Our approach with Making Our Money Go Further has always been to support the community to develop activities that they felt would support their local community with matters relating to money.
However, as we moved from 2021 to 2022, it became apparent that what mattered most to many, if not all those we were engaging with, was the pending cost of living crisis. Technical terms like “price cap” became mainstream and the whole issue of energy price increases became scary. Local people just needed to know what they could do to get through. These money worries paralyzed local people’s ability to cope. We had expected most project users to be on low income, but when mortgages, rents, and the cost of food went north just about everyone attending the groups simply couldn’t make household sums add up whatever they did. The financial changes weren’t just causing worry. With winter approaching, confusion about what was going on and fear about how they were going to manage escalated into widespread panic.
Not surprisingly, this did change the activities we expected to happen in 2021&2022. As people had little ‘space in their heads’ to develop specific community group-led events, we switched to providing informal community-led activities. This let communities understand the jargon, recognise how changes impacted them, and learn what help was available and where to get it. Participants used group discussion to support each and pass on knowledge onto friends and family members, The approach removed the stigma of money worries amongst users and has ‘normalised’ conversations about money. This has been a big step forward.
Those who have attended earlier group activities and resolved their issues are coming back to give hope by example, helping others to understand the jargon and plan how they can get through. This is happing on a wide scale, probably wider that would have happened without the changes. Growth has been organic with informal groups are now regularly getting together just for a cup of tea and informal chat about money worries. Project staff have been on hand to give guidance and support about available services, external help providers have visited and offered support. This has included CAB liaison staff who have arranged local appoints for residents who needed it giving hope by example that they can get through this period. This type of community-led action had just as much impact as some of the more event/specific activities highlighted below.
Participants regular involvement in informal groups and learning activities during 2022 means they are now better placed to understand, why these changes have happened, what local and national support is available and where they can get help with money problems. They are more confident about talking to others about money and have realised that peer support is a great way to reduce stress and improve mental wellbeing.
Please see the detailed case studies below which showed how we supported groups to form and project activities that have been effective.
S62 Community Together Group
In August 2021, MOMGF staff attended a community meeting about links between poor mental health and money worries. At this meeting they met Rawmarsh residents who were worried about their community’s poor mental health after months of pandemic-driven isolation. As a result of some in-depth conversations about rising costs, debt and how the project could help, S62 Community Together group was formed. With a focus on peer support and mental wellbeing, it initially aimed to bring people living in Rawmarsh together to support each other with money worries.
It did a brilliant job at attracting volunteers and very quicky increased its range of activities, winning £4,859 funding from the National Lottery Community Fund. The group tackles loneliness and isolation amongst people struggling with their mental wellbeing. 18 months after it first set up it now offers a men’s mental health group, a walking group, a five a side football team, parent to parent peer play group, young people, a community drop-in, two coffee mornings, a women supporting women group and family sessions. All activities are free so everyone can afford to attend.
None of the three people who set up the group (Luke, Sarah, and Nikki) had previous community group experience. But they were clearly passionate about helping people in relation to mental health, self-development and getting local people involved. Over time additional key volunteers emerged to help run the group as well as run activities. Rotherfed staff have helped them to understand how to run itself as well as deliver additional activities. By June 2022, the group had grown so much that it became a registered Community Interest Company and has its own website. See https://s62ctr.co.uk/about-us/ for more information.
Group members have been clear that involvement with the group is helping with more than money. Regular participants say that taking part has improve their feelings of connection to the community and mental health. They say their confidence, ability to communicate and knowledge in many areas of life, have also grown. Most members are now much more involved in the community in general and are willing to represent their community’s views to decision makers (e.g. Ward Council meetings).
With over 50 people currently volunteering and 300 people regularly taking up its various activities, Group members say that their involvement with both the s62 and RotherFed has opened up a wide range of support that they otherwise wouldn’t have been aware of, including information on and referrals to health, employment, and social services.
To keep the momentum going and increase community engagement, group leaders are now looking to attract even more volunteers. Group members say that they love the group’s non-judgemental approach and always feel comfortable and supported when taking part.
We asked group volunteers ‘Why do you do it?’ Their answers included, because the only help that was available for people with poor mental health and money worries wasn’t local and wasn’t available outside office hours. The key driver was the increasing number of people they knew who were struggling with money on top of pandemic-related poor mental health.
Click here for more information about s62 https://s62ctr.co.uk/about-us/
Rawmarsh Community Allotment
This allotment group was set up with the practical support and funding from the Making Our Money Go Further project.
Volunteers are able to reduce their shopping bills as a result of access to fresh fruit and vegetables grown on the plot. As well as helping volunteers directly, this group provides an early example how community activity can help others save money. Any surplus produce is donated to local food organisations so other local residents can lower their food bills and improve their diet.
David, one of the group volunteers, arranged for his team at HSBC to do a volunteering day at the Rawmarsh Community Allotment. Ten people in total took part. For some of them it was their first time on an allotment and while they were impressed with the plot, they did feel a bit overwhelmed by the work needing to be done! They split into groups to work on various jobs, put on some music and began to enjoy being outside for the day.
Emilio, who has a nearby plot for the Salvation Army, provided lunch and refreshments for the group of bacon and egg rolls and tea & coffee, which he cooked on his stove. The MOMGF team provided water for them all and the gravel boards to build some of the vegetable beds.
By the end of the day the group had cleared and area and installed a vegetable bed which is already showing signs of a good crop.Talking to some of the team about the experience these were some of the comments received:
“The day went so fast, and was so much fun”.
“Great to see how much we actually managed to do in a few hours”
At the start the group was driven by key volunteers, David, Tony and Steve were the local people who really drove the group forward at the start. David saw an advert about the group needing volunteers and Tony and Steve found out through visits to the Social Supermarket.
How is volunteering helping with things other than money? The volunteers say that although this project was all bout helping local people to save money, it’s the new friendships and connections with the wider community that has been of real benefit to those who get involved, as these friendships continue outside of group activities. They say that although what they are doing benefits others, its amazing how great they feel through playing a part in helping local people.
We have seen overtime more and more group members getting support from a range of services that they didn’t know existed before taking part. The knowledge of where to go and the confidence to take up additional support has been a key part of the success of this group and has great impact on those who have become involved.
The group are looking for more volunteers all the time, and realise that its this community spirit and involvement that will make the difference and ensure sustainability for the future. More open conversations about what’s worrying people, lived experience of those involved, and the ongoing network of support that the group provides is what will make the difference in the future.
Why do you do it? Volunteers told us that it was the chance to do something practical that could really help local people that got them to join. They said that the link to the Social Supermarket helped them see the potential to make a difference locally and also provide access to fresh, healthy food. Volunteers say that getting outside, getting together, and growing produce provides an amazing boost to mental health and wellbeing. They told us that some people who got involved were at rock bottom at first. They felt let down and had no support. Coming to the group has these residents purpose, enabled connections to take place and friendships to form.