ACHIEVEMENTS AND PERFORMANCE: Achievements April 2020 – March 2021
Introductory comment – Coronavirus Pandemic 2021:
During the year which this Trustee report covers the UK was still in a state of restricted operation due to the ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic (Covid-19). As a result we were still operating under government restrictions aimed at controlling the spread of Coronavirus within the UK.
On 23rd March 2020 the UK went into a formal state of ‘Lockdown’ which required many businesses and organisations to close their activities completely, or to operate in new restricted formats. These restrictions affected the work of the Charity as of that date.
In practical terms this meant that the vast majority of our volunteer work-force went into immediate shielding, or self-isolation, because they, or close family members, had specific health conditions, or because they were in certain age groups considered to be ‘at-risk’.
We were also required to close all of our non-essential activities and social groups with immediate effect. Overnight we lost use of 60+ volunteers, however a few were able to continue volunteering and we were able to recruit some new ones, which left us with a small team of 11 plus our core staff of 6.
With this team we were able to continue operating some of our services, such as the Foodbank, Pantry, and Money Advice debt service, as these were considered to be ‘essential services’ for helping and supporting people affected by the immediate crisis.
We were able to do this by:
a) redesigning the way each project operated and engaged with the public,
b) by adding in new Covid-Safe ways of working, along with appropriate policies and procedures
c) by reassigning some of our staff duties, and
d) by recruiting some new volunteers who were not affected by the government health restrictions.
Inspire Middleton is a community development charity, and our aims can be summarised by our desire to inspire people, places and organisations. To help people understand why our charity name is not emblazoned on everything that we do, we describe the way we work as ‘the plant pot’ model, because a plant pot is something that helps other things to grow, and the things that are grown are the focus of people’s attention more than the pot they are carried in, and so it is with us.
We run a number of community projects and activities through which the charity’s objectives are advanced: and these are names that the public will be more familiar with. They include, the Lighthouse Project, our drop-in style community centre/hub, Middleton Central Foodbank, Lighthouse Money Advice our FCA registered debt service, and the Lighthouse Pantry.
We operate out of leased premises on the second floor of Middleton Shopping Centre right in the heart of Middleton town centre. We moved into these premises in December 2016 on a 3-year short-term lease, and during the last year we have been able to renew our lease for a further ten years running between December 2019 – December 2029.
The building and location makes a significant contribution to the success of our work, it means we are centrally located, have ease of access in terms of transport and disabled facilities, and in normal non-covid circumstances we also have good regular passing footfall. Our footfall additionally contributes to the wellbeing of the Shopping centre as people visit local shops as well as attending our activities.
The Lighthouse Project is one of our specific charitable objectives, and as a community hub it is used as the main outlet for advancing many of our other charitable aims.
Middleton Central Foodbank is co-located within the Lighthouse Project, and it is run as part of the national Trussell Trust foodbank network, in collaboration with local churches, tackling individual crisis, poverty and hardship.
The Lighthouse Pantry is a membership food club that helps people and families who are struggling to cover their weekly/monthly household costs, by offering them access to supermarket surplus food to reduce their weekly food costs so that they have more money to spend on other household costs. The Pantry is part of an emerging national network operating under the banner of ‘Your Local Pantry’.
The Lighthouse Money Advice service is a FCA accredited debt advice service run as part of the Community Money Advice network. The service offers free advice and face-to-face support for people experiencing personal debt and financial crisis. Many of the clients are referrals from the Foodbank.
Highlights and Project Activity Summary
Lighthouse Project as a whole
Due to the lockdown and social isolation regulations in place throughout the year, we were in Tier 4 or full lockdown for the majority of the reporting period, we were unable to allow the usual unrestricted access to the Lighthouse Project centre and its and activities. However, the Lighthouse centre was kept open right throughout the pandemic and we were able to re-designed our essential services. The Foodbank, Pantry, and Money Advice service were all kept running albeit in a modified form to reduce risk, and accommodate social distancing, etc. Most of our other activities and groups were understandably put on hold. Some groups subsequently met externally to the Lighthouse, and some continued online via zoom.
