Foundation reporting for duty
The scenery that draws people to Cumbria from around the world helps keep many who live here isolated. One in five Cumbrians has a long-term health problem or disability. Thirty-two thousand pensioners in the county live alone.
These are among the conclusions from a new report by Cumbria Community Foundation (CCF). This charity aims to tackle poverty and strengthen communities by inspiring philanthropic giving.
The report, titled Cumbria Revealed, collects data from various sources to paint a picture of the county which contrasts starkly with the postcard image.
Its findings are intended to raise awareness of the problems, and to tackle them by matching people with causes that matter to them.
CCF chief executive Andy Beeforth says: “I’m not aware of anything else in the county that has this breadth of information. It’s all existing research from sources including local councils, health authorities, national figures with a sensible local translation, and information from people that we fund.
“I think the most significant thing is the information around poverty. If you have a combination of low incomes, fuel poverty and child poverty, that’s our biggest challenge – helping people reverse those long-term trends and make a difference in households. People being able to get better jobs.
“It’s not just highlighting need in places like Barrow, Whitehaven, Workington and Carlisle. It’s a real issue in rural communities as well. Things exacerbated by distance and isolation.”
So Cumbria’s fells and lakes look nice but keep people apart. Other headlines include one in 10 households living in poverty and 1,800 people a year diagnosed with dementia in the county.
“That’s really shocking,” says Andy. “How do we care for people in their old age?”
CCF is seeking solutions. Its ambition is to continue connecting those who give money – individuals and businesses – with life-changing projects.
Existing examples include CCF’s Winter Warmth Appeal, which sees older people who do not need their winter fuel payment donating it. This was launched in 2010 after philanthropist Myles Walker suggested the idea. To date it has raised more than £627,000.
“Philanthropy is not just about money. It’s also about things like befriending schemes. If more people come forward to volunteer, that makes a big difference.”
CCF is aiming to double the amount of grants it awards in the next five years. That will require much more giving.
“We’ve not developed the report for people to get down or depressed,” says Andy. “We want to motivate people to act.”
Roger Smith is doing that already. Roger is managing director of Thomas Graham, a Carlisle-based industrial supplies business. For more than five years the company has supported CCF by making an annual payment.
“They’re very good at what they do,” says Roger of the foundation. “When you give money you want to make sure it’s going to good causes. You’ve got choices. We want it to go to young people and sport. They’re the things we’re very passionate about. Sport can give young people a focus in life.
“There’s an awful lot of volunteers out there who give their time and all they need is a bit of backing. If you can push a bit of cash their way it’s a big help.
Roger would like to see the foundation focus more on improving the lives of young people – among the stated aims which accompany Cumbria Revealed.
“It’s really important to give young people chances and inspiration in early life. If you don’t, it becomes very hard later in life.
“I know from working with Carlisle Youth Zone there’s an awful lot more poverty out there than people realise. I think business has a responsibility to contribute to the socio-economics of an area. If we are making money out of a local area we should be putting some back in.
“The main reason is the feel-good factor, if I’m honest. And it’s getting harder and harder to attract the right people. People look at your morals and values. They want to work somewhere that matches their values.”
Is there a danger that a report revealing an ageing population suffering poverty and ill health might put businesses off investing here?
“I’m a massive believer that it’s good to be honest,” says Roger. “Unless you’re honest you can’t do anything about it. Every area has got problems. As a Cumbrian business, I think it’s a great county to invest in. ”
Rachael Rodway, chairman of Carlisle Foodbank, is not surprised by the report. But she thinks some people will be.
“Most of our donations come from churches in and around Carlisle. I know from some ministers that there are members of their congregations who do not believe there is a genuine need for a foodbank in Carlisle. We are providing food for some 550 or so people a month.”
Need is caused not only by lack of money, says Rachael. “There is a breakdown of long-established communities because of council house sales, among other things. Informal networks of families and neighbours, which provided a first port of call in an emergency, have gone, which leaves people more reliant on councils and third-sector organisations for help.”
Andy Beeforth is striving to strike a balance between spelling out the county’s problems and not making them seem insurmountable.
“Although there’s lots of hard-luck stories, Cumbria is still a great place to live and work. This is a call to action.”