Children without warm winter coats, empty cupboards in County Durham homes, and a higher chance of lost lives due to fuel poverty. These were some of the crushing situations confronted by the Poverty Hurts Exhibition. Local photographer Carl Joyce was commissioned by County Durham Community Foundation to portray the impact of poverty in County Durham, the region, and the North-East, for the launch of the Poverty Hurts Appeal 2022.

Carl also captured local charity leaders through a striking series of portraits. Each person photographed was chosen for the practical projects they are leading or influencing, that help local people affected by hardship.

The Poverty Hurts Appeal is aiming to raise £1million to fight poverty and enrich lives in County Durham. Learn more here

An explanation of each image can be found at the bottom of the page.

Top left: “38 pairs of children’s shoes” 

38% of babies, children and young people now live below the poverty line in the North-East, according to research by Loughborough University, on behalf of the End Child Poverty Coalition.  

This is the worst poverty rate in the whole country. In 2022, the region eclipsed London for child poverty rates.  

More than a quarter of County Durham’s children under 16 live in relative poverty. This figure has risen by 70 per cent for five to 15-year-olds in the last five years. 

Research by the Northern Health Science Alliance confirms that children born in the most deprived areas, on average, live for almost ten years less than their counterparts in the most affluent areas, and spend twenty years less in good health. They are also less likely to do well at school, and this in turn affects their long-term prospects.  

One local charity worker explained that a growing number of children are frightened by the stress that poverty is putting on their parents, with some seeing mum and dad in tears over bills they cannot pay. 

Top centre: Yeama Susan Mansaray, founder of Purple Rose in Stockton  

Yeama founded the Purple Rose project to help people seeking refuge and asylum in the UK, after fleeing persecution herself.   

The former journalist, forced to leave Sierra Leone, now leads a drop-in dinner for 60 every Friday night in Stockton. Guests are encouraged to eat, make friends, and dance to the music of their culture. Good quality second-hand items like bed linen, toys and cooking equipment are donated by local supporters, and shared with visitors.  

Yeama, who recently won a Community Star Award, said: “I chose the name Purple Rose because every other project had refugee or asylum seeker in the title. I wanted people to be able to say they were coming here and have a name without a label.” 

Top right: “Nine plates” 

Despite food banks and food projects becoming worryingly normalised, many people are still going hungry.  

Trussell Trust Food banks recorded an 81% rise in emergency food parcels given out between 1 April 2021 and 31 March 2022, compared to the same period five years ago. Despite these enormous community efforts to help, recent data from The Food Foundation showed that almost 9% of households in the UK – £4.6million adults, had missed a meal and felt hungry because they could not afford or access food.  

Requests for food that doesn’t need to be cooked have risen by 50%, according to one regional food support service, with energy costs doubling down on the problem.  

“We are inundated with requests for baby milk… and children’s food – people simply cannot afford £9 or £10 for a tin of baby milk.” 

– North East food bank quoted in North East Child Poverty Commission’s September 2022 report

Second row left: Darren McMahon MBE from PACT House in Stanley  

Darren is a well known community leader in Stanley, and beyond, and has been awarded an MBE for his efforts.  

He said: “We do everything and nothing. The most effective support is having the light on and a door open. I’d say we have 300 people through the door every week and more coming from all over North Durham because they don’t have a PACT House where they live.  

“We are seeing a lot more older people needing help. Their adult children are moving back in, often with the grandchildren too, and it’s adding a lot of cost to that household, whereas before people could manage on what they had.  

“It’s a crisis, but there are also a lot of laughs and good times here. People with not very much at all call in to give us £10, because they want to help however they can.”  

Second row centre: “35 chalks” 

The pandemic highlighted how many North-East families are affected by digital poverty. 35% of low-income families surveyed by the Child Poverty Action Group and charity Children North East said they did not have devices like laptops or tablets to support their children’s education or did not have enough to go round.  

During the pandemic, the Foundation funded several digital projects, but also helped families afford basics like pens and pencils, showing that digital exclusion is just another layer on top of existing poverty.  

Two in every five residents in the North-East lack the access or ability to go digital, suggests a 2021 report from the Institute for Public Policy Research.  

Barriers include access to devices and connection, cost and a lack of skills or confidence. Data is becoming more expensive too, a price hike which began well before the cost of living crisis.  

Second row right: Gemma O’Brien, Family Wellbeing Coordinator for Sacriston Youth and Community Project, based in Sacriston   

“Poverty is real, it’s on the doorstep and I wish everyone could understand that they are closer to being homeless than they are to being a millionaire.”  

