‘Cosy Start’ scheme extended to combat furniture poverty in BaNES

By Nick Batten on 7 June, 2024

A pilot initiative providing essential furnishings to residents of Bath and North East Somerset (BaNES) has been extended to support more households and reduce social care costs.

The scheme, which supports residents at greatest risk of furniture poverty is run by Bath-based housing association Curo and is funded by social enterprise Fusion 21 and community charity St John’s Foundation, which supports hundreds of residents every year through its Crisis Programme.

In 2023, the ‘Cosy Start’ scheme paid for essential furnishings for 15 homes in the region to combat the impact of furniture poverty. Moving into a new home can often affect individuals’ physical, emotional, social and financial well-being, particularly those at a critical time of adjustment, such as fleeing domestic abuse or those who have resettled after being homeless. Twelve months later, all 15 households remain in their tenancies with zero rent arrears – compared with the average of 18 per cent among Universal Credit new tenancies – highlighting the scheme’s positive impact on housing stability.

David Hobdey, Chief Executive Officer of St John’s Foundation, which also provided £203,000 to more than 300 individuals and families through its Crisis Programme in 2023, said, “Behind the veneer of Bath and the surrounding area, there are several thousand people living in poverty including around 1,500 children. Moving into a property with no furniture can be socially isolating and lead residents to resort to debt which can quickly spiral and ultimately jeopardise the tenancy. Living without essential household appliances also significantly increases household bills, for example, by not having the means to cook or store fresh food.

“Removing this cause of stress has an extremely positive impact on individuals and families who are already coping with upheaval and adjusting to new circumstances. This is why we are very pleased to continue our funding for another year to support more households.”

Furniture poverty is defined as the inability to access, or afford to buy or maintain, household furniture or appliances that are essential to achieving a socially acceptable standard of living. Cosy Start helps those at greatest risk of furniture poverty such as refugees; care leavers; resettled homeless people and those fleeing domestic abuse, with funding covering essential items such as furniture and carpets, white goods, and a welcome pack comprising of a kettle, toaster, crockery, saucepans and bedding.

Emma Owens, Director of Customer Accounts and Lettings at Curo, said, “We’re delighted that the pilot has proved extremely successful, and residents have been unanimous in their recommendations of the scheme. We now plan to expand our reach to further alleviate furniture poverty and assist more individuals in need, with the support of funding from our partners. Over time, we hope to make this a sustainable initiative that contributes to social and financial stability within the community without the need for external funding.”

Before the scheme’s implementation, a survey of 150 customers within the scheme’s target beneficiaries assessed its potential impact. The results revealed significant demand, with 69 per cent expressing that they would benefit from the scheme and 51 per cent stating that they incurred debt while purchasing essential items. Alarmingly, 34 per cent reported having no furniture at all upon moving into a house, whilst 79 per cent spent time in their homes trying to get by without the essentials to live. One respondent also highlighted that this support was particularly important for those fleeing domestic violence, because moving from a property where you have everything to nothing risks the fleeing parent returning to their abuser for the security of their family having a bed.

Reflecting on the life-changing scheme, one pilot participant said, “The items I have received have given me a sense of freedom and increased independence because we’re able to function normally and are less dependent on others. I worry less about money now as a result of the items I have received because I can store food for longer, I don’t have to use the launderette and I don’t have as many takeaways.”

Aside from the Cosy Start scheme, BaNES residents struggling to make ends meet can seek aid through BaNES Council Welfare Support or apply to St John’s Foundation’s Crisis Programme.

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