Spotlight: Jacky Wise, Chaplain of St John’s Foundation

  • Home
  • >
  • Spotlight: Jacky Wise, Chaplain of St John’s Foundation

As a community charity founded on Christian principles, an important service St John’s Foundation provides its beneficiaries is access to two Chapels, the Chapel of Michael’s Within in Bath’s Chapel Court, and Magdalen Chapel on Holloway. Both are open to the public, whether they are seeking a place of worship or need a quiet place to reflect, and both are overseen by the Reverend Jacky Wise, whose route to becoming a Chaplain is slightly unusual.

Jacky joined St John’s Foundation as Chaplain in 2019, to provide religious and pastoral support to St John’s almshouse residents, its staff, and the wider community. In her role, she manages three chapels, leads worship, conducts visits to residents and, on top of that, she uses her creative flair to plan the annual calendar of services. With the support of her Pastoral Assistant, Debbie Kendall, Jacky provides an essential service to staff and residents.

After working at the BBC as a broadcast journalist for 15 years, in 2005 Jacky decided to make the move to a role at Citizen’s Advice in Stoke-on-Trent, to support the children of asylum seekers and refugee families. During her two years at Citizen’s Advice, she found working with those who are marginalized and in need of support extremely fulfilling.

For Jacky, faith has played a vital role in her life throughout adulthood, and whilst still working at Citizen’s Advice, felt a calling to ordained ministry. After two years as a curate, she worked as an Associate Vicar for a large parish on the Wirral for eight years. Then, one day, sensing the need for a change, she came across the advert for the role of Chaplain at St John’s Foundation.

“The advert jumped out at me. Although I had never lived in Bath, I felt like I was being called to this role. Since working here as Chaplain, I have found so much joy in making a difference in people’s lives, sharing the presence of God, and working to support my community.”

Whilst Jacky had a religious upbringing, attending Church of England primary and secondary schools, she truly found her way to Jesus in her late twenties after meeting friends who encouraged her to explore her faith more deeply.

“To me, faith is knowing that God is with you constantly, and He provides a foundation upon which it is possible to cope with all the stuff that life throws at you. If you ever need assistance and guidance, you can find comfort through prayer and be certain that God is listening.

“Finding and understanding my own faith and relationship with God is a continuous, life-long journey. My advice to someone exploring their faith is to speak to someone who has experience of God and is willing to listen, to guide but not necessarily provide answers, and this does not need to be someone involved in the Church.”

Jacky’s work within the community has evolved significantly since she started the role. She holds shorter services for staff, to make them more accessible for people who have full dairies and are juggling other commitments. She helps to organise many events, such as Harvest Supper, a Pilgrimage Walk between Bath and Glastonbury, and events at Christmas time aimed at local school children.

She is also heavily involved in the wider local religious community, including various clergy initiatives and events to support people throughout the city.

“I’m very fortunate to have met so many amazing people in this city. One of the highlights of my ministry is being invited to take part in leading a small new monastic community called Still Waters.”

Acknowledging the significant amount of work involved in her role, Jacky says:

“My greatest challenge is juggling the pastoral and administrative parts of my role. Fulfilling the needs of all the people I serve is central to my role, and having a Pastoral Assistant to support me with this is hugely helpful. I really appreciate spending time with people and enjoy offering hospitality to help people feel welcome in the community.

“I also ensure I take care of my own wellbeing so that I can better support those around me. I use sport as a tool for my mental health and  I enjoy taking quiet time for myself, outdoor swimming and spending time in nature. Having time with friends and family is very important to me.”

Jacky is looking forward to the last quarter of 2023 which will involve an abundance of Christmas services, bringing endless amounts of joy to the community.

“I love being Chaplain at St John’s Foundation and I do feel I’m making a positive difference in people’s lives. I’ve been welcomed into this community with such grace and generosity, and the support I have received from all those around me really shows how committed St John’s Foundation is to changing people’s lives for good.

“I feel extremely fortunate to be working with an organisation full of kind and loving people who are so dedicated to their community. Their passion has supported my own, and together, alongside all our partners, it is possible to make real positive change for those who need it most.”

To find out more about St John’s Foundation’s religious community, click here.

