Cash Crisis: How Smaller Charities Are Weathering The Storm

The struggle for funding facing charities working with vulnerable and disenfranchised women speaks volumes about the crisis facing hundreds of thousands of single-issue voluntary groups working with those falling through the gaps in social care provision across the UK. As the gulf between funding to large national public service delivery charities and local single-issue organisations widens, our two examples below show how well groups on the ground are weathering the storm.

When Barnsley Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Helpline (Bsarch) launched in 1988, every Thursday night the founding volunteers would take a telephone downstairs to a borrowed office and spend two hours taking calls from desperate women. Some 20 years on it offers face-to-face counselling and advice services, and is now open four nights a week to anyone experiencing domestic violence in the borough.

“We work with some women who may have experienced abuse 20 or 30 years ago,” says project officer Katie Russell. “It’s not just recent rapes. Barnsley is quite a traditional community, more so than neighbouring places like Leeds. I think that’s sometimes an issue – people feel it’s not the done thing to talk about these experiences.”

The group has three full-timers and around 25 volunteers. It survives on £90,000 a year, 5% of which comes from Barnsley council supplemented by £20,000 from the Home Office to help employ an outreach worker. The rest comes from a three-year grant from the Big Lottery, which ends in October.

“The primary care trust and local authority are supportive, but have no money for us,” says Russell. “We’re now plugging away with fundraising again, and it’s difficult to find capacity for that while also providing your core service. But we’ve managed for 20 years.”

Another group, the Asian Women Resource Centre, was founded in 1980 by women who felt existing social services did not meet their needs or understand the cultural or linguistic barriers faced by many women in their community.

At first, the centre in Harlesden, north-west London, primarily gave advice around welfare benefits and how to access services. It has now evolved into a service providing expert advice and support to women experiencing domestic violence. “We offer support and information within a culturally sensitive framework,” says Sarbjit Ganger, director of the centre, which provides its services for £166,457 a year through a mish-mash of funding.

“Support comes from other women who have been through similar situations. We also provide advocacy on behalf of domestic violence survivors, reporting crimes to the police, and writing letters to solicitors and housing departments.”

Support and advice for Asian women in these circumstances is particularly pressing because they often have no recourse to public funds. They are marooned outside social service provision, and without the charity many would have nobody to turn to. If the marriage breaks down – because of violence, for instance – the women are subject to deportation, or may have to stay in the marriage. The centre has been funded by London councils, including Brent, and Neighbourhood Renewal. Three years of Neighbourhood Renewal funding has now ended, and support from London councils has been cut.

“It’s a challenging time for us,” says Ganger. “The whole commissioning process has left a lot of casualties. We get funding for one year, for three years – it’s a constant struggle. But we provide good value for money, and we are carrying on. We have to support these women, because domestic violence can be a life or death issue.”