- Annual Footfall of – 13,620 visits during the year (40% of pre-covid target) – this would typically have been circa 35,000 visits but this was curtailed by the ability of people to physically attend the Centre. As mentioned above we were able to keep our emergency activities running, within the limits of the Coronavirus guidelines, but unfortunately all of our social and leisure activities that involved close physical contact remained closed, as the government Covid restrictions required.
- Sessions – during the year we ran 3383 sessions/activities supporting people’s needs, covering 51,500+ hours of delivery.
- Individual Visitors – 873 different people were directly supported.
- New Visitors attending – 449 new people who first visited between April 20 – March 2021
Middleton Central Foodbank
The Foodbank remained open during the entire year. The service was redesigned to reduce the amount of time people spent in the centre waiting for food parcels, and the food parcel process was also adapted to reduce risk from direct contact and to accommodate social distancing.
- During the reporting period the Foodbank redeemed 1754 vouchers during the year, which is above our target however it was a slight reduction on our previous years achievements. The pandemic saw the flourishing of numerous groups and self-help organisations, including Council led projects, that provided alternative sources of free food relief to people in difficulty, or who were self-isolating, or who had been told to stay-at-home. So, with all this additional food support available this variance in our regular distribution of food is understandable. That said, the amount of food we distributed during the year actually increased by 50% as we supported many new organisations delivering emergency pandemic related food support in addition to our normal family food parcels.
- The food parcels we issued provided the equivalent of 108,480 meals during the year for 2580 adults and 1524 children (4104 in total), who came from 576 different families.
- The foodbank received 59.2 tonnes of food donations during the year from a variety of groups, individuals and organisations, including many donations directly from Tesco and Morrisons warehouses rather than from customer collection points. In a typical year prior to the pandemic the donations received would have been around 25 tonnes, so we saw a 130% increase in donations.
- The foodbank gave away 45.2 tonnes of emergency food during the year, approx. 108,480 meals, which is a significant increase on the 30 tonnes given away in the previous year. Some of our support was to other organisations who were providing emergency support themselves, such as our local children’s centres and community centres who were providing cooked meals and support packages.
We supported these groups so they could sustain the emergency activities that they had created. We believed that they were helping people who may normally have visited us, but due to lockdown restrictions were being asked to stay closer to home. We additionally donated to several other new groups and charities providing food to help them support families and individuals in need.
- In a typical year previous to the pandemic we would normally expect to give out about 25 tonnes of food, which generally matches the level of donations received.
- The main causes of food crisis during the year changed from the historic pattern, and were found to be: 1) low income, 2) sickness, 3) benefit delays, 4) debt. Benefit changes which used to be the highest cause dropped to 6th place. This shows a shift in the reasons families are struggling to make ends meet.
- To help us with our increased collections and deliveries we invested in a used light goods van during the year. In the past we had been supported a lot via the use of volunteers vehicles, but as our volunteer pool drastically reduced we needed to make a strategic provision to make sure we could handle the increase in food donations. This was very helpful as the diversity of organisations making donations increased, and people preferred for us to collect rather than them having to come out to drop-off, especially during the various periods of lockdown.
The Lighthouse Pantry remained open for three sessions per week during the entire year and operated at the increased level that we had started in May 2020. The service was modified to accommodate social distancing and to reduce any direct social contact. The project grew significantly during the pandemic and increased its reach and support during the year.
- The Pantry ran 172 sessions, and supported 3445 member visits during the year. This was a 77% increase in the number of members and families attending over the same period last year. The growth was helped by the additional weekly session which gave us greater capacity, increasing from 2 to 3 sessions per week, and being able to access additional food deliveries from FareShareGM.
