
“We have been really busy during the pandemic. People have seen prices increase and huge losses in jobs.
“Often they have to choose when the next meal comes if they can afford food, fuel or heating.
“We aren’t out of this yet, but thankfully with the help of clients and grants, we have been able to help people.
“Christmas is fast approaching, and we want to do everything we can to help people.”
‘Never been in the position of being this hungry and sad’
For many of us, food poverty is an abstract thought, something that people hear about on the news.
But for thousands of people, it is a reality that they live on a daily basis.
Moray School Bank was one such charity that was able to lend relief to parents thanks to an emergency support fund provided by Foundation Scotland.
After receiving a £5,000 grant, they were able to provide outreach for those in dire need.
One parent, who wished to remain anonymous, shared how their battle to put food on the table left them “lying awake at night” and how Moray School Bank helped provide support when they needed it most.
After losing her job due to Covid and being housed in temporary accommodation, a mum of five struggled to meet fuel and food costs with her Universal Credit payments.
The charity intervened offering food, fuel, referral to emergency support and assistance with hospital travel when needed.
The mother said: “Lying awake at night meal planning what we had left to eat, knowing it isn’t possible to last the days until our next payment of Universal Credit, Moray School Bank gave us an Asda food voucher, so we were able to get shopping.
“Coming home with the bags was like seeing the kids open their presents at Christmas. We have never been in the position of being this hungry and sad.
“I worked and budgeted but overnight, my income disappeared. I just couldn’t have got by without their help. I am so grateful.”
A need to ‘support families wherever we can’
Often food poverty has served as a political football, but recent efforts made by those with experience, such as Manchester United star Marcus Rashford have reignited conversations and relief.
Founder of Moray School Bank, Debi Weir, said: “We are grateful for all the support we have received over the course of the pandemic.
“Through financial aid, such as that provided by Foundation Scotland, we have been able to support families in need with fuel and food – and in some cases with grants.
“Throughout the pandemic, 70% of the families that came to us for aid had at least one parent working and as such weren’t always entitled to the same support that those on benefits were.
“Many found themselves on furlough or even out of a job, it is a very difficult position to be in, but it is for us to support families wherever we can.
“Financial support kept us open and active; we can’t thank those who helped us enough.”
Giles Ruck, chief executive at Foundation Scotland, added: “It’s this incredible network of local groups who responded most effectively; COVID has shown us that local people know how best to respond, they held the real insight, they knew what was truly needed, and what could be delivered quickly, as the crisis struck and continued.”
On a national level, the community foundation distributed over £32 million across the entirety of its 122 different funds and awarded over 5,600 grants to almost 3,000 organisations across Scotland since the end of March 2020.