The charity's boss has admitted that she's 'terrified' as the Edinburgh's Fresh Start is preparing for an influx of people to walk through their doors in Pilton as the energy crisis continues.
An Edinburgh charity is ‘terrified’ as the cost of living crisis continues and energy prices are set to soar.
Biddy Kelly, 47, CEO of Fresh Start, spoke exclusively to Edinburgh Live as she expects a flood of new locals to use the services.
Fresh Start is based in Pilton in North Edinburgh and is a charity helping to end homelessness by giving people the tools to make a home for themselves. Along with a range of services, the charity issues starter packs which include household essentials, such as bedding and kitchenware to help people who are moving from temporary housing into permanent.
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The charity also offers a communal pantry, which is open to the public, cooking lessons, and training. They also give advice as well as acting as a direct link to other organisations such as Right There, who work to prevent people from becoming homeless.
But as the cost of living crisis continues and the average yearly energy bill is set to hit £2,500, Biddy has already seen an increase in people using Fresh Start.
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Speaking to Edinburgh Live, Biddy said: “Normally, we’d have about 10 people use our community meals - Last week we had 45 come through our doors.”
She admits that Fresh Start is preparing for a huge influx of people, many of which will not have used the services before. The hub in Pilton isn’t means tested and is open to anyone.
“I'm terrified if I'm totally honest. You have people who have to choose whether they can eat or not. And that's just wrong.”
She added: “We already have people in work poverty, surviving, I think we're on the precarious balance.
"People will come through our doors, we can give starter packs to people in temporary accommodation, and those moving into permanent accommodation, but I think what we will see is that we will need to then think about what we give to people in our local community.
“So it might be their hoover and their iron breaks down or their child needs new school shoes, something which has tipped them over the edge into a deficit.
“I think we're in this really scary kind of time whereby we need to try and do everything we possibly can to maximise people's incomes. In Edinburgh, we talk about benefit fraud, but we don't talk about the millions of pounds of unclaimed benefits that people are entitled to,” Biddy said, explaining that people can go to the hub to get debt and benefit advice.
Another Edinburgh organisation they work closely with is Home Link Family Support which has stressed that toiletries have now become a luxury for many families. With this, Fresh Start is calling for donations to include toiletries such as shower gel, sanitary products and toilet rolls.
As October brings with it a chill in the air and a reminder that Scotland’s harsh winters are around the corner, energy prices are going to rise to £2,500 for the average household on typical use. This doesn’t include the increases seen with working from home or having someone in the home who has additional needs and relies on equipment. Biddy says she is ‘terrified’ about the coming winter.
She explains that when someone has moved from temporary accommodation into permanent accommodation, in normal circumstances it can be challenging to get to grips with rent, council tax and managing a budget. And now with the energy prices hike, there will be even more pressure, not helped by payment methods.
She added: “A lot of the people we work with will have these prepayment methods which I find scandalous. Just because I can afford to pay by Direct Debit, I get cheaper and better rates. It’s ridiculous. We're making the poor poorer with this.”
Those who pay via a prepayment meter have a two per cent increase on their bills, while someone who pays per statement, is on average six per cent more than someone on Direct Debit.
Biddy went on to explain that anyone can use the hub, and people who walk through the door can either be working there themselves, volunteering, coming in for debt advice or taking on a training programme - it isn’t means tested and she says the hub, with all that it offers, reduces the stigma for those needing extra support.
Food is a huge part of this as the East Lothian CEO explained: “On a Friday, we have Family Fridays, where parents can come in and cook a meal in our community space, and then the kids come after school and eat.
“We do things like community meals where anybody can come and eat. There's no judgement of whether you need that service or not.
“It's using food as that gateway to engage with people so that if they need things that we can help them with, then we will. And if we can't, we'll find an organisation that can.”
She added: “That kind of approach reduces stigma and increases that need, the accessibility to support because it's all about building a relationship with someone. So actually, what we need to do is, we need to build a relationship with people, and we need to then connect with them.
“Then if they need support, they can get it in a really easy kind of manner. One of the things that I see in the people that we work with is everyone needs support or might need support”
Biddy adds that creating this space with different services under one roof gives “the power back to them”. People who use Fresh Start can decide what they need help with and voice what’s most important to them at that moment in time, whether it’s needing food, white goods or specialist advice.
While Fresh Start and other organisations of North Edinburgh response and recovery group are preparing for a wave of new users, Biddy is urging the public to donate goods if they can and they also accept financial donations.
She added: “People need to reach out, to know it’s okay to say ‘I’m struggling' or ‘I’m scared' because the cost of living crisis is affecting everybody."
You can see more information about Fresh Start here.
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