Nicola sitting on her couch with her dog.

Family Action: “Giving people really focused support and then letting them fly”

14 October 2020

We hear from Nicola about how the pandemic has severely affected her mental health and her financial situation – and how she’s slowly getting back on her feet with help from Family Action, a UK charity backed by Barclays.

“When COVID-19 hit, my mental health problems went through the roof. I couldn’t cope. I was struggling trying to manage my bills and my shopping and everything else.”

Nicola, who does not want to give her surname, is describing how her life has been affected by the pandemic. Having lived with depression for several years, and been unable to work since her diagnosis, she found herself struggling even more because of lockdown rules and additional financial pressures. 

“I receive benefits but it’s not that much money,” she says. “It’s often a choice between paying for the bills and eating. Since the virus, it’s been especially hard.

“I couldn’t rely on my family to help during isolation as I had before – they had lost work and were struggling too. I didn’t have anyone to turn to and I was experiencing suicidal thoughts.

“I couldn’t see my eldest daughter or my grandchildren because of social distancing. Every time I stepped outside the door I’d sweat like crazy and I’d have heart palpitations and feel sick from the worry of catching the virus. The shelves at the shops were always empty as everyone was panic buying, and I had to buy the food and essentials when they were available. This meant that I had to spend more on my shopping and I couldn’t afford to pay my bills.”

Helping the UK’s most vulnerable families

Nicola’s hardships have been eased since she got in touch with Family Action, a UK charity which has been working with those experiencing poverty, mental health problems, domestic abuse and learning disabilities for over 150 years. It is one of many charities to have been boosted by Barclays’ £100m COVID-19 Community Aid Package, which aims to provide critical support to those who have been hardest hit by the social and economic crisis caused by the pandemic.

Family Action talked Nicola through the process of applying for a Survival and Recovery Grant, which it has newly launched in partnership with the bank. The grants offer essential financial help to those experiencing multiple disadvantages, such as unemployment, reliance on food banks or households with young carers. For Nicola, this has “helped with everything”, from essential food shopping to paying for gas, electricity, rent and internet.  

Family Action grant recipient Nicola looking through photographs.

Nicola says Family Action’s support has “helped with everything” and taken away some of the pressure she felt.

I receive benefits but it’s not that much money. It’s often a choice between paying for the bills and eating. Since the virus, it’s been especially hard


supported by Family Action

Nicola, who has been supported by Family Action, standing in her kitchen.

Nicola has been supported by Family Action’s Survival and Recovery Grant, in partnership with Barclays.

Family Action’s partnership with Barclays will help the charity to reach more than 4,000 vulnerable families affected by the pandemic.

As well as the launch of the Survival and Recovery Grant, help includes the opening of 18 new FOOD clubs across London, Birmingham and Cardiff. In addition, Barclays colleagues are offering volunteering support locally and virtually through the charity’s FOOD clubs, as well as with its mentoring and support services.

Offering support online during COVID-19

Family Action has met soaring demand since the crisis hit. In normal times, the charity works with over 60,000 families in over 160 community-based and national services. Since the start of the crisis, it has seen a near 90% surge in calls, texts and emails to its helpline. 

David Holmes CBE, Chief Executive of Family Action, says: "During COVID-19, a lot of the support systems that people had disappeared or became less available.” The pandemic has led to a major shift in how charities across the globe operate so that they can still reach people like Nicola, with many digitising their services, offering remote support and hosting online events and activities. And Family Action is no different.

The organisation’s fast response to the increased demand for its services, says Holmes, has been crucial to ensuring that the most vulnerable families get the support they need very quickly and before problems develop further.

"We know that across the UK, there are many people who are particularly disadvantaged and who have struggled enormously because of COVID-19 – and Barclays is going to help us to give practical help to those people and make a really profound difference to them,” he says.

“Our aim is to look for the strengths in individuals and families. It's not about creating dependency, it's about giving people really focused support and then letting them fly. That's what we try to do." 

Facing the future

Recognising that COVID-19 is changing the way the charity sector works, Holmes emphasises the importance of looking ahead and planning for the “new normal”. He says: “Will there be greater demand for our services? Will there be less money available for public services? I don't know. But we need to find ways through it.

“What we've shown through COVID-19 is that we can adapt our organisation and still deliver – and so we need to be on our toes, agile and ready to deal with whatever the future holds.”

For Nicola, receiving a grant took away some of the pressure she felt, helping to reduce her feelings of anxiety. “I don’t like to think about what would have happened if I didn’t get the help,” she says. “I’m not sure I’d still be here and if I was, I’d be a lot worse than I am now. I’m so grateful and, in future, I hope to be in a better position than I am now.”