BLOG: IN FOCUS - Hard times in the city
NOW the enforced jollity of the festive season has passed, and as the charred sticks of New Year's firework rockets gather sludge in gutters across the city, the bleak January skies seem to be bringing us all back to earth with a thud.
American politicians may have proven themselves to be at least one level up from lemmings, by not leaping over their much-hyped "fiscal cliff", but the reality of the worst recession in more than a generation continues to bite.
The fear among charity workers in Bristol seems to be that 2013 will be the year that the gloominess in the economy turns into disaster for the Third Sector.
As the chief executive of a Bristol-based charity told me recently: "Times are very tough for charities, worse than most people think."
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The charity boss, who doesn't want to be identified, added, rather ominously: "There will be considerably fewer Bristol-based charities by the end of 2013 than there are at the start. A lot of the smaller charities simply won't be able to survive the cuts."
Worse still, they will be lost at the one time in which they are most needed – when jobs in industry are lost, and families' personal economies collapse, it's then, more than ever, that the work of charities is most important to society.
One way local charities seem to be trying to tackle the problem, is by creating initiatives that cost very little to run beyond the good will of their volunteers.
This week I've reported on two such projects. The first aimed at helping the elder members of our society who find themselves unable to pay for heating as winter creeps up around them, and the second focused on the other end of the spectrum – at young people for whom the prospect of a first foot on the employment ladder seems almost fantastical.
The first scheme, Surviving Winter, is a joint initiative between the Quartet Community Foundation and Saga, in which charity workers are appealing to wealthier pensioners to consider donating their "winter fuel allowance" to support those elderly people who really need it to heat their homes.
I met a Kingswood pensioner, who after the loss of his wife fell into depression and alcoholism, and before too long had spent all his savings and built up household bills that he couldn't afford to pay.
His solution has been to not turn the heating on in his home this winter.
"I cook on an electric hob, and avoid using the oven," he told me. "And I never put the heating on, no matter how cold it is outside.
"When it gets really cold I just use some common sense and wrap myself up in blankets. It's no kind of a life. sitting here in my flat trying to keep warm, but I've been left with very little choice."
The second cheap-to-run initiative, Mentor Plus, run by the Community Resolve charity, pairs troubled youngsters in St Paul's and Easton – in the hope that by having a mentor just a few years their senior, youngsters can learn from the mistakes of others, and avoid making the same pitfalls.
I met 20-year-old Kiesha Jarvis, who mentors 17-year-old Amber James.
"I've just tried to be there for Amber, offer her support and guidance," Kiesha told me. "Simple things like helping her to get the benefits to which she is entitled, introducing her to agencies that can help, like Citizens' Advice, and even just encouraging her to get out there and take up every opportunity that comes up."
It seems that as times get tougher in 2013, we are entering a period when we'll be increasingly expected to help each other through the hard times, and maybe that isn't such a bad thing.
Feature writer David Clensy writes The Post's daily Focus features