A charity which delivers training and courses for people with complex learning needs, disabilities and mental health issues says a £10,000 donation by The Bernicia Foundation has been a vital lifeline.

Real Lives: Real Choices, a small, community-focused organisation based in Sacriston, County Durham, received the money after pressure built up over the past 18 months.

With more than 25 adults reliant on it for vital learning, vocational and selfdevelopment programmes, it was also being asked to operate under strict lockdown restrictions with reduced staff, higher demand but decreasing income.

Like other local charities and volunteer groups, many accessing the support were totally dependent on the charity for their wellbeing, which meant staff often had to deliver packages to individuals designed to help people cope and maintain a level of “normality”.

But this also meant that fewer or, at times, no people could attend the facility in person, so new outreach training services and social bubble workshops had to be rapidly developed and introduced.

The £10,000 Bernicia Foundation donation meant Real Lives: Real Choices could put the needs of their users first throughout lockdown, while also maintaining staffing levels, covering costs and implementing safeguarding measures.

This meant people accessing the courses still felt part of group learning sessions without becoming isolated.

Senior tutor Alison Russell said: “The courses we offer are absolutely essential to so many people locally as this is often their only access to learning, social activity or interaction outside of their home due to their needs.

“The last year has been extremely difficult, not just for our service users, but also for their home support and our staff, and they have really pulled out all the stops under the most trying of circumstances.

“The donation from The Bernicia Foundation came at totally the right time and was a real lifeline. So many different challenges were being thrown at us very quickly, but the money allowed us to deliver our ‘Positive Choices’ project which focused on maintaining health, wellbeing and positive engagement via arts, making and creativity.

“Participants have made wonderful new crafts and artistic objects, as well as restored old furniture items such as chairs, clocks and cupboards, and the end results are amazing.

“Those we teach have very specialist or complex needs, so it has been remarkable to see so many cope, excel and gain new skills.”

The Bernicia Foundation is a charitable trust set up by Bernicia housing association to support North-East charities, volunteer/community groups, and individuals working towards personal goals. As well as the Real Lives: Real; Choices donation, it has also allocated funds to Wearsidebased organisations including Sunderland Women’s Centre, Southwick Neighbourhood Youth Project, the International Community Organisation of Sunderland and Pallion Action Group.

Kevin Haddrick, of The Bernicia Foundation, said: “Each day we learn about and come into contact with more and more community organisations and local charities that are doing truly remarkable work on a very localised, grassroots level.

“We are astounded by their drive, sincerity and commitment to make a positive and lasting change to people’s lives for the better, and it is these groups we would like to support. They are remarkable ambassadors for our region and we encourage anyone that knows of an organisation which could benefit from our funds to apply.”

Two types of grant awards are available to organisations and people across Tyne & Wear, County Durham, Teesside and Northumberland:

* Inclusion grants (between £5,000-£10,000) for voluntary or community groups, registered charities, social enterprises and co-operatives with an annual income under £750,000 per year.

* Inspiration grants, worth up to £1,000 for inspirational young people aged 24 and under.

Any local business, entrepreneur or fundraiser wishing to support the Real Lives: Real Choices charity should contact Alison Russell on 07989 571106.