As we settle into a new year at Punk Against Poverty, and our own third birthday at the end of January, we've been busy both reflecting on the past year and looking ahead to what 2023 will bring, and what we will be doing to continue and improve upon our services.
2022 was certainly a challenging year for us, with a huge rise in demand for our services, particularly the Emergency Clothing Bank and the Free School Uniform Bank.
The clothing bank saw its user base change drastically, with many more families being referred to us than had previously been, and the demand for help for families for the first time outstripped the demand for help for homeless people, a sad result of the cost of living crisis leaving so many more unable to afford the most basic items for themselves and their children.
The uniform bank saw many first time users of the service as well as those we had helped in previous years, and was also under additional pressure due to the the influx of refugees from Ukraine in need of uniform for their children who were starting in schools in Exeter and Torbay.
Torbay Council called upon our services and contracted us to provide uniforms for 100 children from Ukraine, a task that was no mean feat with the language barrier, cultural differences and expectations and sizing differences, however we were glad to assist and offer a friendly welcome to Torbay to the areas new arrivals.
Having dealt with our busiest summer yet in the uniform bank, and with new statutory guidance being issued by the government with regards to school uniform, we closed the uniform bank in October temporarily to allow us to tidy up, and to give us the time to work with local schools to support them to adapt to the new guidance. We had hoped that the new changes which were aimed at making school uniform more affordable and requested that schools had a provision in place for parents to access preloved school uniform which is clearly advertised on the school website, would make our uniform bank somewhat redundant allowing us to focus more on other projects and reducing the high costs associated with running such a big uniform bank. Unfortunately after much conversation and monitoring, it seems the majority of schools in our area have not made these positive changes as yet, so this month we decided to reopen the school uniform bank, though we continue to look for other ways to get uniform to families without the high labour and costs on our part. We have a few ideas up our sleeves so watch this space!
2022 was also the year where we as an organisation ran by just two people - Benita and Steffi, realised our vulnerability as such a small team, as both directors faced big challenges and unexpected change in their personal lives resulting in time off and less availability, along with the overall challenges of trying to balance family life with the commitment they had made to Punk. For this reason the search began for additional board members to join Team Punk which continues into this new year, a hunt for individuals with a passion for our cause and useful knowledge or skills to bring to the punk table.
In July we opened our St Marychurch shop and have been made to feel incredibly welcome by the local community. With its big window and bright white walls, we furnished the shop on a shoestring budget and have been very happy with the feedback we have received and have managed to recruit some new volunteers who have worked hard to get the shop off the ground and we continue to work to make it a success.
An unexpected challenge in the later part of the year for Punk was the arrival of a number of asylum seekers into Torbay who are being accomodated in local hotels. Once again the clothing bank was called upon to help and being as both of our directors have a background in charity work helping asylum seekers we called upon old contacts and made some new ones to try to offer a joined up, organised approach to helping the individuals being accommodated. It soon became clear that English language courses were very much wanted and of course speaking the language can be a key to integration so Punk sourced additional funding thanks to M&S Gifting Grants to provide English language courses using a life skills focused curriculum which was originally written by Benita when she was working in refugee camps in Greece many years ago and is still the one used there today, so we're extremely pleased to be able to offer our language courses that have been specifically designed for refugees and are taught by trauma trained staff. One of our course students has even joined our team of volunteers now and has been a wonderful addition to the team. We are hoping to secure further funding to continue these courses in the new year.
We were able to secure a number of grants for elderly people on low incomes in need of household goods and a memorable moment was calling one client in December to let them know we'd been approved funds to buy them a new washing machine and her telling us we'd "made her Christmas".
Our Path to Pay programme which supports young people from deprived backgrounds into work retains its 100% success rate with all 10 students who took part this year finding themselves paid work upon completion of the programme, something we hope to continue throughout the new year.
Thanks to Lidl toy appeal over Christmas we hope we made some more Christmas wishes come true as we received a fantastic amount of toy donations so after much wrapping we were able to distribute them to some families in need, leaving us feeling like veritable christmas elves.
The biggest challenge of 2022 however was simply balancing the books, and having watched the electricity bill for our Union Street premises rise from £100 a month to £400 a month, along with the increase in all our other overheads, and a big fall in sales in our shop with Christmas time being an extremely poor sales period we made the tough decision to close the shop doors as quite simply it was costing more to open and turn the lights on than we were making. For the time being we still retain these premises however we hope to be able to move to smaller premises in the near future.
With higher costs and just the one shop now we have to admit 2023 is off to a worrying start and we will be more reliant on public support and that of local businesses than ever to continue our work but we are driven and determined to continue our mission to break poverty cycles here in Torbay, Exeter and beyond and good luck to anyone who tries to stop us! We turn three on January 27th and everyone knows you don't mess with a threenager!
Enormous thanks to the following for their support throughout the year:
The Gibbons Trust, Tesco Community Grants, The Norman Trust, Wilton Bradley, Arnold Clark, Devon Community Foundation, Asda, Kevin Foster MP, Prince of Wales Charitable Fund, Healthwatch, Torbay Council Community Fund, Lidl, M&S and Selco
Additional thanks to the companies who kindly donated Christmas raffle prizes: Model Village, Cofton Holidays, Jones Holidays, Firm Foundation Tutoring and Marples
And more importantly than all thank you to our volunteers who without which Punk wouldn't be possible. Thank you for your passion and belief in our cause and everything you do!