Struggling Hartlepool families will see their debts top £10million this year, a charity has predicted.
Bosses at Hartlepool Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) say they are handling 120 new enquiries a week.
The news comes after the town was identified as one of the three worst areas in the region for people facing the threat of eviction.
Bureau manager Joe Michna said the year had seen a sharp rise in the number of people asking for help after relaunching their telephone advice service, out of action for 18 months.
“We have seen a big increase in the number of local residents seeking advice and assistance with both debt and welfare benefit issues,” he said.
“The bureau has simply never been busier.”
Between April 2013 and April 2014, the bureau gave advice and assistance to residents with total combined debts of more than £8million.
Although final figures for the present financial year have not yet been collated, bosses say they expect the total to rise to more than £10million.
The problems facing Hartlepool families were highlighted in December, when the town was identified as an eviction hot-spot, with one in every 104 homes at risk of repossession.
Hartlepool had the third worst rate in the North East, behind only South Tyneside and Newcastle, according to statistics published by homeless charity Shelter.
The average level of personal debt among CAB clients is between £25,000 and £30,000, excluding mortgage liabilities, and particular problems include rent and mortgage arrears, credit card debts, personal and pay day loans and overdrafts.
“We are running an innovative Mental Health Advice and Advocacy Service which is very much in demand and has given advice and assistance to 250 people who have some form of mental health condition”, said Mr Michna.
“We could not provide our service without the help of our key funding bodies and we say a special thanks to the Big Lottery Fund, the Money Advice Service, the Northern Rock Foundation and the Hartlepool and Stockton Clinical Commissioning Group for their financial support.”
Anyone who wants financial support and advice can call into the bureau in Park Road between 9.30am and 3pm on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Telephone advice is available on 01429 408 401 between 9.30am and 3pm on Tuesday and Thursday and the bureau can be contacted via e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org
or through the website http://www.hartlepool-cab.co.uk
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 27 Feb 2015
A foodbank and money advice service that helps more than 15,000 people is being expanded with Lottery funding.
The £397,230 Big Lottery Fund grant to the Durham Christian Partnership is one of ten awards totalling £2.7m to North-East organisations.
The Partnership helps families and individuals referred to it because they are struggling on low incomes or have debt problems
It will increase its emergency food distribution points in rural areas, create 60 more volunteer posts and provide more debt and welfare advice.
It estimates that over the next three years the foodbank will benefit at least 25,000 people and the debt advice service will support up to 500 people.
Its chairman of trustees, Peter MacLellan, said:
“In three years the foodbank has grown from one distribution point to 25 and provided three days of food to more than 15,000 people in the last 12 months – up from 10,803 in the previous 12 months.
“Low income, debt and issues with the benefit system have been the major causes of crisis.
“Many people are only one pay cheque away from a financial crisis, so attendees can come from all backgrounds, the homeless, people in affluent neighbourhoods, people who have never needed benefits, those who are dependent on them.
“Recognising that a food crisis is usually a symptom of other challenges faced by people, the foodbank is keen to extend the support it provides to help address the underlying needs and ensure that those attending it get all the support they need.
“This grant from the Big Lottery Fund will help us to achieve this aim, restoring some measure of hope and confidence to people who find themselves in a very difficult time.”
Source – Durham Times, 16 Dec 2014
A drive to keep people in Jarrow out of the hands of loan sharks and payday lenders has been launched – thanks to a £20,000 Lotto grant.
The cash will help raise awareness of the town’s existing advice drop-in centre at Jarrow’s Grange Road Baptist Church.
The church currently plays host to The Bridges – Your Community Bank, the trading name of South Tyneside Credit Union.
The grant, from Big Local, part of the Big Lottery Fund, will help increase sessions at the church and encourage better money management in central Jarrow.
The two-year programme will also help people looking to escape the cycle of sky-high interest rate loans.
One key element will be the creation of four savings clubs in schools, nurseries and children’s centres, to teach youngsters about saving.
Last year the bank issued 989 loans, payable back within a year, and typically for between £800 and £1,000, and totalling around £845,800, at interest rates from 5.1 per cent APR and 43.8 per cent – far lower than any payday lender.