At a time when everyone is feeling the effects of the current economic uncertainty, those living in less financially secure circumstances are experiencing an even greater challenge to cover the costs of day-to-day living and household essentials. Whether this is caused by systemic issues, ill health, insecure employment, or a change in personal circumstances; there are so many reasons why people  fall on challenging times, and with increasing living costs this will only serve to intensify the issue, trapping some people into a cycle of debt.  

 According to national statistics, around 14.4 million people were living in poverty in the UK in 2021/2022.  Move forward to 2023 the cost-of-living crisis is now taking its toll on families up and down the country, with demand for food parcels soaring. Bath is a beautiful city, but beneath its rosy veneer are sections of the community that are facing a daily struggle to get by and put food on the table. In the 2022 Strategic Evidence Base report for Bath and North East Somerset Council it estimated there would be an increase of up to4,000 more people who will fall into absolute poverty this year, including 1,500 children. 

 Much like in other locations, poverty across BaNES is a complex and often entrenched issue, stemming from multiple causes, therefore the provision of a variety of support services is vital is supporting our communities. 

 St John’s provides support through our Crisis Programme, which sits alongside the work delivered through the Foundation Fund, offering financial aid to individuals and families who are struggling to make ends meet. It aims to fulfil the most essential needs, such as providing white goods, furniture, counselling, and debt support. The programme also offers basic skills training to people who are struggling to access training or education opportunities, to help them gain secure employment and escape poverty. 

 An example of how the programme was able to support a family experiencing extremely challenging circumstances due to domestic abuse, is set out below: 

 A parent with two children had to move quickly to escape domestic abuse, fleeing with only minimal furniture and without the children’s belongings. An application was made to St John’s by the children’s primary school for new furniture, which included a desk for the eldest child to do their homework and a new bike, as this had to be left behind. The school reported that this support was invaluable for the family and helped them all to settle and create a new safe homely environment of fun and happiness, providing the children with items that all children should have.  

 Support from the St John’s Crisis Programme can be accessed through a referral from charities or other referral organisations we have partnered with. The full list can be found here.  

 Once an application has been submitted via the referral organisation, the team are able to move quickly. Their aim is to respond within five working days.  However, if the case is urgent and potentially life-threatening then a decision can be reached within hours. Once an application has been agreed for support the team will contact the referrer, and then put into motion the paying of relevant suppliers, the clearing of debts or organising the delivery of goods. 

 To be eligible for support, the individual or family must be living within Bath and North East Somerset with a monthly disposable income of less than £250 for a household with no dependent children, £275 for a household with up to two dependent children, or £300 for a household with three or more dependent children.  

 Through the Foundation Fund we also distribute funds on behalf of the Roxburgh Trust, a registered charity created by Lady Arabella Roxburgh in the late 1890s, and now administered by St John’s. It is available to single women living in BaNES who are over the age of 50 and are living in challenging financial circumstances. A payment of £200 is released to beneficiaries once a year for their lifetime unless their personal circumstances change significantly. 

 If you would like further information on the Crisis Programme or to talk about your situation before applying, please call 01225 486400 or email 

Often the smallest financial change can cause someone’s income to fall below their needs. In the current economic climate, it is unsurprising that more people are needing help to afford food for themselves and their families. Support is available in Bath and North East Somerset through food pantries and local council funding.  However, many people perceive there is still a widespread stigma around food poverty and are therefore not taking advantage of these vital resources.  

Whilst on the surface, BaNES appears to be one of the least deprived local authorities in England, ‘Twerton West’ and ‘Whiteway’ are within the top 10 per cent of the most deprived local wards in the whole country. The cost-of-living crisis has exacerbated this. 

Research conducted by BaNES Council found that 8 per cent of BaNES residents, equating to approximately 21,000 people, worried that food would run out before they could buy more, meaning that for these families and individuals, using food pantries has become a necessity. Furthermore, The Food Foundation found that households with children are at higher risk of experiencing food poverty, with 14.4 per cent of people in the South West experiencing food poverty in the  single month of  April 2022. 

