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What’s data got to do with it?

calendar15 January 2021

Martin Cowles's avatar Martin Cowles

What’s data got to do with it?

Data. It’s the word on everyone’s lips at the moment – and we can thank the pandemic for that.

‘When are things going to get better?’

This is the question people up and down the country have been asking, well, since the first lockdown began back in March 2020. Now, several months later, people with previously no interest in any kind of data at all are turning to daily statistics and poring over complex graphs for the answer.

But using data to answer questions and make decisions is nothing new. Although it’s been thrust into the spotlight this year, businesses have been using data to gain a competitive edge for years, with much success.

For charities like CAP, however, it can be harder to find the money or skills needed to invest into this area. Potentially useful information quickly becomes a meaningless fog of numbers and spreadsheets. And while a typical for-profit organisation may find it easy to convert their customers to rows on a spreadsheet, for us in the third sector, every piece of data represents something much more valuable and complex: a living, breathing family in desperate need of help.

At CAP, data is critical to us being able to help people.

From knowing the amount of people accessing our service, to the detailed nuances of a client’s case that may change the advice we give to them, every piece of information makes an impact on how we do things here at CAP.

That’s why we were absolutely overjoyed to be introduced to DataKind UK last year. They have partnered with us to help us learn how we can use our data better, with the primary aim being that we‘re able to help our clients with maximum effectiveness.

What is DataKind?

DataKind is a charity that helps charities. Since being founded in the UK in 2013, they have worked with over 80 different organisations to help create sustainable change in their sector, by showing them how to build their skills and capacity, and handle their data responsibly. DataKind has been held up as an example of best practice by Government ministers, and they were named as one of Fast Company's 10 most innovative nonprofits in 2017.

DataKind also connects the charities they work with with an incredible community of data scientists who are willing to volunteer their time for free! This really is an incredible gift and means charities like CAP have a chance to access some of the very same expertise and insight that big-business organisations do.

Taking a ‘Data Dive’

We were thrilled to be accepted on a ‘Data Dive’ in November this year – a two-day DataKind event with around 30 top data scientists all working together to help find innovative ways for CAP to solve some of their biggest challenges.

We particularly focused on our debt service because we know that if we’re going to play our part in helping people get back on their feet after the pandemic, we need and want to be much more efficient so we can help more people through the local Church.

The ‘dive’ was a whirlwind weekend, exploring:

  • How to identify clients who might require a higher level of support when they first contact us
  • How to predict what advice a client might need from us - and how we can provide that advice quicker
  • How we can more effectively motivate and encourage clients to continue in their journey towards complete debt freedom

The volunteers from Datakind left me for dust pretty quickly! They were soon deep in discussions about different ways of approaching our data (anonymised information from around 20,000 CAP clients over the past five years). Our CAP staff team were vital in sharing much needed context and debt counselling expertise. By the end of the weekend we were exhausted, but it was really great to see how data science, when used effectively, can multiply the impact of the hard work carried out every day by our incredible caseworkers at head office.

It’s an exciting end to the year for us data analysts at CAP. We’ve still got a lot of questions, but I’m confident that whatever challenges we might face on behalf of our clients in the future, we can do it with the huge benefit that data and data science can bring.


Martin Cowles
Senior Project Manager – Research, Development and Innovation team

 

To find out more about DataKind, hop on over to their website.

Debt: 7 reasons people don’t ask for debt help

calendar14 January 2021

Hannah Sanford's avatar Hannah Sanford

Debt: 7 reasons people don’t ask for debt help

In 2020, we saw over 2,200 people become debt free. We know that our debt help service works, as we’ve seen it in action for 25 years. Yet so many people put off asking for debt help. In fact, 30% of our clients waited 3 years and longer before seeking help!* 

Why do so many people put off seeking debt help? 

Shame, embarrassment or guilt

Shame at getting into debt, embarrassment at what people will think, guilt at past decisions that may have led to debt. Shame, embarrassment and guilt can keep people trapped in silence and isolation, believing they can solve their issues by themselves, when actually it's better to access debt help before things start to spiral out of control. There is no shame in asking for help.  

Self-reliance

Believing that with more time and hard work, it is possible to get out of debt without any help. Believing it is their issue, and they should deal with it alone. No one should deal with the weight of debt alone. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. 

Fear

So many people in debt are fearful of opening their post, answering the phone and opening the door because of enforcement agents wanting to collect money. The thought of more demanding letters and bills can be overwhelming. If this is the case for you please don’t hesitate to call; our friendly team will offer you a listening ear and a solution, not judgement or criticism.