But bosses believe the partnership has the potential to encourage many more people to approach them for safe, well-planned and responsible financial support, and for loans which reflects their ability to repay.
Janette Wynn, manager of Bridges – Your Community Bank, said:
“This partnership is an important development in helping people to get away from using either payday lenders, or doorstep lenders.
“It will raise awareness to residents that credit unions are another alternative source of borrowing instead of using payday loans and door step lenders.
“It will help adults by offering loans at far lower interest rates than they may otherwise pay, and it will also encourage them towards more responsible borrowing.”
Anne Corrigan, project co-ordinator for Big Local in Central Jarrow, added:
“This will help people to access affordable loans, reducing the numbers reliant on pay day loans and loan sharks and ultimately improving the economic stability of the community.”
Loans are typically used for home improvements, holidays, Christmas expenses, buying a car, and debt consolidation.
More information is available from Bridges – Your Community Bank on 0191 454 7677 or by emailing email@example.com, or from Anne Corrigan on 0191 428 1144 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org,uk
Source – Shields Gazette, 31 Oct 2014
It’s called the Natural Health Service – and sums up the therapeutic benefits flowing from green spaces and contact with wildlife.
“Nature is good for us. This is something that we intuitively know, and for which there is mounting evidence,” says Northumberland Wildlife Trust chief executive Mike Pratt.
“Stroll through a nature reserve, or just watch wildlife from your window – all contribute to our physical, mental and emotional well being.”
For many urban dwellers, it is parks which offer a link to the natural world.
“Many people talk about “the other NHS” – the alternative and preventative health benefits that nature provided for free,” says Mike.
“After all, we are animals and are intrinsically linked to the ecosystem and life support provided through the surrounding environment.
“So it’s no surprise that we feel better when we interact with wildlife, and enjoy the open air and green spaces, benefitting from the therapeutic qualities of the natural world.”
The Wildlife Trusts is proposing a Nature and Well Being Bill which recognises the basic connection between health and the natural environment.
Mike says: “The idea is to bring together all the disparate protections and designations affecting the natural environment under one umbrella piece of legislation.
“Work has started on this and we have met senior politicians to generate interest and support.
“We will be attending all the parties’ autumn conferences to push the idea and we are trying to get manifesto pledges in advance of next year’s General Election.”
The Heritage Lottery Fund’s (HLF) Parks for People scheme, which has invested millions of pounds in restoring and improving green spaces all over the UK, has touched almost every local authority area in the North East.
Since 1994, the HLF has jointly invested with the Big Lottery Fund £60m in over 50 parks related projects in the region. Soaring visitor numbers suggest the investment has paid off in spades.
An improved outdoor space can make a significant difference to the quality of life for many people on a daily basis.
“Parks are free,” says Jerry Dronsfield, North Tyneside park and horticulture manager.
“They provide a green space, a place for physical activity and they promote health and wellbeing. It’s what we call here a Natural Health Service.
“Green spaces provide great benefits for physical and mental health, and parks were created as green lungs in polluted cities.”
Fears have been voiced that councils, faced with Government funding cuts, are in turn reducing spending on parks upkeep.
Two decades of public and lottery investment has ensured that the majority of UK parks are in better condition, but unless future funding is generated in new ways, parks are at serious risk of rapid decline and even being sold off and lost to the public forever.
“One of the important things about parks is that if they are not maintained then people don’t go in,” says Morris Boyle, retired chairman of the Friends of Barnes Park in Sunderland.
“If you don’t maintain them then they quickly fall into decline, but when there is a lot of footfall people feel safer and that encourages more visitors.”
An example is the restoration of Wallsend Parks in North Tyneside, which includes the 1900 Richardson Dees Park, Wallsend Hall grounds and Princes Road arboretum.
Comprising 40 acres over three interconnecting sites, Wallsend Parks fell into a gradual decline over the last few decades.
But that has dramatically changed since last year, thanks to a £7m lottery cash redevelopment.
Works have included refurbishing the tennis courts, improved plantings, restored views, rebuilding the Victorian bandstand, and the extension of the 1930s bowling pavilion to include a café with wi-fi, which is designed as a social hub for the area.
There is also an innovative play area, which includes a zip wire and youth shelter for older children and a sand pit for toddlers.
