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Dev-Bank Wales MBO
17 June 2024

Community Organisations at the Crux of the Cost-of-Living Crisis


GUEST COLUMN:

Chris Johnes 
Chief Executive
Building Communities Trust

The shockwaves that followed the end of the pandemic – increased inflation, reduced government support, a sharp rise in fuel prices following the invasion of Ukraine – have led to a perfect storm for more and more people across Wales who are seriously struggling to make ends meet.

Prices of essential goods have risen sharply and public services have contracted significantly; people have struggled with eating, heating and everything in between.

Food insecurity is a huge problem and one which has long-lasting consequences for people’s health and wellbeing. There are now about twice as many people in Wales using foodbanks as there were in 2018, and this issue is getting worse each day.

So, who is there to step into the breach, to try and mitigate against these escalating pressures? Increasingly, this role has fallen to local community groups. Fortunately, there are hundreds across Wales who have stepped up to mark – organisations which have adjusted their focus to provide much-needed support to their friends and neighbours. The roles they have carried out have been essential, as local councils have faced deep cuts and seen their services decimated.

At Building Communities Trust, we work with organisations across Wales to understand the frontline challenges they face. Our most recent research report, Beyond Essentials: Community Responses to the Cost-of-Living Crisis, has shown for the first time how deeply the crisis is affecting these community groups.

  • Nearly all of them (84%) had seen a major shift in the way they work since the crisis
  • 50% had seen demand for their work rise at the same time as their income reduced
  • More than half were doing things that used to be run by local government and had set up new services to deal with the cost of living crisis; and
  • A staggering 80% were showing real signs of stress in terms of the pressures on their staff and volunteers.

Many of these community organisations are fragile and, although most fundraise to support their activities, most government funding is short-term and doesn’t address the core costs these groups need to survive. There is a real danger that some organisations will simply go under at a time when they are needed the most.

As Non Lederle, Deputy Chief Executive of Conwy Connects, a learning disability organisation in North Wales, told us:

“We should only work a 37-hour week, but if someone calls us at 9pm and we know that it might cause an adverse effect if we don’t respond, then we respond.”

This sentiment was echoed by a trustee from Lee Gardens Pool in Penrhiwceiber, Rhondda Cynon Taf, who said:

“We are the last port of call when the local authority, Citizen’s Advice or wellbeing officers can’t get support to people late on a Friday – that’s when they contact us. If someone is going to be without food over the weekend, we are able to step in.”

We have heard stories like these across Wales – which tell us that community groups are essential to many people’s lives, despite the fact that most run on a shoestring with a small number of staff and volunteers.

It is goodwill and people’s fundamental decency that is keeping the show on the road, which is why we want Welsh Government to do more to help these groups continue their work. Our report identifies a number of recommendations which cover funding of community groups, support for making their buildings more sustainable, and the rollout of a Welsh benefits system to help people claim the support to which they are entitled.

If we don’t act now, these groups will disappear and the people they support will fall, possibly irretrievably, through the cracks in our society. We can’t let that happen.




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