Four organisations supporting vulnerable communities in Manchester speak of the difficulties they are facing in carrying out their work due to the coronavirus crisis

Disadvantaged and marginalised communities in Manchester face hardships at the best of times. Organisations offering help to these communities usually top up government support with charitable contributions from the public. With the additional adversity of Covid-19, and the economic uncertainty it engenders on a personal to a global scale, these community groups are facing unprecedented challenges.

Four Manchester community groups, share some of the problems and ordeals they are facing:

Mustard Tree

Mustard Tree, helps people in the community, including rough sleepers, those in temporary accommodation, families stuck in B&Bs, asylum seekers, and people with previous convictions. They provide support to help people improve their health and wellbeing by giving them access to health services, providing friendship and creating a community where they have something meaningful to do.

Complying with social distancing measures means that they have had to temporarily suspend all of their creative courses and classes. Which will be detrimental for the mental health and wellbeing of the people who would have attended.

Jack Barton, Mustard Tree Fundraising and Communications Manager, also mentions that they also provide a venue for external organisations to run weekly support groups, but due to restrictions, “we had to turn people away who were due to attend a narcotics anonymous session, which proved to be very testing for them.”

Mustard Tree premises in Manchester

Barton explains that Mustard Tree is still staying open and operating, as their key workers are operating under the categories of food distribution and charity delivering front-line services, as per the latest government guidance, but “We are refocusing the charity on food clubs, toiletries, clothes, food supply and distribution including managing donations from the public. Our services are applicable to those on benefits and on no income.” 

Though they have received a cash grant from the local council’s Neighbourhood Investment Fund, to help subsidise their emergency food costs, they still need help. Barton reveals, “We are currently delivering our Food Club items and emergency food parcels to vulnerable people in need and are now in desperate need of both food and monetary donations to help keep this service running.”


RAPAR (Refugee and Asylum Participatory Action Research) is a human rights charity. They help displaced, destitute, and marginalized people that have been refused the right to remain, denied legal work, and permanently threatened by detention or deportation. Families and individuals become members by meeting with leaders of the  organisation, that explain who they are and what they do,and then signing an agreement to uphold and honour the RAPAR constitution. From there, they then begin to step towards achieving their rights.   

To find out more about Meteor Community Membership – click here

Since, most of what they do is case work, social distancing now means that work must be done remotely, and they must rely on phones, internet, and apps such as Zoom and What’sApp to carry on their work.

According to Dr Rhetta Moran, Chair of Trustees, RAPAR, they have not received any government funding. In an open letter to the Prime Minister, they stated that, “Everyone has the right to be in an environment where they can follow the Public Health directives necessary to limit COVID19 viral transmission to the absolute minimum and to care for themselves, their loved ones and their living and working communities.”

“All people who are destitute and/or undocumented and living in the shadows fear what will happen to them if they identify themselves, cannot access healthcare, emergency shelter and food, nor report or seek protection from domestic violence, rape, exploitation and other abuses – levels of which are already rising.”

RAPAR volunteers

RAPARMoran, also highlights the work of Doctors Of The World (DOTW) as being particularly important in fighting for services to be offered to vulnerable groups during the pandemic. DOTW, who run UK clinics which provide medical care, practical support and information to people unable to access NHS services said In a recent letter to the governments Home Affairs Committee:

“Our patients include refugees, people, seeking asylum, people who have been trafficked, people experiencing homelessness, sex workers, migrants with insecure immigration status and Roma communities.”

The letter also states that 90% of the DOTW patient group are not registered with a GP, and are facing significant problems during the crisis, including: homelessness, overcrowded and badly maintained housing, poverty and a lack of information in a language they understand.

The people of Manchester can help these vulnerable communities by signing the RAPAR petition, says Moran:

“Sign, share, tweet and keep on pushing the petition throughout all your networks – including into Ireland – from one person to a group or an organisation.

