Funding cuts could cripple Nottingham mental health charity

Support worker Paul, left, with service user Alf at Green's Windmill
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A Nottingham-based mental health charity is facing a funding shortfall and reduction in services after the number of people it helped more than doubled in the pandemic.

Improving Lives, which supports people experiencing social isolation and long-term mental health conditions, is worried because funding from its major donor is due to run out in the new year.

Like many charities helping those with mental health issues, it has seen an increase in the number of people struggling to cope as a result of the pandemic.

Kerry Devine, chief executive at Improving Lives, said: “Our small but vital service has positively impacted the lives of so many people in our city and it is essential that we secure new sources of income to enable us to keep going as we are now and reach even more people.

“Mental health provision in Nottingham is needed now more than ever, but what we currently offer will not be sustainable due to a lack of funding. Since the start of the pandemic, we have had a 64 per cent increase in referrals to our service.

“It has been a huge challenge for the people we support and our team has risen to it. Since the lockdown in March 2020, we have supported 235 people, which is more than double the amount we are funded for.

“We have tried everything we can to support more people with the funding we have, but what happens when the money runs out? One woman told us that we are ‘putting fear’ into her future at the thought of losing our service. That’s not something we ever wanted to hear.

“I know from working with colleagues across the city that many organisations have experienced the same demand and we know that some services have closed because of funding cuts, which increases the pressure on those that remain – or we leave people without any support.”

Improving Lives, based in Mansfield Road, supports adults with complex health and social needs, enabling them to believe that life can change for the better. Operating as a registered charity since 2012, it provides one-to-one personalised support, social groups and befriending services.

The winner of the best health and social support service in Nottingham at the Global Health and Pharma Social Care Awards 2020, the charity employs eight full-time and six part-time employees and has a network of 17 volunteer befrienders. It operates on a referral basis from a variety of sources including healthcare professionals and social workers across the city.

Its main source of funding for the past five years has been the National Lottery Community Fund and it has also received other smaller grants, including from the Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner’s office.

From December, the charity says it will need £165,000 to cover the shortfall for the year ahead.

Devine added: “The National Lottery has been incredibly supportive and we are extremely grateful for the help we have been given. We have applied for repeat funding but recognise that with so many charities needing additional financial support the outcome will be uncertain for some time.”

Service user Mick Murphy, 56, who has lived in the city all his life, was helped by a support worker to apply for the benefits he was entitled to after his wife died as he was too unwell to continue working.

He said: “I was at a very low point after my wife passed away but, after accessing the service, things got so much better – I now keep in touch by going to the monthly art and pool groups that they run. It gets me out and I’ve made some friends. I just can’t imagine how life would be if I hadn’t been put in touch with them – I can never thank them enough.”

Improving Lives has been backed by local companies, including Shoosmiths law firm, which has held regular fundraising events, paid for multiple social trips and organised a digital skills session for people the charity supports.

Michael Briggs, partner at Shoosmiths, said: “We have seen first-hand the incredible work that Improving Lives does to support the people it looks after. We got involved over three years ago and have never looked back.

“Helping them to push forward their objectives and assisting them to continue to genuinely care for those they support is extremely heart-warming. It would be a terrible shame if they couldn’t continue with this excellent work.”

The charity is now working hard to build more corporate partnerships and is appealing for fundraising efforts by local communities and businesses.

“We would urge people to please consider helping us to bridge the financial gap we’re facing,” said Kerry. “We really hope to build connections with more businesses who can engage with us as much or as little as they would like.

“We want the people of Nottingham to support us in ensuring that we continue to care for people in need and that no one is left in isolation.

“This winter, Mick and many other people just like him could be left without our service, not to mention those additional people that would have been referred to us. I don’t think as a city we can stand by and watch that happen.”

To discover how you can get involved with Improving Lives or to make a donation, please visit the website, email info@improvinglivesnotts.org.uk or call 0115 934 8411.

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