The town charity gives debt advice and counselling support to people struggling to manage on low incomes. It is using a £15,000 Wiltshire Community Foundation grant for a major expansion of its work.
This year, HEALS is celebrating its tenth anniversary, and to add to the celebrations it has been given a Community Grant of £5,000 a year for the next three years by the community foundation. It will use the money towards running costs, as well as to help it embark on two new projects – opening a community fridge in the town hall and expanding its operation into Cricklade and Purton.
Chairman of trustees and Wiltshire councillor Gavin Grant said the charity, whose support includes debt counselling, negotiations with utility and other suppliers, benefits, rent or council tax advice and help with housing difficulties or foodbank vouchers, has been seeing an increasing number of calls for help from outside the town.
“We work closely with the Malmesbury and District Foodbank and they have moved to cover Cricklade and Purton,” he said. “We have agreed that in the New Year we will look to expand HEALS’ remit to those two communities, which is a 50 per cent increase on where we are. The scale of everything we are doing has gone up enormously.”
He said HEALS recently helped one dad maintain contact with his children in Malmesbury after a marriage break-up. He was sleeping on friends’ sofas in Purton until the charity negotiated with housing association Green Square to find him a flat there so that his two sons could stay at weekends.
“There are many connections between Malmesbury and these two towns,” said Cllr Grant. “We share the same primary care trust, the same school trust in Purton and the same policing area. We know the need is there, it is just more hidden in rural areas.
“We probably need to start tapping into the voluntary sector, particularly for the Purton area. There is a lot of new development right on the edge of Swindon which is technically in Wiltshire in the Purton ward.”
He said the charity, which is helping around 80 families in Malmesbury with advice and support, is anticipating its workload rising in the New Year because of the increasing pressure on families. “All the surveys are showing that people are overspending this Christmas to compensate for what happened last year,” he said.
“Therefore the worry about debt is going up, especially with the increases in council tax and National Insurance and the utility bills going up. We are already beginning to see issues of debt and people saying ‘I can’t pay my heating bill, can you help?’.”
HEALS has two part-time staff who provide debt advice and advocacy from the town hall five days a week, but it has a growing army of volunteers, some long-standing and others recruited while it delivered thousands of food parcels and hot meals during the lockdowns.
“They are organising events we could only have dreamed about in terms of their scope and scale, the contacts they are making and the money they are raising,” said Cllr Grant.
This Christmas the charity is organising Christmas lunches for more than 90 pensioners, a lunch and party for isolated families with the support of The Somerford Arms and The Rise Trust and will also be delivering presents and goodie bags and presents to 90 children from low-income families, as well as organising a panto trip.
Cllr Grant said: “It’s a massive vote of confidence in what we are doing that Wiltshire Community Foundation has said it will support us again. Getting funding for our core operational is often harder because it is more difficult for funders to get their heads around. This grant gives us huge security and that vote of confidence is also very helpful when we are talking to others.
“The grant gives us the ability to have these conversations about expanding because otherwise we would be on a treadmill of racing round trying to raise the money to sustain the organisation as well as to do the things that people want us to support, and constantly worrying we are not going to be able to pay next month’s wage bill.”
To find out more about the community foundation’s work, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk. More information about HEALS at healsmalmedsbury.co.uk.