Buckinghamshire Council: Strong partnership links to support those most in need

As a result of the pandemic and the financial difficulties being experienced by many, the government provided local authorities with grants to distribute to those most in need. Buckinghamshire Council set up a Helping Hand service to help administer the funds, working with partners in the voluntary and community sector to reach those really struggling.

About the project

As a result of the pandemic and the financial difficulties being experienced by many, the government provided local authorities with grants to distribute to those most in need. Buckinghamshire Council set up a Helping Hand service to help administer the funds, working with partners in the voluntary and community sector to reach those really struggling.   

Building excellent relationships with this sector enabled around £1.4m, 15 per cent of the grant allocations to be used to enhance community-based support in areas of need. Innovative approaches to maximising the use of funding have been adopted, really amplifying what organisations can do to help residents locally.   

An example of this is the exceptional relationship developed with Heart of Bucks, our local Community Foundation, with a unique network of advocates within the community, used to reach those who are in desperate need of financial assistance.   

Henry Allmand, CEO of Heart of Bucks said, “Our work supporting the most vulnerable and financially disadvantaged households in Bucks would not have been possible without the efficient and effective staff involved across the Helping Hand service.”   

Experienced in administering funds, the charity’s crisis fund had been provided with around £515,000 between October 2021 and July 2022, to support individuals with grants. Funds were distributed on a targeted basis to those most in need, through a network of 30+ community advocates, working across multiple areas of the local authority, as well as with voluntary and community sector partners.   

During this period, the advocates, including those based in the Helping Hand service, have helped nearly 1600 households applying for grants. The bulk of the grants have been made to assist households with clearing energy bills and support with the rising cost of living, including in many cases with food needs.  

Henry added: “In many ways, the Helping Hand service has been instrumental in changing our offer as a charity to Bucks residents. Before 2020 we were able to distribute less than 5 per cent of grants to local households. Since building this relationship with Buckinghamshire Council, we are now not only able to turnaround crisis grant payments to individuals in 24 hours from receipt, but last year were also able to offer over 25 per cent of our grants to our struggling families. A remarkable effort that speaks to how well our organisations are working together.”

Alongside this, the Helping Hand service has also shared insights into critical local priorities like food insecurity, helping the charity to target their grants more effectively into areas of most need.

The strong linkages between Heart of Bucks and Buckinghamshire Council have also enabled a coordinated fundraising campaign to be launched, called the Cost of Living Crisis Appeal. Seeking donations from private philanthropists and residents, and launched in early September, nearly £70,000 was raised in the first week. The funds will provide another means for helping those within the community who need it most this winter. This is the start of the support package being offered by the council, as it evolves plans with partners across Buckinghamshire. 

Case study from service user: multi-agency working

Following a referral by charity P3, a multi-agency approach was taken to support an 87-year-old lady, on low income, with a physical disability.  Following the passing of her partner two years earlier, Sylvia* had got into financial difficulty as her partner had been responsible for paying the fuel bills and covering half the rent. This led to £3000 worth of arrears accumulating.

Being on a low-income Sylvia was unable to clear these arrears. She wanted to downsize to a smaller property but was told she wouldn’t be able to until the debt was paid. The Helping Hand service made an application to Heart of Bucks, who were able to provide a grant for £1500 to clear part of the arrears, whilst the Revenue and Benefits team in the council were able to provide a Discretionary Housing Payment for the remaining amount.

Having very little savings and income meant day to day costs were also becoming a struggle. Referrals were also made to Citizens Advice, which resulted in Sylvia increasing the amount of benefit entitlement she would receive.  Referrals were also made to Prevention Matters, a service funded by Buckinghamshire Council who help those experiencing social isolation and loneliness to gain confidence and independence.

Furthermore, once Sylvia had moved into her new property, the Helping Hand service were able to assist with a combi-oven microwave, as she was unable to use her cooker due to her disability.

Sylvia said, “I really cannot thank Helping Hand and the Revenue and Benefits team enough for being able to help me clear the rent arrears I had. I am now settled in my little bungalow and its thanks to these people. Ps I love my little oven.”

*The resident's name has been changed to protect her identity.

An insight led approach

In Autumn 2021, the local food bank, One Can Trust, started to develop the help they offer their clients, launching a new programme called One Can Community Support. By gathering insights on clients, through telephone conversations, the charity has been able to better understand the underlying reasons for their poverty and help identify ways to improve an individual and family’s situation.

Working with local partners Buckinghamshire Council, Citizens Advice, Christians Against Poverty and Heart of Bucks, the programme has been able to offer a broader range of services to clients.

Support provided through Buckinghamshire Council has enabled the charity to now provide grants to those most in need, helping with new school uniforms, clearing utility and rent arrears, and providing white goods and carpets for the home.

Working as an advocate for Heart of Bucks, they have also been able to refer clients for grants. Valuable debt counselling and benefit specialist services have been provided through Citizens Advice and Christians Against Poverty.

So far, the programme has been able to help around 400 clients, sourcing over £13,000 in grants for individuals and families. In addition, a quarter have been sign posted to other agencies for debt counsellors or benefit specialists services.  Links are also starting to be built with smaller support services such as a local Equine Therapy Centre and children’s clothes bank.  Clients have also been referred to One Can Trust’s local community cafe and cooking classes.

In future, the programme hopes to target support to toddler and family sessions, mental health support groups and adults living on their own, to help with self-isolation and build relationships.

Case study from service user

The programme was recently able to support a family with three small children. With the mother’s disability and the father becoming the sole carer, they were unfortunately unable to work. This led to the family struggling financially.

They initially came through the Helping Hand service who were able to provide them with a new washing machine and oven, as well as food bank referrals to One Can Trust.

The One Can Community Support programme was then able to further support the family with a grant to clear their debts and have access to food. A member of the family said: “Not only were One Can Trust completely respectful of our already dented pride, everything possible was done by them to accommodate our needs.”


Anushka Desai: [email protected]