As the voluntary sector stares into the face of surging demand for cost-of-living support, charities and organisations are dealing with crises of their own.

"The pressures are immense", said Nicky Willshere, chief officer at Citizens Advice Ipswich.

"We're combatting a perfect storm of rising demand, surging bills and staff shortages.

"The voluntary sector is on the front line and picking up the pressures.

"This isn't an us and them situation. We've all got these concerns."

For the organisation that exists to offer support to those most in need, times are tough.

"Demand has gone through the ceiling in the last nine months", said Nicky.

"We're struggling to ensure we have capacity to meet everyone's needs.

"On top of that, we're seeing our bills soar.

"Last year, it cost £700 a month to pay for heating.

"This year, I'm not going to be turning on the heating until the last possible moment."

Currently, Citizens Advice and other organisations are facing these challenges without any additional funding.

To make matters worse, staff shortages are leading to concerns about how the sector can cope.

Nicky said: "A number of our paid staff are getting poached."

"My salary costs have gone up and I can't afford to give pay rises.

"My staff, who do an excellent job, are worried about putting food on the table.

"So they're taking jobs that they hate because they're being offered more money.

"I can't blame them for that at all because I just can't compete.

"One member of staff is having to go back to lorry driving for that reason.

"They said to me they came here because they wanted to make a difference.

"But you can't eat that and making a difference doesn't cover the electricity bill."

Since the pandemic, the number of volunteers has declined considerably.

Sudbury Mercury: The number of volunteers in the sector has been in decline since the pandemicThe number of volunteers in the sector has been in decline since the pandemic (Image: Archant)

For a sector that relies so heavily on these members of staff, issues are only worsening.

"People just can't afford to volunteer anymore", said Nicky.

"Early retirees are now having to look after children and grandchildren to help support them and make ends meet.

"Those who were working age are now having to go and get paid jobs."

Nicky said the only way she can cut back on costs is to either get rid of staff or lower people's salaries.

For an organisation on the frontline of the cost of living crisis, neither of these options is tenable.

"We're already struggling to cope with demand. I can't afford to get rid of anybody because we need to meet the needs of the community.

"I can't control electricity, I can't control rent. I can't control anything other than staffing costs.

"But I just can't cut back any further.

"I already think we don't pay them what they're worth and we know they can get paid more elsewhere."

In the face of such uncertainty, Nicky and her staff remained determined in their fight to help those in need.

But more support is needed if they are to cope with even further increases in demand over the coming months.

"We want to help as many people as we can", she said.

"But we need more funding so we can get on with our day jobs and provide this assistance.

"I don't want to sit here stressing about how I'm going to keep doors open while I'm dealing with a tsunami.

"I want to focus on what we are here to do and I will do everything in my power to make sure that happens."

Tim Holder is head of public affairs at the Suffolk Community Foundation.

He argues the voluntary sector is facing issues equivalent to independent businesses.

"Over 50% of charities in Suffolk work on less than £10,000 a year," he said.

"So volunteers are essential for some organisations.

"Unfortunately, a lot of people have stopped volunteering and haven't returned.

"On top of that, the resources are not what they need to be, their outgoings are going up and their requests for help are going up.

"But throughout Covid, everybody pulled together and we worked through it.

"We prepare for a tough winter where every corner of Suffolk will need to work together to get through it.

"And we will do because Suffolk always does."

Hannah Reid, deputy chief executive at Community Action Suffolk, also called for people across Suffolk to come together in order to help the sector.

Sudbury Mercury: Hannah Reid of Community Action SuffolkHannah Reid of Community Action Suffolk (Image: Archant)

“Suffolk’s VCSE organisations provide a vital lifeline for so many residents in Suffolk, but their own challenges are significant and only likely to increase", she said.

"Our sector has always been a mainstay of community wellbeing and throughout the pandemic there is no doubt in our minds that volunteers, community groups and organisations saved lives.

"They are already being called on to do so again and we implore anyone that can help, to do so now.

"An hour of someone’s time to volunteer, donations to community sharing schemes (food, wood, toys etc.), fundraising support, or anything you can do will go a long way to supporting the sector.”