A MAJOR decision maker in the Big Issue magazine success story has joined forces with a North East charity to help people who are financially deprived.

Peter Bird, who is the brother of the homeless magazine’s co-founder Lord John Bird, has spent the last eight weeks working on a pilot project in Hartlepool.

After receiving funding from The PFC Trust, Peter’s Social Echoes initiative stems from an acceptance of growing problems across the UK.

Having spent so much time in the region as national distribution director for the Big Issue, through his connections he pitched the idea to The PFC Trust and received funding for the pilot because its ‘pay-it-forward’ approach appeared to link well with the project’s thinking.

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Mr Bird said: “Social Echoes follows on from 30 years of the Big Issue ethos – ‘a hand up and not a hand out’.

“I have seen a reflection of what London was like years ago, many of the same problems, with the homeless issues building. It is not just about those sleeping rough, there are others sofa surfing, moving around friends and relatives. In the current climate food is a massive problem too.

“We work on issues regarding drug use, alcohol and mental health. Places like Hartlepool are becoming what London was like many years ago. Problems in society have spread across the country.”

Social Echoes has found there are a large number of rough sleepers and others who need help to re-engage with their families after many years in Hartlepool. It has supported individuals on their journeys, part of which would be employability, by helping them to work with services to help them.

Mr Bird added: “We work with people who other people would cross the road to avoid, it is as simple as that.

“We want to help people in the community with financial deprivation. We want to avoid using the usual labels people are tagged with.”

%image('16201860', type="article-full", alt="Peter Bird bumped into Hartlepool United mascot Hangus in the centre of town")

Born in London and now living in Lincolnshire where he commutes to Hartlepool from, Mr Bird said: “I have been here since April. Every Thursday we have met at Café One77 in York Road where people from the community come in for a free breakfast, a free coffee or tea.

“We have organisations such as Advice at Heart, Hartlepower, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Positive Solutions and, of course, the PFC Trust, drop in to chat if people want to and to offer support. There is also good stuff going on at Lillyanne’s coffee shop in Victoria Road.”

The initial eight-week pilot has come to an end with Mr Bird knowing how important Social Echoes could be to areas like Hartlepool – and he is keen to roll that out for longer and in different areas of the country.

He said: “We hope to continue into the foreseeable future with this. My aim wasn’t just an eight-week pilot programme, I’d love to look back after a year and see how the people who we have helped have taken up the mantle to run it themselves.”

* Social Echoes is currently exploring ways to gain further funding to carry on beyond the pilot. If you are interested in helping with funding contact 07375552187 or peterbird@socialechoes.co.uk.

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