Demand for housing support service in West Somerset continues to increase
A recent survey has suggested that since the coronavirus pandemic started, more than 170,000 private tenants have been threatened with eviction by their landlord or letting agent, and an estimated 230,000 renters in England have fallen into arrears [source: Shelter]. Local charity, West Somerset Advice, fear that this will increase when the government lifts the ban on evicting tenants.
Based in Minehead and delivering their service across the west of Somerset, West Somerset Advice runs a housing advocacy project which was set up in response to increasing demand for housing advice. In 2018 they were awarded a 3-year grant for £108,923 from the Hinkley Point C (HPC) Community Fund, administered by Somerset Community Foundation (SCF).
In the last year, West Somerset Advice has provided specialist housing advice and support to 709 people in communities in west Somerset, with an additional 600 family members also benefiting. In the last 12 months the charity has seen an increase of more than 150% of welfare cases related to the affordability of renting.
With funding for the project now in its third year, Susan Clowes, Manager at West Somerset Advice explained: “Since the coronavirus outbreak we have had to redesign our service, so that we can now offer socially distanced advice.
“There is still a need to provide face-to-face services for people who are digitally excluded or too vulnerable to use the ‘phone, and, having set up our office to comply with government guidance, we’ve been able to offer limited face-to-face appointments since August. And we’re currently working to find an alternative to our outreach sessions by using technology such as setting up a virtual waiting room that can be accessed from any PC, laptop or mobile phone, or from public computers in libraries for those facing digital exclusion.
“If our virtual waiting rooms are successful, they could be particularly beneficial for rural outreach during the pandemic.”
Since the pandemic, West Somerset Advice has also taken a key role in the provision of food to people who are shielding, working closely with Public Health and the Community Resilience team at County Hall, and making referrals that help to ensure the most vulnerable in our communities gain access to the right services.
Val Bishop, Programmes Director at Somerset Community Foundation adds: “One of the strengths of this project is the depth of outreach work it undertakes. There are 70 outreach sessions every three months and West Somerset Advice has reported that access to their services are more consistent where outreach sessions are provided.”
The HPC Community Fund is part of a wider £20 million commitment of funding, provided by EDF through Section 106 agreements, for communities that are affected by the development of the new nuclear power station, to promote their social, economic and environmental wellbeing and enhance their quality of life.
The most recent organisations to be awarded a grant from the HPC Community Fund are:
- Quantock Hills AONB: Somerset Nature Connections
- A contribution to a partnership project working across Somerset to connect individuals with poor mental health to local green spaces through short courses, work with community groups and training for professionals (grant award refers to work in Sedgemoor and Somerset West & Taunton only)
- £90,000 over 3 years
- North Petherton Playing Fields Charitable Trust: Memorial Park Project
- Re-development of playing field to include activities and spaces for whole community
- ATWEST (Accessible Transport West Somerset): A new minibus for ATWEST community transport
- Contribution to purchase a new minibus to facilitate work with care homes, a travel service and a new shopping route
- Somerset Sight: Somerset Sight Support
- Increasing a volunteer befriending programme in Sedgemoor and supporting a Mobile Advisory Service in Sedgemoor in Years 2 and 3.
- £85,000 over 3 years
- Stogursey Parochial Church Council: Stolford and Wick Community Hub
- To make alterations to St Peter’s Church, Stolford to enable it to expand its community use for the area
- Bishops Hull Hub Ltd: Bishops Hull Hub
- To pay for solar panels for a new build community hub on the outskirts of Taunton
If you run a local community project in Somerset and would like to find out more about grant funding from the HPC Community Fund please visit: www.hpcfunds.co.uk or call Somerset Community Foundation on: 01749 344949.
SCF is passionate about doing as much as possible to support our communities, and is encouraging local people, businesses, charitable trusts and organisations who feel able to donate to the Somerset Coronavirus Appeal to visit the SCF website: www.somersetcf.org.uk/appeal