‘A Fairer Stockton-on-Tees’ (FSOT) is the borough council’s long-term strategic framework for tackling inequalities. The immediate focus is on ensuring that the council and its delivery partners can help local residents navigate the cost of living.
Like many boroughs, Stockton-on-Tees has more affluent areas alongside disadvantaged areas. Nine of its 26 wards are in the 10 per cent most deprived in the country. There is an average male life expectancy gap of 21 years between the most and least deprived parts of the borough.
‘A Fairer Stockton-on-Tees’ (FSOT) is the borough council’s long-term strategic framework for tackling inequalities. A dedicated team was created in 2021, linking different council services to form the FSOT strategy and framework – initially creating bespoke plans for three disadvantaged areas.
The long-term ambition is for everyone in Stockton-on-Tees to have access to the same opportunities, with clear plans of action in place from the council to mitigate and reduce unfair differences. There will be a focus on the most deprived communities and most marginalised groups. There will also be recognition of the roles the council can play as a major employer, commissioner and purchaser.
The immediate focus is on ensuring that the council and its delivery partners can help local residents navigate the cost of living.
Warm spaces network
Stockton-on-Tees has a vibrant voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector, with more than 300 active organisations. Community resources include leisure centres, libraries and a network of family hubs.
Some organisations had set up cost of living initiatives such as community pantries and food banks, coordinated under the Stockton Food Power Network. A need was also identified for welcoming spaces where residents could go to stay warm and, ideally, engage in activities aimed at improving wellbeing and reducing isolation.
By December 2022 there were more than 50 ‘warm spaces’ including libraries, leisure centres, churches and community centres. The council was able to provide small funding pots for the first group of venues, ranging from £50 to £500. Some used this to buy blankets, hand-warmers or food for people to take home. Others bought fridges, slow cookers and ingredients to make soup or hot drinks. The council is working with Catalyst Stockton-on-Tees (which supports the local VCSE sector) to identify further potential venues and sources of funding, and to promote the scheme.
Early feedback revealed that this support was reaching people in crisis who would not usually choose to access services run by the council. They benefited from being able to go to a non-judgemental, friendly space, talk to people and seek advice. Feedback also showed that isolation was a big issue for many warm space users.
Stockton-on-Tees benefits from a free council-run community transport service for residents who would find it difficult to access local bus services. This is helping people to access the warm space of their choice.
As part of the warm spaces offer, families had the chance to attend free cinema screenings during the winter of 2022/23 at the local arts centre, ARC Stockton. More than 1,000 tickets were available for screenings on eight Saturday afternoons. This was sponsored by local hair care company, Additional Lengths, with support from other businesses. Some tickets were released to the family hubs, but the council promoted it more widely in an effort to reach other families that are struggling financially.
Councillor Bob Cook, Leader of Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council, said:
“We wanted to expand the offer so children could go and do something fun, not knowing that they are going to a ‘warm space’. It is so important for families that are feeling the pinch to be able to continue with social activities and treats, so we asked local businesses and had an amazing response.”
Leisure centres run by Tees Active are providing reduced-rate sessions for family soft play and swimming. This is particularly aimed at families that are struggling but not on income-related benefits, as there is already some provision for children on free school meals through the government’s holiday activities and food programme, known as ‘Holidays are Fun’.
The council has six task and finish groups working on elements of FSOT: energy crisis, food crisis, corporate social responsibility, child poverty, employee support and employee upskilling. Each feeds back to a cost of living umbrella group, which ensures that no strand of work is running in isolation and action is fully coordinated. The umbrella group includes council officers and representatives from the local advice and information service. In turn, this group feeds into the senior management team for further strategic direction and liaison with partner organisations.
- The ‘warm spaces’ idea had to develop quickly – talking to other councils was invaluable in terms of sharing ideas and learning from best practice examples.
- People may not want to attend a warm space close to home due to the perceived stigma of being seen there. The community transport option means they can easily travel to another venue.
- The FSOT team ran outreach sessions at council workplaces with advice on support available for council staff, such as in-work benefits.