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Welsh charity partnership helps to tackle mental health issues

Two Welsh charities have joined forces to support vulnerable people tackling both financial and mental health issues, as part of a new programme funded by British Gas Energy Trust.

Cardiff-based welfare rights advice charity Riverside Advice and mental health support charity 4Winds have been working together informally for decades, but only formalised their partnership during the coronavirus pandemic.

And now, the partnership has blossomed even further thanks to continued funding from British Gas Energy Trust, seamlessly linking energy advice, financial support, and mental health provision for people in Wales.

The Trust funds over 45 projects across England, Scotland, and Wales, to offer independent money and energy support to communities in need, ensuring money and energy provision is reaching some of the most at risk groups across Britain. In 2022-2023 Welsh Trust funded money and energy projects helped over 1000 clients manage £2.2m in debt, write-off over £800k in debt and gain £1.6m in income.

The Riverside Advice and 4Winds partnership was forged from the recognition of the clear link between financial issues and mental health problems.

In the last few months, Riverside Advice have dedicated over 530 casework hours to help their clients, resulting in income gains of over £240,000.

Barbara Kerridge, CEO at Riverside Advice, said:

“More than 90% of the people we advise present with a mental health condition and it’s vital we are able to support them through our bespoke, holistic advice service to ensure that financial difficulties do not further impact on their mental health.

People with mental health illnesses are ‘hard to reach’, and working with 4Winds enhances access for them to our services and supports them through our BGET welfare rights service.

We see a lot of people with depression and other mental health issues, but an increasing number of people are having suicidal thoughts and even people requiring hospitalisation.

 The amount and severity of cases is definitely increasing. Things have hit hard, and people are desperate. We found that the support reduced during the pandemic and hasn’t really got back to the levels they need to be at so we’re seeing a huge demand for our services.

Increasing income for people and ensuring that people receive the right benefits entitlement is important, but often the relief of getting debt cleared has an immense impact on people’s outlook. The immediate effect of not being burdened by a debt is extremely evident, giving people a fresh start, reducing stress and anxiety, and so improving mental health.”

Susan Jones, Manager at 4Winds, said:

“We offer a range of support to people experiencing mental health issues. These issues are often exacerbated by the current social and environmental pressures that we’re facing today – the cost of living, housing problems and so on.

That’s why the holistic support on offer is important. We know we can’t do everything, so working in partnership with Riverside Advice works perfectly to support those with severe mental health issues.

After the initial pilot working with Riverside Advice, it became clear that a formal partnership was the way forward. Through this formal arrangement funded by BGET, we can make sure people get the sustained help they need to help them in their lives. What’s more, if people are really struggling, we can see them more quickly too due to the BGET funding – usually within a few days and always within a week.”

And the partnership is working, with more than a hundred people supported over the last year and multiple referrals into the service from over 45 other organisations.

But looking past the hard figures, Barbara says the feedback from the people supported is the real measure of success.

Barbara added:

“We regularly get feedback from people saying that we changed their lives – or their family’s lives – for the better, and that really means something to us. People we have supported often say that we had saved their life, which is why we’re here and why this partnership exists.”

One example of the people supported was a man in his 60s who felt suicidal and that ‘life was not worth living’ following the death of his wife. After presenting with a large unpaid energy bill, the partnership’s dedicated teams swung into action to not only deal with his finances and energy debt but also to put coping mechanisms in place and set him on his way mentally to a brighter future, with the team saying he now looks ‘like a different man’.


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