WHILE perceptions exist that towns like Knutsford don’t have problems with deprivation, the truth is very much different.

The Guardian was invited to take a peek behind the scenes at the work of charities at the heart of helping those who need it most.

While the Hope Central volunteers are hard at work manning the foodbank located next to The Welcome Café in Longridge, Christians Against Poverty (CAP) is using 25 years of experience in helping people find long-term solutions to a variety of issues.

Barney Howard, who is the charity’s debt centre manager for the whole of north-east Cheshire said the majority of people relying on the foodbanks are also in debt.

“In a perfect world, there would actually be no reason for us to even exist,” Barney explained.

“There is no shame in debt because everyone is struggling at the moment.

“When you’ve got perceptions that some areas are more well-off than others, it puts out a general statement that everything is fine.

“No matter where you live – if you are struggling, the most important thing is to get help, rather than wait two or three years to ask, which is what we see a lot of.

“People are going without heating and going without food because they’re in debt.

“But there are those in emergency situations too, whether they be fleeing domestic abuse or have lost their jobs – the foodbanks basically help plug that gap.”

The pandemic response, which placed the country into lockdown and led to millions of people being furloughed has also contributed to an increase in debt and the number of people struggling to make ends meet.

“People have been forced into making adjustments, which takes a huge blow mentally,” he added.

“There has been a 30 per cent increase in people attempting or contemplating suicide.

“With depression and anxiety also up 70 per cent – we’re seeing a huge increase.

“It just shows the impact debt can have on people.

“The change in the cost of living crisis is really affecting people’s health and that then makes it harder for people to get out of a situation.

“That is why organisations such as CAP exist.

“It means people can have a way out which is led by them, because it can be so overwhelming.

“It would be amazing if we didn’t need to have a debt centre or a need for a foodbank.

“Unfortunately, at the moment, everything is being squeezed and we’re not seeing the support put into the social welfare state.”

With the real impact of the cost of living crisis not likely to be felt until the autumn/winter months, there is a concern it might get worse before it gets better.

“We’ve seen a massive increase in calls to CAP in the first quarter of this year already,” Barney added.

“It’s obviously going to get tough in the winter when people are going to need help.

“A lot of the time, people don’t even have a choice to make.”

Despite the recent announcement by Government that it will help those struggling being welcomed, there needs to be a long-term solution.

“The help is obviously welcomed,” Barney said.

“But they need to look at the underlying structural issues too.

“There is so much research to suggest having a strong community massively helps mental health.

“It means people feel safer and have more resilience to problems when they arise.

Wider transformation can be achieved when people are loved, seen, heard and known.”

If you would like any further information or to seek help you can contact CAP on freephone (0800 328 0006) or via their website - capuk.org