“It’s rewarding to know we’re making a difference when people have nowhere to turn”

Jean Simango became Head of Advice Services at Citizens Advice Elmbridge West last month. Here she tells us more about her role, how they are bracing for the effects of the energy crisis, and why she would like to see more affordable housing locally.

You have recently taken over as Head of Advice Services, what were you doing before you started the role?

I was a volunteer with Citizens Advice but have worked as a nurse and paralegal.

What is your favourite part of the job so far?

Being part of a group of people who are geared to help. It is rewarding to know we are making a difference in somebody’s life when they feel they have nowhere to turn.

Citizens Advice play a vital role locally, how challenging was it to continue providing your service during the pandemic?

When the pandemic hit, I was working as a volunteer on the Advice Line. We were all working from home which meant we could keep the lines open but it was a real challenge for the clients who weren’t able to contact us over the phone or by email. They were left with no way of getting in touch.

What are the main enquiries you are receiving at the moment?

The most common enquiries we receive are about benefits, debt, housing, employment and Universal Credit.

Has Covid-19 changed the kind of enquiries you receive?

Not really. I feel the pandemic has only exacerbated the issues and widened the inequality gap. With the end of the energy price cap and high inflation we are seeing at the moment, we can only see this gap widening further.

The people we are meeting who have been impacted by Covid-19 have often experienced loss of employment or an upheaval to their finances. We have also seen an increase in relationship breakdowns. This has impacted people from a financial, family and mental health perspective.

People are often surprised to learn that so many people in Elmbridge (particularly children) are living in poverty. Why do you think people don’t know it is a problem?

Elmbridge is often seen as a wealthy borough and lots of people make the assumption that all residents are well off. This makes it hard to address the pockets of poverty that do exist. And often people don’t want to come forward and talk about their situation.

There has been a sharp increase in living costs (food, fuel etc) recently. Are you seeing an effect on people locally?

Yes and no. Covid is still masking what will be the real issues when they do eventually surface. As I mentioned, with the energy cap coming to an end we foresee a huge increase in demand for our services. We are hoping to find ways to address these issues before they become emergencies.

Availability of affordable housing in Elmbridge is an ongoing problem, with house prices and average rents around double that of the national average. What challenges does this present for people locally?

The availability of social housing is a real problem. And people worry about not being able to stay in the borough if there is no suitable housing. When rents keep increasing, there are less affordable rental properties available, which pushes people out of Elmbridge. Since April 2021, we have received 455 housing-related enquiries, a 25% increase on the previous year. Most of these are about renting or rented properties.

What is the biggest change you would like to see locally?

More affordable housing for a start. I would also like to see more support for local charities and for our local shops.

Citizens Advice Elmbridge West is a local charity which provides free, independent, confidential and impartial advice to everyone who lives, works or studies in the communities of Walton, Weybridge and Hersham. Find out more about the services they provide and how they can help.

Citizens Advice Elmbridge West is one of 14 local organisations to hold a Walton Charity delegated fund, supporting people and families in Elmbridge on low incomes, particularly during times of crisis or financial hardship.

Janette Butler Comments
Making our charity’s land work hard for our community

Following the publication of our five-year plan, our Green Spaces Manager, Karen Heynike, is on the lookout for opportunities to make our land and estates to work harder, adding social value for our local Elmbridge community.

She recently conducted a survey, asking our partnering charities and volunteers whether they felt there were enough opportunities available for local charities and community groups to get involved in outdoor projects and the overwhelming response that there wasn’t.

Walton Charity has four allotment sites in Walton and Hersham and we know that our allotments provide local residents with social contact, exercise, and group interaction. Good for the body and mind!

Our community allotment provides the benefits of horticulture and gardening to vulnerable and socially excluded adults and we have witnessed that those taking part in our regular activities have built both confidence and independence.

The new kitchen garden at our sheltered housing provides a wonderful place for our residents to come together to grow fruit and vegetables and to swop recipe ideas for the organic produce. It’s also a great social place to just meet up and chat too.

Now Karen has a new project in the making – the Tree Canopy Project. Her vision is to provide space in our woodlands to run activities that will benefit local community groups – woodcarving, mushroom walks, and forest school activities for both adults and children. Her plan also includes giving charities their own growing space.

A survey respondent said, “Green social prescribing is becoming more important for people’s mental health and as a Team Manager for Elmbridge Social Prescribing I fully endorse this project. I believe there is no other type of project in the borough of Elmbridge like this.”

Although Karen is already in discussion with partners, she welcomes new ideas from charities and community groups. She is also happy to discuss any of our existing schemes. Please do get in touch – kheynike@waltoncharity.org.uk

“Walton Charity’s Community Allotment projects are always wonderful activities and provide much needed community wellbeing. Not only do they give local people the means to get together and enjoy wholesome outdoor activities, but they always contribute to the improvement of areas used by the local community,” said one of our Community Allotment participants.

