A Swindon-based group helping women struggling with addiction and mental health issues has been aided by a £37,000 grant.
The money will enable The Nelson Trust to employ another full-time key worker.
The Nelson Trust, which supports 750 women from all over the Wiltshire affected by issues including drink and drug dependency, anxiety and depression, domestic abuse and sex working, has seen demand rise during the pandemic.
Wiltshire Community Foundation chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “The Nelson Trust does a great job in supporting women who have become isolated and marginalised, slowly and patiently offering them a way back to rebuilding their lives.
“It is horrifying to think that the pandemic pushed even more women into such perilous situations and we are so pleased that our grant will help it reach more of them.”
The grant from Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund will help the trust to overcome a £200,000 drop in income since the first lockdown.
Christina Line, the group’s business development manager, said covid had exacerbated women’s mental health for many reasons including, domestic abuse, isolation, decreased face-to-face work, reduced income and not being able to afford technology to stay in touch with services.
Covid, she said, forced more women into sex working from home. Women with drug or alcohol addictions have lost their jobs and others who would normally shoplift to fund their habit have become increasingly desperate for money because stores have been closed.
“A lot of women that we didn’t know about before who have lost their jobs in the pandemic have been forced into sex working,” she said.
“They need to keep a roof over their head so a lot of women have no choice. In one week we had eight new referrals of women sex working from home.”
She said some of the women came to the charity after being referred by drug and alcohol services, while others are sent by fellow sex workers.
Nelson Trust staff visit them in their homes to deliver food and condoms as well as to check they are okay, but are unsure how many women are out there alone.
The group, based in Victoria Road, Swindon, works with around 100 regular sex workers. It goes out two nights a week to the Manchester Road area of the town in a specially adapted van to provide food and sexual health checks.
The minimum age of the girls they work with is 18 but some women have brought girls much younger to the van.
Centre manager Veronica Cooper said staff offered them friendship, support and some consistency.
Once staff have built up trust with the women, they can connect them to addiction support and other services such as housing.
Mrs Cooper said one former sex worker whose life was turned around spoke to police at Gable Cross recently about what life had been like on the street.
“One of the things that meant a lot to her that we were that consistent person who she looked forward to seeing just to have some human interaction,” she said.
“It made me so emotional that she said that because we do it without even thinking that it is important. But for these women it is the only sense of love and care that they receive on a weekly basis.
"She said we were her lifeline and because of us she felt she could get away from that life. We were the only people who were consistent and believed in her.”
The charity, which kept in touch with the women it helps through Zoom chat groups, WhatsApp and phone calls during the pandemic, is slowly returning to normal.
“We have waiting lists of women wanting support,” said Mrs Cooper. “We are triaging new referrals and if there is a critical need, such as being in an abusive relationship, we can fast-track them to get urgent help.
"The grant from Wiltshire Community Foundation will be an enormous help as we get up and running properly again.”