West Sussex Mind helps nearly 150 people navigate cost of living challenges

December 2023

Meet Laura and Andy, our cost of living support workers. They work with people who are struggling with financial pressures and their mental health to get them the support they need

Over the last eight months, West Sussex Mind has helped nearly 150 individuals struggling with the cost of living with information, advice and tangible support, such as food vouchers.

Launched in March 2023, the cost of living project offers phone-based support and face-to-face and group sessions for people who are finding it difficult to make ends meet in the face of rising food and energy prices.

We know that if people already struggle with their mental health, financial pressures magnify this and make it harder for them to navigate the support they need; meanwhile worry and stress caused by the cost of living crisis have negatively impacted people’s mental health, increasing the number of people who need mental health support.

“We take a holistic approach to people’s cost of living circumstances, providing bespoke help and advice according to individual challenges and needs,” says Laura Neilson, cost of living support worker. “We listen to people’s struggles and develop a support plan, giving them information about other organisations and services that can help. We aren’t qualified financial advisers, but we have lived experience of cost of living challenges ourselves and can offer peer support. So many people are finding it hard right now and I often say that we are all in the same boat; it’s just that the size of our boat and the size of our oars are different.”

Laura’s co-worker Andy Thomas also has first-hand experience of cost of living difficulties. “I have used mental health services myself in the past and I’ve experienced some of the financial problems that can be associated with poor mental health, like being unemployed for a period of time," says Andy. "I know how challenging it can be applying for benefits like Universal Credit and I can help people with that.”

“This winter is going to be hard. You can’t sugar-coat that, but we try to treat every service user as holistically as we can. We don’t have a magic wand, but lots of little things, such as small gestures of food, can and do make a difference and take some of the pressure off people”


Andy says the service offers a mixture of guidance, referrals and information about other services, as well as tangible help. The support workers refer people to Citizens Advice Bureau, which is a good one-stop shop for helping with a number of issues, debt management organisations, such as Step Change, and issue foodbank vouchers through the Trussell Trust’s online system. They also direct people to UK Harvest and to community fridges, where people can turn up and give a donation for food, as well as helping people to access the government’s Household Support Fund aimed at vulnerable households struggling to cope with the rising cost of living.

Sometimes Laura and Andy work with individuals over four or five months, checking in with them every two weeks or so by phone to ensure that they have contacted Citizens Advice, for example, or have moved to the next stage of their debt management plan. A volunteer peer support worker will be joining the team in January 2024 and peer support will be a key feature of the project going forward.

Laura and Andy find their work very rewarding and say that small things can have a big impact. “It’s very satisfying when you can give tangible support," says Laura. "For example, a supermarket voucher can be a big boost for a family of eight or we can direct people to UK Harvest, which has a big impact on a family where the children haven’t eaten fresh fruit and vegetables for three months.”

Andy says that one of the biggest benefits of the service is the reassurance people feel from being listened to and given concrete help. He cites the case of an elderly person he worked with who said that they found his advice really reassuring: “It’s easy for people to feel lost in the system and to simply not know what they are entitled to,” says Andy. “We guide people to help them navigate sources of support that can often feel confusing to them, especially if they are struggling with their mental health. An elderly person fed back that the advice I’d given them was incredibly reassuring and that they felt more confident about contacting Citizens Advice as a result.”

The government’s Household Support Fund runs until the end of March 2024 and Laura says she hopes that this will continue: “This winter is going to be hard. You can’t sugar-coat that, but we try to treat every service user as holistically as we can. Our personal approach makes a real difference to people, because they feel seen and validated. We don’t have a magic wand, but lots of little things, such as small gestures of food, can and do make a difference and take some of the pressure off people.”

If you are already getting support with West Sussex Mind, you can get help from our cost of living workers. Cost of living support is open to adults over 18 years of age and we have also helped parents of children and young people getting support with us. We are able to contribute some travel costs towards cost of living appointments, so please speak to your support worker for more information.