Gemma O’Brien and the team from Sacriston Youth and Community Project are passionate when it comes to fighting poverty. Everyone at the project has lived experience of hardship, so truly understands what people are up against.  

Last year, the project was awarded a Poverty Hurts grant to support families facing hardship.  

Gemma said: “We do think of ourselves as the fourth emergency service and I’m proud that we are responsive. We can’t wait or we’d let families down.” 

Third row left: “63 winter coats”

63% of teachers told a National Education Union survey that they had seen a growing number of families unable to afford winter clothes for their children, like warm coats and sturdy footwear.  

One small local charity supported by County Durham Community Foundation has given out 300 second hand coats in the last 18months alone. 60% were for children.  

“We’ve had referrals come through from the police, where people have been caught stealing school uniform and they’ve [the police] not gone down the criminal route, they’ve tried to support that family.” 

– North East baby bank quoted in North East Child Poverty Commission’s September 2022 report 

Third row centre: Steve Vasey, founder of Cornerstone Supported Counselling and Housing based in Willington and Hartlepool  

Steve Vasey founded Cornerstone in 2012, to confront the root causes of homelessness. As a private landlord, he found many people struggling to hold down a tenancy because of unresolved problems with their mental health or life circumstances. Emergency housing, support and three joinery workshops now help young people and adults to start again.  

Steve said: “Every day, we get to know the homeless people we work alongside as colleagues. They also get to know us. The atmosphere we encourage is of a team or workforce. We work for each other to a common purpose and a goal – independence. Many of our colleagues who have arrived homeless have gone on to become contributing, fully independent, members of society.” 

Third row right: “20 pairs of slippers” 

In the last ‘normal’ winter, before the pandemic, figures from the Office of National Statistics showed that 8,500 people in England and Wales died in the winter of 2019-2020 due to cold homes. Overall that winter, there were 28,300 excess winter deaths, an increase of almost 20% compared to the previous year.  

Cut to today, and it is forecast that 55% of UK households will be in fuel poverty by January (September 2022 Marmot review, led by the UCL Institute of Health Equity). Projects funded by the Foundation note that the damage is already well underway, as many households cannot cover the extra expense.  

We’re also seeing people washing in cold water because they can’t afford to put the heating on, and it’s not necessarily that they’re choosing between heating and eating, it’s actually that they’re doing neither.” 

– North East frontline advice service quoted in North East Child Poverty Commission’s September 2022 report  

Bottom row left: Juliet Sanders, CEO of Feeding Families, which works across the region to combat food insecurity 

Feeding Families began as a Christmas project – helping families with a little extra food to ease the expense of the festive season. But Juliet and her team scaled their efforts into a huge food insecurity project during the pandemic, and need continues to soar.  

For her efforts, Juliet was crowned Community Champion at the Women of the Year Awards in London recently. But rising demand is becoming a serious concern for her team.  

Juliet said: “There has been a 100% increase in demand for our services since last year, but our funding hasn’t doubled, so we are making some very difficult decisions. We can’t include meat anymore because it’s just too expensive. Sometimes it feels like we are playing God and that is very hard for all of us as we want to help everyone. I think people would be shocked to know how low income is for many pensioners. We can all cut down for a week or two, but to live like that without any hope of it changing is just awful. I delivered a box to a young man last week and he was on the phone to the Samaritans. He got in touch later to say the message we include in the box to ‘stay strong’ arrived just in time.”  

Bottom row centre: “Ten sanitary towels” 

An estimated 10% of UK girls have struggled to afford period products, according to a survey by Plan International UK. The survey asked 1,000 girls and young women aged between 14 and 21-year-olds.  

In recent years, County Durham Community Foundation has supported a growing number of local community projects that offer affordable period products through a pay-as-you-can system, and period poverty projects that support young women. Without appropriate period products, many young women miss out on sport sessions at school, while some resort to using toilet tissue or even socks. The government’s period product scheme has improved the situation in recent years, but period poverty remains an issue for girls and younger women during the school holidays, and for adult women in low-income households.  

Bottom row right: Corey Daglish from Stanley Area Youth Consortium (SAYC) based in Stanley 

Corey Daglish, 17, volunteers at PACT House, in Stanley, and Stanley Area Youth Consortium, which brings together local youth projects and gives young people a voice.  

Despite facing his own challenges, Corey has dedicated his young life to date to helping others and was recently awarded a High Sheriff commendation for his contribution. Then-High Sheriff, Robert Harle, and his wife Pauline, met him during a project visit and noted his work ethic and commitment to local causes.  

Corey said: “If I ever become a millionaire, if I win the lottery, I’d want to give back to the projects that have helped me.”