Stephanie Bennett Fraser tells how advocacy and support can change lives

Our service has now been running for two years; we are working at full capacity. From April 2017 until the end of March 2018, we supported 177 households in the Lewisham area.

We have funding to continue the service into 2018-2019 financial year from Awards For All and The Small Faiths Fund.
We offer information and emotional support and appropriate referrals to any resident experiencing a crisis that is affecting their wellbeing and our aim is to address social isolation; to ensure that people’s problems do not become acute and unmanageable.

Since December 2016, we have an additional staff member offering form filling – support requested by many people attending our community centre. We have supported residents around: mental health and wellbeing; chronic health, benefit relationship and housing issues, as well as, debt, benefit sanctions, nuisance neighbours, parenting, rent arrears, housing disrepair and food poverty.We have supported a growing number of residents to win ESA and PIP appeals: addressing the safety and wellbeing of many vulnerable people.

This year, we have worked productively with 4 services (Emmaus, Saint Vincent de Paul, Community Connections and Lewisham’s Sugarsmart) and have offered supported referrals to 46 agencies – from ACAS to Tax Aid.

Feedback from people using the service has been very positive and we know that this service is ensuring that people are accessing very much needed support. We are becoming the community safety net that is needed.

Patricia Mckinnon-Lower on how the service is friendly and informal

When people first come to our centre they get a warm welcome from all staff and volunteers. We are informal but our service is comprehensive and professional. Many of our service users are distressed or vulnerable and our first aim is to put the person at ease; often with and a friendly chat. Once we assess if we can help we will either make an appointment or let them know where the right help is available and we make phone calls if needed. We reassure people that information given to us is used in a confidential way. Service users often return, even after their problem has been dealt with; we are somewhere to feel unhurried and safe. Often new people come to us who have heard of our service by word of mouth. We have a good reputation.
We deal with a variety of concerns and can help in practical ways:

  • A hearing impaired man needs a call to his bank over an account problem;
  • An elderly person just discharged from hospital wants help to maintain their beloved garden while they recover;
  • Someone newly retired, lost for how to fill his life gets help to find a volunteering role; he feels useful once more.

These are just some of the examples of practical, but vital, ways we help people.

Leegate has been through some tough periods but LGL has brought colour and life to the ailing shopping centre. The frontage has become a focal point in the area: brightly coloured blinds; information posters on the frontage and, soon, an impressive hand embroidered window dressing made by users, staff and volunteers. We hope we have encouraged more footfall in the Leegate area. LGL is encouraging a diverse variety of people to the Leegate Centre and those people use local cafes and shops; a positive knock-on effect on the area.

People who use the Centre come from a wide range of backgrounds. There are no class or culture barriers; service users learn from each other, making a more cohesive community. It seems to work!