Janette ButlerComment
Our commitments for the next five years

As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, we are firmly focused on the future and how we can help Elmbridge to recover. We also see it as an opportunity to create change, making Elmbridge a place where everyone can thrive.

In our newly published five-year plan, we share our commitments for the next five years (from 2022-2027) and our plan for working with our partners and the local community to support more people across Elmbridge.

While COVID-19 has affected all our lives, the impact has fallen unevenly and unequally. Those already struggling have been hit hardest and for many people living in our borough, life post-pandemic is full of uncertainty. Even before the pandemic, Elmbridge was a borough of extreme inequality. While some people living in the area are very well off, many are struggling. The pandemic has exacerbated these inequalities and we are seeing increasing numbers of families living in poverty.

Over the next five years, we are committed to working with our partners to tackle child poverty in our local area, to help alleviate the housing crisis in Elmbridge by providing more affordable homes, and to find new ways of working with and for our local community.

You can read more about our five key priorities in our newly published plan. And if you have ideas about how we can help improve the lives of people in Elmbridge, come and tell us. Only by listening to our community can we evolve, grow and continue to meet the needs of the people we serve.

Jackie Lodge
Chief Executive

Download our new Five-Year Plan

Janette ButlerComment
“The difference affordable housing can make to someone’s life is huge”

Walton Charity trustee and housing association director, Rob Mills, has spent three decades working in the housing sector. Here he reflects on his experience and why housing is more than a roof over your head.

I became a trustee for Walton Charity at the beginning of 2020, just before we went in to the first lockdown, so nearly all my board meetings have been virtual. The work of the charity is wide ranging, but the support we provide in housing and tackling homelessness is very close to my heart.

I have worked in housing for 30 years and joining Walton Charity feels like coming full circle. Although I started in housing as volunteer project worker in a homeless hostel in Chester, my first paid job was as a housing trainee for Elmbridge Council, before the housing moved to PA Housing. As a young housing officer, I managed properties in Vicarage Fields and Thamesmead in Walton.

I am now a director for a national housing association but that experience of working on the front line and supporting residents in Elmbridge all those years ago has stayed with me ever since.

The difference affordable, safe, and secure housing can make to someone’s life is huge, and it is so much more than just a roof over your head. It is somewhere warm to come home to; it can help with your mental and physical health; it can provide space for children to do their homework; and increasingly it is somewhere to work from. I feel the Covid pandemic has only heightened the importance of housing.

Janette ButlerComment
Extra £15,000 funding boost helps unpaid carers

“We have a 3 hour visit once a week from a lovely lady who is extremely good at engaging with my husband, who is 91 and suffers from vascular dementia as well as other physical difficulties. As lockdown relaxes this visit will enable me to attend a bridge club for the afternoon, which otherwise I would not be able to do.”

Walton Charity is delighted to team up for a second time with Sherwood House Care Home (part of Asprey Healthcare) and Walsingham Care to provide a joint grant of £15,000 to Crossroads Care Surrey.

Crossroads Care provide respite breaks for unpaid carers across Surrey and our grant will enable them to offer weekly respite breaks for 32 older people in Elmbridge who are caring for someone with dementia.

For those in the early stages of dementia, Crossroads Care will offer companionship support with a trained volunteer, enabling the carer to get a respite break. Those in the later stages of dementia, with more complex needs, will be offered home-based respite support with a highly experienced, specialist trained Carer Support Worker. They will spend time with the person being cared for, while the carer has the chance to take a much-needed break from their demanding duties.

The carers can rest assured that the person being cared for will be well looked after in their absence as the support worker will spend time keeping them well entertained, whilst also being able to support any medical or personal needs.

Philip Connell of Sherwood House Care Home said “I’ve always felt it’s vital for Sherwood House Care Home to work in close partnership with local charities who do such valuable work supporting people in the community. I am delighted that this opportunity has arisen for a second year to sponsor the work of Crossroads.”

Debbie Beach of Walsingham Care added “We are delighted to enter into a second year of collaborative funding with Walton Charity and Asprey Healthcare to support the much valued and critical support that Crossroads Care provides locally.”

Janette ButlerComment
How our Opportunities Funds promote inclusivity in schools

A local primary school recently used part of their Opportunities Fund, awarded by Walton Charity, to buy two bikes and cycle helmets so that pupils whose families are unable to afford bikes can still take part in the school’s Bikeability training scheme.

Walton Charity awards Opportunities Funds to local schools each year to support students from low-income families with learning and other enrichment activities, ensuring they have access to the same opportunities as other students.