Tackling perceptions around food poverty and pantries is not an easy task. By challenging these perceptions and sharing the reality, we can encourage people to use these resources,  engage with their communities and understand the needs and issues faced by the wider population.   

What is a food pantry? 

Food banks and food pantries are terms that can be easily confused. Both provide food for those who may be struggling to afford essentials for themselves and their families. However, there is a difference between them: 

A food bank focuses on supplying emergency food provisions to individuals or families. They also gather as much stock as possible to distribute amongst other organisations that provide food support within communities. For example, food banks may arrange charity events or encourage supermarket shoppers to purchase something extra to add to the collection. 

A food pantry, on the other hand, provides food directly to those who do not have enough to eat in a particular area. They are often run on a membership basis, for which people pay a small amount per month or per shop. The intention behind a pantry is to provide a shopping-like experience to reduce any stigma that people may feel and build a supportive community. This system means that members can save up to £1,000 on grocery bills per year, and the pantries are open to all, not just those who may be financially, socially and economically under-served. 

What stigma surrounds food pantries? 

Researchers at the University of Bath have studied the stigmas surrounding the use of food pantries and reasons that may prevent people from requesting help if they are experiencing food poverty.  

The research found that empathy is one significant factor. Many were unwilling to ‘take’ food supplies from those ‘who needed them more’, as they did not consider themselves as part of a demographic that should be using food pantries. Many stated that they based their assessment on unfair societal stereotypes, believing only those who may be claiming benefits, or are from under-served backgrounds should be benefiting from access to food pantries.  

Closely linked, the research also identifies ‘pride’ as a factor. Participants of the study stated they felt a moral failing to not be able to sustain themselves and their families without outside support when often they were in full time work.  

Many participants did feel that the pandemic changed perceptions around food poverty for a short while. With so many people out of work and many others eager to partake in community initiatives, seeking help when you needed it became the norm and encouraged. However, now the pandemic is over, many are feeling the return of a stigma surrounding food poverty, despite the economic pressures left over from the COVID-19 years and the current economic climate. 

Reducing the stigma around food pantries and food poverty is important, in order to support those who are struggling financially and ensure they feel comfortable reaching out for help when they need it. 

Tackling food poverty in BaNES 

St John’s Foundation is working closely with local partners with the mission of eradicating food poverty across the region.  The Nutritious Food and Safe Places programme is an integral part of the Foundation Fund which funds FareShare, as well as several other local projects, to deliver food to families, food banks, food clubs and pantries that provide access to nutritious food to those who need it most in the area. 

However, our vital work extends beyond us and our partners. We believe that changing perceptions is essential to reduce any enduring stigma surrounding the use of food pantries and the best way to support those families and individuals who need to use them, for as long as they need to use them. 

The independent voluntary project BaNES Food Finder provides a list of food clubs and pantries in our region that can offer affordable food or food parcels.  

To read more about food poverty in BaNES, click here. 

Academic attainment levels have, historically, been lower among children from under-served backgrounds for a variety of complex reasons. The gap between the highest and lowest achieving pupils has been exacerbated over recent years by the pandemic, and schools have faced a challenging task to narrow this disparity back down to pre-COVID levels. The impact of the cost-of-living crisis on families has further deepened the complexity of this challenge.

Before the pandemic struck, in February 2020, St John’s Foundation launched an ambitious ten-year strategy and pledge to support under-served children through interventions within our Foundation Fund. The specific aim of our fund is to narrow the attainment gap for Key Stage 2 children living in Bath and North East Somerset (BaNES) through a broad range of initiatives. This crucial work will best support children aged 0 to 12 and level out the opportunities for them to thrive.

As part of this strategy, St John’s set in motion a three-year Primary Empowerment Programme (PEP). The programme provides additional support with reading, writing, mathematics and oracy as well as emotional and behavioural support to seven primary schools in BaNES which, together, teach 40% of the region’s most under-served children. Close collaboration with the respective head teachers has helped to shape the programme and direct its focus to where the support would be most beneficial to each school.

Impact: the first two years

At the end of the 2022/23 school year, the PEP completed its second year and initial data indicates a clear movement towards more children meeting expected academic levels for their year group. However, the initiative is not just about hard figures. The wide range of support offered is making a tangible difference to many pupils’ self-confidence and wellbeing, along with the knock-on effects this has on their teachers, school communities and parents.

