Stoke-on-Trent City Council, alongside local voluntary and community sector (VCS) and other public sector partners, are focusing on working together and taking a proactive approach to mobilising support to ensure residents and businesses have access to as much support as possible as much support during this difficult time.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council, alongside the local voluntary and community sector (VCS) and other public sector partners, are focusing on working together and taking a proactive approach to mobilising support to ensure residents and businesses have access to as much support as possible as much support during this difficult time.
The approach is similar to the Stoke-on-Trent Together partnership programme which the council coordinated during the Covid-19 pandemic to shield vulnerable individuals and communities from harm. Stronger Together Through Winter will also aim to ensure that families with children, people with vulnerabilities, pension-age households, people on low-incomes, and those that are self-employed or own are aware of all the support available to them.
Stronger Together Through Winter is based on the priorities and values of the council’s Stronger Together Strategic Plan 2020 – 2024 and aims to bring together organisations from across the city to support the most vulnerable residents and communities. The key elements of the approach are to clearly promote forms of support already available; work in tandem with national Government measures as they emerge; repurpose existing spaces and programmes to provide additional help this winter; enable voluntary and community organisations increase their support offers; and monitor local conditions and data to determine whether the interventions are having a meaningful impact.
The programme is focused on four key priorities:
- provide direct support to residents and businesses by helping them to manage the financial pressures they are facing
- help people to stay safe and well by providing additional support for the city’s most vulnerable residents
- support communities to become more resilient by helping households to reduce their outgoings, maximise their income and ensure they are claiming everything they are entitled to
- support families on lower incomes with the launch of a dedicated support and advice portal.
The campaign has been coordinated by Stoke-on-Trent City Council in partnership with Voluntary Action Stoke-on-Trent (VAST), which supports the voluntary and community sector in the city, and a number of other charities and public services. The City Council has established a steering group which is co-chaired by the Council Leader and a leading figure from the community sector. The steering group comprises representatives from around 20 organisations in the city, as well as City Council cabinet members.
Three cross sector sub-groups coordinate and delegate specific workstreams and tasks, which range from coordinating emergency food provision and creating a network of ‘Welcoming Spaces’ in public buildings, to developing a basket of indicators to monitor the emerging impacts of rising living costs. The sub-groups are aligned to the following themes:
- Supporting People & Businesses
- Supporting Communities
Progress to date
The programme was launched on 18 October 2022 at one of the city’s neighbourhood centres. Around 80-100 residents attended the launch event and were able to obtain first-hand advice and information from a range of organisations about topics such as financial advice, benefits advice, how to access food banks and other essential support, and where to access mental health support.
The partnership has created a dedicated online portal on the City Council’s website. This provides a single point of information on a wide range of individual support, financial support, mental health support and wider community activities.
The City Council has also designated Stoke-on-Trent’s six libraries as 'Welcoming Spaces', alongside a range of community lounges and venues. By December 2022, 60 Welcoming Spaces were registered across the city, a figure which is increasingly continuously. These spaces are open to anyone and are essential to residents struggling to heat their homes. Residents are able to use Welcoming Spaces in their local areas to access:
- support and advice about money, welfare, and mental wellbeing
- community activities
- computers, free Wi-Fi and charging points
- heated space.
The City Council has received an allocation £2,686,721.90 from the DWP Household Support Fund (HSF) to provide support to residents up to 31 March 2023. Funding will be distributed in line with the Stronger Together Through Winter priorities. The council has set aside £125,000 of this funding for local voluntary and community sector organisations that are able to provide support to residents in relation to food provision; essentials - including clothing, hygiene products, white goods; and energy costs - including water and repairs. Grants of up to £5,000 were available and 35 organisations have received funding so far.
Some of the key actions the Stronger Together Through Winter Steering Group have achieved, or are working to achieve, are:
- reviewing emergency food provision across the city
- identifying and promoting Welcoming Spaces and warm clothing banks
- delivering the rough sleeping support programme to minimise numbers on the streets
- ensuring timely delivery of any government support to businesses and engaging with businesses that need help or advice
- ensuring maximum take-up of flu and Covid vaccinations
- building on mental health support that is already available and ensuring the offer meets identified needs
- identifying other sources of funding, including through philanthropic sources, to support our residents
- identifying gaps in provision and demand pressures and assessing how they could be filled
- developing a comprehensive communications campaign to improve awareness and engagement
- creating a set of measures to enable the steering group to monitor and understand impacts and evaluate the effectiveness of planned interventions
- setting up a general helpline, via Brighter Futures, for anyone who needs help to get advice on where to go.