The school’s Business Manager believes the extra funding is important for ensuring all students can take part in activities and learn skills that will help them in the future.

The Opportunities Fund really helps with promoting inclusivity at our school and ensuring no one is missing out.
— School Business Manager
Janette ButlerComment
A big thank you from Santa Stork

For families already struggling to afford the basics, Christmas can be tough and many local families faced the prospect of telling their little ones that Santa may not visit this year.

Thanks to the incredible response to our Santa Stork Christmas Appeal, we raised enough to fund 600 Christmas presents for children and families across Elmbridge who are having a particularly hard time.

The Santa Stork Christmas Appeal, run in conjunction with Surrey-based baby bank Stripey Stork, raised a fantastic £3,500, which our trustees agreed to match £1 for £1. The £7,000 total was used to ensure every Elmbridge child or family referred to Stripey Stork, received a Christmas gift.

Christmas delivered

Stripey Stork has been running its highly successful Santa Stork campaign for 8 years. Joining forces with local toy retailer, Toy Barnhause, they produce a catalogue of 76 popular gifts for children aged 0-18 years. Working closely with local organisations, they give parents and carers the opportunity to select gifts from the catalogue that reflect each child’s personality and interests. This is so important as, for many children, this will be the only gift they receive.

The wonderful team of volunteer Elves work tirelessly throughout November and December to assemble the gift packs which include stocking fillers, wrapping paper, Sellotape and a gift tag so that parents and carers can wrap the gifts themselves. Once the gift packs are ready, teams of sleigh drivers from Elmbridge referral partners visit Santa Stork HQ to collect them and deliver to their local families.

We would like to say a huge thank you to our local community for coming together to make this happen…to our corporate partners and everyone in our community who supported our Christmas Appeal and to Stripey Stork and their Elves for ensuring that every child referred to them experienced a little bit of Christmas magic.

Janette ButlerComment
It’s been an incredibly tough year…..read how the Samaritans adapted
Having lost all of our regular fundraising opportunities and seen a fall in donations, this grant meant we could keep our phone lines and inboxes open and offer support and care to thousands of people. From all at Samaritans – THANK YOU.

North West Surrey Samaritans is a local branch of Samaritans, which offers a 24-hour listening service for anyone who is going through a difficult time.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, North West Surrey Samaritans saw an 80% drop in income as fundraising events were put on hold and local donations dried up. A bridge-funding grant from Walton Charity ensured they could keep their helpline open and continue providing vital support.

Thanks to the work of their volunteer listeners, administrators and support staff, the branch has been able to keep answering calls and emails, supporting thousands of people last year.

Many of the callers were lonely, vulnerable and had been badly affected by the pandemic. One volunteer said: “It has been an incredibly tough year for us all, but I have never felt like I have been needed by our community more.”

The pandemic and repeated lockdowns forced the branch to rethink its recruitment and training models. Many of their older volunteers were required to shield in the early stages of the pandemic and they are now focusing on recruiting volunteers of different ages and backgrounds.

New volunteers will now learn through online training modules and Zoom group sessions will be used to evaluate trainee skills. This change required a substantial investment in IT and resources, but they are confident the investment will pay off in a post-pandemic world, making their service more efficient and accessible.

“The bridge funding we received from Walton Charity has been a lifeline for our branch.”

Janette ButlerComment
Helping the Elmbridge Family Centre to support local families

Walton Charity Delegated Funds are held by twelve local organisations who work directly with local Elmbridge residents on low incomes. The Funds can be particularly helpful during times of crisis or financial hardship but, used flexibly and creatively, they can help to find a route out of poverty.

One of our Delegated Fund holders, the Elmbridge Family Centre, provide support to families with children aged 0-11 years. Recently their Senior Family Support Worker, Katie Vinnicombe, shared some stories of local families helped through the Delegated Fund.

Lisa’s story

Lisa was recently referred to Elmbridge Family Centre for help. She’s a single mum who left her job working for a school catering company at the end of August. She had accepted a job with another company and was due to start on 1st September but, due to a delay in her DBS check, Lisa was unable to start her new job on the planned date. Using the Walton Charity Delegated Fund, the Elmbridge Family Centre could provide gas and electricity vouchers to help Lisa through her short-term crisis.

Clare’s story

Clare had heard about the Elmbridge Family Centre and approached them for help when she was struggling with her son’s behaviour. He had been diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Clare was forced to give up work to home school him while the family waited for a place at a specialist school.

To add to the pressure facing the family, Clare’s husband lost his job during the Covid pandemic. Due to benefit delays, the family had accrued mortgage and utility bill arrears and were struggling to cover everyday costs. As soon as Harry was allocated a place at a specialist school, the Elmbridge Family Centre funded a new school uniform for both Harry and his sibling, taking some of the financial pressure off the family.

