Observer column 1 September 2023
Advice and support
I really enjoyed myself at Hastings Pride on Sunday, a warm and generous event to celebrate and protest. Even after years of legal recognition, many of our LGBTQ+ community still feel threatened, marginalised, poorly supported.
It was good therefore to see so many local services there, chatting away and making new connections. The NHS Sexual Health Clinic for instance, promoting their new drop-in session at Station Plaza on Tuesdays. The Police Hate Crime team, determined that if we report incidents, they get properly investigated. And the Foster Care team, reminding us that hundreds of children need parenting, and that registered foster parents get an allowance of over £300 per week.
So I am writing about advice and support services this week. With so many worries, most people could do with help navigating the system. Some are very good at finding the support they need, but many others don't know where to start.
We are lucky in Hastings to have the long standing and remarkably successful advice provided by Hastings Advice and Representation Centre (HARC) and the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB). If you need help with benefits, if you think you are being treated unfairly over your claim for Universal Credit, make an appointment and they will give you both really good advice and expert help filling in those awful forms. HARC have brought millions of pounds into our town over the years, millions that would have gone unclaimed without their help.
The CAB have a great team of volunteers who offer help with housing and legal advice, or if you can't cope with your financial planning. If you know your rights, you can decide then what steps to take, and they can often help you with this.
The council have a housing advice team, who will look to work with you to prevent you becoming homeless by helping you stay where you are or if that's not possible finding an alternative, settled home. We currently provide temporary accommodation to more than 1,000 people, but it is far better for most people if we can help you keep the home you currently have.
And newest of all, the Town Hall now houses broad-based drop-in advice from HEART, the volunteer organisation set up by residents during COVID-19, who now help anyone with anything. There is even a weekly session there where Cllr Nigel Sinden, a past Mayor, can talk with you about how council services can support you.
On September 14th from 2-4pm I will be there, at the Town Hall, to discuss ideas to solve our housing crisis. Come and meet me, Simon Willis (the councillor leading on housing) and more importantly the excellent HEART team.
Your ideas on how to improve advice and support are needed to shape these services to help Hastings get through all our current struggles.
HEART, free drop in advice Weds - Fri at the Town Hall opposite Priory Meadow 10am-4pm: 01424 235290
HARC, free benefits advice by appointment: 01424 428375
CAB, free telephone advice on finance and energy issues: 01424 869352
NHS Sexual Health Clinic, free drop in on Tuesdays at Station Plaza, 2-7pm
ESCC Fostering, looking for new foster parents: 01323 464129
HBC Housing Advice Team: 01424 451100
Council Leader's column