Tonia Nixon is constantly networking, building up contacts which will help the TEES charity look after local people in urgent need of food, clothing, toiletries, Christmas presents, signposting and furniture. With the support of Beyond Housing, Tonia and her team have set up Tees Community Hub and Charity Shop at 6-8 Diamond Street (Saltburn TS12 1EB), where a great variety of donated new and second hand goods are on sale to the public between 10.00 and 3.00 from Thursdays to Sundays. Profits are ploughed back into the registered not for profit charity.
“The lockdowns slowed trade, but now we’re self-sufficient,” she says, “We can pay our rent, bills, staff and the running costs of our van, as well as responding to the needs of people referred to us by over sixty local agencies. In the last ten months, we’ve supported 9,400 people in financial, emotional or physical crisis in Redcar and Cleveland.”
Readers may recall two articles on the TEES charity (together – engage – encourage – support) printed in Autumn 2020. A former licensee for twenty-seven years, Tonia also had ten years’ experience of volunteering with the homeless, when she decided to set up TEES. She understood the effects of poverty and deprivation. As the referrals have built up, she’s valued the commitment of all the people who have supported the charity throughout its growth and development.
As well as causing the temporary closure of the Hub, the lockdowns meant that some proud older people living alone felt isolated and lonely. Tonia received phone calls from friends, neighbours and relatives and even an email from abroad asking her to check on them. She wanted to help the people in a respectful way that preserved their dignity, so she took advantage of her easy access to a lot of tomato and other plants. “We asked each person referred if they’d help us out by nurturing a plant for us and they were happy to oblige. It gave us a reason for calling back and everyone gained,” she says. I wonder who got to eat the tomatoes!
At the time of writing, Tonia is liaising with Mike Fairbrother, founder of registered charity, Teesside at Christmas. The charity is providing shoeboxes ‘full of gifts/essentials, food hampers, and/or gifts to families and children who would otherwise go without’. Having received 500 parcels for Redcar and Cleveland families from Teesside at Christmas 2020, Tonia has been able to donate £600 back to Mike for Christmas 2021, as a result of the TEES charity’s better financial position.
The TEES charity has also made space available for private groups to meet in the Hub. Two hours a week can be free of charge to people who genuinely can’t afford to pay rent. Like the rest of us, Tonia has been approached by scammers in recent times and has been put on alert by this. However, she is always responsive to people who’ve been referred by reputable agencies. In turn, the TEES charity has been judged as trustworthy to give out vouchers for food banks by other agencies.
“We intend to use the Hub to support well-being too and we have five older ladies living locally coming to regular health and well-being classes,” says Tonia. “We also want to welcome people to well-being drop-ins.”
Tonia is grateful to companies for donations which enable TEES to do more. Sirius Mines gave £1000 to pay specifically for the running of the van and a separate grant of £5000. Tonia has developed good links with local supermarkets too, so she can ask for help with particular needs in their communities. She writes bids for funds when opportunities arise and is meticulous about keeping receipts to show that money has been well-spent.
TEES is supporting 800 people every month through its established services. From January – November 2021, TEES supplied 700 locals each month with incontinence and period products (the latter by working with Scottish charity Hey Girls). From the Hub, TEES Community Clothing Bank provides good quality new and second-hand clothes and toiletries to about 80 people a month and TEES Furniture for Everyone recycles donated furniture, for which they get about ten requests a week.”
Tonia is acutely aware that basic home items need to be offered quickly to people fleeing from domestic violence with nothing. Sadly, there have been instances of women returning to their abuser with their children if life is just too difficult without resources.
“We welcome donations of any items that can help furnish a home,” she says. “We pass them on for free or sometimes sell them to raise money to provide our services. But it’s essential that donations are clean and not broken. It costs us money to dispose of what’s found to be stained and unsuitable furniture. Fabrics that need ironing are no help to people without an iron or electricity.”
Tonia and her team never stop working. “We put in 329 hours a week, of which only 47 are paid. If we didn’t have 282 hours of volunteer time, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do,” Tonia says. Meeting so many needs is challenging, but there are rewarding moments. As one grateful man said: “If it wasn’t for you, Tonia, I wouldn’t be here, love.”