Volunteer groups celebrate £400k bonanza

Julia Hannaford, manager of Blackpool Citizens' Advice Bureau and (below) Joanne Shepherd at Egerton Road contact centre.
Julia Hannaford, manager of Blackpool Citizens' Advice Bureau and (below) Joanne Shepherd at Egerton Road contact centre.
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VOLUNTEER groups were celebrating today after receiving a massive cash bonanza.

Town hall bosses have handed out more than £400,000 to protect key projects, including one popular service which would have gone under without the financial backing.

Joanne Shepherd at Egerton Road contact centre.

Joanne Shepherd at Egerton Road contact centre.

Helping the homeless and other vulnerable members of society was the aim of the cash injection, despite massive cuts to Blackpool Council’s budget.

In total, £426,800 has been set aside for the voluntary sector, with £327,189 already allocated to 11 projects.

It comes as Coun Simon Blackburn, leader of Blackpool Council, admitted: “We are going to have to get used to the idea local authorities are not going to be the sole provider of services in the future.”

Joanne Shepherd, chief officer of the Claremont First Step Community Centre, on Dickson Road, North Shore, said the £21,430 funding it receives was vital to continue their work.

She told The Gazette: “This funding will enable the Egerton Road Community and Police contact centre to stay open.

“It means the community worker we have there is safe until March 2014, so the cash is essential and without it that centre would have closed.

“And if the centre wasn’t there, Claremont would be dirtier and there would be more crime.

“In April 2011 we took over the running of the centre, and this grant will enable us to continue our work there.

“It would have been very detrimental to us if we had lost the funding, and it is nice the council acknowledges the important work we do.”

Town hall chiefs agreed to protect the funding despite having to make cuts of £14.1m to the budget.

Coun Blackburn said: “Even given the financial situation we find ourselves in, we are able to put £426,800 into the pot.

“It is a demonstration of the way we are committed to working with the third sector to help it achieve what it wants to achieve.

“We are going to have to get used to the idea local authorities are not going to be the sole provider of services in the future.

“It must be that more and more work is carried out along with the third sector.”

The news of the financial support has delighted voluntary groups.

Blackpool homeless charity Streetlife was, last year, part of a Gazette special investigation which saw reporter Steve Canavan spending two nights living on the streets.

Staff at the charity are delighted to receive a £45,000 boost from the council.

Chief executive Jane Hugo said: “We need money to pay the bills. The council is trying to avoid hurting the most vulnerable people, and homeless young people are about as vulnerable as you can get.”

Streetlife is also receiving £15,000 from NHS Blackpool which will enable it to increase its opening hours.

It means the night shelter on St John’s Square will open from 7pm daily, instead of from 9pm as at present.

Senior public health specialist for NHS Blackpool Judith Mills said: “We can only imagine what it must be like to be a teenager alone in Blackpool, in the darkest months of the year, without a home or a supportive family around you.

“NHS Blackpool has provided a grant to allow Streetlife to extend the hours it is able to provide a warm, safe and supportive environment.”

One charity said without the funding, other services would become “saturated” as they struggled to cope.

Blackpool Citizen’s Advice Bureau has been granted £69,820 in council funding, which advice services manager Julia Hannaford said would be used to support training, recruitment and skilled volunteers.

She said the volunteers collectively provide more than 400 hours of advice time a week, which last year allowed the bureau to deal with more than 10,000 enquiries and recover £5m for clients in unclaimed benefits and debt write-offs.

Mrs Hannaford added: “The funding from the local authority ensures residents can continue to access our service six days a week through open door, telephone, e-mail and outreach services, to receive advice on a wide range of subjects and receive a level of support appropriate to their needs.

“This is particularly important as the impact of welfare reform and the loss of Legal Aid help for benefits and debt really starts to hit.”

Mike Bullock, chairman of the trustees for the Council for Voluntary Services (CVS) said the council’s funding of £31,725 was “absolutely critical” for the community.

He added: “We’re absolutely delighted and are very grateful to Blackpool Council for all the support they have given us. This money will go on helping charities, groups and members of the CVS to improve the voluntary sector.”

WHICH GROUPS WILL GET THE CASH

Blackpool Citizens Advice Bureau will receive £69,820, homeless charity Streetlife will receive £45,000, and the Blackpool, Wyre and Fylde Council for Voluntary Services, will receive £31,725.

Other projects set to benefit are Blackpool Boys and Girls Club (£15,434), Blackpool Centre for the Unemployed and Residents Advice (£28,000), Play Inclusion Project (£34,000), Claremont First Step Community Centre (£21,430), Disability Services (Rideability) (£6,480), Disability First (£25,000), Groundwork Lancashire West and Wigan (£28,000), and Volunteer Centre, Blackpool, Wyre and Fylde (£22,300).

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