From the Chamber - Update on Hardship Fund Projects

28 Feb 2024
Rachel Bishop Firth

In February last year, Wokingham Borough Council established a Hardship Fund of £250,000 to tackle the root causes of poverty in our Borough by funding a number of longer term projects.

So what have we achieved in the last 12 months?

At the start of the month, the new Roots Community Pantry opened its doors. Our voluntary and community partners have used seed funding from the Hardship Fund to set up a sustainable way of fighting the threat of malnutrition in the Borough. With benefits and wages often being insufficient to maintain a healthy diet, the Roots Community Pantry will make fresh foods and other essentials available at a price that those on the lowest incomes can afford. A healthy, balanced diet is vital in avoiding long term health problems and with increasing numbers of people arriving in hospitals with symptoms of malnutrition, and this is an essential addition to the work of our local food banks.

Wokingham Borough children with special educational needs and disabilities are benefiting from the expansion of the Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) Programme. The HAF programme supports children growing up in families with very low incomes to enjoy enriching activities during the school holidays, including a healthy meal. This means that these children start the new term ready to learn and achieve at school, and is a great investment in children’s futures. The additional Hardship Fund money has gone to setting up activities which make it easier for eligible children with special needs to take part. We’ve also provided funding so that families living on low incomes and without access to public transport can travel to holiday events run by Woodley Lunch Bunch.

Wokingham children will see doors open to a better and healthier future due to Hardship Fund investment in Wokingham Borough Council’s funding for the Removing Barriers programme. Working with other partners in the voluntary and community sector, the Hardship Fund has provided seed funding to widen participation in football with Pinewood football club as well as activities run by the Me2Club, Twyford District Youth and Community Centre and the Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity. Funding has also paid for adults living on very low incomes to access activities to prevent extreme social isolation.

Being able to access a full, rounded education is vital to give children choices for their future. Families living on low incomes can find too many barriers in their way, such as the high costs of school uniforms and other essentials, or the materials and equipment needed to study subjects including music, art or sport. We want to ensure that no Wokingham Borough child is forced to give up a subject which could help them move into higher education or prepare them to live a full and healthy life. We’re therefore using the Hardship Fund to provide local charity First Days with the funding they need to work with our schools to improve access to school uniform and other essential learning tools so that all local children have the chance to reach their potential at school. 

The Voluntary and Community Sector partners have been instrumental in turning seed funding into long term support which will deliver the value of the original investment many times over, and our huge thanks go to them and to the council officers who made this possible.