Cost of Living FundNewsAn umbrella being held in a rain storm

The consultation showed that some charities are struggling to survive, let alone thrive. However, we can use urgent needs as a way in to building more resilience, by funding a variety of activity types, and continuing to mobilise the grassroots organisations that communities really trust in times of hardship.

Following a round of cost-of-living grant funding in December 2022, we went back to our network of grassroots local charitable organisations to ask for an update about the current biggest issues and most critical challenges. We have now analysed the responses and have published a report with our conclusions.

Charities were asked about the types of activities and funding that OCF should prioritise in our next grants round in June. With similar response rates to our first consultation in September 2022, we received 67 responses to our survey, and 24 charity representatives attended our online workshop. The workshop covered the same questions as the survey to facilitate more in-depth and open discussions about current issues.

The biggest organisational issues facing charities and community groups were core costs, energy costs and staffing costs. Respondents shared that core costs as a percentage of project delivery costs are rising at an unmanageable level; that they are concerned about the end of fixed-rate energy deals; and that staff recruitment and retention at fair and competitive rates was challenging. This is resulting in charities dipping into reserves that had already been depleted by the pandemic.

In terms of the issues most affecting the beneficiaries local charities are supporting, the top issues were the costs of energy, food and housing, all which are contributing to rising debt for individuals and families. This has long-term impacts on wellbeing and life chances, as one respondent put it: “The critical challenge for our beneficiaries is being able to engage in society eg the benefits of good health, educational attainment and job prospects, rather than rely on the council/state in adulthood.” (Fight Against Blindness)

These issues are having a knock-on effect on mental health as well, as Oxfordshire Youth shared in one example: “In terms of young people, the mental health challenges that are being experienced are much more complex. The level and complexity of safeguarding disclosures that are being handled by youth workers and frontline practitioners is just beyond anything we’ve ever seen before. That has an impact on youth workers in terms of their own wellbeing and resilience, and more support is needed for the frontline practitioners to make sure that they’re equipped to be handling those issues.”

In terms of how the situation has evolved since 2022, groups identified that there is a demand and perhaps an opportunity to offer services beyond core activities: “Whatever the service delivery that the groups are providing, they’ve seen that they need to be adapting, and are actually being required to provide far more than their initial response. So with regards to say, a food larder, they’re actually finding that what people need is more than just food. They’re actually providing support for mental health signposting people to other services, they’re actually doing a lot more than originally set out to do, which of course puts extra pressure on the charities, it puts extra pressure on the staff.” (Emmaus)

From the consultation process, OCF has drawn the following conclusions:

  • The cost-of-living crisis has not subsided for the poorest communities
    Despite the fact that for some in Oxfordshire, the cost of living is a crisis that has been and gone, for the most disadvantaged people locally it is a live issue that is still forcing them to make difficult choices in their spending. It is leading to longer-term issues such as mental health problems, embedded debt and increased isolation.
  • Charities are struggling to survive, let alone thrive
    Charities have dipped into their reserves too many times and cannot see an end to price rises that affect their own costs, in particular energy, premises and salary costs. Charity workers and volunteers are experiencing stress and burnout due to the continued demand for services and the lack of financial and other resources to support them.
  • We can use urgent needs as a way in to building more preventative solutions
    Despite immediate needs for food and debt advice remaining the most pressing problems, no issue stands alone, and these needs create other problems that affect how well people can manage their health, housing or general thriving. If we want to encourage more preventative work, it should sit by side with the immediate needs.
  • A variety of activity types should be funded
    The types of activity groups suggested to be funded gained fairly equal weighting. OCF should fund a good variety of work to come at this issue from multiple angles.
  • Communities trust and rely on charitable organisations working at the grass roots
    More people are accessing services than before, and may feel self-conscious or ashamed about asking for help. Once beneficiaries access support, they rely strongly on it and groups are finding themselves pulled in more directions.

We are now drafting the terms of reference for the next round of grant funding, based on the conclusions from this consultation. This round of funding will be opening on Friday 9th June, and closing on Tuesday 27th June at midday. If you are not already signed up to our mailing list, please opt in here.

Download the consultation report