Across the country we see families and communities in difficulty, dealing with greater challenges and struggling to cope with the financial, emotional and physical pressures of everyday life.
Enabling people to navigate these challenges is at the heart of our work at the Big Lottery Fund (Big). Using funds raised by the National Lottery, we support communities at the greatest disadvantage so they become better able to develop or access the support, facilities and services they need to maintain and improve their quality of life.
The latest Growing Up in Scotland report, published last month, offers a sobering view of family life for many in our communities, and at Big we believe we can do more to help. The report highlighted many families with young children are worse off than in 2005-6, 37% of the poorest families are experiencing severe material hardship and one-quarter of families with young children are living on an income of less than £11,000 a year.
We know from evidence and experience the lasting damage financial stress can cause, from material deprivation to relationship and family breakdown, longer-term impacts on educational attainment and physical and mental health. With others, the Big Lottery Fund wants to help prevent this and alleviate it where possible. We are making £10 million available for our Support and Connect fund over the next two years. The fund aims to do two things: improve local support for people experiencing hardship; and help organisations working with these communities get better connected so people dealing with complex problems get the support they need.
Our research tells us more people are facing challenging times. Many organisations on the ground report increased demand for support with basic needs and welfare and financial advice. Over the last few months we have seen powerful examples of people, community groups and organisations who have been moved to help those around them who are struggling. These include people and groups coming to us for funding for soup kitchens, breakfast clubs, food banks, access to white goods and clothes; we want to help the helpers meet the demand, and be better connected to each other.
We are also aware there is a lack of knowledge about what is available locally and that services aren't always as connected as they could be. It is clear better connections between key local services could help ensure fewer people fall through the gaps and miss out on the help that could make all the difference. We have seen great examples of local partnerships – housing associations working with advice providers, family support charities working with furniture recycling projects – and would like to support more of these collaborations.
Support and Connect will open at the end of March and complements the longer-term approach which continues with funding available through our Investing in Communities portfolio. It is our hope funding will ensure that, for some, these challenging times are not as difficult as they might have been.
Jackie Killeen is director of the Big Lottery Fund in Scotland.
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