KIM MCGUINNESS: Two years on and Sunderland community groups are still struggling to cover crucial costs

Well, Sunderland’s wonderful Pride event was a positive start to my June, but unfortunately my month ended less well, with a positive Covid test – it finally caught me. And so being stuck at home made me reflect on things.

By Kim McGuinness
Wednesday, 20th July 2022, 6:00 pm
Kim McGuinness, centre, alongside Pallion Action Group manager Karen Noble and some of the volunteers who play a vital role in the community.
Kim McGuinness, centre, alongside Pallion Action Group manager Karen Noble and some of the volunteers who play a vital role in the community.

More than two years have passed since I launched my Covid Response Fund. Things should be getting a lot better, right? Yet community groups are telling me, time and time again, that they are still facing the same financial pressures they were at the start of the pandemic.

This time they’re facing ‘cost of living’ challenges, but there’s simply no Government funding to cover it. This urgently needs looking at, but it’s fair to say our Government is somewhat pre-occupied right now.

Yet there are so many gaps in services I honestly don’t know what our communities would do without the fantastic local groups trying desperately hard to plug them – but we cannot and must not take them for granted. They need financial help to do this.

Pallion Action Group in Sunderland was one organisation who applied to the Coronavirus Fund when I set it up. I launched the fund to set about making £300,000 available to local charity organisations at a time of real need.

It was to help continue vital work supporting local people and preventing crime as the pandemic took hold. I particularly wanted to make sure support was there for victims, for vulnerable people at risk of abuse, and for those feeling the impacts of poverty.

The team at Pallion Action Group put a bid in to fund important work with Northumbria Police centred around improving the wellbeing of those at risk of becoming involved in criminal activity.

The manager there, Karen, told me recently that she thought things were bad back then, but, worryingly, the need for funding is even greater now. Increasing gas and electricity costs, food and transport going up – budgets of organisations that are there to help are being pushed to the limit, just like the budgets of the families who so desperately need their help and support.

Last month the campaign group for community power ‘We’re Right Here’ shared that four in ten of the local groups which sprang up in the first days of the Covid pandemic have since become permanent hubs of neighbourly support as the struggles continue.

This shows how much need there is; need that is just not being met. There are countless organisations wanting to meet this need though, who are up to their ears in grant applications. I’m hearing of real desperation for simply covering overheads and just keeping things afloat.

And I worry about the knock-on effects. We need to be fighting poverty to be fighting crime too. This is how we reduce the number of victims. Of course, we need our police, but we need youth groups, we need victim services and we need community clubs.

I’ll keep speaking up for us, I’ll keep lobbying for more funding and I’ll keep doing all I can to improve lives across our region.

There are some really determined organisations out there, determined not to give up, determined to make a difference and they will. They will because that’s the spirit of the north east, a spirit I am incredibly proud of – the real positive in everything that’s happening.