As I was walking around a crisp Bristol town centre visiting our frontline office there last week I suddenly noticed that it wasn’t a late summer breeze but the start of an autumn chill that I was feeling. I was very glad that we are kicking off our fuel poverty work now, before the real cold sets in. Magazines had been flying out of the Bristol office all day as vendors busily sold our special edition about the Queen, and so that gave our support workers a chance to catch up with those vendors about coping in the months ahead.
We are under no illusions that this will be an easy winter. Already we are seeing vendors struggling with money and running out of electricity. In these cases, we will immediately help with a referral to the Fuel Bank so they can keep warm, put the lights back on and heat up some dinner. We also sit down and make a household budget, review bills and see where else they can get help. The range of support out there is huge, and very confusing. There are all kinds of grants and government schemes but some are local, some are national, and all have their own eligibility.
So one of the biggest tasks we can help with is simply supporting vendors to navigate through this. But there are gaps and even those vendors accessing all the extra support they can will sometimes be left struggling. In these instances, through our network of more than 300 local agencies we can help fill those gaps – whether it’s food, baby products, a winter coat or something else that they need.
There are bright spots of course. I always enjoy logging into our case management system to see what has been happening across the country. Today I noticed the latest update about a London vendor whom our brilliant London team has been supporting throughout the pandemic and beyond with weekly wellbeing calls. He has now attended our first cycling social in East London, which is a huge step forward for him in building connections with people and communities outside our team. The cycling event has been set up as part of our push to boost the wellbeing of vendors in the capital by connecting them to community groups where they live and sell the magazine. He loved it and so did the others – so by vendor word of mouth we now have triple the number of vendors signed up for next week.
It’s thanks to the generosity and trust of our supporters that we can make our best efforts to ensure the coming winter is less harsh than it may otherwise be for our hard-working vendors. So, as ever, a huge thank you, and please keep up your words of encouragement and kind conversation with our vendors as it gets colder and darker – they tell us all about it and it’s a big motivator, especially in this tougher time of year.
Laurie Olivia, Director of Service Development