Charities across the borough are struggling to survive as figures show voluntary sector income has fallen by a third over the past five years.
Much of the blame for what is being dubbed a “crisis” for local charities is being pinned on Waltham Forest Council. A combination of funding cuts, lack of support services, and delays to a review of the sector, are cited as key factors in ongoing struggles for not-for-profit groups in the borough.
In December the closure was confirmed of two local charitable services; the Learning Disability Experience (LDX) in Wood Street, formerly known as Waltham Forest Mencap, and Russell Road Day Opportunities Service in Leyton, run by Scope. LDX has already shut down, while Scope’s day centre is due to close next month.
The future of several other not-for-profit organisations is also in doubt. An analysis of local voluntary sector finances by the Echo indicates charities in the borough have collectively seen their incomes plummet by 34 percent compared to 2010/11.
Helen Tredoux, chairman of Voluntary Action Waltham Forest (VAWF), said: “It’s not just about money, charities need support from the council as well. It usually takes six weeks for them to reply to an email.
“My main concern is once the voluntary sector infrastructure is gone, it’s difficult to replace. It will take 10 or 20 years to get it back. You can’t open a day centre overnight.
“I’m really worried the heart of the sector is disappearing. It’s an absolute crisis.”
Helen added that VAWF which provides support services for local charities, was itself in jeopardy as it waits to find out if council funding would continue beyond March.
Waltham Forest Disability Resource Centre in Crownfield Road, Leytonstone, is also under threat. The centre for people with physical or learning disabilities has reduced its opening hours because of council funding cuts. Staff levels have fallen from eleven to two employees over the past three years.
Manager Peri Stanley told the Echo: “Our council funding was cut from £250,000, to £100,000, and then in April it was gone altogether.
“It’s part of a move to personalised budgets for disabled people, but many are deemed ineligible. We started charging for our services but less than a quarter of users have got these budgets, so some can no longer afford to come here.
“We used to have 300 regular users, now we have 180. We also used to pick people up from their front doors, but can no longer do that. And we’ve reduced opening hours.
“People still need our services, we can stop them feeling isolated and help them back into employment. We run zumba classes and games sessions, arts and crafts. If you are disabled you need these sorts of things – they come here to make friends.
“As LDX has gone, and Scope’s day centre is closing, the problem is urgent. People are going to be abandoned.”
Councillor Angie Bean, cabinet member for adult services, said in response: “Providers are increasingly receiving funding direct from service users, as local authorities provide people with personal budgets to spend on care.
“Government introduced personalised budgets in 2008, and we understand the impact changes are having on voluntary sector organisations, which play a hugely valuable role.
“This is why we continue to support voluntary sector services adjust – while ensuring funding is spent on services that provide best value for money for residents, making the most difference to their lives.”
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