This year has been a challenging one for everyone working in horticulture, both due to the economy and the weather. While there are hopes that improvement is on the horizon for better trade and rising employment next year, it is most often those who are at the bottom of the pay scales and working in the lower-income jobs in this industry who are the worst affected by the challenges that arise.
In recent times, an increasing number of people working in horticulture have found themselves faced with debt problems. Perennial, horticulture's trade charity, helped 25 per cent more clients with debt problems in 2011 than in 2010, and by the end of September 2012 the number of clients receiving debt advice was already 10 per cent more than in the whole of 2011.
The economic downturn and poor summer weather meant that one of the main factors contributing to debt was the lack of jobs for the large number of self-employed people working in horticulture, while for those who are employed, many have faced renegotiated contracts with overtime cut, meaning lower take-home pay.
Financial difficulty is just one situation where Perennial can help. It provides free, confidential advice, support and financial assistance to people of all ages working in or retired from horticulture and their spouses, partners and children. People who have been helped include employed and self-employed gardeners, nursery staff, parks and grounds care staff, landscapers and tree surgeons.
The hardships faced include disability, sickness, poverty, debt and old age, although increasingly help is sought by younger people in employment. During 2011, 85 per cent of Perennial's new clients were under retirement age, compared with 67 per cent in 2010, and 59 per cent of Perennial's entire client base was under retirement age in 2011, compared with 48 per cent in 2010.
The help provided by Perennial is seen as a lifeline by its clients during traumatic events such as major illness, redundancy, retirement, bereavement and severe financial difficulty. Each individual's circumstances are different, but their contact with Perennial usually begins with a visit from a professionally trained caseworker to help find a solution and offer support.
Financial help is provided by assessment of needs with greater financial assistance provided to those with the least income. Perennial makes grants from its own funds and offers advice on statutory and charitable funds. Financial help is available for the children of horticulturists where one or both parents have died or for children disadvantaged by their circumstances in other ways.
Perennial's dedicated debt advice service for horticulturists is free, impartial, confidential and tailored to the circumstances of the individual. The debt advisers may get involved by negotiating with creditors, preparing financial statements, advising on bankruptcy, helping with court paperwork and offering representation at repossession or eviction hearings. Debt advisers also help individuals plan for a more stable future by providing budgeting advice, information on the latest initiatives aimed at helping people in financial difficulties, help with identifying any eligible welfare or tax benefits as well as grant and charity applications.
Support is also available to help with housing problems and provide care for the ill or elderly. At this time of year, faced with another hard winter, meeting the costs of fuel bills is a challenge for many. It is not just the elderly who have to decide whether to heat or eat - families with young children, the disabled and those struggling to survive on state benefits are all affected. Perennial caseworkers routinely ensure that all clients are helped to access state provision where available.
Perennial also offers training initiatives for horticultural students, including bursaries through its Lironi Training Fund. These include hardship bursaries for students facing exceptional unforeseen difficulty, whose studies have been jeopardised by the effects of death, disease or disaster. There are also bursaries available to full-time horticulture students who are themselves the sons or daughters of horticulturists. Working in a low-paid industry, horticulturists often find it difficult to support their children's training, and these bursaries help them to do so.
- Charlie's story
Charlie* had been a groundsman since leaving school. Perennial became involved with him when he separated from his wife and obtained custody of his three-year-old daughter. He had been homeless and living in local authority temporary accommodation. He was finally awarded a tenancy and, although he was working full-time and getting all the correct benefits, he was finding it hard to buy all the items he needed for his house.
Perennial's caseworker stepped in and raised enough money to buy white goods for the kitchen and to furnish his daughter's bedroom. There was also enough money to buy his daughter some badly needed clothes. With this start-up help, Charlie was able to continue furnishing his home comfortably. The caseworker kept in touch and when Charlie was having difficulties paying for his winter electricity bill, Perennial made a grant to cover the costs. Charlie and his daughter are now back on their feet and Charlie has been able to carry on working to support himself and his daughter.
- Sue's story
Sue* was referred to Perennial the day before her 46-year-old groundsman husband died from cancer. She was left with two teenage children and the shock of widowhood had caused her to fall ill, unable to deal with the paperwork regarding her husband's death. She had found debts that her husband had hidden from her and was worried about the mortgage. At the same time, her eldest daughter was about to give birth and her son had ended up in hospital with a head injury.
Perennial's caseworker immediately provided Sue with a grant to help ease her financial difficulties. The caseworker then dealt with the agencies that needed to be informed - such as the Department for Work & Pensions and HMRC regarding her husband's pension, and her mortgage provider - and negotiated with her creditors. Some of the debts were written off and the caseworker arranged a payment holiday for the remainder, until Sue was back at work and her finances were sorted out. Perennial will continue to provide bereavement support to Sue until she feels confident to continue on her own.
* Names have been changed
How you can help Perennial to help people in need
All of Perennial's work depends on voluntary donations from the horticulture industry and the garden-loving public. There are various opportunities for businesses to get involved and help the work that Perennial does.
Companies can become a Perennial Partner. In return, they receive a range of benefits including promotional opportunities in the regular Garden Post newsletter, inclusion on the Corporate Roll of Honour and a listing on the website's Corporate Support Page. But most importantly, they will be helping Perennial help colleagues from the world of horticulture who are facing need or crisis.
Businesses can also help by making a corporate donation, which can be offset against tax. Many companies do not just donate money, they also provide tangible benefits. These may come in any size or shape, from the secondment of an employee to a raffle prize, and all are highly valued.
Perennial has a long tradition of volunteering and encouraging employees to get involved as a volunteer gives them a break from their normal work routine and a sense of satisfaction that can help improve staff retention. There are various volunteering initiatives, such as gardening and maintenance projects and fundraising at events and exhibitions.
It is not always easy to find time to volunteer while working, but individuals who want to get involved with the charity without giving up too much time can become a Perennial Champion. A champion acts as an ambassador to provide a point of contact between a business and Perennial.
Investors in Perennial is a new initiative being developed to engage businesses. Companies can choose from a menu of sponsorship opportunities, joint mailings and events and in return the businesses receive a certificate, website links, inclusion in the newsletter and the Investors in Perennial logo to use.
As Christmas approaches and everyone is caught up in the festivities of the occasion, spare a thought for those people in this industry who are less fortunate and in need of help.
To find out more about opportunities for you and your business to get involved with Perennial, visit www.perennial.org.uk, call 0845 676 0636 or email email@example.com.