A report presenting an update on the council’s Anti-Poverty Strategy and an overview of the many initiatives that have supported residents in poverty over the last 12 months will go to the decision-making executive tonight (Monday 7 March).
Support for residents
Extensive work has been undertaken to support people living in poverty across the borough, with much of this done by, or in partnership with, the voluntary and community sector. Some of the main initiatives are summarised in the report, including:
- One Front Door – a service led by Citizens Advice Wokingham, supported by other voluntary and community groups, and funded by the council, which has been providing comprehensive support to residents throughout the pandemic
- Hardship Alliance – bringing together four local charities; First Days, Citizens Advice Wokingham, AgeUK Berkshire and Wokingham United Charities, to co-create the strategy, lead on the delivery of the final approved strategy and form a link to the wider sector
- Household Support Grant – helping the most vulnerable households cover essential costs – the majority of this was distributed to the Hardship Alliance to ensure it reaches the people who need it most, with the rest being used on food vouchers for families with children eligible for free school meals, to help during school holiday periods
- Charity and Community Hub – opening in January to provide a home to ten local voluntary organisations where residents can drop-in for advice, help and support
- Local Support Hub (online) – providing a single source of information and advice on issues such as benefits, debt, housing, relationship problems, mental health, unemployment, and more
- Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) – hosting a five-week programme during the school summer holidays for more than 650 children, in partnership with local organisations - the programme has also taken place during half terms and the Christmas break
- Warmer Winter project – supporting local charities, First Days and SHARE, to provide free blankets to residents who needed some help to keep warm over the winter
- Help to Heat scheme and Green Homes Grant – helping residents to make their properties more energy efficient so they can reduce the cost of running their home and cut their carbon emissions
- Employment Outreach Team – launching a dedicated support line and appointment service in local communities to help residents with a range of activities; helping them find the right job for them and develop their skills to feel confident applying for jobs and going to work
- Kickstart Scheme – helping get 16-24 year olds in the borough who were struggling to find work into employment at the council
- Support for A Christmas Presence – providing a free retail unit in the Elms Field development for a collaboration between local charities First Days, Wokingham Foodbank and SHARE, to provide gifts and festive food items for households that are financially struggling
Working in partnership
Cllr Laura Blumenthal, deputy executive member for anti-poverty said: “Working in partnership with the local voluntary sector to form the anti-poverty strategy has been crucial and we’ll continue to work closely together as we deliver it. Focusing on breaking the cycle of poverty and using data to inform this will help us identify and empower residents to help get them to where they want to be.
“There is already lots of work underway; from community engagement and supporting people into employment, to lessening financial burdens through the Council Tax Reduction Scheme and providing affordable or social housing. But there is so much more to be done. We’re looking forward to launch our strategy this Spring so we can begin moving forward with the action plan and start delivering sustainable outcomes for our residents.”
Developing the Anti-Poverty Strategy
In addition, the council has been developing the Anti-Poverty Strategy over the last six months, working with key partners from the voluntary and community sector to help inform it. The draft strategy has been consulted on across January and February and will now be updated to build in responses.
Further development with the Hardship Alliance will take place in the coming months, and the revised strategy is due to be presented to the Executive for approval on 26 May.
The decision-making executive is also being asked to agree the allocation of £500,000 from Government funding already given to the Council to support further development and delivery of the initiatives being created as part of the strategy.
This includes a successor to the One Front Door, supporting people with debt advice and coaching, as well as creating the capacity to develop, fund and deliver a whole range of other initiatives across the council and VCS partners, coordinated through the Hardship Alliance.
Amy Garstang, Chair of the Hardship Alliance, said: “Life is expensive, even more so with the rises in the cost of living. We want the residents of Wokingham Borough to know that there is support available and people ready to help. There is already so much good work going on in the Borough to support those in need.
"The Anti-Poverty Strategy will build on the work of the council and voluntary sector and look to implement new initiatives to provide further support. The Hardship Alliance want an Anti-Poverty Strategy that is co-produced and one we can champion and drive forward the action plan to make things happen and ultimately improve the lives of those living in the Borough.”
More from Wokingham Borough Council
Stay connected to the communities around you. Enjoy the latest on the Covid-19 pandemic, general news, updates and highlights straight in your inbox. Subscribe to our Wokingham Borough Connect newsletters now.