For example, one strand of support is to fund Free School Meals for non-eligible children in these schools to ensure all pupils have access to nutritious food. With proven links between nutritious food and academic achievement this, in turn, benefits children’s brain development and their ability to concentrate and learn. As well as supporting children’s academic achievements, these measures impact the wider class and teachers, by reducing disruptive behaviour caused by hunger. The initiative also provides support to parents who are struggling to feed their families in these economically challenging times by supporting their financial and mental wellbeing.

Most powerfully, the anecdotal evidence so far has been overwhelmingly positive and far-reaching. Feedback from head teachers often focuses on the difficulty of quantifying the impact of the PEP’s various support streams, as it continues to be so wide-ranging.

One head teacher says that the PEP “has enabled our school to proactively support our children in ways which we would have only been able to dream about without this funding”, adding: “Children now read more books than two years ago and in KS2 they read on average for seven minutes longer each day. They become fluent readers earlier, are proud of their reading and love talking about it. I also feel that the broad range of consultation and training has helped us to move forward and recover much quicker following the pandemic.”

Behavioural and emotional support

One key focus has been around behavioural and emotional support. In the wake of multiple lockdowns, the additional need for help in relation to social emotional and mental health (SEMH), particularly for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) has been overwhelming for many schools, with long waiting lists to receive any support.

As part of the programme, the schools are receiving training, guidance and support from specialists at Brighter Futures to improve learning and wellbeing outcomes for these children and equip the teachers with the tools they need to provide ongoing support. This has in many cases changed schools’ approaches and culture in this area, with positive outcomes such as reduced numbers of suspensions.

Targeted support

Primary Empowerment schools are receiving a range of targeted support around reading, writing and maths provision. This is often in the form of additional staff including a dedicated Reading Teaching Assistant so that children can be heard reading regularly, and resources for one-on-one phonics tutoring. Funds to buy more high-quality books have also facilitated more reading at home. Reporting on progress after the second year of the PEP, head teachers and parents have referred to their children’s improved confidence in reading and this leading to increased willingness to read at home with their parents.

Much of the support provided to PEP schools is through additional resources and training for teachers, helping their professional development but also equipping them with the skills and strategies that will best support their pupils to thrive.

The final year

As the Primary Empowerment Programme enters its final academic year, 2023/24, there continue to be many lessons learned by St John’s, our delivery partners and the schools involved. Outcomes of the programme, both statistical and anecdotal, are being continually gathered to keep the support targeted and relevant. By July 2024 the seven schools will have received invaluable resources to support them in navigating this challenging post-pandemic period and which can be used to continue providing their children with the best opportunities.

There is no simple solution to level up the playing field, but as we move forward in our ten-year strategy, the evidence suggests that the PEP will continue to demonstrate a positive impact over its final year, with progress achieved in a holistic way. The results and lessons learned will inform the nature of future funding initiatives and support, as well as how these schools choose to continue their journey.

Find out more about the Primary Empowerment Programme (PEP) on our website.

To celebrate her 20 year anniversary with the St John’s Foundation, we sat down with our Executive Director, Louise Harvey and had a chat about her time with the organisation, how she’s seen the community in Bath change over the years and the advice she’d give to those of us working in third sector.

What is your role and what are your responsibilities?

I am the Executive Director of St John’s Foundation Fund. My role involves overseeing all charitable delivery for the organisation as well as managing the Communications and Technology for the charity.

Tell us about your journey with St John’s over the last 20 years.

I first joined St John’s to support a project focused on driving our almshouse offering to deliver a more modern and efficient experience for older adults.

Following this, I established a funding programme offering grants to organisations across Bath as a means to support them in becoming more sustainable. Within that time, we were able to push our boundaries and extend our reach to cover the entire BaNES region as well as our local Bath community. In addition to this valuable work I also took our funding and impact department completely paperless through developing a bespoke digital platform for applications to be submitted and processed.

