The Experience of Poverty And Community Responses In East Belfast

Briefing Document Launched 14th October 2021

In the winter of 2020 during lockdown, the Scaffolding Project (part of EastSide Partnership) engaged with five community forums in east Belfast to gain a greater understanding of poverty in the area and its impact on individuals, families and communities. It also wanted to learn more about what groups are doing on the ground to address poverty and what would assist them in addressing the impacts and cause of poverty.

As a result, a report has been developed outlining the findings from this engagement exercise.

The report has highlighted some key findings;

  • Not surprisingly existing poverty has been compounded by COVID
  • Loss of employment resulted in lower income leading to increased financial insecurity
  • Food poverty is increasing creating a greater reliance on food backs
  • Navigating the benefits system can be difficult often meaning that people are not receiving the appropriate levels of support
  • Poor mental health often affected people’s ability to respond to their circumstances

Groups in east Belfast have been offering tangible support with fuel costs, food, toiletries, school uniforms, household items and sometimes crisis funding. These included emergency food parcels, fuel vouchers, clothing, cooking equipment and toys in the lead up to Christmas. To support educational needs and address the digital divide hardware and learning support has also been provided.

Barbara Smith, Scaffolding Project Co-ordinator said,

“We would like to take this opportunity to thank the organisations for their input to the report. The information people shared about the real experiences of poverty has enabled us to gain a deeper insight into the main issues affecting the community. With this we will be better able to focus the work of the Scaffolding project and take forward the six policy responses detailed in the document”.

“Tracey Wilson, chair of the Scaffolding committee said,

“In this report we have a reflection of what is happening in our community regarding the issue of poverty and insight from those on the ground of what is needed to address it.   Whilst it is vitally important that we support those affected by poverty at this current time this report further makes some recommendations on how we might address some of the causes.  This briefing document is a valuable tool to support future work of those in East Belfast who wish to advocate for change and will help inform our response to the government’s Anti-Poverty Consultation”.

The Scaffolding Project:

The Scaffolding Project was established by EastSide Partnership in 2017 and brings together community and voluntary organisations who deliver support services in East Belfast. The project’s members provide services in the area to alleviate the impact of poverty and lobby to prevent its occurrence. The Scaffolding Project's partners share a commitment to equal opportunities for everyone within the community, so that they can learn, work, socialise and enjoy life to the full. By taking a strategic and collaborative approach the project seeks to add value by maximising the impact of its members work in providing food, helping with fuel costs and supporting families. T Through a pathway of services which offers holistic support to individuals and families, the Scaffolding Project aims to equip people to move forward and out of poverty. The project also campaigns to raise awareness of the impact of poverty and influence change at individual, organisational and societal levels.

Scaffolding Project ‘s Key Actions

Practical action to alleviate hardship is at the core of the Scaffolding Project with focus on families, food and fuel. School holidays can be particularly challenging for families and in partnership with community organisations, our summer food programme helps support the nutritional health of children. The project also works in partnership throughout the year to coordinate delivery of cookery courses which aim to address food insecurity, develop knowledge and impart new skills.

The Recycle School Uniform initiative is another key area of work. The scheme is designed to support families while putting unwanted quality uniform to good use. This year the Free Online Shop received 213 orders with over 1000 items given away. In addition, the scheme provides help to buy new uniform. Parents who use the service tell us the recycle shop makes a real difference because uniforms are increasingly expensive. The Scaffolding Crisis fund offers support with fuel top ups all year round and is especially important in light of the impact of Covid-19 and rising fuel to equip to move forward. 

The Scaffolding Project, supported by the Executive Office’s Urban Villages Initiative, has produced this Briefing Document with the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA), and the Briefing Document has been funded by the Communities in Transition Programme.

A PDF of the document can be found at this link: 

The Scaffolding Project: Briefing Document