THE CHIEF executive of an Ashton-based support service has told of her concerns about the increase in people seeking help amid the cost of living crisis.
Gemma Whittaker, who heads up Infinity Initiatives, has been left disheartened by the number of residents in desperate need of financial and emotional support.
The escalation of gas and electricity bills, combined with food price inflation, family breakdowns and addiction issues, are said to be major contributing factors.
Such has been the demand for the Wood Street charity’s services, which include counselling, migrant support and a community café amongst other benefits, Gemma has been forced to extend opening hours to combat the issues.
Unfortunately, the charity has not been immune to the rising costs and has subsequently been hit with a massive electricity bill.
While concerned at the costs of running the facility, Gemma has vowed to fight on and intends to provide the same standard of service for those in need – regardless of their current circumstances, age or backgrounds.
Speaking to The Correspondent, she said: “People who perhaps wouldn’t have been asking for help years ago – people who work full-time, have mortgages to pay and family members who are reliant on them – are seeking our help amid the cost of living crisis.
“Previously, the people who approached us would come from broken backgrounds and in the grip of addiction, but due to the current climate there has been a rise in families who just can’t keep food on the table or pay electricity and gas bills.
“We owe quite a lot of money to our electricity company – that’s been one of our main worries and something we’re prioritising to get sorted. It’s a constant battle for us and something we’re having to face on a month-to-month basis.
“Unfortunately, the threats we are facing aren’t uncommon in our sector. We’re contracted to keep the doors open, but we’re constantly trying to find the funds and submit applications for help, which is keeping us away from our frontline work.
“We have to raise money to stay open, so the rise in utility bills is a real concern for us, as it is for everyone at the moment.”
The charity, which launched in 2015 and boasts services across Greater Manchester and North Wales, has been assisted in its efforts by a football team created four years ago.
Infinity Initiatives FC was formed in 2019 with one purpose in mind – to tackle the stigma surrounding men’s mental health through the medium of football.
It has since grown in popularity to the point where seven teams compete in training and fixtures on a regular basis.
However, the club’s efforts behind the scenes have been just as important as their on-field activities as several fundraising activities, including quiz nights, have boosted the charity’s coffers.
Gemma believes the creation of the football team has increased the profile of the charity and increased its appeal to men who are suffering.
She added: “The football is a huge part of what we do and something we’re always looking to expand.
“It was pulled together by an existing group of friends who enjoyed the mental and physical benefits of playing the sport.
“The uptake since then has been brilliant, the numbers are increasing and the visibility of what we offer is there for all to see.
“However, it’s hard when you’ve got a limited capacity to run those groups, but we find it’s a great way to improve social and mental wellbeing.
“If an individual still seeks extra help, then we’ve got the means and facilities to do that at our centre and point them in the right direction. Ultimately, it’s an inroad and an introduction to what we offer and how we can help them.”
The football club is set to continue its fundraising efforts on Sunday, November 26 with a charity game at St George’s Playing Fields in Ashton-under-Lyne.
Generated funds will be channelled into the charity’s Christmas campaign, with a specific focus this year on teenagers.
There will be plenty to enjoy after the match, as a party is taking place at Ashton’s To The Moon and Back venue, on Market Avenue.
Gemma said the whole community has rallied in support of the event and offered their services, as she added: “The landlord of the pub has kindly donated a cask of ale for attendees to enjoy, so instead of buying your own drinks we’re asking for a donation to the charity instead.
“Gourmet Burger and Shake have also come on board and pledged to donate all profits to the charity.
“The assistance of local businesses is something we value highly as they play a great role in ensuring we can maintain and increase our services into the future.”