The Poverty Hurts Appeal has been launched by County Durham
Community Foundation to raise £1million in response to the cost-of-living crisis. PETER BARRON finds out why it’s vital that businesses play their part

THE cost-of-living crisis is at the top of the nation’s economic agenda and, as Dr Michelle Cooper addresses a packed audience of North East business leaders, civic dignitaries, and charity campaigners, her message is uncompromising.

“We are better than this,” she tells them, bluntly.

The Chief Executive of County Durham Community Foundation is on the stage amid the magnificence of Durham Town Hall. Above her head, the central stunning stained-glass of the Great West Window depicts King Edward III on horseback, throwing coins to his poor subjects in Durham marketplace. Below that, projected brightly on a screen by modern-day technology, are the words Poverty Hurts.

It is the name that’s been given to a £1m appeal, launched by the Foundation to help the most vulnerable people of the North East in the face of a cost-of-living crisis that’s sure to bite harder as the winter draws on.

“Children without warm coats, pensioners too frightened to put the heating on, families with bills they can’t afford to pay. It’s sickening that this is today’s reality,” says Dr Cooper.

The timing of the launch could hardly be more appropriate, coming the morning after the Bank of England has raised the base rate of interest by 0.75 percentage points to three per cent – the single biggest increase in more than three decades.

But there is good news: the Foundation is on the case, and it has a proud track record of providing support to those who need it most. By the time the foundation celebrated its 25th anniversary in June 2020, it had distributed £45m in grass roots grants to thousands of groups and, following the pandemic years, that has now risen to £56m, underlining the Foundation’s value during times of desperate need.

Now, on the day of its launch, Dr Cooper already has positive announcements to make about the Poverty Hurts Appeal. Jonathan and Jane Ruffer, whose philanthropy is at the heart of the transformation of Bishop Auckland’s fortunes, have pledged £250,000, while the Ferguson Family Fund has donated a further £40,000.

Businesses are also playing their part. Telecommunications company Arqiva has donated £25,000, the Banks Group £20,000, and Peppercorn Tax £1,000.

Another business representative attending the launch is Lesley Gordon, a Talent Partner with Talentheads, in-house talent and recruitment strategists, with a head office in Morpeth. The company works with a wide range of businesses, including bakery chain Cooplands, and Black & White Engineering, based in Newcastle.

Part of the Durham Business Group, Talentheads is supporting the Poverty Hurts Appeal because it perfectly matches the values of the business, which are summed up in three words: community, brave and legacy.

“We are passionate about supporting local communities. We want to challenge the norm and be bold, and we want to leave something behind, so we are proud to be part of the Poverty Hurts Appeal,” explains Lesley.

Durham Group Estates, a leading property development, investment, and management company covering the North East and Yorkshire, is also contributing to the appeal.

Chief executive, Gurpreet Singh Jagpal, said: “I heard about the Poverty Hurts Appeal through Durham Business Club and wanted to support it straight away.

“I’ve grown up in the region, studied and lived in this county, and it’s very distressing to see many families struggling. This is our way, as a local business, of being part of the solution by taking action and backing the community projects that are helping people of all ages stay warm and well this winter and beyond.”

The Poverty Hurts Appeal coincides with the latest statistics showing that more than one-third of children in the North East now live below the poverty line, while foodbanks are reporting a 50 per cent increase in adults asking for food that doesn’t have to be heated, as more people have to make the heartbreaking choice between staying warm or going hungry.

Lifeline Community Action, at Newton Aycliffe, is just one of the long list of charities to have already benefited from the appeal, with a £2,000 Poverty Hurts grant to spend on items to help people stay warm this winter.

The charity, which runs a community hub from St Clare’s Church, provides emergency aid and services for families and individuals facing hardship. Local people are coming in every day to ask for winter coats, and manager Corinn Chambers says the project needs more volunteers to meet the increasing demand.

“One lady, who came in, told us they were looking for extra jumpers to layer-up in the house, and they’re essentially living in just one room, so they don’t need to heat the whole home. I hate the thought that someone is doing that,” says Corinn.

“We want to be there if someone is really struggling and staying at home cold; we can take a bit of the burden off, so people can afford to pay their essential bills.”

The Poverty Hurts money will be used to buy high-tog duvets, throws, blankets, and hat and glove sets, as well as dressing gowns and slippers.

Meanwhile, Dawdon Youth and Community Centre, on the outskirts of Seaham, has also been awarded a £2,000 grant from the Poverty Hurts Appeal to provide hot meals and emergency food parcels.

Centre manager Marion McKenna, who has worked for the charity for 15 years, says that the latest figures show there has been a surge in requests for food parcels.

The Foundation grant means that Marion and her four team members, supported by local volunteers, have been able to extend the opening hours of the centre’s foodbank from two days a week to seven.

“It’s been a massive increase in demand and the real figure is probably more because there’s not always time for every request to be properly logged,” adds Marion.

The £1m target, set by this year’s High Sheriff of Durham, Shona Harper-Wilkes, will help fund vital lifelines to almost 32,000 local children and young people being hurt by poverty in all its forms, and every £1 donated will be matched with a further 50 pence from the Foundation.

And Dr Michelle Cooper is hoping local people and the business community will rise to the challenge and play its full part in helping to reach the £1million target.

 “We already have some wonderful, community-minded people and companies on board, and we appreciate that many people are facing tough times too, but we need as much support as possible because the situation is already critical and is bound to get much worse,” says Dr Cooper.

We are better than this – and there is a window of opportunity to prove it.

Hitting the right notes

IT is hoped the £1m target will be reached by March next year, when all proceeds from the final performance by world-famous musical theatre group Collabro – due to take place at Durham Cathedral – will be used to support the fund.

• To buy a ticket for the concert, go to:

• To make a donation to the Poverty Hurts Appeal, visit:

• To find out more about the work of County Durham Community Foundation in fighting poverty and enriching local lives, go to:

Saluting the volunteers

COUNTY Durham Community Foundation is the sponsor of the Volunteer of the Year category at this year’s County Durham Together Awards, organised by Business IQ publisher, Newsquest, at Ramside Hall Hotel tonight (December 8).

The Foundation’s chief executive, Dr Michelle Cooper, said: “During the course of our work, we see an army of volunteers making a priceless contribution in our communities every day, so we are proud to sponsor such an important category at the County Durham Together Awards.”