Northumberland remains an area where poverty and affluence exist side by side, with only around 30% of wards in the county containing lower than average levels of income deprivation. Evidence from the Equality Trust suggests that the prevalence of relative poverty can affect both an area’s vibrancy and its sense of community. The negative impact of income inequality is therefore likely to be felt by the majority of the county’s population.
The concentration of deprivation in South East Northumberland, which includes some of the most deprived wards in England, demands a response. However, there are other significant pockets of deprivation hidden within its more prosperous market towns. Hexham, Alnwick and Berwick all contain neighbourhoods at opposite ends of the deprivation scale. At an even more local level, there can be individuals in need within rural communities whose ability to cope with problems ranging from domestic violence to the problems of disability or ageing are compounded by issues with access to services. This more hidden deprivation can often be overlooked when funding is allocated, and here informed and locally targeted philanthropic funding can provide a vital lifeline for local voluntary services.
The thriving philanthropic tradition in Northumberland results in part from its wealthier residents’ instinctive awareness of the above issues. It remains a powerful force for promoting greater fairness within the county.
The Community Foundation gave security to Berwick Migrant Support Group who experienced difficulty paying venue costs for its language classes. Treasurer, Gerry Jones explains:
“For a period of time the cost of a venue relied on our funds, severely diminishing our reserves. To maintain a safe level of funds, we had to charge our members and found this was a barrier for some, making our classes no longer viable. By covering the venue hire, our group has become a stronger asset, giving people of all circumstances the opportunity to learn language skills and develop the confidence to integrate with community life.”
“Food is the most basic human need and we see too many people living a daily struggle to put food on the table largely because of low pay and benefit changes. Every day we see how Poverty robs people of their dignity and excludes them from the rest of society, most people who come to the Food Bank are deeply ashamed to have to ask for food and feel overwhelmed and very alone with their problems.
Imagine working on a checkout watching customer’s groceries go through and you have to feed your family from the Food Bank as you don’t get paid enough. Or imagine your sickness benefit was cut off because you didn’t send in a sick note from your GP; but you were unable to visit your GP because you were very unwell in hospital. The sad reality is that Poverty is a manmade problem that can be eradicated.”
Sam Gilchrist, West Northumberland Foodbank