Image Description: NHS staff hold “Thank you!” signs.
CW: homelessness, eating disorders, drug addictions, mental health, death
The Access Project, Homeless Oxfordshire, Oxford Hospitals Charity, and Beat will each be receiving up to £10,000 from Oxford Raise and Give (RAG). The four beneficiaries were chosen by students during the Oxford SU Annual Elections from a pool of twelve shortlisted charities.
RAG, an organisation affiliated to the Oxford SU, normally raises money by running events such as the RAG Ball and organising challenges such as Lost and Jailbreak. Despite limitations caused by the pandemic, the RAG committee has innovated to meet the moment as many charities experience financial strain in a time of need. “[W]e have organised an online battle of the bands competition, a Love Island style contest, a virtual rag ball, a Christmas raffle, and a collaboration with OxMatch as well as our annual blind dates which have gone virtual!” RAG vice-president communications Verity Blakey told The Oxford Student.
RAG benefits two local and two national or international charities each year, and The Oxford Student has spoken to three of the charities.
Oxford Hospitals Charity
Oxford Hospitals Charity is the charity that supports Oxfordshire hospitals.
“Our charity is here to make life in hospital that little bit easier for our patients and our NHS staff – and during the past year that has never been more important. From funding high-tech specialist medical equipment, to making our wards and departments more friendly and welcoming; providing activities for our younger or more vulnerable patients to enabling ground-breaking research,” community fundraising manager Emily Waddell told The Oxford Student.
“We know Oxford RAG inspire so many students every single year to make a difference, which has a huge impact on our local community. We can’t wait to start working with you!”
Beat is a national charity fighting eating disorders, and their life-saving work has been important during the pandemic.
“Sadly, Oxfordshire is one of the most challenging areas of the country to access the right support for eating disorders. Cotswold House, the eating disorders unit at the Warneford Hospital, currently faces waiting lists of well over a year for anyone but the most critically ill,” Oxford Beat Society president James Nevett said. Oxford Beat Society supports the national charity in Oxford.
Nevett added, “This is why Beat is so important for Oxford students at the moment, providing someone to call when somebody is facing crisis. We are so grateful that Oxford students voted to renew the close ties between our university and Beat. We can only say so much the difference it makes and the effect it has on so many students here.”
Homeless Oxfordshire is the largest homeless accommodation provider in the county and aims to help people recover from homelessness through providing accommodation and support.
More people have become homeless as a result of financial difficulties during the pandemic. “Before, during and after the UK was in its initial lockdown period, Homeless Oxfordshire was one of the very few frontline homeless services still operating,” head of fundraising and communications Jo Faulkner-Harvey told The Oxford Student. “We continued to provide support to over 200 clients; we kept them safe and secure at a time when most of the world had ground to a halt.”
The charity worked at “break-neck speed” to adapt to the pandemic, redesigning their frontline service in two weeks by putting systems in place to protect clients and staff, communicating to their residents the severity of the pandemic, and ensuring adherence to government guidelines.
Faulkner-Harvey said, “This was extremely challenging as people’s capacity to comprehend about what was taking place varied significantly. People were/are scared, the world was spinning out of control, but we were able to offer safety, kindness, reassurance and protection.”
She adds that the charity has been making a palpable impact on its clients. “When people have been living on the streets, their health has already diminished to life threatening degrees, they have higher rates of chronic illnesses and compromised immune systems, all of which are risk factors for developing a more serious coronavirus infection.” During the pandemic, youth homelessness, domestic abuse, hospital discharges, and prison releases have also become more problematic.
Other challenges during the pandemic include self-isolation in non-family households leading to an increase in disputes, and the reduced capacity of support services like Turning Point (an addiction rehabilitation service) has affected clients’ ability to access drug replacement medication and support sessions.
One Homeless Oxfordshire client accessing end-of-life care was bed-ridden and scared as access to specialist care was limited. Charity staff supported him, and Faulkner-Harvey says they were eventually able to find the palliative care he needed.
Charities like Homeless Oxfordshire were already experiencing financial challenges due to austerity measures, which have been worsened due to loss of income and the costs of making accommodation safe. As we now enter the third lockdown, Faulkner-Harvey says COVID-19 has magnified issues faced by homeless people. “We are supporting a group of people who are already marginalised by society, already coping with severe trauma, substance misuse and complex ill mental health.” She says an amount of “catch-up” will be needed for people to move towards happier, independent lives.
She says Homeless Oxfordshire’s services are in demand more than ever. “When people face the threat of becoming homeless, they are at risk of exploitation. To survive, people do things out of desperation that previously they would never have dreamt of doing. This results in more exploitation, drug crime and people turning to unhelpful coping mechanisms such as drug-taking which sadly could lead to increased deaths from overdosing.”
“From our 56 bed hostel and 11 supported accommodation projects in the community, we continue to do what we do best, help people who need us most but we couldn’t do it without you, our local communities, by choosing to support Homeless Oxfordshire you will allow us to be there for the people that society has left behind, knowing we have your support helps us to change and quite literally save lives,” says Faulkner-Harvey.
“We never give up on people. No, recovering from homelessness is not simple, but you can help make it possible. Once again thank you for choosing Homeless Oxfordshire, we are very grateful.”
The Access Project
The Access Project helps students from disadvantaged backgrounds gain places at top universities through providing tuition and mentoring. Its 1000 tutors support more than 1400 students across London, Birmingham, the Black Country, and the East Midlands.
Any student can nominate charities to be supported by RAG. RAG agrees on shortlisting criteria before the nominations open, and these criteria are approved by a member of Oxford SU staff. Nominations are then shortlisted by a committee. Blakey says, “We fully support all the charities which appeared on the second round of voting and we cannot wait to get to work raising money for our newly chosen charities!”
Students who are interested in joining RAG can find out more at their webpage: https://www.oxfordsu.org/activities/rag/.
Cover image and featured image courtesy of Oxford Hospitals Charity.