> Another encouraging example of grassroots action…
A new group is providing a day centre in Berwick for people with mental health problems after a charity previously running the service pulled out.
Newly-formed peer support group Northern Spirit was set up after a day centre service run by Mental Health Matters was abruptly withdrawn from the town, leaving many people who suffer various forms of mental health issues without this much needed retreat.
Run by a handful of volunteers, the group provides a day centre each Wednesday (10am-4pm) at Wallace Green for those suffering from health problems like depression and anxiety issues.
Around 15-20 people attend per week, and any new members are welcome.
“Our aim is to provide a similar service to those individuals that have been left without this vital retreat from daily life,” explained group secretary Andrew Bird.
“We are currently open one day per week but we hope to be able to increase this to at least two days in the future.”
With just one week’s notice that Mental Health Matters was withdrawing from the town, a group of volunteers scrambled to ensure that vital provision would continue.
“My father attends the group on the basis that he has mental health issues, and he has taken the role of chairman and treasurer,” Andrew said.
“I know how he felt about it being disbanded. I know how much it was affecting him and I had met a couple of other members and saw how they were trying to deal with it.
“We set up the group to continue the day centre and to show sufferers that there are still people out there that do care.
“We did not have anybody with any experience other than the fact that we have dealt with mental health issues, but now we have a fully trained councillor on board. She has volunteered and will be available at the centre for people to talk to.”
Northern Spirit is now trying to source vital funding to ensure it can continue to help people from north Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.
“We are a non-profit organisation and rely solely on income from donations and fund raising,” Andrew said.
“As with all organisations like ours we unfortunately have overheads, such as rental of the premises which costs £1500 every six months, and at present we need to raise funds to continue the service past the six month we have already managed to secure the funds for.”
If anyone has any fundraising ideas that could help, or would like to know more about Northern Spirit, go to northernspiritberwick.weebly.com or facebook.com/northernspiritberwick
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 21 Feb 2015
A group of volunteers from Berwick, in partnership with residents’ forum Berwick Deserves Better, are working with Northumberland Credit Union to bring a regular paying-in point to the town.
Berwick & District Savings and Loans will offer access to secure savings accounts, including a children’s savings account which pays 3% APR credit interest.
The scheme can also offer low cost loans at just 1% interest per month (12.7% APR). These rates apply to everyone, regardless of circumstances, and there are no credit checks undertaken.
The savings and loans scheme is available to anyone who lives or works in Northumberland, and with the exception of a £2 joining fee there are no charges to save with the group. Members will be able to make deposits to their account by visiting the local paying-in point or by a regular Standing Order from a bank account.
Gary Morton, one of the volunteers organising the scheme, said: “This could be a great asset to our town – it encourages children to save regularly, it allows adults to save weekly from the smallest amount, and for people who need a loan it is a much cheaper and safer option than a pay-day loan.”
The team has a potential paying-in venue arranged, with training and materials provided by Northumberland Credit Union.
“All we need now are volunteers who are willing to help staff the paying-in point,” Gary said. “We’d really like to hear from anyone who is interested, no matter how much or how little time they can offer.”
The pay-in point will initially be open for two hours, one day a week, but the group is hoping to attract a pool of volunteers and expand this to another two hours with an evening session.
Northumberland Credit Union is a not-for-profit co-operative owned and run by local volunteers. For more go to www.ncul.co.uk
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 04 July 2014
Bowls players fear long-established North-East clubs could be forced to close under council funding cutbacks.
Durham County Council has written to club bosses saying it is unable to sustain its current financial support for the 30 public facilities across the county – and asking local enthusiasts to take over running their own facilities “as an alternative to closure”.
But club bosses say the £5,000 they say they have been offered as a one-off payment to cover start-up costs such as buying machinery is nowhere near enough and their ageing members are unable to do the manual work needed to maintain their greens and pavilions.
Bowls is vital to keeping pensioners active and socially engaged, they argue, with the 30 clubs having hundreds of elderly members between them.
One club leader, who asked not to be named, said: “It’s terrible. We pay our rates and some of that goes to leisure.
“To ask someone in their 70s to cut greens two or three times a week, the health and safety would never have it.
“Everybody’s upset and thinking their club could fold. For the smaller clubs, there’s no way they’re going to stay open.”
The cash-strapped council is facing Government funding cuts of more than £200m and Simon Henig, its Labour leader, has repeatedly said every service must be reviewed.
The council manages around half of the bowls facilities across the county and, since the letter went out, two summits have already been held to discuss their future.
Consultation will continue until September, although clubs considering taking over running their facilities have been asked to express an interest by today (Monday, June 30).
The council hopes to reach “in principle” decisions by the end of August and have new arrangements in place by next spring.
Terry Collins, the council’s corporate director for neighbourhood services, said consultation was ongoing and no decisions had yet been made.
The authority would provide business advice and planning, Mr Collins added, and consider making start-up grants.
“Early feedback has been encouraging with many clubs receptive to the proposals as they have an understanding of the difficult financial decisions the council is having to make and also have a desire to see the clubs continue to operate.
“The solutions may include local partners or clubs working together,” he said.
Previously, the council has handed over the running of leisure centres, community centres and a golf club to volunteers.
Source – Durham Times, 30 June 2014
> Yes, you did read that headline correctly…
A broken benefits system is causing people to turn to food banks, an aspiring Conservative politician has said.
