Happy and Healthy New Year

Dear Friends

I’d like to start this month’s contribution simply by wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year.

Nothing overly exciting about that: it’s a message we have probably all scribbled in one form or another into our Christmas cards, round robins and general festive communications.  It’s also something that many of us are wishing each other as we return to work, school, college – or as we emerge from our warm cocoon of food, drink, TV and exchanging gifts – back to life’s challenges.

But of course, for some of us, the festive season can bring expected and unexpected challenges: from the very real pressures that hosts can feel when making sure “everything goes well on the day” to greater, life-changing challenges.

I was struck by a tweet I read in the last two weeks – a snapshot taken from an entry in the visitor’s book from the chapel of Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle, dated 18 December 2019: “I’m praying to get food in my cupboards and Christmas gifts for 3 family members with £7 to last until 27th December”.  I’m sure many of us will identify with the challenge of stretching a tight budget – and for me at least, this is in a different category entirely – yet it is something with which many across Cumbria will be familiar.  The Trussell Trust’s mid-year figures for 2019-20 (April-September 2019) show that 823,145 three-day emergency food parcels were provided to people in crisis: a 23% increase on the same period in 2018.  The region with the highest demand was the North-West of England, at 111,385.  I know that many of our members will have been contributing to alleviate these challenges – whether fundraising, volunteering or simply opening their doors over the festive period: in exactly the same way as they have done throughout the year.  But it is important to note that the Trussell Trust is campaigning to end the need for food banks (not least by ending the five-week wait for Universal Credit): it just shouldn’t be happening in a civil society.

At a personal level, I also experienced a different kind of Christmas, when my son was taken seriously ill on Christmas Eve.  The ambulance crew took him straight to the “A&E” department: within a few hours of being seen, he had undergone emergency, life-saving surgery and faces a minimum six-month recovery period.  So far, over 50 individual NHS staff have helped him (and his parents) handle the enormous shock and facilitate his recovery – and I suspect there are many, many more whose critical input we can only imagine.  And without wishing to dampen the glad tidings in any way – there are loved ones who haven’t made it through the Christmas period at all.

So why all the doom and gloom?  My last message was one of happiness and joy: what’s changed?  Well, nothing really.  I am enormously grateful to all the NHS and voluntary sector workers who worked throughout the Christmas period to help my son – and the mothers, fathers, children, friends, grannies and grand-fathers who relied on their help in recent weeks.  I am happy that he has survived and has a future ahead of him – and I know how lucky I am to have food on the table and in the cupboards all year round, and to have friends and family on whose support I can rely.

But if you haven’t had this kind of help: look to our own.  Whether you or yours have experienced a traumatic life-event; are struggling to make ends meet; have recently been diagnosed with a serious physical or mental health problem: reach out.  The voluntary sector can and will help.  It is what we do and who we are. Whoever and wherever you are: I wish you a happy and healthy New Year.

David Allen
Chief Executive Officer
Cumbria CVS