A programme helping people with mental health issues, learning disabilities and special educational needs to maintain a level of routine, purpose and social contact, will continue to be delivered thanks to funds donated by The Bernicia Foundation.

£10,000 was given to The Hextol Foundation to help staff continue engaging with service users safely in person and remotely during lockdown when facilities and activities were forced to close. It also ensured that the Hexham-based charity could reopen its services to beneficiaries in the aftermath of the pandemic.

This valuable work has meant that beneficiaries, many of whom are reliant on The Hextol Foundation to learn work experience, life and social skills, have access to continuous support, enabling them to remain more positive and focused, and better manage their mental wellbeing during the most challenging of times.

Many are now preparing to go back to work at the charity’s various social enterprises run by dedicated coaching staff and volunteers. This includes helping at the Foundation’s vegetarian café, The Hextol Tans in Hexham, providing gardening and grounds maintenance services, cleaning and office administration roles, and offering a storage, post and packaging service to businesses and the general public from its warehouse facility.

Bruce Howorth of The Hextol Foundation explained, “The last year has been extremely challenging but as we now begin to look ahead, it’s fair to say the donation from The Bernicia Foundation amongst others has been an absolute lifeline, not just for us as a charity, but also for our beneficiaries and their families. The void and impact of lockdown cannot be underestimated for many people and being able to continue with our work will help so many people to cope.

“We’re now beginning to reopen our services which is great news as many are telling us that they’re desperate to come back to see their friends. Charities like The Hextol Foundation are needed more than ever before especially within local communities, therefore by re-establishing routines for vulnerable people, and giving positive recognition and appreciation for meaningful work, this will help many to regain their confidence, resilience and self-esteem to fulfil their potential.

“We work with approximately 60 beneficiaries aged from 16 to 66 years old at any one time, all individually making a positive contribution as valued members of society. Without the ongoing support of our volunteers, fundraisers and local businesses we could not provide the assistance they need, therefore we’re very grateful to The Bernicia Foundation for their financial support.”

Tom, one of many service users benefitting from the programme who works in gardening services as well as at the Tans café, explained, “I have learned lots of different things at Hextol. I can now help my mum look after her garden and having been taught how to clean the kitchen at the café, she now expects me to do the same at home as well! I enjoy the independence it gives me, and am really looking forward to getting back to work and seeing my friends again.”

The Bernicia Foundation, a charitable trust set up by North East housing association, Bernicia, aims to support community-driven initiatives, projects and individuals looking to achieve personal goals through allocated donations. So far it has allocated more than £465,000 in funds over an 18 month period, with the next round of funding due to open on Monday 5 July.

Andrea Malcolm, Executive Director (People, Homes and Communities) of Bernicia, added, “The Hextol Foundation is a fantastic example of a charitable project that is providing meaningful work of real importance. We’re looking to get behind similar North East initiatives from Northumberland down to Teesside, therefore I’d encourage anyone running a local project, volunteer group or charity-based scheme that makes a difference to people’s lives or their community, to apply.”

The Hextol Foundation is currently looking for volunteer supervisors to help support its beneficiaries. Anyone interested should contact Cherie Sutherland, The Hextol Foundation’s Resourcing Manager, on 01434 605253 or email: contact@hextol.org.uk