It has already attracted around 100,000 more visitors to the park.
“With parents, if your children are happy, then you’re happy, and Wallsend Parks is now a hive of activity, ” says Jerry.
Students working alongside local historians have produced 17 illustrated panels on the park’s history and biodiversity, which will go on permanent display.
One of the original aims was that Wallsend should become a destination park, rather than one purely for locals, says Jerry, and the evidence is that this has already happened.
“It’s a hub for the area,” he says. “What has happened is fantastic”.
Ouseburn Parks in Newcastle includes Jesmond Dene, Armstrong and Heaton parks. The parks were awarded a £4.4m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund with match funding from Newcastle City Council.
Often visitors don’t realise they can walk for a full two miles between the parks without crossing a road, says parks manager Seamus Tollitt.
The overall Ouseburn Parks scheme won an award for its restoration in 2012. Attractions include a green visitor centre, landscaping, the restoration of historical buildings, the opening up of vistas and a revamp of Jesmond Dene’s Pets Corner.
And the result? “There has been a 40% increase in visitors to the parks,” says Seamus.
This huge change has been boosted by the efforts of local volunteers who range from 18 years old to 80, including people with special needs. They have donated hours of labour helping with practical conservation such as clearing paths and riverbanks to bee-keeping – there are hives on the roof of the visitor centre – or taking guided walks.
Pensioner and volunteer Maggie Dowman has been working at Jesmond Dene for 10 years.
“The vast majority of people who come with their dogs, children or on bicycles see what has been done and really appreciate it,” she says.
“It’s a beautiful park, we’re lucky to have it and it would not look as good without the Heritage Lottery Fund.”
When Barnes Park in Sunderland put a bid in for a lottery grant, local wheelchairs users and their carers were asked what they might want.
The answer was “freedom”. And the result, says Helen Peverly, project manager of the bid, is “a unique park for people who don’t usually have access to an outside space that is safe.”
Barnes Park was awarded £2.4m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund with contributions from Sunderland Council.
The park is two miles long and part of that is now a sensory garden with a camomile lawn, scented plantings, musical instruments and paths and facilities that are wheelchair-friendly.
The improvements also included restoring the historic cannon dredged form the River Wear.
“That cannon is the icon of Barnes Park,” says Morris Boyle, chairman of the Friends Group when the bid was submitted.
“Many a child in Sunderland has had their photograph taken beside that cannon. Myself included”.
Morris has been coming to the park “since I was in a pram,” he says.
“I can remember the Mayor of Sunderland doing ballroom dancing on the tennis court during the war. And I knew it before the grant, when it had fallen into disrepair and was a den for antisocial behaviour”.
Now retired, he still comes every day with his grandchildren. “There has been huge appreciation for what the improvements have done,” he says. “It’s added that bit of class that Sunderland needed”.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 02 Aug 2014
Gains made from almost £70m of lottery cash investment, which has revived public parks across the North East, are now at risk from spending cuts.
The warning has come from the Heritage Lottery Fund in a new report titled State of UK Public Parks 2014: Renaissance to Risk?
It says that council cutbacks in parks maintenance threaten many restoration schemes carried out over the last 20 years which have give a new lease of life to the region’s parks.
Leazes Park in Newcastle, Saltwell Park in Gateshead, South Marine Park in South Shields,and Mowbray Park in Sunderland are among parks in the region which have received major lottery awards for restoration schemes.
A total of £68.3m in lottery money has been sunk into parks in the North East since 1994.
But the report says that unless future funding is generated in new ways, these parks are at serious risk of rapid decline.
Ivor Crowther, head of the fund in the North East, said: “The North East has a proud tradition of public parks, enjoyed by thousands daily. Highly valued and precious places, they are vital to the physical and emotional well-being of all our local communities.
“ Following decades of decline, lottery funding has revitalised parks across the North East but this reports shows that this investment is now at risk.
“We realise these are financially tough times and that is why we need collaborative action and a fresh approach to halt this threat of decline.
“Our parks are far too important not to act now.”
The report found that 63% of park managers who responded expect a decline in the condition of local parks in the North East over the next three years as a result of average expected cuts to maintenance budgets of 20%.
