VCSE Networking Event - Cost of Living

Room of people sitting watching a performance

Cost of living Networking Event

13th December 2023

Twitter: @ConnectedVoice_ LinkedIn: Connected-Voice Facebook: @ConnectedVoiceCharity Youtube: Connected Voice

Executive Summary

  • The impacts of the Cost of Living crisis run wide and deep. They are multifaceted, impacting on all areas of people’s lives.
  • As always, the VCSE sector is responding with commitment and creativity, but they are faced with significant issues around funding and staff, amongst others.
  • Some issues can be addressed by greater partnership working, though this is easier said than done.
  • Improved Government support is essential to enable the VCSE sector to deal with the worst of what’s happening. Structural change is needed to address issues in the long term.
  • Services are increasingly stretched and we are aware it will not get easier anytime soon. But there are a lot of good people doing good things!

CAB Cost of Living dashboard

Jonny Tatam-Hall, CAB Policy researcher and volunteer advisor (via Zoom)

  • Citizens Advice have helped put 2.7 billion back into the pockets of people who came to them for help.
  • Cost of Living trends: Out of 2 million people who come to Citizens Advice, since the pandemic the number of people they are working with for cost of living issues have gone up.
  • Major increase for people needing foodbanks from cost of living post pandemic.
  • Every time we get a cost of living payment from the government the foodbank need goes down but shoots back up again the month after – it’s a temporary fix.
  • Number of people not being able to top up their pre-payment meter has gone up – this can lead to dangerous health problems.
  • A third were in negative budget and now, after cost of living crisis, its gone up to half are in a negative budget.
  • Mortgage holders used to have £61 left at the end of the month now it’s - £108 after paying for their essential costs.
  • Social housing and affordable rents helps protect people from going deep into a negative budget.
  • Mortgage holders spend 62% of their income on housing and energy.
  • When local housing allowance was frozen by the government, the short fall was £157.
  • Hitting record numbers of people that need help with the homeless issue. Main reason being because they’ve been evicted. Private renters are a key group that are struggling with cost of living.
  • 2.4 million People will have fixed deals on their mortgage that will come to an end in 2024. It will end up being be an extra £3000 - £5000 per year.


Gateshead Warm Spaces

Hannah Greason, Gateshead Borough Council

  • Warm Spaces in Gateshead have been running for well over a year.
  • Charities and local organisations have safe and warm spaces that people can access for many reasons. Trying to also tackle social isolation and allowing organisations to get to know who’s out there and engage with their community.
  • Poverty truth charter: ‘Get a warm welcome; everyone treated equally, with dignity and respect; safe space; we won’t tell anyone that you need a warm space; doesn’t matter why you need a Warm Space.’ All organisations need this displayed in their Warm Space.
  • Key focus on giving a warm welcome. Still a big of stigma on going to a Warm Space as they may feel embarrassed or ashamed. We know people are using Warm Spaces to tackle social isolation.
  • Organisations are offering free meals, arts and crafts with the hope it will expand opportunities for their communities.
  • People might not know about Warm Spaces beyond their local community venue.
  • Every Warm Space will display their charter and needed referrals for example: nearby warm spaces etc. There is a link to a directory on warm spaces in Gateshead, this shows you where they all are.
  • Had a lot of interest from charities and organisations.
  • Next steps: funding – currently reviewing the grant- hoping to get the money out to organisations in the New Year.
  • We have winter warmer packs which include hooded blankets, socks, draft excluders – you can find them at local Citizen Advice hubs.
  • We are currently delivering Warm Space training
  • Great example of a Warm Space: Christ Church, Felling – there were all ages there, a good example of community coming together. One person said Warm Space was the only time they got out in a week.

