The QT

Sunday 19 May 2024

Charity has to begin at home

Loujane Alasi looks at how charities across the region are struggling to survive and why more must be done to protect them
Loujane Alasi argues that charities are finding it more difficult than ever to navigate complicated grant processes and secure vital funding. Credit: Kenny Eliason/Unsplash

The North East charity sector is built on a foundation of raw northern grit, unwavering resilience, and a powerful network of community connections. It is this solid foundation that has allowed many organisations to survive and rise from the ashes of COVID-19.

In the words of philosopher Bertrand Russell, ‘In a just world, there would be no need for charity’. However, we live in a world far from just and at a time when we need charities the most. Yet, it is my worry that with this long-lasting cost-of-living crisis, which does not appear to have an end in sight, we will lose many charities and community groups.

The same groups that support our most vulnerable members of our community, often when they are at their lowest, are now battling to keep their doors open. These are our region’s unsung heroes — the ones who keep our communities going, fueling our determination, igniting our passions, and instilling a sense of belonging, pride and hope.

As tough as COVID-19 was, it brought many communities together and shattered the stigma around seeking help from charities, transforming it into a powerful symbol of collective strength. Neighbours were looking out for each other, and Facebook groups emerged as communities sought alternative ways to keep in contact.

We need to address the root cause of [youth related knife crime]: poverty and inequality, symptoms of austerity that have robbed many young people of their childhoods and now of their teenage years too

Loujane Alasi

Grant makers, trusts and foundations were understanding of the challenges charities were facing and, in a noteworthy shift, trust in charities grew and the option of unrestricted funding, previously elusive, became a reality. 

This shift allowed charities to direct their efforts towards delivering essential services, freeing them from the shackles of endless paperwork. Now, it appears as though we are back to a time when charities, already on their knees, are having to go through lengthy grant processes simply to be declined as a result of tight budgets and funding cuts.

In the last couple of months, we’ve seen a wave of charity closures, not just nationally, but locally too. In Sunderland, Age UK trimmed down their classes for the elderly in a bid to make ends meet and Sunderland Pets Pantry Food Bank announced its closure. Meanwhile, in Newcastle, Side Gallery made a public announcement calling for donations which garnered international coverage and support. Side Gallery has been successful in its bid to raise the funds to stay open, but many others have not been.

Many community hubs and youth services have been forced to make cuts at a time when their services are most crucial, especially for our young people, who are now finding themselves paying the heaviest price — with their lives.

As tough as COVID-19 was, it brought many communities together

Loujane Alasi

There’s a surge in youth-related knife crime and anti-social behaviour in our region, and as a solution, we increase state surveillance, a measure that targets, criminalises, and penalises young people. Is this the best use of public funds? We need to address the root cause of the issue: poverty and inequality, symptoms of austerity that have robbed many young people of their childhoods and now of their teenage years too.

Contrary to popular belief, my experience with young people has shown me that they are far more aware of local, national, and global issues than we give them credit for. They observe and absorb the way we discuss and represent them, often realising that the narratives constructed about them are inaccurate and misaligned with reality.

Young people aren’t a monolithic group; they have diverse interests, hobbies, and experiences that vary among different age groups. Many of them are living through the struggles their households are facing. They are attending underfunded and thinly-stretched schools, and having to rely on a broken local transport system to get them home. It is on us to stand with young people and fix the system that has made them victims of government-sanctioned austerity.

Building trust with young people, just as we would with any other group, is crucial. Creating safe spaces and providing opportunities for them to enjoy their delicate youth is just as important as the skills enrichment programs and career events they attend. After all, how many of us knew what we wanted to be when we were fifteen and instead wish we could have made the most of our innocent teenage years. 

[Young people] are far more aware of local, national, and global issues than we give them credit for

Loujane Alasi

Who better to inspire our youth and instil in them hope for a brighter tomorrow than the youth workers and community groups who know them best?

The charity sector is the beating heart of the North East, and while it’s struggling to keep up with demand and make ends meet, it’s important we play our small part in helping them through this difficult time. We cannot sit idly by and watch a sector crumble and the light in the eyes of our youth dim while our region announces millions in investment.

Libyan-born and Geordie-bred, Loujane Alasi is a communications professional and freelance journalist.

The Community Foundation supports anyone to be a philanthropist by donating time, talent or money to make a difference on our doorsteps

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