But local people are rallying round to protect their parks, with 38% of park managers reporting an increase of membership of friends groups in the North East’s parks over the last three years. The report says that local authorities have no statutory requirement to fund and maintain parks.
Neither is there a national co-ordinating body able to champion the importance of parks, to assert their value to communities and the economy, and protect them for future generations to enjoy.
In addition to calling for continued investment by local authorities, HLF’s report highlights the need to develop new ways of looking after and funding parks, including investing up to £24m each year across the UK through the Parks for People programme, with Big Lottery Fund providing an additional £10m per year in England until the end of 2015.
Nationally, the report shows that 86% of parks managers report cuts to revenue budgets since 2010, a trend they expect to continue over the next three years.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 28 June 2014
Fraud squad detectives are probing claims jobseekers were conned out of cash in an elaborate ‘Hustle-style’ scam from luxury city centre offices.
Applicants were interviewed by ‘Options 4 Families’ at a rented office in the Manchester One building on Portland Street, but heard nothing from the company after paying £65 for background checks upon offers of employment.
The £18.5k-a-year ‘trainee child counsellor’ jobs were even advertised on the government’s own Universal Jobmatch website – but the Department of Work and Pensions has since removed the adverts and has sent a warning to those who applied.
> Maybe they want to take a look at all those non-jobs that clutter up UJ – leaflet distributors, etc. But I suppose if they did, they’d have virtually nothing left – few respectable advertisers use UJ.
Other candidates are understood to have left their current jobs after being offered positions.
Burnley-based businessman John Sothern, 44, interviewed candidates at the start of January and is understood to have offered at least 12 people roles based in Manchester city centre following two days of interviews.
He is now at the centre of a police investigation – but denies any wrongdoing.
Greater Manchester Police were called to Manchester One by an interviewee on January 8 but Mr Sothern had fled the premises by the time officers arrived.
The M.E.N has spoken to jobseekers who were told they would begin their roles – which would increase to £34k-a-year after a training period – at the start of February but have still not heard from the company six weeks after transferring money.
Lancashire Police confirmed allegations regarding the Manchester-based jobs were passed to them by national agency Action Fraud on January 28.
It is understood a fraud probe into Mr Sothern’s activities is currently examining around 70 alleged offences across the north west.
A Lancashire Police spokeswoman said: “We can confirm officers have received a report in relation to an allegation of fraud. An investigation has been launched and enquiries are on-going in relation to this matter at this time.”
A Department of Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “The vast majority of those employers offer genuine roles for jobseekers to apply for – however we won’t hesitate to ban anyone who tries to break the rules and post fraudulent jobs. When possible, it can – and has – led to criminal prosecutions.”
Options 4 Families was dissolved as a limited company in 2010.
Matthew Bourton, 24, thought he’d finally ended his two-year search to find work when he was offered a ‘trainee child therapist’ job by Options 4 Families.
He applied through Universal Jobmatch and was interviewed just hours before police were called to the office on January 8.
Matthew, who has been out of work since leaving university, was offered the position the following day. He was then asked to provide a ‘refundable’ payment of £65.60 for a Disclosure and Barring Service background check to be carried out.
Six weeks later, he’s had no contact from the company.
Matthew, of Wigan Road, Leigh, said: “The job itself seemed too good to be true, but I’m so desperate to find work I was ready to believe everything I was being told. John Sothern was very friendly and charming. I gave my details for the bank transfer and that’s the last I’ve heard from them.
“I tried to get in touch with them but the number was a dead line. There was no mention of them on the internet apart from their own website and I came to the realisation that I’d been had. I feel taken advantage of and totally devastated.”
Businessman John Sothern insists job offers with Options 4 Families were genuine and he has done ‘nothing wrong’.
Mr Sothern is aware of a police investigation into the interview process at Manchester One but insists applicants will be given the jobs they were offered with Options 4 Families. He intends to contact candidates ‘within seven to 10 days’.
He said: “We’ve applied for funding with different organisations, including the Big Lottery Fund, and with private investors. As soon as we get that funding through, we’ll be in a position for people to start those jobs. We’ve had to put everything on hold but those people offered jobs will be getting e-mails – the jobs are still open. Background checks are standard industry practice and those people will get their money back.”
Source – Manchester Evening News, 03 Mar 2014