Newcastle Wellbeing Hubs

Iain Miller, Newcastle City Council

  • Iain is a Senior Public Heath Practitioner at Newcastle City Council
  • Wellbeing Hubs have similar aims as Warm Spaces.
  • Looking at a population and deprivation map. Dark blue are the areas of highest deprivation.
  • Health of people in Newcastle is generally worse than the England average.
  • 11,835 children under 16 living in low income households.
  • Life expectancy is 13.1% lower in the dark blue areas. 11 years difference of life expectancy when in dark blue areas – e.g. Walker
  • They have got a dedicated cost of living website page. It’s got a free cost of living telephone line and online referral form. It covers three areas: food, finance and well-being.
  • £250 for signing up to be a Wellbeing Hub. However, this has now closed. You can still sign up to be a Wellbeing Hub but you will not receive the £250.
  • 75-80 Wellbeing hubs – including libraries and VCSE organisations.
  • Budget of £100,000 which is a 1/5 of the budget that they had last year.
  • There is also a fund available for an extra £1000, £3000 and £6000 where Wellbeing Hubs provide additional activities
  • Wellbeing Hubs need to sign up to a Charter and take part in mandatory training.
  • There is more coverage of Wellbeing Hubs in the east and central Newcastle.

Embells CIC Community Project

Emma Bell, Founder and CEO

  • After working in the charity sector for 12 years, Emma founded Embells. Emma found that people from Gateshead were going to Newcastle City Centre for support and Gateshead didn’t have many support services.
  • Emma realised there was limited support but didn’t expect how huge the need was.
  • Based in East Gateshead, Embells now has 30 volunteers.
  • Embells wanted to set up a project where everyone was welcome and there was no criteria, so they set up a community pop up shop that is open every Friday. Since the cost of living crisis the pop up shop has grown exponentially. Everyone is welcome to come along 11:30am – 2:00pm.
  • Each week, Embells welcome 120-130 people each time and they are finding that people come at the end of the month a lot more.
  • They have a FareShare partnership and get funding from Gateshead Council. This allows them to provide fresh and frozen food.
  • If people can afford to pay, it is £4 for 12 items, but free for people who can’t afford it.
  • They have listened to the community and found out what their needs were. People are struggling with their gas and electric bills so they have people who come in and give free advice on that.
  • Embells run children’s programmes in the holidays for free, which include a free hot meal.
  • Leam Lane Methodist Church run a soup lunch. They asked Emma to come in so they can target the people that needed it the most. They offer a free 3 course hot meal but they can also get support and get signposted to places when needed.
  • Working together with other organisations is very helpful for people that need supporting. It’s about knowing who they can work with in the area so they can refer much easier.
  • Embells are providing Christmas support to 400 people. They will all receive Christmas hampers and toys, and even pets get presents!
  • They have found that working families/individuals demand for support is growing. 
  • Support services are really stretched – try and help everyone.  Why we need to work together.

Notes from Table discussions

Has the increase in the cost of living created new challenges or has it just made the old challenges harder to deal with? What are those new challenges, if any?

