Real Lives: Real Choices – County Durham charity receives donation lifeline thanks to the Bernicia Foundation

Staff from a County Durham charity which delivers training and courses for people with complex learning needs, disabilities and mental health issues have spoken of how money donated by The Bernicia Foundation has helped them alleviate the pressures facing their organisation over the last 18 months.

Real Lives: Real Choices, a small community-focused organisation based in Sacriston, County Durham, received £10,000 from The Bernicia Foundation after finding themselves in the very difficult position of having more than 25 adults reliant on them for vital learning, vocational and self-development programmes, whilst being asked to operate under strict lockdown restrictions with reduced staff, higher demand but decreasing income.

Like other local charities and volunteer groups, many accessing their support were totally dependent on the charity for their wellbeing, and this often meant staff having to deliver packages to individuals designed to help people cope and maintain a level of ‘normality’.

Unfortunately, this also meant that fewer or at times, no people could attend the facility in person, so new outreach training services and social bubble workshops had to be rapidly developed and introduced.

Thanks to the £10,000 Bernicia Foundation donation, Real Lives: Real Choices was able to put the needs of their users first throughout lockdown, whilst also maintain staffing levels, cover costs and implement safeguarding measures. This allowed those accessing the courses to still feel part of group learning sessions without becoming isolated.

Alison Russell, Senior Tutor, explained, “The courses we offer are absolutely essential to so many people locally as this is often their only access to learning, social activity or interaction outside of their home due to their needs. The last year has been extremely difficult, not just for our service users, but also for their home support and our staff, and they have really pulled out all the stops under the most trying of circumstances.

“The donation from The Bernicia Foundation came at totally the right time and was a real lifeline for the charity. So many different challenges were being thrown at us so very quickly, but the money allowed us to deliver our ‘Positive Choices’ project which focused on maintaining health, wellbeing and positive engagement via arts, making and creativity. Participants have made the most wonderful new crafts and artistic objects, as well as restored old furniture items such as chairs, clocks and cupboards, and the end results are amazing.

“Those we teach have very specialist or complex needs, therefore it has been remarkable to see so many cope, excel and gain new skills. Everyone is very grateful to the Foundation for the donation provided.”

As well as Real Lives: Real Choices, The Bernicia Foundation, a charitable trust set up by Bernicia housing association to support North East charities, volunteer/community groups, and individuals working towards personal goals, has also allocated funds to Wearside-based organisations. These include Sunderland Women’s Centre, Southwick Neighbourhood Youth Project, the International Community Organisation of Sunderland and Pallion Action Group.

Kevin Haddrick of The Bernicia Foundation, commented, “Each day we learn about and come into contact with more and more community organisations and local charities that are doing truly remarkable work on a very localised, grass roots level, and it’s just fantastic.

“We are astounded by their drive, their sincerity and their commitment to make a positive and lasting change to people’s lives for the better, and it is these groups that we would like to support. They are remarkable ambassadors for our region and we encourage anyone that knows of an organisation which could benefit from our funds to apply.”

Two types of grant awards are available to organisations and people across Tyne & Wear, County Durham, Teesside and Northumberland. Inclusion grants (between £5,000-£10,000) are awarded to voluntary of community groups, registered charities, social enterprises and co-operatives with an annual income under £750,000 per year, whilst Inspiration Grants are valued at up to £1,000 for inspirational young people aged 24 and under.

Additionally, any local business, entrepreneur or fundraiser wishing to support the Real Lives: Real Choices charity should contact Alison Russell on 07989 571106.