9th January 2023
Thrings Associate Emma Page meets Penny McKissock, Founder and CEO of Bath-based charity Southside.
EP: Southside has been a presence in Bath for 25 years, but for anyone who isn’t familiar with it, what is the story of Southside?
PM: One in five children in BaNES lives in poverty – of all types – financial, educational, social, emotional. It is a difficult statistic to hear about in what is seemingly an affluent area, but it’s true. And so, 25 years ago, I set up the Whiteway Health Project to address some of the needs of this community. We started with two staff and, over the years, we have evolved into Southside, an independent charity with almost 70 staff providing a range of support services to communities across Bath and North East Somerset.
EP: What are these services and how can people go about accessing them if they need to?
PM: Southside provides everything from family support, after-school food hubs, counselling and coaching to domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse support. And, if we find we are missing a service, we always aim to add it to our list so that we can provide a one-stop shop for the community. The demand for these services is absolutely huge; we take a lot of referrals from social services, the police and health professionals but we also take self-referrals and I’m proud of the triage system we provide with some very skilled and supportive people who are available at the other end of the phone.
EP: What are the biggest challenges for Southside?
PM: In a way, we are a victim of our own success; Southside has been such a valuable asset to the community that we are finding more and more people accessing its services and so our main challenges are definitely funding and having the right people in place to provide those services.
EP: But, no doubt, the positive outcomes make it worthwhile?
PM: Definitely. Our ethos here at Southside is not simply to provide support but to instil confidence and independence so that our service users learn to make their own successful future. It is so rewarding to see how young people we’ve helped have worked really hard to use the opportunity to change the narrative of their own story.
For example, we have one young woman presently who was subjected to some of the worst domestic abuse I have ever seen but has risen above her situation and has emerged as a very strong young woman, currently completing higher education with a very bright future ahead of her!
I’m also proud that roughly 60 percent of our staff are former service users. It is really pleasing to know that, having received help themselves, they have grown in confidence and independence and have made the decision to give back.
EP: What can local people reading this do to help the work of Southside?
PM: The biggest thing people can do is to volunteer and donate of course, not only do they then have an impact directly, but they are then able to help spread the message further. It is very hands-on and can be quite lively, but it is an opportunity for volunteers to learn.
We run a lot of volunteer training and I couldn’t recommend it enough. Providing people with context and understanding about what we do and why we do it, as well the experience and preparation to go out there and help people, is such a good vehicle for change and if anyone is even remotely interested in finding out more, please do get in touch.
EP: What do you see as the future for Southside
PM: Hopefully we will continue to expand but. at the same time, we need to maintain best practice in everything we do. So our expansion will depend on getting the funding and the right people in the right positions to ensure we are continuing to deliver the very best for the communities in BaNES.
EP: What are you most proud of in your time with Southside?
PM: That, despite all the funding cuts, pandemics and other problems, we have survived; we have grown, we have helped hundreds in the community - we are still here.