Feeling overwhelmed

The stress and worry of debt can be overwhelming. At times it might feel easier to ignore it rather than confront it. However, asking for debt help could ease the stress and the burden. Even just having someone else who knows about your situation, ready to listen and help you find a solution can help lift the weight of debt from your shoulders.

Too many other things going on

Often debt isn’t the only pressure people are grappling with. Debt is often paired with: unemployment, a relationship breakdown, lone parenting, mental ill-health, a physical disability, a learning disability, being a victim to fraud or financial abuse, a childhood trauma, grief, a struggle with an addiction; and sometimes a combination of several of these**. A culmination of these difficulties can lead to putting off asking for debt help. 

Thinking no one can help

Debt can lead to hopelessness, believing there is no way out of the constraints of debt. There is a reason our strapline is ‘always hope’. We’ve helped thousands of people who have found themselves in all sorts of difficult and complicated situations, and can testify that no situation is beyond hope. 

Not knowing where to get help

Sometimes the problem isn’t a reluctance to ask for debt help, but not knowing where to get debt help. Most CAP clients are referred to CAP by word of mouth, through friends and family, which is why it is so important to spread the word about what we do to those who may need our help.

The first step is often the hardest. To ask for debt help is intimidating. But our friendly team will give you a listening ear and provide a solution. If you’re struggling with debt today, don’t wait any longer, call free on 0800 328 0006. We’d love to help you.

 

*According to our 2018 Debt Help client survey. 

** Information from Stacked Against Report 2019.

A reflection on the virtual church in 2020

calendar15 December 2020

Hannah Sanford's avatar Hannah Sanford

A reflection on the virtual church in 2020

If you’d asked church leaders and members back in January whether churches could still meet, whether communities could still thrive, and fellowship could still flourish, with zero face-to-face contact for an indefinite amount of time, I bet most of them would have said ‘Nope, I don’t think so!’ But as it happens, that has become our reality for months of 2020, and church leaders have had to make do, to find new strategies and learn new skills to ensure that church community isn’t lost during these strange and difficult times. 

We have become used to virtual gatherings, socially-distant services, and worship without singing. Churches that barely had an online presence, had never streamed a service, or edited a video, became virtually-present within weeks of lockdown hitting. 

But do online services, and socially-distant gatherings equal community and fellowship? 

In a socially distant environment, are people also feeling emotionally and spiritually distant from their church family? 

Here’s my experience of church in 2020.

From strangers to friends

I have spoken to people and prayed with people I would have usually just said ‘hi’ to on a Sunday. Through the use of breakout rooms on Zoom, which are randomly assigned smaller groups, I have been put in situations where I am getting to know new people, hearing about their struggles in this time. We have been able to encourage, pray for and challenge one another in a way that we hadn’t before lockdown. 

From politeness to honesty

My life group has supported one another, and opened up in new ways. After a few weeks of ‘it’s a difficult time but I’m fine’ we finally broke through those walls into ‘this is what is really hard’. It got real. It stopped being so polite and falsely optimistic and moved into a space of painful honesty, and in that place we could pray for and support one another. 

From spectatorship to participation

I have taken ownership of my spiritual health again. Has anyone else held their church/leaders/life group leaders responsible for their spiritual health? I’m guilty of this, feeling frustrated if a sermon didn’t speak to me, or the worship songs weren’t matching where I was at that Sunday. Consumerist Christianity, taking my shopping trolley to church and purchasing my spiritual food for the week, complaining if the quality or stock-levels weren’t up to scratch. 

Suddenly, I was faced with learning how to take ownership of my relationship with God, looking for my own resources, teaching myself, learning how to pray again, to trust again and how to be patient in a slower world. Learning that God might actually be teaching me to slow down and follow his pace again. And with church, I went from a spectator to a participant, from waiting to be spoon-fed to offering what God is teaching me and contributing in new ways.

From rushing to resting

I have learnt that busyness does not equal value, and in fact God might be inviting me to slow down. Lockdown for me started with fears of loneliness, sadness at the prospect of not seeing friends and family for an unknown period of time, a sense of claustrophobia in my own house, and fear about how to fill my ample time. It was a difficult adjustment for me, as I’m sure it was lots of us. 

But months down the line, I’ve grown used to a slower pace, to having more time with my husband, to hurrying less. I found that before lockdown I was always busy with church but rarely feeling rest with God. Hurry was sapping my joy and was luring me into a place where I didn’t feel as though I needed to depend on God – I was self-sufficient. Suddenly, everything slowed down, and the value and worth I had been finding in my hurried lifestyle had diminished. But it was in this place that I was able to get back to basics, to realign my values and hopes and needs with a God who does not hurry. 

