Home is normally a safe place. Imagine what it is like to lose it
Keila was nearly evicted when she got into debt. She says: ‘The thought of losing your home is the worst feeling.’
‘A few years ago I split up with my husband. He was a recovering alcoholic. My benefits were capped. I was in quite a bit of debt but, because I was putting all of my money into my rent, there wasn’t any money left.
‘I would feed the children and then what they’d left – that would be my dinner. I’d lost loads of weight and was in hospital for three days. When I came out I was just so weak. And then my daughter was in a car accident. It was just one thing after another. I was in a really bad place.’
A friend told Keila about Reach – a charity near her home in Suffolk. That’s where she found the help she needed to sort out her debts and manage her money.
Reach was founded by the River of Life Community Church in 2005, initially as a debt counselling centre. They went on to launch further projects to tackle poverty under the name of Reach Community Projects and became an independent charity in 2017.
Henry Wilson MBE, the project director at Reach, explains: ‘I started here first as a debt counsellor. It was while doing this work that we came across families that were going without food and so we added a foodbank project to it.’
Reach aims to find the underlying problems that cause people to need a food box in the first place. As well as being a Community Money Advice centre offering free debt advice from experienced debt counsellors, Reach runs a drop-in centre, a foodbank and other projects like Acts 435, which is managed through a network of churches and local charities, and helps clients pay for clothing, furniture, children needs, travel costs and other unexpected expenses.
‘Whether it’s poverty, debts, homelessness or the risk of losing their home, we’re here to help,’ says Henry. ‘We can walk alongside somebody and take them through a journey to lift them out of poverty. Being there. Being a friend, that relational, personable service is absolutely crucial.’
Thanks to a grant from the Nationwide Building Society, Reach has employed a fulltime worker, Justine, who supports people in the community. People can drop in at the Reach resource centre to ask for food. If conversations bring to light other needs like debt or housing advice, Justine then follows that up.
‘Just giving someone a parcel of food is just a sticking plaster,’ she says. ‘There are always issues underneath. Reach is all about helping people to move forward.’
Paying it forward
Julia is one person who was helped by Reach. Here’s how she is now helping someone else
Malcolm* is vulnerable due to learning disabilities. During the Covid-19 lockdown, he was one of those who ‘slipped through the net’ – and it nearly killed him.
When Malcolm’s mum died a few years back, he wasn’t placed under care as it was deemed he could manage. Generally, he did – until the pandemic arrived.
His social lifeline was volunteering at a local charity shop several times a week. But when lockdown came, the shop had to close.
Several months later, when it was allowed to reopen, Malcolm did not reappear.
The charity shop team began to worry about him. They couldn’t phone him as he had no phone. So Julia, one of the volunteers and a former Reach client, went round to his house.
She was shocked at the state she found him in. The house was in darkness; the sink full of unwashed crockery. Malcolm was unkempt, suffering badly from depression and he needed medical attention. Because he had understood that during lockdown he wasn’t to leave the house except to buy food, he didn’t think he was allowed to go to the bank. So he had run out of money – and food.
He hadn’t eaten for five days.
Henry Wilson said: ‘We don’t like to think what might have happened to Malcolm, had Julia not gone round that day. Fortunately Julia contacted us for help.’
‘We got a food box to Malcolm straight away and Julia cooked him a meal. He bolted it down – when he finished he said he felt like a beached whale, he’d not eaten so much in so long! Julia also got the doctor out to see him.’
Reach also bought Malcolm a prepaid mobile phone; one designed for people with learning disabilities. There is an emergency button on the back which, when pressed, rings a designated contact, so now he can always get help.
Malcolm is still nervous about going out, so now Julia gets his benefits money for him, does his shopping and helps clean his home. Reach gives her a little money to cover her extra petrol costs. Malcolm is so much better and looks forward to the time when he can go back to volunteering at the charity shop.
To find a Community Advice Centre near you visit communitymoneyadvice.com
*Name and details changed to protect client’s identity