Since then, through my directorate, I have enhanced our charitable delivery. I was a key part of the team that drove forward the initiative for the House of St John’s – a luxury meeting and workspace in Queen Square that gifts 100% of profits to St John’s. I also supported in the creation of our 10-year strategy which I now oversee and help to drive our objective of supporting children under the age of 12 to grow into happy, healthy members of the community.

 What is your favourite thing about your role?

Never has there been two days the same, my role is so varied. I feel that the 20 years has flown by- before one project finishes, we are already embarking on another. St John’s is continuously improving and to be a part of that is a true privilege.

How have you seen the needs of our community change over the last 20 years?

Unfortunately the needs of the community have remained the same over the last 20 years.

The disparity across BaNES obviously fluctuates with economic climate, though the need for safe spaces and support around food and housing has always been present. Now the way we share this information is changing, it enables businesses, charities and not for profits to come together to try and tackle these persisting issues, to ensure citizens within BaNES gain access to the help and support they really need.

What advice would you give to someone working in the third sector?

Listen and do not make assumptions.

Just because we award funding does not mean we always fully understand what people in the region need. The important thing is to really listen and understand what is happening in our community and then come together to find solutions to issues. There is so much great work already being delivered across our region- connect with these people, become a part of that strong network of support.



Almshouses are the oldest form of social housing. Originating over 1,000 years ago as a  means of helping societies’ most vulnerable people, they now play an important role in housing over 36,000 older people and families in over 2,600 locations across Britain. Modern day almshouses provide an affordable living option often specifically designed with an  older person in mind. Residents pay a maintenance contribution, which is usually less than the average rent for local properties managed by a council, housing association or private landlord.

With scientific advancements allowing us to live longer, the need for housing options that facilitate the way older adults live has become increasingly more important. Almshouses have evolved into a valuable option for accommodation in modern times and studies have highlighted significant advantages, including the increase of life expectancy by two and a half years.

Research from the Almshouse Longevity Study suggests that living in an almshouse community can alleviate the negative impacts on health and social wellbeing commonly experienced by older people, particularly those living in isolation.

What are the key advantages of almshouses?

One of the most significant advantages of living in an almshouse is the sense of community they foster. Often situated in serene and supportive environments, they create a close-knit community of like-minded individuals who share similar life experiences. With loneliness and social isolation being two of the most common issues faced by this age group, access to a supportive community can reduce the risk of adverse health effects linked to depression and poor mental health.

Almshouses often have communal spaces to socialise in and activities on offer. At St John’s, we have a vibrant Activities Programme featuring a range of classes that encourage residents to prioritise their physical health as well as facilitating the building of strong friendships with other residents and people within the wider community.

Islay, a St John’s resident who has lived at our Combe Park location, shared her experiences living in an almshouse and discussed the benefits of making friends and staying active. She said:

“I’ve lived at St John’s for over five years. Anybody of my age will know how difficult it is to make friends. Here that is not the case – you meet them every week at coffee morning.

“We have Pilates classes, which are brilliant. We have a fitness class, sewing classes, craft classes, the number of things you can do is amazing, if you want to. You just run your own life and live totally independently in your home. I love it here – I wish I had come sooner.”

Geraldine, a resident who lives at our City Centre site echoes the support and friendly atmosphere:

“Everyone is lovely here. Residents are lovely, the staff are absolutely excellent – they all do whatever they can for you, they’re always there if you need them. It’s social and you can do whatever group you want, ballet or whatever you fancy. I’d absolutely recommend it to anyone.”

One of the common fears among older people is the loss of independence and dignity as they age. Almshouses actively work to combat this fear by creating an environment that empowers residents to make their own choices and live life on their terms. With appropriate support such as St John’s advice service, technology workshops and pastoral care, older individuals can maintain their independence for longer, enhancing their overall well-being and quality of life.

At St John’s, we’re proud to provide almshouses that give residents a sense of belonging while addressing the struggles of loneliness and poor wellbeing and instead promote good living, independence and community. .

Find out more about our Almshouse offering here.

In 2020, St John’s launched the Foundation Fund, with the overarching ambition of levelling the educational playing field to ensure all children across our region meet age-related standards.

For this vision to become a reality, our work is focused on three main areas: access to nutritious food and safe spaces, emotional and behavioural support, and support with literacy, oracy and numeracy.