From socially distant to truly belonging

So returning to those first two questions I posed: do online services and socially-distant gatherings equal community and fellowship? In a socially distant environment, are people also feeling emotionally and spiritually distant from their church family? Life has changed for many of us, my experience of church has changed, my relationships at church have changed, and somehow the thought of going back to the way things were doesn’t feel sufficient anymore. Somehow during lockdown, I have felt more belonging in church than before. 

Relationships have deepened despite social distancing, my own spiritual health has flourished despite having less input. I’m sure that my experiences aren’t reflective of everyone’s, but these strange times have certainly been a chance for many to reflect on their lives before everything paused, to see where we had grown too comfortable, too stuck in our ways. 

For churches, this is a great opportunity to reflect on what we have become, what we have started to take for granted, old routines and traditions that perhaps are no longer beneficial, where we are flourishing and what we should do more of, especially as we enter an equally unpredictable 2021.

We must move forward and take these lessons learnt during lockdown with us when we re-enter ‘normality’. It has been great for me to return to basics, and experience church in a simpler (and possibly healthier way), to honest relationships, where fellowship and community is the core, and people find true belonging. 

What have you found positive about church during this time? 

Finding stability in a time of uncertainty

calendar09 December 2020

Kate Dykes's avatar Kate Dykes

Finding stability in a time of uncertainty

We asked The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, where he hopes to see the Church on the other side of COVID-19 and into whatever the 'new normal' holds. The Archbishop has been a patron of CAP for a number of years and very graciously took time out of his busy schedule in order to encourage and inspire CAP staff and supporters.

We pray these words encourage and inspire you today.

Where do you hope to see the Church as it comes through this COVID period into the ‘new normal’, especially considering all of the uncertainty?’

‘Let’s start with that word uncertainty. Learning to live with uncertainty is part of being a Christian; Christianity is often depicted as a pilgrimage or journey. Abraham lived his whole life with uncertainty. Moses lived his whole life with uncertainty. Paul the Apostle never knew from one day to the next how long he was going to be around, let alone what was going to happen next. 

One of the things we’re seeing in the country, and where we are called to be different, is uncertainty overload. This makes you rush to decisions to give yourself real certainty and predictability. They may be the wrong decisions, but you’d prefer to be certainly wrong than uncertainly right, and that’s really dangerous. 

In Isaiah 32, in a wonderful preview of Jesus’ words, Isaiah talks about God as our stability and our treasure. It previews the idea that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.

Years ago, I was on a retreat at a monastery. I was talking with a monk there about the Benedictine traditions, and how one of the key things they look for is stability. They take a promise of stability, of steadily seeking to get closer to Jesus. I said to him, “I’m in a job where I’m on an aeroplane every 10 days. How and where do I find stability?” He said to me, “Stability is not where you are. It is what is within you.”

So the first thing the Church needs to do in this situation is get hold of stability. I don’t think we’ve done that yet. We clutch on to the past, or we make decisions too quickly. That’s a challenge. 

Secondly, through unpredictability we know God is bringing about something new. I think so many people are feeling like that at the moment. From COVID, something new is emerging, but we don’t know what that is or will be. We don’t know what the Church or the country will look like. 

So are we going to hang on to what we know, or are we going to look for the kingdom of God at work, and get in there and work with God in that place? In the kingdom, and the places where God is working, we see the Spirit at work - and our job is to join in and be the person of Jesus in that place. 

When I see wonderful things happening I think, ‘Praise God, how amazing that the kingdom is at work here. What can I do that is working alongside?’

‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.’ John 10:27-29

These words have challenged us which is why we wanted to share them with you. Firstly, remember that stability is not where you are (your situation/political environment etc.) but what is within you. Be sure to rely on God for your stability and not on the ever-changing world we live in. And secondly, be the person of Jesus where you see God and the Spirit at work.

Where can you see the kingdom of God at work in your day-to-day life, and how is God prompting you to get involved?

Overcoming barriers to exercise

calendar06 November 2020

Kate Dykes's avatar Kate Dykes

Overcoming barriers to exercise

As the weather grows colder and leaves change it can be even harder to prioritise your physical and mental wellbeing. Snuggling down under a cosy blanket can be far more enticing than changing into your workout clothes and getting moving, but it's now more important than ever to pay attention to your own wellbeing, and exercise plays an important role in that. 

