Five minutes with… Thomas Allen and Kgosi Ngwenya

calendar18 November 2019

Claire Wong's avatar Claire Wong

Five minutes with… Thomas Allen and Kgosi Ngwenya

Many of our staff are so keen to work at CAP’s head office that they choose to relocate to Yorkshire for the opportunity to work here. We spoke to two people who did just that!

Hello and thanks for talking to us today! Tell us who you are and where you’re from.

KGOSI: I’m from the Republic of Ireland and I’m a Debt Advisor currently working to get our Scottish clients debt free.

THOMAS: And I’m in the Insolvency team, helping clients who unfortunately can’t afford to repay their debts so need a different solution. I grew up in Cornwall.

What brought you to CAP?

T: To cut a long story short, I was a finance officer. I took a month out from that job to go on a short-term mission trip to Swaziland. Having seen what the church there was doing with people who don’t have much, I came back wanting to help people living in poverty. I felt God saying that I didn’t need to travel halfway round the world to do that. I didn’t know much at that time about UK poverty, but the more I learned about it, the more I knew that’s what God was calling me to do, so I came here to work for CAP.

K: I come from a legal background. I studied law at university and wanted to pursue becoming a solicitor. I started working for a firm specialising in insolvency, but in private firms, making profits is necessary for survival; this can complicate the aim to be charitable and make a real difference. I moved to CAP so that I could be free to pursue helping vulnerable and poorer people without those challenges.

What was it like moving to Bradford for a new job?

T: I knew I wanted to come to work at CAP no matter the sacrifice. But until that point I was a real country boy, so living in a city so far from the sea was a bit weird. For the first few months I’ll be honest, I was homesick. But by God’s grace I got through it, and now I really love living in Bradford. The most important thing was being part of a church which builds you up. It was very easy to find one with a wide variety of churches in Bradford to choose from, and people at CAP even helped with suggestions of places to try out!

K: I lived in a rural Irish town where most people were farmers. God’s always challenged me to go wherever he calls me though, so I just follow what he says and he makes good of it. I didn’t have any qualms. When I came here I was really excited to see how God’s at work in Bradford.

Now that you’re here at CAP, what does a normal day in the office look like for you?

T: I’ll be preparing applications for clients to go insolvent and talking them through that, making sure they know what to expect. But at any point, a client might phone up saying ‘I’ve got an Enforcement Agent at the door, what do I do?’ I’d be lying if I said it’s not stressful when that happens, even though you’re equipped to deal with it, because it’s this person’s life and you want to give them the best help. The reward is seeing people released from poverty, seeing the Church come alongside people and the amazing change that happens then.

K: In the Scotland team, we cover the entire spectrum of casework. I could be preparing a budget or recommending the best route out of debt for someone. It can be tricky if things change unexpectedly, if illness leads to them not being able to go back to work for example. But then we celebrate when someone goes debt free – everyone plays instruments and makes lots of noise. It’s a huge blessing to be part of changing someone’s life for the better. It’s beyond fulfilling!

Tell us about a highlight from your work!

K: I got a call from a client. A guy who was really struggling with the guilt of debt. He felt really hopeless, saying he was suicidal, but he was also a Christian so I was able to encourage him that God loves him and has a future planned for him. I got to pray for him and by the end of the call he was in such good spirits, saying, ‘I can feel hope there and I can get through this.’ That absolutely made my day.

T: Going through bankruptcy costs £680. I had a client call up in a panic because she didn’t know if she’d ever be able to get that money, and didn’t think she could get through the process. She was getting really stressed before I’d had a chance to say anything. Then I told her that we’d managed to get a grant for £680 to pay her fee. It was met with ten seconds of silence and then crying with joy. She was so thankful. I almost cried on the call as well because you could hear such a weight off her shoulders.

What’s the best thing about working for CAP?

K: For me, the best thing is how much God’s used us as a charity. In 23 years, thousands and thousands of people have become debt free. And so many people have come to faith.

T: I love that we get spiritual time every morning. It’s really helpful for the rest of the day to get your mind in the right place. I’m not here for my own benefit. It’s not just a job. God’s called me here to see people released from poverty.

If you feel like God might be calling you to use your skills to help people escape poverty, check out the jobs we’re recruiting for!

Feeling SAD?

calendar08 November 2019

Joseph Allison's avatar Joseph Allison

Feeling SAD?

When I was a kid, I used to love summer. There were the summer holidays, and a lot more heat and light and colour and sun. But over the years autumn has taken over as one of my favourite seasons of the year. I love the colour of the leaves standing out against the grey of the sky, I love the food, I love Bonfire Night – but more importantly I love getting my autumn clothes out of the cupboard because they’re so comfy and warm!

However, let’s face it, while we should be able to find beauty and joy in creation all year round, it can be harder to find it at this time of year, when nights are long, days are cold and dark, and the rain seems never ending.