Early Years

Evidence has shown us the importance of speech and language development in young children; it is fundamental in supporting children to learn while providing them with the communication skills they require to manage their emotions and behaviours.  Under-served children can present with reduced speech and language skills compared to their peers, leading to an early language gap. If a child requires additional help with their development, then it is vital it is identified at the earliest point and the appropriate support measures are put in place.

This is why, as part of the work of the Foundation Fund, we partnered with Bath and North East Somerset Council and HCRG Care Group to create the Language for Life programme.

Language for Life

Since its launch, the Language for Life project has engaged with 23 early years settings across BaNES, working with children from birth to five years old. The programme specifically focuses on training ‘early years’ practitioners to use the WellComm assessment toolkit to screen oracy and communication in children against age-related standards.

Starting in the 2021/22 academic year, the Programme has already screened and identified 285 children (36% of those screened) who require and will be receiving language and communication support. Children will be re-screened periodically to check their progress, and where specialist support is required, a referral is made.

Why does this matter?

The early support children receive through Language for Life is vital as it identifies any issues and addresses them immediately, reducing the risk of children falling behind when they start school. Those receiving support through Language for Life will be able to start school with language and communication skills in line with their peers. If a child still requires support at the point of joining Reception, their teachers are made aware as part of their handover with their pre-school setting, and measures are put in place.

Early year settings

The settings within the programme have fed back that the Language for Life project has helped their early Years Practitioners to grow their confidence when implementing early interventions for children with speech and language needs, and it has improved their awareness of the pathways of support that are available to them. “The Language for Life project has had a really positive impact – there are far fewer children starting school with language skills that are below age expectations… we are more aware, (and) can get early intervention in situ” (School based nursery setting).

The Language for Life project is coming to the end of its second pilot year. The feedback from practitioners, families and children has shown an overwhelmingly positive impact. Data suggests the outcomes from the second year will be far more positive than the first year. “Our results are fantastic and the majority of our children in Early Years are screening green. This has been a wonderful opportunity and enriched the learning experiences of our children.” (School based nursery setting)

It’s exciting to witness the difference the project is making to these children and see the opportunities it offers to them. Find out more about the impact of the early years work, in our 2021-22 academic year impact report.

BaNES schools come in above average against national expected learning standards, but these figures disguise significant disparities in the region where the gap between the highest and lowest achieving pupils remains stark. The government has set a target for 90% of primary school leavers to reach expected learning standards by 2030, but what is being done on a local and national level to achieve this, and address the attainment gap?

In July, results from Year 6 national Standard Assessment Tests (Sats) revealed that whilst standards increased or remained the same across most individual subjects compared with last year, reading levels among these pupils in England fell. Overall, the combined reading, writing and maths (RWM) levels remain lower than pre-COVID nationally, with 59% reaching the expected level at the end of Key Stage 2 (KS2), compared with 65% in 2019.

In BaNES, whilst the regional break down of Sats figures are not yet available for the 2022/23 cohort, in the previous year 60% of pupils in the region reached the expected standard in RWM combined, just ahead of the 2021/22 national figure of 59%, and South West level at 57%. However, this was still markedly below the 67% pre-COVID level in BaNES.

These figures do not paint the full picture. Attainment levels are generally lower among under-served children in the community for a complex combination of reasons. In the 2023 Strategic Evidence Base for BaNES report, the percentage of pupils identified as ‘disadvantaged’ that reached the expected standard in RWM combined in 2021/22 in the region was significantly lower than England, standing at just 34%, compared to 43% nationally.

While equality of access to a good education is critical to reducing the attainment gap, it is only part of the story. Physical, behavioural and emotional needs of children, including access to nutritious food, all play factors in narrowing the gap.

What is happening nationally to narrow the gap?

On a national level, there are various programmes and funding schemes in place, some existing and some new, that are designed to reduce the educational attainment gap over the coming seven years and reach the 2030 target. For example, half of tutoring costs will be funded through the National Tutoring Scheme in 2023-4, a rise on the government’s previous commitment. Since 2018, investment into an English Hubs Programme and latterly Maths Hubs has aimed to develop expertise in teaching reading and maths in primary schools. The Department for Education is also updating its existing Reading Framework to cover KS2 and KS3, providing guidance on how teachers can help pupils who need additional support, and reviewing ‘good practice in teaching of writing’ as a resource for schools.