- We supported 175 different families (20% increase), and within these families there were an additional 258 adults or children, so collectively the Pantry has supported 433 people.
- The Pantry supplied over 22.6 tonnes of food for members to use, equivalent to 53,300 meals, with an estimated retail value of close to £106,000.
- An average weekly ‘shop’ was calculated to have an approximate retail value of £37.43, so for every £1 members spend (£3.50 / week) they received an average of £10.69 worth of food in return!
- This produced a potential saving of £1,695.50 per family on their annual food bills, leaving more money available for other household expenditure.
- In addition to this, during December 2020 – February 2021 we covered the cost of the weekly membership fee for each family, so they received 12 weeks of free food support, worth a further £42.
Financial & debt support
Lighthouse Money Advice
The Lighthouse Money Advice service remained open and active for the whole of the year. Initially when the pandemic started we had to stop all face-to-face interaction and switch to remote access only, however as restrictions eased during the year we were able to reintroduce face-to-face appointments for some elements of the service in controlled settings.
The impact of the pandemic has been mixed in terms of people requesting debt support. During the year the government placed embargoes on some types of debt collection, evictions, etc., which meant that some clients benefited from the relief that these measures brought. However, on the downside it meant that they didn’t always come forward to get support because the pressures had eased. As some these covid protection measures have come to an end we have started to see a growing number of people requesting help for debt relief or support.
- During the year we had 84 different clients who made use of our service on at least one occasion, experiencing collective personal debts estimated at £674,000 in total value.
- From the clients supported, £221,300 worth of debts were removed by Debt Relief Orders (DRO’s), and a further £25,300 were written off by creditors – totaling £246,600 of debt relief. Many other clients tackled their debts through the use of Debt management Plans valued at circa £79,000.
- For each client/family involved the knock on benefits of significant improvement in health, mental health and general wellbeing are clear to see once their debts have been removed, or reduced.
Employment skills and getting back into work
We were still able to offer some employability support during the year, however this was mainly by remote interaction with some limited face-to-face engagement as restrictions allowed. During the year the governments furlough scheme was in place supporting employees of businesses that we unable to trade during the various national and local lockdowns. This meant that many people were able to retain their jobs even though companies were not operational.
- During the year we supported 63 people who were looking to improve their life chances by developing their employability skills and to help them get back into work, or improve their chances of getting back into work.
- Of these people we recorded 208 attendances for activities related to actively looking for work, improving their job hunting skills, and improving work place skills through online learning and face-to-face appointments.
- We provided CV support for 45 people, and 10 people specifically told us that they had managed to get back into work. The real figure for getting back into work is likely to be more than this, potentially 33 people, based on the number of CV requests we received from employers prior to clients starting, unfortunately not everyone comes back to tell us of their successes.
- We helped 30 people to create and set up new email accounts, and uploaded 33 client CV’s to online jobsites, with a further 39 being printed off and sent to clients.
Family and Children support
Over the last three years we have organised an annual ‘Toy Appeal’, which is aimed at collecting toys and games from the general public to support Lighthouse Project families, and others who may be referred to us from partner organisations, including local schools and foodbank referral agencies. It is intended to ensure that as many families as possible that we work with, or are connected to, are able to have some toys and gifts to open at Christmas.
We have used the Key 103 Christmas toy appeal in the past but this year we decided to work with a number of local organisations, individuals, and schools to collect donations on our behalf instead. Our local Tesco Extra and Middleton Shopping Centre (our landlord) helped us this year with promotions, setting up collection points, and donating toys themselves. In the shopping centre a ‘Giving Tree’ was set up an alternative to their annual Santa’s Grotto which was not possible due to lockdown restrictions. We were inundated with toys, gifts and financial support.
- We were inundated with local support providing toys, gifts and financial donations.
- We were able to support 207 children from 83 different families. Each child received at least one main present, 4 medium presents, a game, a book and some confectionery.
