Council cuts in Birmingham put charity’s lifesaving work at risk

Council cuts in Birmingham put charity’s lifesaving work at risk

A WEEKEND drop-in centre for vulnerable Irish people in Birmingham will be shut down from next month due to devastating council cuts made to the charity providing the service.

After more than 30 years operating a daily service in Digbeth – supplying vital food, shelter, showers, clothing and support for its clients – the long-standing SIFA Fireside charity will no longer be able to open on weekends.

Their remaining weekday services – where additional breakfast and lunch drop-ins are provided - are also at risk after Birmingham City Council axed their annual £415,000 grant.

“It’s all been quite difficult,” SIFA Fireside CEO Cath Gilliver told The Irish Post this week.

“Last July Birmingham City Council announced their drugs and alcohol recommissioning, which meant that we lost 43 per cent of our funding – which is £415,000 to us.

“For a while it looked like we would have to close SIFA entirely at the end of this month, when the cuts kick in, but we lobbied the Council before Christmas and the Public Health department managed to find us a £159,000 grant to cover the next financial year.”

She added: “Although that is welcome, it is considerably reduced from the funding we had previously so we are having to restructure and reduce our service.”

Dramatic changes will have to be made for SIFA to continue to run their service this year, the first of which is their decision to close their doors to clients on weekends.

“We are still discussing what this cut means for us and the service we can provide, but we have had to take the decision that we can’t open on weekends after February,” Ms Gilliver admits.

“Up to now we have been providing a seven day a week service but we just haven’t got the capacity to continue that with the funding we now have,” she explained.

“We are also discussing the shape of our services during the week, with a view to reducing hours, but we haven’t made a definite decision yet on how to do that.”

Ironically, the cut comes at a time when the service – formed in 2007, following an amalgamation of the 1980s-founded charities SIFA (Supporting Independence from Alcohol) and Fireside in Birmingham – is experiencing an increase in users.

“The level of need for our service hasn’t reduced in the past year,” Ms Gilliver confirmed. “It has absolutely increased with the impact of welfare reform, the
economic situation at large and also cuts to other local services.

“And ultimately our service users are the ones who lose out here,” she added.

“We are working with some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in Birmingham, including a fairly large percentage of Irish people, and there will be some inevitably that fall through the gaps created by our reduction of services.”

SIFA Fireside serves more than 150 of the city’s most vulnerable people on a daily basis, 20 per cent of who are Irish.

The charity’s operations were first threatened by council funding cuts in January 2014 - where they faced closing their free breakfast service for the city’s homeless - but the local community rallied to find the finances to secure that service.

Their current cash crisis follows Birmingham City Council’s 2014 announcement that the national CRI charity had won the entire council contract to cover the city’s drug and alcohol services.

SIFA Fireside is among a number of third sector organisations across the city affected by the recommissioning.