Tackling poverty in East London

Toynbee Hall is a local community organisation that has been working with the most marginalised people in the East End for 135 years. They are now a focal point for the area, and on a mission to support people and communities to break down the barriers that keep them in poverty. 

We caught up with the team to find out more about them.

What is your vision for the future?

"A future free from poverty. Our advisers are here to help with debt and financial health, welfare services and benefits claims, to support people’s equality of rights and access to services – and also to listen to the community and make sure their views are heard."

As well as providing crucial advice for people in times of crisis, Toynbee Hall aims to bring different parts of the community together to work collaboratively:

"Volunteer lawyers provide legal expertise; people in professional services make calls and have friendly chats with the older people who are lonely; and volunteers join us at our celebrations to help dish out food and lead games with the people who use our community centre."

What are the biggest challenges your organisation faces?

"Our community was already hard hit by austerity measures and rapid changes in the local area, and the lockdown has only exacerbated these challenges. Overcrowding, poor health, unsecure incomes and social isolation were already part of many people’s day to day lives.

The lockdown has exacerbated many of these problems as people have lost their jobs, struggled to access food and medicines, and found themselves isolated from all social contact.

This issue of digital exclusion has become a top priority for us as well as many other local organisations. 

One in three of the older people we’ve asked don’t have any technology to access the internet; young people on pay as you go contracts don’t have enough data to keep up with online schoolwork; families don’t have access to wifi to work from home. Reaching the hardest to reach and finding a way of communicating with people who feel increasingly marginalised in this context will continue to be a challenge.

Our team’s focus has been to help harnessing the enormous warmth and community effort around us at a time when we are all be under increased pressures, worries and uncertainty caused by the Covid crisis. The mental health of our staff, volunteers and of the people we work with are all challenges without easy answers.

Financially, our charity has taken a blow too. We have spent the past few years creating a model for sustainability that relied on our venue hire business – at Toynbee Hall we have two gorgeous old halls with modern high-spec meeting spaces, all of which we are currently unable to hire. This means we are reliant on voluntary donations more than ever."

Check out the Toynbee Hall website for more information on the vital work they do in our local community. You can also find out about opportunities to volunteer, how to make a donation, or enquire about venue hire.


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