In comments more normally seen from Labour politicans, Berwick Tory Anne-Marie Trevelyan has said the number of people needing handouts to eat may be as a result of changes to the benefits system.
Mrs Trevelyan is bidding to take the seat from Sir Alan Beith when the Liberal Democrat steps down in 2015.
Much of her campaign has focused on the jobs potential of dualling the A1 north of Newcastle.
But last night she said that after visiting a Northumberland food bank, the evidence put to her was that those dependant upon benefits were suffering the result of changes to the system.
The Conservative-led coalition Government has come in for criticism from a variety of sources over its cuts to benefits.
Reductions in benefits have been criticised as indiscriminate while changes to the way benefits are handed out has seen delays as a result.
Mrs Trevelyan said: “All users of food banks in Northumberland have been referred by social services, Citizens Advice Bureaux or other groups like Sure Start. The reasons given are often delays in benefits being paid or other financial pressures leaving families with no money to buy food.
“I am concerned by the recurring message from the volunteers who run our local food banks, that the majority of those who come to them do so because the benefits payment system is not working.
“It should be there to support those who need a safety net while they find work or arrange long term support.
“There seems to be a serious breakdown in the effective management of the payments system. I am going to be talking in more detail with our job centre teams to try to find out what they need to solve this issue effectively.”
> Oh bugger – don’t ask them ! They’re a major part of the problem.
The Conservative candidate said that a rapid rise in the number of food banks began under Labour in 2006 when there were 3,000 nationally. This rose to more than 40,000 by 2010.
In addition to this leading food bank provider the Trussell Trust has been expanding, inevitably leading to more hard-pressed families making use of their services.
Mrs Trevelyan’s comments are similar to many of those expressed by Northern Labour MPs, though of a far less critical nature.
Also adding their concerns to the growing number of food banks was former Bishop of Durham Justin Welby. Now Archbishop of Canterbury, he has called for a greater level of awareness from the Government on the causes behind the growing number of food banks in the UK.
Senior Tories have tried to play down the rise of food banks.
Education Secretary Michael Gove came under fire for saying that financial mismanagement was the reason many people were going to food banks.
And Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, the man ultimately responsible for changes to the benefit system, refused to meet the Trussell Trust and accused it of being politically motivated.
Source – Newcastle Journal 15 Feb 2014
Paramedics will today hold crisis talks as the North East Ambulance Service reveals the full extent of Government cuts.
Ambulance staff will meet at a seminar to ask just who cares for the carers, and what can be done to force NHS bosses to better fund them.
The service will warn that Government-ordered 20% budget cuts mean patients are sometimes waiting more than two hours for a vehicle, while rapid response staff are waiting five hours in a patient’s home with the patient waiting for transport.
In a damning list of support failings set to go to NHS chiefs, the service will warn that: staff morale is at an all-time low; assaults on staff have shot up; paramedics are spending hours in A&E waiting for a bed for patients.
Union leaders say the service is having to call in volunteers from St John’s Ambulance to help out even o n some emergency calls.
Just last week it was reported home patients in the North East are being forced to wait up to six hours for an ambulance despite guidelines saying paramedics should arrive within 30 minutes.
One patient had to wait more than three hours after the emergency was categorised as ‘red2’, which is potentially life-threatening and has a target time of eight minutes.
Figures obtained by The Journal from a Freedom of Information request showed that the North East Ambulance Service failed to meet their target response times on 10 separate occasions in a 12-month period.
Staff at the meeting in Durham today will discuss what to do about growing work pressures. They say that late finishes appear now to be nearly every shift, there are late meal breaks, if any at all, and will warn that crews are regularly facing angry families when arriving on a job knowing that the patient had been waiting for a while.
Paramedics will hear from North East Labour MEP candidate Jude Kirton-Darling, who will warn that a Conservative victory in elections this May could see EU working limits scrapped, making the situation worse.
Joel Byers, Unison’s North East Ambulance Service staff secretary, said: “Government cuts have forced ambulance trusts to cut 20% of their budget year on year but stating patient care should not be affected. This is an impossible task as the majority of our budget is for frontline services.
“The Commissioners are reluctant to pay extra money on a long-term basis to enable North East Ambulance Service to recruit more vitally needed staff. However, workloads have increased year on year with no extra resources except for the use of Private Ambulance Companies. The use of Private Ambulance Companies, First Responders and Police Cars is evidence in itself that there is a lack of resource in frontline staff.
“Every department from frontline, support services and HQ staff are undergoing restructures which are potentially putting staff at risk.
“The extra pressure being applied by the cuts is not just having emotional impact on staff but also a physical impact on staff in terms of assaults and injuries at work.
“For example the number of North East Ambulance Staff that have either suffered an injury at work or been assaulted has risen 590 in 2009 to 916 in 2013.
“With the ongoing pressure being placed on staff we expect the number to increase considerably in 2014.”
Last night he was backed by Ms Kirton-Darling, who said: “Ambulance workers in the North East have told me over the last few months they have experienced growing pressure as their working conditions deteriorate.
“Vital rest periods, set out in the European working time directive are there to ensure ambulance staff are able to operate safely and effectively on our behalf.
“Who in their right mind would want an ambulance worker dealing with a matter of life and death after a 12-hour shift without rest?
“The North East Ambulance Service must ensure decent rest periods and limit working time, otherwise I fear the service could face its own emergency soon with the public and workforce potentially put at risk.”
Source – Newcastle Journal 29 Jan 2014