Wellbeing, warmth and how to take action this Winter

Last year, Jesse and her son spent the winter in one of the worst housing situations we’d seen. The property was in complete disrepair, with mould on the walls, leaks, no heating or hot water. When we met her just before Christmas, she told us she’d spent the last year having to boil the kettle to wash and sleeping in her coat to stay warm. Her landlord wanted to evict her due to unpaid rent and Jesse was also desperate to move but the situation was causing a lot of anxiety and stress. As a part time carer with a son in full time education, the housing options in the private sector were very limited, but she was placed in temporary accommodation quickly so that she could move out of the hazardous flat. We helped her assess her needs and options, access emergency grants and a bidding number for social housing and supported her to secure a new property in August. When we checked in with her, her wellbeing had improved dramatically: “I am not worried about being cold this winter!”


Winter can be challenging on anyone’s mental wellbeing. For the people we support in our Covid Private Renters Project, this winter is going to be especially difficult. It is well known that there is a strong connection between levels of deprivation and mental health risks. And for the 80% of households in financial hardship that we support, everyday comforts that help many of us withstand the challenges of winter are not easy to come by.

On wellbeing

While virtually all services like ours make it their aim to improve the wellbeing of our service users, wellbeing itself has become a word so widely used that its real meaning can at times get lost. Services, funders and commissioning bodies across the sector have integrated wellbeing into outcomes and impact targets, understanding the value of improving wellbeing for people in the lowest socioeconomic groups. But despite the widespread use of the term and frameworks, we at Kineara still like to reflect on some questions.

So, what is wellbeing really? Is it the same for everyone? And is it something that is available to us all equally?

The What Works Centre for Wellbeing describes it like this:

“Wellbeing encompasses the environmental factors that affect us, and the experiences we have throughout our lives. These can fall into traditional policy areas of economy, health, education and so on. But wellbeing also crucially recognises the aspects of our lives that we determine ourselves: through our own capabilities as individuals; how we feel about ourselves; the quality of the relationships that we have with other people; and our sense of purpose.”

So an important element in wellbeing includes our self-determination, our ability and capacity to make choices for ourselves and a sense of purpose in our daily lives.

The families and individuals we support are often limited in the choices they can make for themselves. Most face multiple layers of deprivation which create barriers to stability that are socially determined – a good example is the benefit cap which pushes families with children into poverty by limiting the amount of benefits they can receive. As a result, choosing between heating your home or getting new clothes for the children simply isn’t a real choice. For some families, heating isn’t even an option. Instead, getting hold of a few hot water bottles is the best choice to manage the coming winter so they can keep up with other bills. This is why we are raising money this year to help our families get trough the winter with some comfort.

“Working with Kineara has been life changing. I now have options I never thought I would have.”


Why work on wellbeing?

National statistics from before the pandemic showed that in the UK, just 14% of people have high wellbeing while 70% rate their wellbeing as average. Since the pandemic began, a number of reports show that mental health and wellbeing have deteriorated significantly. This is especially true for communities with higher deprivation and in children and young people. The truth is, however, the downward trend in national wellbeing scores has been a reality for some time.

There are other important national trends that have impacted communities during this period. Changes to benefits that have amounted to serious financial cutbacks for low-income families, increases in rental and house prices with a simultaneous decrease in available homes for social rent, huge cuts to essential services at the local level, from hospitals and GPs to our local youth clubs and employment, disability, social care and mental health services.

In this context, it may seem counterproductive to keep a focus on wellbeing – how much difference can we make when low-income communities across London like the ones we work with are facing such significant practical barriers to financial stability?

The answer is, a lot!

“The support you gave me was amazing. If not for you I’d be living on the streets. I’m now in a new place of my own. You were there when I had no-one else and I’ll always be grateful for you and all the help you gave me.”

The process of facing and overcoming barriers does not happen overnight, but often, a few key changes can make a huge difference to how our service users feel about themselves and the situation they are facing. For some, it is about unlocking grants and financial support to boost incomes and start getting on top of debts and bills. For others it is about getting items of furniture, like separate beds for the children or curtains on the wall, so that even a temporary flat can feel like a home they can rest and feel safe in.

The practical changes we can support people to make often give them a fresh perspective on what they are capable of. And our emotional support encourages them to keep in mind what is possible, and to always reach out when they need help.
“If I needed someone to talk to, she was there. When I needed money for food or for the bus, she helped me secure a grant or provided a bit of money for my Oyster card. I know that any issue, big or small, is as important to Kineara as the next one. And this is something that I really appreciated. I don’t know what I would have done without her. You guys saves lives, you really do.”

To help us support more families over the winter, please donate to our winter appeal. All donations will go directly to families for essential items they need over the winter period.