- 22 children came from foodbank families, 98 children were referred through local schools, 80 children came from Pantry families, and 7 children came from Lighthouse Money Advice families.
- The local schools, as well as nominating children, also arranged fun themed collections, sponsored runs and devised other interesting ways of giving toys and donating money.
- We received over £2,300 in cash donations and online appeals which help us buy targeted gifts and gift cards so we could help and support a wide range of different aged children. No-one missed out.
Social Leisure and Health Activities
These are the groups and activities which were mostly affected and impacted by the pandemic, as they all involve close social contact or interaction. Therefore, all of these activities reluctantly remained suspended during this year. We were aware that some individuals and groups were meeting up under their own steam during the year, either in-person outside when allowed, or via zoom type conference calls. We supported and encouraged them where we could.
Other Achievements and Developments
Volunteers: our volunteer support has been severely impacted by the pandemic. Typically we have around 60 regular volunteers who come in on different days and support different activities. When the Coronavirus pandemic first hit us in February 2020 we virtually lost the whole of our volunteer workforce overnight as the majority were told by the government to self-isolate due to age or health conditions, or they lived with people who were classed as vulnerable to the virus, and as such should isolate themselves.
The impact of this was immediate and required us to re-evaluate every aspect of our work to consider how it could continue, and in what form, and so that it would remain safe to operate. Our staff team were forced to carry the brunt of the workload in the absence of volunteer support, so, there was some adaptation of job roles and functions as we were forced to redesign the essential services that we were continuing to operate.
We managed to retain some of our younger volunteers, who’s health wasn’t as at risk as others, and we were able to recruit some new volunteers to help us form two small teams. We had one team who supported the Foodbank and one team who supported the Pantry. With the staff team supporting these and all other activities. This helped us form ‘work bubbles’ to reduce risks and avoid cross contamination in work areas. This worked well and is still in operation until full restrictions are eased.
We set up a volunteer WhatsApp group and used this throughout the year to keep in regular touch with all the volunteers who were isolating. This was a two-way thing and it allowed those who felt alone at home to keep in touch with us, and their fellow volunteers, as well as us being able to provide them with regular updates. Obviously at the time no-one foresaw how long the pandemic and restrictions would actually be in place. The volunteers have really valued this ongoing connection with us and most are really keen to return to duties once they are allowed.
As a gesture of our appreciation for their support we arranged to have a 2021 Lighthouse Project Calendar printed which was full of volunteer pictures and activities, and we gave/sent one to each volunteer as a gift.
Our Premises: When we first moved into Middleton Shopping Centre we secured a short term 3-year lease, and this time passed very quickly. In December 2019, after some long negotiations we were able to signed a 10-year lease for our premises. This has some stepped rental increases built into it which will require us to do additional fundraising, however it has given us stability in terms of our locality.
The building and location makes a significant contribution to the success of our work, it means we are centrally located, have ease of access in terms of transport and disabled facilities, and we also have good regular passing footfall (when not in the midst of a pandemic). Our footfall contributes to the wellbeing of the Shopping centre and surrounding premises as people visit the shops as well as attending our activities.
Development of our Systems and facilities: we continued to make improvements to our infrastructure and admin systems to improve the way that we work, and to enhance our activity recording and general record keeping. These are making a difference, and provide us with better insights giving us greater opportunity to tell a more complete story. These are also helping us to become a more robust and stronger organisation, and they give us the ability to develop our capacity, and improve how we serve and support.
Areas we have been working on include:
- HR Software for improved staff communication and management.
- Software for management of Pantry membership and payments, including online and contactless payments.
- Stocktaking software for improved Pantry stock management and to inform us of the financial benefit that Pantry membership receive.
- Development of our Visitor database for improved attendance recording and analysis.
- Improvement of Visitor and Activity database (Lamplight) to record information about individual attendance, progression and engagement, as well as activity recording and summary analysis.
- Specialist Debt management software and client engagement software.
