Bank of England forum gives charities chance to share frontline experiences

We were delighted to work with the Bank of England to organise a community forum that brought Wiltshire charities face to face with a senior executive from the bank so they could share their experiences of what life is like on the frontline in the cost of living crisis.

Fergal Shortall, Director of Monetary Analysis, heard about the poverty faced by people across the county when he met twelve charities at the community forum, hosted by furniture recycling charity KFR at its base on the Hopton Industrial Estate in Devizes.

The Bank of England has run more than 40 community forums all over the UK since 2017 to talk to lesser heard groups, understand how the economy is working for communities and to help it formulate policy. It does this by partnering with organisations like us that are deeply rooted in the communities they serve.

Among the charities who attended were Wiltshire Citizens Advice, Devizes Opendoors, Wiltshire Centre for Independent Living, Age UK Wiltshire, Swindon Food Collective, Wiltshire Women Empowerment Programme, Swindon Domestic Abuse Support Services, Rise:61, Warminster Action Group and The Pantry Partnership.

Mr Shortall heard that the rise in demand because of the cost of living crisis has come at the same time as charities and voluntary groups are seeing their own costs rise.

KFR manager Dan Thompson said: “We spent time hearing from each charity about the problems they have and some of the stories were really quite harrowing. We are seeing people who probably never would have dreamt of shopping in a charity shop. The people that were just getting by are now struggling and obviously need our help but the people right at the bottom have just fallen off a cliff edge. There are more people now in crisis than there's ever been.

“It is important for the Bank of England to have the opportunity to listen to what is happening in communities affected by the economy. They don't necessarily see what it's like on the ground every day. It's become part of our DNA and we are seeing people struggling on a daily basis but they don't necessarily see that.

“I think people were pleased that somebody in quite a high-powered position was actually listening to them. And certainly he was going to relay the difficulties of opening a bank account back to Bank of England. It was a very useful forum and we were all grateful to Wiltshire Community Foundation for organising it.”

Robin Imeson, Chief Executive of Rise:61 raised the issue of poorer people being left behind by a cashless society and of charities having difficulties with banks: “It feels like many mainstream banks just don't want charity accounts at the moment and they make it really difficult even to just change simple things like named persons on the mandate. I felt like the Bank of England didn't really know about that and he was quite interested and said they would speak to the Financial Conduct Authority about it.

“I found the meeting very worthwhile and agreed it was important for the Bank of England to talk to the voluntary sector. I think if government structures want to look after the poorest and most vulnerable in society, then if they're not hearing from those people, through the people who work with them, then there's going to be a mismatch in what they're doing and how effective it is.”

Nicky Alberry, Chair of Trustees at Swindon Domestic Abuse Support Services, said: “The forum was really useful. There were some strong voices around that table from right across the community and were able to tell someone from the monetary sector that the economic situation is really hurting real people and in some cases it could potentially be putting people's lives at risk.

“One of the biggest problems we all talked about was the issue with local housing allowance and that it hasn't been raised for a number of years, which means that for a number of our service users, the local housing allowance levels means private rented accommodation is just not viable for them, it's not an option.

“The other thing we spoke about is what's called finance and economic abuse, whereby when there's pressure on the household finances it is quite often the victim's spending that gets cut. It might be their phone taken away from them or they might be restricted in terms of being able to go and see family and friends or to be able to go out so their life shrinks around them.”

Reflecting on the event, Fergal Shortall said: “It is vital for the Bank of England to engage with communities across the UK – we can’t make informed decision without this input – so I’m very grateful to Wiltshire Community Foundation for bringing so many charities together for this event.

“We discussed the challenges the charity sector in Wiltshire are facing across the board in keeping pace with the demand for their services and the many innovative ways organisations are trying to keep the show on the road. KFR was one of them – particular thanks to them for hosting us and for giving us such a vivid insight into their unique and effective business model.”

Wiltshire Community Foundation joint Chief Executive Vicky Hickey said “Facilitating events like the forum is a key part of our community leadership role and how we advocate for and support our county’s voluntary sector. Charities and groups across Wiltshire and Swindon are doing incredible work to support the hardest hit in our communities and it is really important that the Bank of England get an understanding of the real challenges they are facing – and the struggles of the families and individuals who so badly need their help. That is why the Bank of England’s community forums are such a valuable initiative.

“This is the third forum we have been involved in and we were pleased to be able to bring everyone together for these important discussions. We would like to thank KFR for hosting, all of the charity representatives for their insightful contributions and Mr Shortall and his colleagues for making the time to come and listen so attentively.”

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