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The Link Foundation describes busy lockdown and COVID 'hangover'

A charity supporting children and vulnerable families has described a busy time as applications for basic home items rise during the pandemic period. Reporter Kieran Bell spoke to The Link Foundation’s chairman Una Loughrey for an insight into a crucial time in the charity’s 14-year history and for the people it helps.

The pandemic may have pressed pause on many elements of our daily lives, but for charities like The Link Foundation, it has accelerated operations as families cope with long periods of isolation and financial uncertainty.

Chairman Una Loughrey, who founded the charity 14 years ago, lifted the lid on a busy time for her and the team but also gave thanks to generous supporters who have donated funds, all of which go straight to the people who need it most.

“I actually think the applications coming through now are worse,” Una said, reflecting on the charity’s foundation back in 2006.

Lockdown has had a profound effect across the country, and for the people The Link Foundation helps, their tales are difficult to imagine during this time.

“Because people have been in more confined areas, there has been a lot more domestic violence,” continued Una.

“There was one application where there were five children in one room. And they were looking for bunk beds – children were sleeping on matresses on the floor. I am horrified that is still happening.

“It [lockdown] is such a different kind of scenario for us, but if you are in a block of flats, it is not a good time for your mental health, and relationships are strained.”

Other applications Una has seen during lockdown have been for items like cookers and recently, a spike in school uniforms, as children prepared to go back to education after six months away from the classroom.

The charity has also endeavoured to provide staple items like food, clothes and other basic essentials for people with no other direction to turn.

It works closely with partners such as healthcare and educational professionals who are at the heart of the community and can identify, and refer, the children who will most benefit from help.

Una added: “For the families that we help, it is a very stressful period. Some people are not being able to feed their families properly, so from that point of view we are dealing with very vulnerable families anyway in normal circumstances, and that has been magnified during the lockdown period.”

Restrictions eased earlier this summer but the uncertainty with jobs and way of life could be made worse with a tightening of restrictions again this week.

Una used the word ‘hangover’ to describe the aftermath of the pandemic, as families look to pick up the pieces from a turbulent time.

“It is not back to normal really,” Una said, talking about the charity’s operations now.

“People are losing their jobs, and therefore the hangover from lockdown will run for months, if not years.”

Una reserved special praise for the organisations that helped The Link Foundation through the lockdown and beyond.

These include the Berkshire Community Foundation (BCF) and personal donations, while the Advertiser’s owner, the Louis Baylis Trust, has also helped out with funding in the past.

The charity worked with Meals From Marlow, too, an initiative lead by celebrity chef Tom Kerridge which saw fresh meals delivered to healthcare workers and vulnerable people in the community throughout the pandemic.

“People have looked at The Link Foundation and decided they would like to support us, because they know there is very little overheads and they make sure children are supported,” Una said.

“Hopefully we have made a difference to children’s lives in the local area and continue to do so.”

These funds have been well received as the charity’s monthly spend in April this year was £11,125 – up from about £6,000 in April 2019.

Una acknowledged earlier that the applications the charity is getting now are worse than those in the early days.

When asked why she thought this was, she replied: “I think people have less money. There is less support, there are less people on the ground to help.”

As the pandemic continues to take its toll on our lives, The Link Foundation is now preparing for the hangover to come, but in the knowledge that it has helped many families back on their feet already.

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