In one year alone, west Cumbrian charity, Allerdale Disability Association (ADA), unlocked more than four million pounds worth of benefits for people with disabilities.
You can see the gratitude by the abundance of thank you cards displayed. Everywhere you look there is another gesture of thanks. ADA helps people during their most vulnerable and desperate times.
For most people it helps, it is a life changing service. But for others, the wait, the uncertainty, and the stress, is too much. ADA knows of people who have been driven to thoughts of suicide. Four men have taken their own lives waiting for their benefits appeals to be heard.
Last year, ADA, based in Moorclose Community Centre in Workington, helped 900 people through its information service.
Paul Parkinson, Information and Benefits Advisor, helps people navigate their way through the benefits system. In the past, people were given awards for life under the Disability Living Allowance scheme. Now with Personal Independence Payments, people must apply every two years, even if their disability hasn’t changed.
He said: “People are living on money from family, friends, fresh air or they are getting into debt.
“Three of my clients have committed suicide in three years. I went to an appeal tribunal with the widow of a fourth. I try to help clients with everything from filling in forms to appeals and supporting families during the tribunal hearings in court. Just last week, £80,000 of benefits were claimed back for clients after being turned down.”
According to a recent BBC report, a third of people do not appeal the DWP’s decision because ‘the process would be too stressful’ while one in five said they were too unwell to challenge it. The same report featured people selling their belongings to survive as waiting times are more than 12 months for a successful appeal.
Despite this grim picture, there is hope. One client, 58 year old Paul, saw his benefits halve under the new system. Thanks to ADA, his benefits were fully restored. He said: “It made a lot of difference; it was really helpful.”
While getting people’s benefits payments are a life-changing aspect of ADA’s work, it is the regular weekly support that changes the quality of life for its members.
Twice a week, the doors of the centre are thrown open and anyone with a physical disability, their families and carers are welcome to come and spend time together. It’s a place where people can relax, learn new skills and meet new friends, or just as 43 year old John said: “I have only one leg and my dad cares for me and my mum who has rheumatoid arthritis. It is a place to go, there’s good conversation and a friendly atmosphere. It gets me out of the house two days a week and it gives my dad a bit of a break.”
In addition to the normal activities, the charity also organises trips to various places and in 2004, after hearing that the local Talking Newspaper group was to disband, the charity took it over and a team of volunteers have continued to record the weekly disc ever since.
Tracey Parker is the manager of ADA. She co-ordinates all the activities and fills out more than 50 fundraising applications a year to keep the centre going.
Cumbria Community Foundation has given more than £138,000 to ADA since 2002. Tracey said: “It costs £68,000 a years to run the charity. The Foundation is a godsend. Its continued support has kept us open and has helped us unlock funding from other sources.”
Tracey has worked for the charity for 21 years. Its current chairman, Peter Mallyon, has been part of ADA for 25 years. Both are committed to providing a safe and supportive place for people living with disabilities.
Their kind nature and welcoming spirit is evident in the way the members talk about them. David has been a regular attender for two decades. He has 24 hour care at home and said: “Tracey and Peter are like family to me.” The smile on David’s face says it all, this is a place where he feels safe and enjoys the company of his ‘extended family’.
ADA will continue to help west Cumbrian’s through the appeals process with the help from external funding. However the debt, frustration and stress ensued is causing people’s health to deteriorate and in some cases making their disability worse.
Around 1,000 children have been learning about the importance of local produce thanks to a grant of £11,840 from the Westmorland Family Community Fund.
The Soil Association’s Food for Life School Award programme benefited four primary schools, close to Tebay Services in the Eden Valley: Orton Primary School, Kirkby Stephen Primary School, Crosby Ravensworth Primary School and Beaconside Primary School.
The programme links to the curriculum and encourages a better understanding of growing, cooking and learning to love good food. Its aim is to engage children, parents, staff and the wider community to create a powerful voice for long-term change.
Schools work to a bronze, silver or gold standard, evidencing their achievements against agreed criteria. Activities have included a Farmers Market at Rheged, sausage making masterclasses and design a plate competition.
The Food for Life programme project has been a great success with each school taking part in all the activities on offer. The pupils enjoyed the programme and their appreciation of where food comes from and the importance of good food.
Ian Nutt, Head of Development at The Soil Association, said: “The project has been a great success with each school taking part in all the activities on offer while working towards their Bronze award. It has been wonderful to see how much the pupils enjoyed the programme and their appreciation of where food comes from and the importance of good food.”
Westmorland Family Community Fund have continued to support this project for a further three years with the introduction of a fifth school: Tebay Primary School.
A community festival celebrating diversity in Carlisle was given a £2,000 cash boost from the Abbeyfield Society Community First Fund.
Carlisle Unity Festival, organised by AWAZ Cumbria and their partners, One World, was aimed at building unity among the many diverse groups in the city while tackling prejudice and promoting understanding.
Charities that work with ethnic communities and minority groups showcased their services and the range of activities on offer within the community. Stallholders included Carlisle Refugee Action Group, Carlisle Mencap, the Terrence Higgins Trust, Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Carlisle Lions Club.
Local people were able to share and learn new skills and had the opportunity to experience a wide variety of food and music, and enjoy performing arts from around the world, in Carlisle City Centre.
Cumbria is one of the least diverse counties in the UK, but this is beginning to change. Carlisle is becoming increasingly multi-cultural and diverse, yet there is a lack of opportunities for communities to come together and celebrate their cultures.
Minority and marginalised groups living in the city face issues such as racism and islamophobia which has been documented in recent hate crime reporting by Cumbria Constabulary. Aftab Khan, Development Officer at AWAZ Cumbria, hopes the event has increased awareness and understanding of the barriers and issues these groups face.
He said: “There is a need more than ever to demonstrate that people and communities are united in their spirit and action against any kind of intolerance, hate and xenophobia in Carlisle.”
“Carlisle’s first Unity Festival brought together a range of community groups and organisations to stand up to prejudice and show their community spirit in a time of great uncertainty.”
“The festival helped build community networks and people were able to learn more about the issues affecting minority or marginalised groups and how to tackle hate crime. The positive messages delivered on the day will have boosted those who are concerned about racism and xenophobia in the city.”