Despite a shelved Schools Bill in 2022, some elements of its proposals remain, including a focus on attendance to support sustained learning. Programmes such as the Phonic Screening Check in Year 1 are designed to pick up those who need further support and specific funding packages such as Local Needs Funding are aimed at supporting the most under-served pupils to boost literacy, numeracy and attendance. It is yet to be seen whether these initiatives will be enough.

What is the picture in Bath and North East Somerset?

Whilst BaNES ranks as one of the least deprived local authorities in England (ranked 269 out of 317 with 1 being the most deprived), inequality is widening in the region and deprivation remains significant in certain areas, with Twerton West and Whiteway falling within the most deprived 10% nationally. These areas typically see the widest attainment gap, with a disparity between children eligible for Free School Meals and those not.

St John’s are working towards levelling the playing field and narrowing the attainment gap for Key Stage 2 children locally through our Foundation Fund. We are working with numerous delivery partners on a broad range of programmes that support children from 0 to 12 years. These programmes cover oracy and communication in the pre-school years to foundational reading, writing, oracy, maths and behavioural and emotional support throughout primary school.

A significant part of our work is through the Primary Empowerment Programme where we are working with seven local primary schools which are attended by 40% of the most disadvantaged children in the region. With the proven links between nutritious food and academic achievement, funding school meals for non-eligible children at these schools – some of whom are from families that may only be just above the eligibility threshold – is one important aspect of our support. This sits alongside funding for additional help with learning for those most under-served children, ensuring that effective interventions and tools are available.

With the recent close of the 2022-23 school year, the Programme has just completed its second of three years. Initial indications at the end of year one suggested that children eligible for Free School Meals (or pupil premium funding) across the seven PEP schools may be closing the gap between their non pupil premium peers more quickly than the national average. However, until the data from year two has been reviewed and assessed for progress, it is not possible to draw firm conclusions. Nonetheless, alongside the national initiatives to help schools reach the goal for 90% of primary school leavers to reach expected learning standards by 2030, St John’s is playing a key role in BaNES, where the attainment gap is stark, to ensure there are additional region-wide projects and resources in place to help provide all children with the same chances to live happy, healthy lives and benefit from a strong educational foundation.

Here at St John’s, we understand that living in poverty can have a devastating impact on a person’s wellbeing and mental health. As increasing numbers of people are finding themselves struggling to make ends meet, we have seen a rise in furniture poverty across Bath and North East Somerset.  

Having a home without any furniture can be demoralising and that is why we work in partnership with charities and local organisations, such as Curo to provide a lifeline to those needing support.  

We are able to provide financial support to families and individuals who are struggling financially, typically by purchasing those essential items such as beds, white goods, and furniture. We are also able to fund services such as counselling, debt support and basic employment skills and training.  

Helping people like Eddy to regain his independence is at the heart of what we do at St John’s, and we are proud to support the amazing work being delivered across our region.   

“Cosy Start gave me a fresh beginning without any of the struggles” 

Talented musician Eddy Allen has the foundations for a new beginning, thanks to Curo’s Cosy Start pilot scheme.  

The pilot offers residents a furnished home when they start a tenancy, helping them to stay out of debt.  

“Cosy Start is amazing,” says Eddy, who lives in Bath. “Having all the furniture and white goods in my flat meant that I could feel instantly at home. I can have guests round and feel proud that my home has everything I need. 

“I am an addict who is in recovery, so I can get anxious sometimes. Cosy Start meant that I had one less thing to worry about when I moved in.”  

Eddy had been living in hotels, having previously been homeless. “I love cooking, but obviously could not do that in the hotels, so I had to rely on takeaways and other unhealthy food. Having a cooker already installed in my flat means I have been able to make meals from scratch again – including my favourite penne pasta with chicken and homemade pesto!” 

Eddy says having a stable home is a welcome change for him. “I’ve travelled around the UK and to other countries since I was 15 years old,” he says. “This flat is a chance for me to have some stability as I concentrate on my recovery.” 

