In a year when new challenges intensified existing pressures for people living in poverty, Thrive Teesside’s Tracey Herrington looks back on the group’s achievements in 2020.

What a year and where to start?

Thrive Teesside, a grassroots organisation based in Stockton on Tees, works tirelessly to amplify the voices of people living in poverty. We vehemently advocate that positive change will only happen when people with lived experience of the issues at hand are afforded the opportunity to meaningfully engage in decision-making processes. We are not a group averse to difficulties and certainly never shy away from challenges, but we could never have imagined the intensification of already existing problems as a result of COVID-19.

Thrive are proud to keep Teesside on the map. We are innovators of change. As a member organisation of Poverty2Solutions, we were proud to be named as one of the Top 100 Changemakers of 2020 by the Big Issue. As part of this collaboration, we were described as ‘a righteous torch bearer lighting the world, leading the way and changing the world for the better in 2020’.

Proud of our partnerships

It is impossible to select any one illuminating moment or achievement of 2020, but we are particularly proud of our partnership working and unity with others that help address the issues that are important to our community. Amongst our new friends and activities, we were proud to contribute to the report by the Human Rights Watch: Automated Hardship, How the Tech-Driven Overhaul of the UK’s Social Security System Worsens Poverty; partner with the COVID-19 Other Front Line Global Alliance (OFL) in order to give voice to the millions of people bearing the brunt of inequalities being exacerbated by the pandemic; work with representatives from Unite the Community, the Commission for Social Security and others to campaign for an increase in child benefit; and work with the University of Warwick IAA project Building a better social security system.

As members of Poverty2Solutions and APLE (Addressing Poverty with Lived Experience) we have harnessed the untapped talent, insight and expertise within our groups and progressed actions to address the digital divide and debt deductions from social security benefits.

Opportunities to share our experiences

The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and Challenge Poverty Week presented opportunities to showcase and raise awareness of our local initiatives. We launched a special edition of ‘Thriving Teesside and Thriving Women’ – a collection of inspiring articles and photography from our creative and motivating community’, helped light up the UK map and spoke out about the digital divide. A response to a call for evidence from the House of Lords in relation to the digital divide was submitted.

UK Parliament week led Thrive to amplify the voices of our student population. A thought-provoking blog talking about the digital divide and exams during the pandemic was disseminated through our social media networks.

Supporting our community

At the heart of all our work are the people who live in our community. Life is always challenging and the ability to realise potential is hampered by the constraints of living in difficult circumstances. On a local level, Thrive have continued to support and help our community with the practical issues that they face on a daily basis – completing benefit entitlement forms, advocating on their behalf with creditors, supporting through tribunals and carrying out mandatory reconsiderations.

To say that this has been a perplexing year is an understatement. We have entered a world of Zoom and online forums, made far more phone calls and returned to sending parcels and letters through the post to our community. We are pleased that our work has remained varied and responsive to the needs of the community we serve.

What next for Thrive?

In 2021, Thrive will build on our work to date. We will progress our collaborative actions that aim to put the voice of lived experiences at the heart of policy-making. Addressing the digital divide and deductions from benefits are two of our priority actions. Thrive are looking forward to growing the membership of APLE and in the words of Kath:

“I would like to see a 100 people behind me. On my own I can be pushed aside, with others I am stronger and not easily swatted away.”

We are honoured to be working with a number of partners and allies that support the vision of Thrive.