Many of us may feel sadder, more stressed and more lethargic over the autumn and winter months, which could be down to Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD). Up to 6% of UK adults experience SAD, sometimes known as ‘winter depression’. Symptoms can include persistent low mood, being less active than normal, feeling lethargic or sleepy during the day, sleeping longer or finding it hard to get up, lack of concentration and increased appetite. Combined with other factors like the pressures of the impending festive season, it’s easy to see how people can struggle immensely at this time of year.

The good news is there are ways to tackle these feelings and add a little cheer back into the colder seasons.

Here comes the sun

It might seem like a simple solution, but the human body needs sunlight. Vitamin D is essential to our wellbeing. This weekend, make the most of the little sunshine there is. If you can get out and about, go for a walk. If you’re indoors, open the curtains, tidy up and make your home bright and fresh. Just sitting by the window for half an hour could help restore some Vitamin D and lift your mood. You could also consider investing in a SAD lamp. For varying prices, these lamps simulate sunlight and can help improve mood. Find out more here.

Staying social

Socialising is good for us. That doesn’t necessarily mean going to a big party or being surrounded by lots of people – we’re all different and interact in varying ways, but the important thing is that we don’t cut ourselves off completely. This can be easy to do when the weather isn’t great and we’re already feeling low. So keep in touch! This may also open up opportunities to talk about how you’re feeling, which is another essential for our mental health and wellbeing.

Looking after yourself

Self care is always important, but even more so at this time of year. One of the symptoms of SAD is craving carbohydrates and overeating, which means it’s even easier than usual to comfort eat. There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself now and again (you actually should), but a healthy, balanced diet is key to boosting our mood and energy levels. It’s also important to keep warm when the cold hits. There’s information on how to do this and where to get help with heating costs here.

No matter the weather or the time of year, if you’re struggling to the point that it’s affecting your day-to-day life, then speak to your GP. From me, I hope you find a little bit of happiness at this time of year. No matter what, I hope you know you are loved.

Talking to children about money and poverty

calendar28 October 2019

Joseph Allison's avatar Joseph Allison

Talking to children about money and poverty

Many of the ideas and beliefs that filter how we see the world are formed in childhood. More often than not, these ideas come from our elders; our parents, our grandparents and other wise adults we meet as we make our way through our lives. The secret joke of adulthood, however, is that we find out we aren’t magically made wise when we become adults. Most of us are just trying our best with what we already know and making it up as we go along. So, what do you say when you have to explain to children something as sensitive, complicated and nuanced as poverty in the UK?

This is the challenge faced by Mike Haslam of The Family Trust, who has begun running CAP Money Courses for nine to eleven year olds in the primary schools he visits. Often, as with most things, the first step must be to teach empathy.

‘Making the material personal is what engages the children, when they see that it is not just theory but part of our life,’ Mike explains. ‘There is a roleplay about a family who get into debt when the single mum has an accident and has to stop work. It looks at the effects of debt, asks how people get into that situation and how it might feel.’

Activities like this help the children to empathise with the family situation and also understand that, with the help of organisations like CAP, there is a way through the difficulties.

‘We mention that debt is not an issue for just a few areas of society,’ Mike continues. ‘People may have a big house and car, but for whatever reason they may be struggling to keep up the payments for them. We mention about mortgages and rent and how these are priority payments, along with food on the table, because, as some children have said, they may lose their home. Some children taking part in the roleplay have actually mentioned “the men who came to the house and took things away”. We know from our own familiarity with the areas we work in and conversations with teachers that there are always children somewhere in the school for whom debt is very real.’

Beyond empathy, the children also learn a lot of basic, practical financial skills.

‘We have designed a leaflet for each child to keep after the sessions, with a diagram of the key points of income, expenditure, saving, etc.,’ says Mike. ‘It has some fun activities to do with money. They get to rip bits out of a catalogue, plan and budget for a holiday weekend, play a savings game with ping-pong balls and coffee cups, with an element of competition by earning points for their team. The material is pitched at an appropriate level, so all the concepts introduced are understandable. However, it does come as a surprise to some that, if you want to buy something, you can’t just go to the bank and get the money out – it has to be earned and put in there first!’

At the schools Mike visits, many teachers recognise that they were rarely taught about money in their own childhood schools, if at all. Many say they would have appreciated such lessons in school, outside the basic mathematics taught. Financial capability and understanding is a skill that’s vital to everyday life. That’s why here at CAP, together with people like Mike, we’re doing our bit by training people to run the CAP Money Course for kids and bringing money education to the forefront.

Find out more about what’s involved in running the CAP Money Course.

Costing the earth

calendar17 October 2019

Claire Wong's avatar Claire Wong

Costing the earth

Everyone’s talking about the environment. Climate change is hitting the headlines and while we may not have the clout of governments or big companies, there are small ways we can all help.

But what if you’re on a tight budget? Some plastic-free products cost more than their less environmentally friendly versions. Can you still make green choices while limiting what you spend?