It is also an opportunity for the guitarist to record his music ( and he has set up a home studio in a corner of his living room. “I’m so grateful for a chance to work on my creative projects,” says Eddy. “Cosy Start gave me a fresh start without any of the struggles.” 

What is furniture poverty? 

Cosy Start aims to tackle the problem of furniture poverty. This is defined as the inability to access, or afford to buy or maintain, any household furniture or appliance that is essential to achieving a socially acceptable standard of living. 

The financial impact of furniture poverty is considerable – and set to get worse. For an average household: 

  • Living without a cooker adds £2,100 to a food bill 
  • Living without a fridge/freezer adds £1,365 to a food bill 
  • Living without a washing machine adds £1,000 washing expenses 
  • Living with faulty or inefficient white goods adds over £100 to energy bills 

The homes included in Curo’s pilot scheme were furnished with a bed and mattress, fridge freezer, washing machine, oven, sofa, wardrobe, chest of drawers and bedside table. Resident also got a welcome pack that included a kettle, toaster, four cups, bowls, plates and glasses, saucepans, cutlery, and bedding.  

Emma Owens, Director of Customer Accounts and Lettings at Curo, says: “The pilot means we can offer around 20 furnished tenancies. We will be measuring the outcomes of the pilot and, if it is successful, hope to offer it more widely.” 

As a society, we have seen a sharp increase in the cost of food over the last 18 months. Staples such as eggs and milk have risen by 37% and 33%, respectively, compared with 12 months ago. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced in April that the annual inflation rate for food stood at 19.1% – close to record highs – with even the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, admitting it was ‘worryingly high’.

As food price inflation hits close to a 45-year high, food poverty has become a reality for many families and individuals across our region. Rising prices are having a daily impact on the food Bath and North East Somerset residents can afford to buy for themselves and their families.

Whilst Bath and the wider region is often considered prosperous, there is in fact deep inequality here. Food poverty is increasingly a risk, or a reality, for many of our residents. This disparity is well illustrated by the fact that BaNES is ranked as low as 269 out of 317 Local Authorities in England for overall deprivation. Whilst BaNES may present as one of the least deprived in the country, two areas in the region fall within the most deprived 10 per cent nationally.

In their 2022 Strategic Evidence Base for Bath and North East Somerset report, BaNES Council estimates across the region there are 4,000 people who will fall into absolute poverty in 2022/23, of whom 1,500 are children. This is an alarming figure and skyrocketing food prices are impacting – and will continue to impact – a far greater number of residents than this. In fact, in a BaNES 2022 survey of Children and Young People’s Health, carried out across 39 primary schools, 10 per cent of pupils said they had not had anything to eat before they started their lessons on that day.

Research has clearly shown the impact that nutritious food has on a child’s brain development, behaviour and academic performance at school, making food poverty a significant contributor to the striking educational attainment gap in BaNES. This is why St John’s Foundation has pledged to support the children attending their Primary Empowerment Schools who are not entitled to free school, to have the opportunity to access free hot meals at school until July 2024. It is so important that families struggling to put food on the table receive support to help them through the cost-of-living crisis, which, in turn, supports their children to thrive at school.

St John’s work goes further than free school meal provision – they are also working with other local stakeholders and national organisations to eradicate the need for emergency food provision and address the inequalities in educational attainment across Bath and North East Somerset. Through the Nutritious Food and Safe Places programme, funding is awarded to FareShare, as well as several other local projects, to deliver food to families, food banks, food clubs and pantries that provide access to nutritious food to those who need it most in the area.

This considerable uptake seen from this programme, paints a picture of the circumstances in which some of our families and children are living day to day.

Organisations are working to remove the stigma attached to the receipt of support for food poverty so that local communities can access healthy, affordable food in a dignified manner. The BaNES Food Finder provides a list highlighting food clubs and pantries available in Bath and North East Somerset provided by organisations offering affordable food or emergency food parcels.

Even with the incredible work being delivered by local organisations and charities across the region, modern-day hunger still exists. St John’s will continue to work along our partners to eradicate food poverty through projects and campaigns that change policy and practice at national and local levels.