The Delegated Fund allows us to make some, often very quick, judgement calls on helping a family when they can see no other way to get support……..We can support them quickly, taking additional pressure off the family.
— Katie Vinnicombe
Janette ButlerComment
Affordable community buildings - have your say!

We work with local partners to tackle the causes and symptoms of poverty in Elmbridge, and support other charities to deliver services that meet the needs of the local community. One of the ways we do this is to provide affordable housing, office space, green space and other operational buildings.

As we emerge from the pandemic, we are interested to hear from not-for-profit organisations who need more affordable operational premises.

We want to hear your thoughts on:

• the sort of premises your organisation needs to help deliver your services.

• the facilities and amenities you need to operate.

• the times and / or days of the week you would like use of an Elmbridge community building.

We have some exciting opportunities we believe could deliver real benefits for our local community.

To send us your thoughts, ideas or to arrange an informal discussion, email Jackie Lodge at jlodge@waltoncharity.orguk.

Janette ButlerComment
This Trustees Week we talk to one of our new trustees, Dennis Pillay
Of course it is very easy to look at a trustee role as purely a giving exercise but I am getting more back than I am giving. I am seeing instant benefits to those that need help by the decisions we make, and I get to learn and experience a different sector to my current profession.
— Dennis Pillay

Dennis Pillay joined our Board of Trustees earlier this year. We asked Dennis about his motivation to volunteer as a trustee.

Dennis visiting GASP - one of the projects we fund through our Community Grants programme.

Q. What first made you consider volunteering as a Trustee?

Well, there were a few reasons. Firstly, I was leading philanthropic efforts for my department at a bank in the City but I wanted to do more than contribute to initiatives to help raise funds. I like the idea of being a trustee for a charity where I can see the benefits of helping people that might not be as fortunate as others. Secondly, I wanted to do something different from the day-to-day life of working in the City. Thirdly, I consider myself to be a lucky individual who has been given great opportunities and I wanted to help others and give them the chance to thrive.

Why Walton Charity?

I had a few opportunities to join Boards of charities in East London as part of an initiative run by the company I work for but I didn’t feel connected to those organisations, they are great charities but I wanted to feel invested in a charity where I had an association and that’s where Walton Charity came into the picture. A local charity that aligns with my beliefs was the ultimate fit for me and I am grateful to be given the opportunity to be a trustee of the charity and lend my expertise to the organisation and the Board.

Can you describe your role as a trustee?

I would describe my role in the following three broad points:

  • Governance – Ensuring we are heading in the right direction to achieve our objectives.

  • Decision-making – Utilising my experience, skills, and knowledge to help the Board and sub-committees to make decisions.

  • Strategy – Helping formulate a path to get to our long-term goals.

Are there any organisations benefitting from Walton Charity funding that have left a lasting impression on you?

As you would expect, all the organisations that we give funds to are great charities that align with our values and objectives, both in the short term and long term. I have a particular passion for and interest in vocational studies and helping children that may be struggling through the standard education system. GASP is a wonderful organisation that helps in this specific area and I was really impressed with what I saw when I visited them early this year.

What would you say to others who might be considering becoming a trustee?

Of course, it is very easy to look at a trustee role as purely a giving exercise but for me, it’s been the opposite. Yes I volunteer my time to the charity, yes I lend my experience and expertise but in reality, I am getting more back than I am giving. I am seeing instant benefits to those that need help by the decisions we make, and I get to learn and experience a different sector to my current profession. I work with a diverse set of trustees and I have met wonderful people who work for the charity, there really isn’t any reason to hesitate, I would encourage anyone thinking about becoming a trustee to go for it!

Janette ButlerComment
Our sheltered housing residents enjoy the fruits of their labour
The residents really enjoy coming here and harvesting their favourite organically grown vegetables
— Rita Anderson, Mayfield resident

During the pandemic, many of our sheltered housing residents felt cut off from their family and friends. The usual programme of social activities was put on hold, and restrictions meant they couldn’t visit friends in neighbouring flats.

When the rules changed to allow mixing outdoors, Karen, our Green Spaces Manager, set about creating a kitchen garden at our Mayfield scheme, transforming the underused courtyard area into colourful and peaceful outdoor space for residents to sit and enjoy, or to pick fresh fruit and vegetables and swap recipe ideas.

Working with the residents and volunteers from our Community Allotment and the Probation Community Service team, the project was finished in record time.

A full programme of garden-related activities is now available to residents, including a monthly garden club and craft activities. There are also plans to plant a fruit orchard – watch this space!

Janette ButlerComment