  • There is an increase in referrals (doubled since last Christmas at one project).
  • New demographic of people accessing services as there has been a rise in in full-time workers, professionals and mortgage holders seeking support
  • These new groups of people are often unaware of the support available
  • Citizens Advice Gateshead (CAG) have just extended hours to cover evenings and weekends to increase accessibility for working people.  However most other services operate 09:00-17:00 Monday – Friday so reaching out for help is harder if people in crisis out of hours.
  • Those in poverty are becoming more deeply entrenched in poverty, this is happening quickly
  • People who used to frequently donate to the food bank are now needing to use it themselves. Their donations are down, yet demand for the service is increasing.
  • The rise in in-work poverty has created some tensions between marginalised communities, people less welcoming to supporting refugees and asylum seekers as everyone is struggling.
  • There has been an increase in hate crime and domestic violence (200% higher) because people are angrier/ frustrated due to the increasingly difficult living conditions and prices.
  • A rise in far-right extremism was reported
  • CAG are seeing a lot more aggressions towards officers, coming from clients’ frustrations and desperation about their personal situation but also the national situation. They have introduced resilience training for staff for the first time.
  • There is a strong correlation between increased poverty and disordered eating. More data/research on this is needed.
  • There is a worsening of mental health in young people but it is hard to separate the impact of COVID and the cost of living.
  • A Healthwatch Newcastle survey earlier this year on the impact of the cost of living crisis showed that people are less likely to access healthcare due to the cost of travel.
  • Increase in people using gambling as a means of income generation – according to a recent YouGov poll amongst the 42% who already gamble, as opposed to the 7% who don’t normally gamble. This is worrying as gambling provides a downwards slope to financial harm. Increases in gambling across the board and with women in particular using it as additional income generation.  Comes from a place of desperation. Increase in advertising and popularity of scratch cards and lifestyle raffles like Omaze – glamorising gambling and giving people false hope to part with money.
  • Housing and cut in public services – increase in Section 21 notices (no fault evictions).  A lot of private landlords are selling or changing to Airbnb as a result of changes in the law and increase in mortgage costs.
  • Problem with mould and damp in housing as people can’t afford to heat their homes.  People can’t be sent home from hospital.  Now people talk about ‘heating the person’ if the home can’t be heated, but this is detrimental to the fabric of the buildings.
  • Northern Stage have a scheme to ‘pay it forwards’ for tickets.  Every year they raise the money to enable every child in Byker Primary School to attend the theatre as the school/parents can’t afford it otherwise.  This year they also had to raise the £2k for the bus transport as well as it had risen from £800 and the school couldn’t afford the additional cost either. It’s now not enough just to offer free tickets.
  • Schools are having to adapt with e.g. food parcels and different additional support for families.  Trips and experiences have decreased as can’t pass on costs to parents.
  • Speech, language and behaviour has declined in post pandemic children.
  • Project ongoing for the last year with the North East Counselling Service with group of Volunteer Engagement Professionals. Reflective Supervision sessions in a peer support group.  Identified need that Volunteer Coordinators/ Managers are absorbing much more emotional ‘baggage’ with increasing number of volunteers in crisis.
  • Healthwatch Newcastle are speaking to people who just want to offload on their signposting telephone line.  People seeing it as a last resort after trying to access other services – and just wanting someone to talk to – feel like they have no one else to talk to.  One third of all calls to GPs are non-medical.
  • Due to cold, unsuitable housing, beds are blocked as hospitals can’t sent patients home.
  • There is an impact on voluntary sector staff and an increased need to support them.  People’s ‘moral bank account’ is depleted. People in the sector aren’t paid enough and sometimes officers are advising people who are earning more than themselves.
  • There is an increased importance on volunteer travel expenses but organisations can’t always afford to pay them and offer lunches etc.

In what ways have you adapted your services to address challenges related to the cost of living? Do you know of any other innovative approaches being used by other organisations?

  • Having to provide new services as people are adapting their behaviour. For example, having to provide cooking skills classes as people are recognising that they need to cook from scratch to save money.
  • The foodbank now provides more services than just food provision. They now have a full-time Financial Inclusion Officer employed since many people who visited wanted advice on their finances. In the past 6 months, the Financial Inclusion Officer has gained over £60,000 for visitors. They have been trying to ensure that visitors to the foodbank know that they are there to help them. Donations and food stock has reduced, so they have had to find other ways to promote themselves through social media and running events. 75% of their food is now purchased, which is not sustainable, so they are trying to think of new ways to support themselves and visitors. While supermarket donations have decreased, they do get good support from Asda and Tesco. When users have dietary requirements, food must be purchased to meet their needs.
  •  The Baltic have turned their front room into a Warm Space. This has grown lots since its creation due to high demand, and now offers a range of services including providing food, book swaps, clothing etc.
  • Pride Action North have started training their staff to provide financial and benefits advice so they can provide a more holistic service. This was not needed before the COL. They are trying to increase their volunteers because they do not have enough funding for staff at the moment.
  • More people are choosing online therapy for support with eating disorders. It is unclear if this is due to the COL and the cost barriers to using public transport, although they do offer to cover costs for service users. However, they know people could be too ashamed to claim this support. They are trying to develop more of an outreach service so they go to meet service users where they are. Their referrals and wait times have increased to between 3-8 months.
  • CAG are now offering a seven day service to support working people in particular.  For example, a lady whose husband works weekends so the only time she could seek help from an abusive relationship was at the weekend.
  • Embells are also offering weekend support services / after hours and children’s holiday activities.
  • The rise of warm space are helping address digital poverty and a loss of connection with humanity, but these are still major issues, especially as a lot of services have moved online post pandemic.
  • There is a need for inter-organisation and cross-sector partnerships to address the cost of living crisis.
  • Net zero agenda could tie in health and wellbeing

What is limiting, or will limit, your ability to respond to rising demands for support?

