Phoenix Enterprises provide training and work experience opportunities for more than 90 people with learning disabilities and mental health problems in Swindon.

The social enterprise runs a mail fulfilment and product assembly business which helps to fund the support services the organisation offers. Their income stopped during the coronavirus crisis, but the need to support their vulnerable service users was even greater than before.

They received a £5,000 grant from our Coronavirus Response and Recovery programme and a £15,000 Community Fund grant to help them keep running. Chief Executive Emma Rees tells how vital the grants were.

“During the pandemic most of our service users were isolating at home and not able to fully understand what was going on. A lot of them were watching TV and when guidelines changed it caused them a lot of confusion and uncertainty. They would dwell on that and the anxiety built up, leading to even bigger mental health problems.

“We totally changed our way of operating to support them and had staff ringing round and answering calls almost any hour of the day and night to deal with their anxieties.

“The grants helped make up for our loss of our business income and allowed us to keep some staff on to remotely support our service users. It also enabled us to provide welfare packs to the most vulnerable people. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without this support.

“Now that we have come out of lockdown our normal activities are resuming but there is a rise in demand for places with us due to the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health and we now have a waiting list. Importantly, the grant has allowed us to increase our staffing levels so that we can support more people.

“Our service users work on a voluntary basis and receive work experience, mentoring and help looking for permanent full or parttime jobs. Our staff and volunteers provide a constant safety net to our users, many of whom live alone in supported housing. The Phoenix kitchen has toast, cereal and hot drinks available each morning and every Friday there is a hot meal. “Weekly social events and outings provide a social life and friendship as well as a daily work routine. Staff also accompany vulnerable users to medical appointments, job interviews, benefits sessions and work placements and are always on hand for emergencies.

“We genuinely care about what happens to all of our service users, we know all of their names and their family situations. We know what their strengths and weaknesses are, the details of their conditions and how they affect them. Many of them don’t have families they can rely on, or families at all in some cases, and we take on that role for them.

“We can’t thank Wiltshire Community Foundation enough as without their help we could not have supported our service users in the way we did during the pandemic.”

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