“Please make any donations that you can spare to keep our volunteers going… we are trying, with your help, to create a constructive and meaningful Public Health response.”

Back on Track

Back on Track, is a charity that works with people facing disadvantages. Most are unemployed, living in poverty and relying on benefits. Half are living in hostels, supported accommodation, or vulnerably housed. The vast majority have mental health problems.

Chris Doyle, Fundraising and Communications Manager, explains that their learning centre provides one to one guidance on issues such as housing, benefits, and employment, and many depend on the café as their only source of regular healthy food. He adds, “we have now had to suspend all face to face and group activities because of coronavirus, and the lockdown is incredibly challenging for a lot of people, but for the people we support it is a potential crisis. They don’t have anywhere else to turn and they need us.”

A mural in Manchester inspired by Back on Track’s work and a workshop underway

With only 25% of their service users having any internet access, most do not have any way of getting information, and “many have already told us they are extremely worried about the implications of isolation on their benefits (including fear of sanctions), how they are going to pay rent or bills, where they can get food, and so on.”

Back On Track has now have set up systems to establish and maintain regular contact with their service users to continue providing support, such as information about symptoms, self-isolation and social distancing for those unable to get the info elsewhere. They also providing advice on housing, money, benefits, medication, food and check on physical and mental health and wellbeing. Establish support networks, ensuring that people have key/emergency numbers is another important part of their work as is simply talking to those that have no one else.

Doyle adds, “We are losing vital income from the closure of our café and catering project Swan Kitchens, which provides training and jobs for our service users by delivering catering services across Greater Manchester. Please donate any money you can via our website to help us to continue providing this vital support”.

Age UK, Manchester

Age UK Manchester is committed to ensuring that older people live longer, happier lives. Their range of services offer older people “a relationship for life”, with support, opportunities and practical assistance at every stage of later life.

The Covid-19 crisis has required the cancellation of day care, visits to residential centres, home visits, face-to-face counselling, and charity shops, but telephone support and home care are continuing.


Terri Torevell, business development manager at Age UK, says that, “like all other charities we are awaiting an announcement from the Government about their [financial] support plans specifically for charities.”  

Torevell explains how small things can make a big difference. She told us about a donation made by Carex UK, of anti-bacterial hand soap and gel:

“John, one of our clients, was so relieved when he received the soap. That weekend he’d tried to get some but everywhere he went, it was sold out. The peace of mind that small act gave him cannot be underestimated.”

Age UK Manchester has had a large number of enquiries from people who live far away from an older loved one. Online deliveries have become difficult, so Torevell explains, “We’ve been able to assist on those occasions with emergency packs of supplies followed by advice of how can help with longer-term shopping needs. People are, understandably, very worried about getting regular supplies of food and other essentials in for themselves and their loved ones.”

Age UK is looking for donations of paper and cleaning products, toiletries, non-perishable food items, and things to pass time in isolation, such as books and puzzles.

It is a difficult time for everyone right now. Vulnerable communities are suffering even more, with their lack of housing, health care, food, and social communication. Many community groups, such as Mustard Tree, RAPAR, Back on Track, and Age UK Manchester are trying their best in this difficult situation. If you need their help or would like to donate, look at the links below.

Dale Anne McAulay

Mustard Tree
Donate food – click here
Donate money – click here

Three minute film describing the work of RAPAR – click here
Rapar’s Petition – click here

Back on Track
Donate – click here

Age UK Manchester
Donate products/time – click here
Donate money – click here

Manchester Community Response (councils support hub)
Phone number: 0800 2346123
Website – click here

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  • Dale Anne McAulay

    Dale Anne McAulay was an international mathematics teacher for forty years before returning to university to obtain a master’sdegree in multi-media journalism at MMU. Dale is a Canadian that has travelled to 60 countries, living and working in four of them and currently resides in Manchester. She considers herself an educator, world traveller, multiculturalist, and an egalitarian. Dale is a freelance journalist and sits on The Meteor’s Production Team and story circle.


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