  • There is a need for structural changes from the government to address the challenges.
  • Many people don’t know what to do when they need help or how to get referred.
  • Digital inclusion is a barrier to some people accessing services so need to adapt to this – digital skills are often needed to find support. Signposting people to services can be difficult. People are struggling to afford the technology needed to get them online. Libraries can help by providing SIM cards for those who can’t afford it.  
  • There are multiple barriers to digital inclusion: money, age, skills, language barriers etc.
  • Physical space to deliver services and for storage is a limiting factor – especially when need to store food etc. If community venues shared their spaces this could be overcame.
  • Lack of volunteer capacity and issues around retaining them.


Connected Voice brings together local voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations for the last of our 2023 Networking Events. This event will take place at One Strawberry Lane, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 4BX.

Please note our Networking Events are for voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations serving Newcastle and/or Gateshead. They aim to:

  • Showcase and celebrate good and innovative practice
  • Inspire participants with new ideas and ways to meet the needs of their communities
  • Connect people and organisations to forge new partnerships and ways of working together for the same goals

Our December event will focus on the theme of Cost of Living. There will be an opportunity to hear from a range of speakers from the VCSE sector and beyond, before taking part in discussions and information sharing in relation to the wider theme. Every organisation and it's beneficiaries will have felt the ongoing impact of the cost of living crisis, and we invite you to use this event to share your challenges, successes and experiences.


  • Emma Bell, CEO, EmBells CIC Community Support Project
  • Hannah Greason, Tackling Poverty Support Officer, Gateshead Council
  • Iain Miller, Senior Public Health Practitioner, Newcastle Council
  • Jonny Tatum-Hall, Citizens Advice

Note: Connected Voice is the voluntary sector infrastructure support organisation for Newcastle and Gateshead in the North-East of England. Free places at this event will be prioritised for VCSE organisations serving this part of our region. Registrations from outside our area, and our sector, may therefore be declined.

Our training and events are funded from a variety of sources, allowing us to offer them for free to eligible organisations. Please check the eligibility requirements for each session before signing up, as this varies from course to course. If your organisation is not eligible for a free session you may be interested in one of our tailored training packages.

You can keep up to date with the latest training and events from Connected Voice by subscribing to our fortnightly email bulletin.

Attendance and value Our team have dedicated significant time and resource to create and deliver our excellent range of training and events. Connected Voice is funded for this work, allowing us to offer these events free of charge. However, we expect people who have registered to prioritise attendance and let us know as soon as possible if there is a barrier to attending. We may follow up with you if you are absent without letting us know.

Delivery method This will be an in-person event at One Strawberry Lane. One Strawberry Lane is an accessible building.

Accessibility Please let us know in advance if you have any accessibility requirements that would help you get the most out of this session. We will do everything we can to accommodate them. We can provide a BSL interpreter for training and events on request, but ask you to give us enough advance notice to enable this to be organised. To maximise resources, we are unable to provide BSL interpreters for all sessions unless we know this is essential.

Evaluation This event is free to attend but all participants will be required to complete a short evaluation on completion. This feedback enables us to continue delivering a free programme of training and events.

For security and practical reasons: You can only book one place for yourself. If a colleague wants to attend, they will need to book separately themselves. You must give us all the essential information requested so that we know your registration is genuine.

If circumstances change, you must advise us as soon as possible so that the place isn’t wasted as we have limited spaces for each event. You must also advise us if a substitute person from your organisation is attending in your place. We will be monitoring non-attendance, and may not accept future bookings from regular non-attenders.

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Jeremy Cain

Support and Development Coordinator


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