Well, don’t feel guilty if you can’t afford to buy only from eco-friendly shops. You might already be helping without realising it. For example, if you're not in the habit of flying overseas for your summer holidays, you’re limiting your carbon emissions just by staying put.

Caring about the planet shouldn’t be something only the wealthiest can aspire to. The good news is that there are ways to combine protecting the environment with saving cash. And they’re simple enough to fit into a busy life. Here are a few ideas:

Say no to fast fashion

Buying cheap clothes that aren’t designed to last is a normal part of our consumer culture, but it takes a lot of energy to produce clothes that soon end up in landfill. Instead, look for ways to give pre-owned clothing a new lease of life. Browse charity shops for a bargain, or organise a clothes swap with friends.

Refill for free!

Next time you feel dehydrated, look out for Refill stations or download the app to locate your nearest one. These are places that will let you refill your water bottle for free. And who doesn’t like free stuff?

Make your own cleaning products!

Save money and recycle with this simple recipe for a multi-purpose cleaner to leave your home disinfected and sparkling:

  • ¼ cup of white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp baking soda
  • 1 litre hot water
  • ½ lemon

Pour the mixture into an empty spray bottle from the last kitchen cleaner you bought, and you’re good to go!

Ditch the disposables

Single-use plastic is a hot topic. While eliminating it from your life may feel like a big task, think about one or two simple changes you could manage. Cotton dish cloths can be reused so you don’t have to keep buying single use ones. If you’re a fan of coffee on the go, then a £3 keep-cup drastically reduces the number of takeaway cups being thrown away and might even score you a discount on your drink.

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure

If you’re having a clear out, why not see if you can make some money by selling your old stuff instead of sending it to the tip? There are plenty of online marketplaces where you can sell your unwanted belongings.

You don’t have to feel like you can’t care for our planet, just because you’re watching the pennies. Much like introducing a manageable exercise regime, it’s worth focusing on one or two simple choices you can work into your day-to-day habits, rather than trying to overhaul your whole life in one go and finding it too much to sustain.

Want more tips for positive lifestyle choices on a budget? Check out our Life Skills groups and see if there’s a course running near you. Life Skills is a friendly place to learn vital skills to live on a tight budget in a welcoming community.

Happy anniversary to The Debt Saviours

calendar05 October 2019

Marianne Clough's avatar Marianne Clough

Happy anniversary to The Debt Saviours

Friday 5 October 2018 was a red-letter day in the history of Christians Against Poverty. It was the day the one-hour documentary called The Debt Saviours was broadcast on BBC2.

An enthusiastic publicity push surrounded the programme, hundreds of congregations had held a day of prayer and hundreds of thousands settled down to see what the film maker had made of us.

Now a year on, what has been the long term effect of the programme?

Foodbank volunteer Christine Lim said the programme literally changed her life. 

'I was really moved after watching The Debt Saviours and, the following Sunday, I started up a conversation with several members of my Ulverston Parish Church family around whether they felt there was a heart for opening up a local debt centre.

'Their response was, if I was prepared to champion the project, then they would support me, so we set about raising the funds to make it happen.

'I'm so grateful to my Church family and my new CAP family for all their prayers and support during this time which has helped me to stay optimistic and focused and, God willing, our new debt centre will finally open for business at the beginning of October.'

Debt Centre Manager Gaz Thompson, whose story was featured considerably in the programme, said the experience has been very useful. 'It’s amazing that people are still recognising me from it when I’m out and about, both at work and conferences. It’s opened a lot of doors for me both personally, within my roles at church and in the city. A lot of the referral agencies and groups I work with had really positive things to say and I think that it really showed how CAP can be trusted. It also put people at ease about the way we pray for our clients.

'It’s only a year but I feel like I have grown a lot since the documentary. I’m now married with a baby on the way and that makes me very happy.'

CAP's Founder, John Kirkby, said it had been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, both being filmed and seeing the final edit. 'Even a year on, everywhere I go, people of faith and those without faith tell me how they watched it and felt the sincerity of our heart to help those in need.

'The scale of the response left us all a bit overwhelmed but I am pleased we took the risk and we’ve seen God’s constant hand on the project.'

It’s true to say that the programme and widespread publicity did mean CAP was better known than ever before – more people called in for help but also more people wanted to play a part and tens of thousands of pounds were raised.

At CAP we’ve heard many accounts of people who felt the programme really spoke to them to get help.

Client S from Exeter said she was just home from hospital, where she had been treated for a failed suicide attempt. She said, 'I’d never heard of CAP before. It’s quite funny – when I got home, I turned the telly on. There was a programme on TV about CAP. I thought that was really strange! That’s when I thought I would make that first phone call and get in touch to see if CAP could help.' S is now debt free, she’s on a course which is helping her deal with past issues and is working through the twelve steps of an AA course alongside Fresh Start, a course run by CAP-trained people at her local church where she has been welcomed into the community.

She told us, 'This huge black cloud has lifted. I’m hopeful not just for today but for the future.'

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