The pandemic may have created a few extra challenges when it comes to your health and fitness, so we've got some expert tips to share with you today. There are a number of studies that prove that exercise, even just ten minutes of brisk walking, plays a large part in boosting our mental alertness, energy and mood. It can even reduce stress and anxiety.

There are often barriers which prevent us from exercises and these can be mental or physical. So here are a few ways that can help you overcome them in order to get your mental and physical health back on track!

Barriers you may be facing and how to overcome them:

I have no motivation!

Exercise is probably the last thing on your mind right now, but it's a great way to keep a healthy routine while our normal routines are disrupted. Waiting to feel like you want to exercise is not a reliable way to start a healthy routine. Sometimes (and maybe most times) you won’t want to do it. 

How to overcome it:

  • Set achievable goals. Start small – you don't need to be running a marathon by next month! Even getting out of the house for ten minutes for a walk gets you moving and releases endorphins in your body (hormones that improve mood). Pick a specific time, like straight after work or first thing in the morning (whatever works for you), and you'll quickly create a habit that gives you a daily boost.
  • Shift your mindset. If something is optional, it's easy to back out. What if you didn't wait until you feel like it but decide to do it anyway? Deciding ahead of time means you'll definitely do it. 
  • Make exercising as convenient as possible – There are so many options available right now. Many people have released free videos such as Lilly Sabri, Joe Wicks, Cassey Ho and Team Body Project. These cover anything from a calm pilates session, high intensity (HiiT) workouts or even just picking a playlist perfect for an afternoon walk. Also, make sure your equipment is readily available so that you minimise any excuses you might decide to come up with 😊

I’m too busy to workout!

Another obstacle we have right now is time. You may be trying to juggle home schooling, child care, work and housework all at once.

How to overcome it:

  • Create a schedule - plan your exercise around your day. Completely overhauling your routine means you'll probably want to go back to normal after a few days. The good news is, you can incorporate exercise into your usual routine.You don’t need to do one to two hours of work per day in order to see results. If you stay focused and work efficiently you will see results, even if you only work out for 20 minutes a day. Focus on being consistent daily or every other day rather than one long session per week. This will ensure you see and feel results.
  • To get a bit of extra exercise into your day, what about setting a TV challenge? Such as doing ten push ups or sit ups when an advert comes on or an episode ends.
  • Exercise with your kids. Why not do a YouTube aerobics class suitable for the whole family or play catch or tag in the park/garden?
  • Alter your perception of what exercise should be. It doesn’t have to be in the gym, a structured class or pumping weights.

I haven’t got any equipment!

Gym equipment can be expensive and can take up more space then you are willing to give up in your home.

How to overcome it:

  • Do exercise that doesn’t require equipment, such as running, walking, pilates and other body weight exercises. Use a towel or pillow to cushion knees/elbows/hips for floor exercises. 
  • To increase the resistance or difficulty of an exercise, use what you have around the house. Fill up water bottles or use wine bottles instead of dumbbells.
  • If you are happy to buy a few pieces of equipment, a yoga mat and resistance bands are a good place to start. They can be very cost effective, take up very little space and can be very effective.

I have limited mobility!

Remember you don’t need to walk/stand/jump about in order to exercise. If you struggle with mobility, there are plenty of exercises not only suitable for you but that could even help reduce pain too!

How to overcome it:

  • Try chair-based workouts, there are plenty you can try on YouTube. KymNonStop and HASfit have great playlists available for anyone with limited mobility.
  • Try the following to get your muscles pumping:
    • Leg raises strengthen your quad and thigh muscles, and stretch hamstrings and calves.
    • Sit up tall, keeping your shoulders relaxed and tummy muscles tight (no arch in your lower back).
    • Keep your left knee bent and foot on the ground.
    • Straighten your right leg, toes facing the sky.
    • Bend your right leg, returning the foot to the floor.
    • Repeat ten times.
    • Repeat on the opposite leg.
    • Arm circles to strengthen your shoulders.
    • Extend your arms to the side, parallel to the floor.
    • Keep your stomach tight (no arch in the lower back) and shoulders away from the ears.
    • Circle your arms forward using small controlled motions for 30 seconds.
    • Repeat in the opposite direction.

Finally, identify why you would like to exercise. Is it to improve your mental wellbeing, to see changes in your physical appearance or to manage pain? Exercising at home is more convenient and cost effective than investing in gym memberships or classes. It can also give you a sense of control especially during this time of so much uncertainty. When you feel discouraged and are struggling to stick to your schedule, remind yourself of why you are doing what you’re doing. Be consistent, be disciplined and keep it simple.

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