- Upgrading of visitor PC’s by providing with newer models to improve speed of access and upgrade capacity, and to provide additional PC’s and handheld tablets for visitors to use.
- Introduction of a new 120 seat capacity conference, training and events room, to allow us to run new social and leisure activities for larger groups and more events that need more space, e.g. tea-dances, armchair exercises, table tennis competitions, exhibitions, and larger group meetings.
- Update of our Lighthouse Project website.
- Purchase of a light goods van to support the foodbank and Lighthouse Project.
Our Community Impact
During the year we know that not as many people have been able to physically attend the Lighthouse Project to make use of the facilities. However, this doesn’t mean that we have remained static, or that our impact has been reduced. It may have changed but it hasn’t been reduced. Our response to the pandemic has been to adapt, adjust and to continue to make ourselves available providing essential support and encouragement for people during these times of difficulty.
Our biggest impact has definitely been through our food projects where we have been able to maintain, and grow the support that families and individuals have received during these difficult times. We have been able to make sure families had food on their table and were able to save money so they could meet other household bills/cost.
Our debt advice service has also been a life-line to many, and it has been able to support clients during very changing and difficult times. This work has also grown and will continue to do so more and more as covid support, benefit support, and employment support provisions get switched off. Many are predicting that the latter months of the year will see a significant increase in families struggling with their finances.
In addition to our own work we have been able to partner and support other groups and organisations with their work, so for example we donated lots of toys to the Burnside Centre on Langley (another Lottery supported organisation), and this helped them to start a ‘Toy Bank’ for local families, we also helped them and others with bulk food donations in support of their efforts to prepare meals for families and individuals. We also supported several breakfast and after school clubs providing children with meals.
There were many organisations, agencies and support groups that closed their doors during the pandemic, and where this happened some of that need and demand came to our door instead. Thankfully we were able to remain open during this time to offer continued support and encouragement where we could.
Working Relationships with other organisations
Here is a selection of the organisations we have worked with during the year, or who have used the Lighthouse to provide services / activities for visitors.
- Action Together – voluntary sector support
- Alkrington & Junction GP surgeries,
- All Saints & Martyrs C of E Church Langley,
- Ashdown Phillips – MSC management
- Better Health 4 Middleton – community activist group
- Church Action on Poverty – Lighthouse Pantry
- Community Connectors – RMBC advisers
- Community Money Advice – Lighthouse Money Advice
- Drs Stockton & Thompson – Boarshaw Clough surgery
- EnergyWorks – Drop-in support group
- Fareshare – Food recycling – Lighthouse Pantry
- FareshareGO – supermarket surplus
- Job Centre Plus – Middleton,
- Long Street Methodist Church,
- Many local schools and community groups through the Foodbank referral agency network
- Middleton DIAL, – disability charity
- Middleton Photography Group,
- Middleton Shopping Centre – promotions and support
- Mills Hill Baptist Church,
- Morrisons Supermarket Whitefield – Foodbank donations
- Positive Steps – careers service for young people,
- RBH – Rochdale Boroughwide Housing,
- Riverside Housing
- Royal British Legion – Middleton
- Tesco Extra Middleton branch
- UK Online Centres (Good Things Foundation),
With regards to the future, and the upcoming year, our biggest challenge will be to re-engage with visitors and volunteers who have not visited us for over 12 months, close on 18 months at the time of writing. We have been encouraged that since partly re-opening some of our services and groups we have already seen a return of familiar faces which is a good start. We hope that more will return after the summer holiday season and beyond, and when we re-open our coffee bar refreshment area.
We don’t envisage any fundamental changes to how we operate in the coming year. We have learnt a number of lessons from having to adapt and rethink our methods and approach during Covid and about how some activities could be delivered in different ways.
Review and reflection will be an ongoing process especially as we see new needs and emerging issues that begin to show themselves as more and more of the covid restrictions ease and support provisions are progressively stopped.