Vineyard Compassion is a charity based in Coleraine, Northern Ireland. The vision of the charity is to support people ‘from crisis to full potential’, by providing practical support for the poor, whilst empowering them to tackle the underlying root causes of poverty. The charity takes a multi-faceted approach in addressing these complex issues and has launched a range of initiatives to maximise the potential for lasting community transformation. Vineyard Compassion has been privileged to see dignity and hope restored to thousands of people trapped in poverty cycles. Vineyard Compassion’s pioneering work has been recognised locally. In 2011 it won the Coleraine Borough Council Community Endeavour Award. In 2014 it won the Most Inspiring Debt Centre Award and the Social Enterprise NI One to Watch Award. In 2018 it was granted The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – the MBE for voluntary organisations. Most recently, in 2020 it won the Financial Inclusion Award from the Centre for Social Justice, the UK’s top think tank on tackling poverty.
The charity catchment district, the Causeway Coast and Glens, includes 63 multiple deprivation areas. Vineyard Compassion is located in Central Ward, the most deprived area. This ward has a multiple deprivation index of 53 (NI Statistics and Research Agency 2010), placing it within the top 10% of the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland. Other local wards within walking distance include, Harpers Hill, Churchlands and Ballysally. They also have very high levels of deprivation (top 15%).
The most vulnerable people in society are faced with a complex set of barriers such as long-term unemployment, family breakdown, homelessness, problem debt, mental health issues, ex-offending, low educational achievement and low self-esteem. For many these barriers are too big to overcome without support. This can lead to periods of destitution, with people going without the bare essentials.
Recognising the significant deprivation in the local area and with a desire to encourage and empower vulnerable people to overcome poverty and crisis, Vineyard Compassion was established in 2012. Motivated by compassion for the most vulnerable in society and recognising the dignity and worth of every individual – the charity welcomes all people regardless of background, beliefs, nationality or disability. It takes a multi-faceted approach to tackling poverty, offering holistic support centred around three core themes:
1. Provision: Immediate financial, emotional or practical support at crisis points of need. For example: the provision of food, clothing, emotional support and debt counselling.
2. Empowerment: Empowering people to tackle the underlying root causes of poverty. For example, teaching budgeting skills, building client capacity to break the cycle of poverty, overcoming life controlling habits, moving from dependency towards greater independence.
3. Employment: Supporting people on a journey towards employment. Work is the fastest and best route out of poverty, not only providing financially, but giving structure to the day, building confidence and self-esteem, improving mental health and providing greater community.
The work is supported by 20 staff along with a team of almost 300 volunteers. Most volunteers are from the local community. Many are former clients who are now in a position to help others.
These projects are making a real difference to the lives of people in the Causeway Coast area. Every year Vineyard Compassion provides over 12,000 support sessions to individuals/families in need. Since 2012 over £3million of unsecured debt has been processed through the CAP Debt Centre; over 86 families have been assisted to become debt free; 237 people have been empowered through Recovery Support; and 57 people have been housed within the Compassion Housing Scheme. At any given time, there will be up to 25 people on the Link work placement programme. In 2019 Foodbank provided 15,453 emergency meals and 71 families gained stability through RESET.
• The Open Door drop-in environment provides a gateway and befriending service to access all support services. Clients only have to enter ONE DOOR and go over their story ONCE.
• The Compassion Support team connects with all new clients. Through needs assessments and tailor-made support plans, people are empowered to move beyond their crisis points.
• Causeway Foodbank provides emergency food and household essentials. Referrals come from front-line care professionals. A clothing bank also operates called Wear House.
• RESET Social Supermarket provides 6 months of low-cost food along with tailored support and training to enable people to reset their priorities of food, finances and future stability.
• CAP Debt Centre provides debt counselling, support and money management courses.
• CAP Job Club supports people to take steps towards employment via an 8-week course.
• The Link provides varied voluntary work placements designed to increase confidence, skills and employability. One such placement is a log/kindling production social enterprise. Some referrals come from the Probation Board for community service or prisoners on day release.
• Compassion Housing provides short term supported accommodation for those homeless or at-risk in 12 flats. Referrals from NIHE, Social Services, Simon Community, Womens Aid.
• Grow Allotment gives opportunity for people to grow produce in a supportive mentoring environment improving mental health and promoting physical and social well-being.