The event with the ultimate feelgood factor #dva18

18th October was our annual Dudley Volunteer Awards and as always it was a truly inspirational and emotional evening, celebrating amazing local individuals and groups of volunteers who give their time to grow communities, and support the people who live in them.

The Brierley Hill Civic and Dudley CVS staff teams spent the day preparing the Civic for the event and I think you will agree that it looked fabulous.

Brierley Hill Civic was packed with around 300 guests, including local voluntary, faith, community, statutory and private sector partners, MP’s, Deputy Lieutenants and of course the VIP’s of the evening, fabulous local volunteers and their guests.  All 80 of this year’s nominees were invited along on the evening to receive their certificates and our illustrious Awards Panel selected main awardees and highly commended awards across the nine categories.

A showcase for local talent

We are always fortunate to have talented local people performing at #dva each year and this year was no exception.  Guests enjoyed performances by three entertainers during the evening.

Dancers from Sutton School were the stars who opened the evening.

We were also treated to a stunning performance by Brierley Hill Musical Theatre Youth Group, performing songs from their recent sell-out production of ‘Grease’

Our final entertainer was Malcolm Palmer, a talented ukulele player, who started the Stourbridge branch of the George Formby Society.

 

Say ‘cheese’

We had some wonderful photos taken on the evening and were sharing the event’s highlights through our Twitter feed during the evening.  Unfortunately not everyone came to the group photo call, but I think you will agree that this lovely photo catches the spirit of the evening perfectly.  If you would like to see the photos please click here to visit our special #dva2018 blog page.

Their moment in the spotlight

Once the nominated volunteers had each received their certificate, it was time to focus on the nine different award categories and distinguished local dignitaries were invited to introduce the awards and announce the awardees.

I’ve listed all the main awardees and highly commended for each category, including links to our special blog pages, with photos, video links and copies of the nomination forms, so you can see just what makes these exceptional volunteers so inspirational.

Business Supporting the Community Award

Shaz Saleem from Express Taxis was given a highly commended award for his contributions to local communities and causes.

 

The main awardee for this category was Lee Southerton from Volks Magic in Oldbury, whose mission is to ensure th

at no local child thinks that Santa has forgotten them.  He’s fundraised and collected donations for years and this year has pulled off a small miracle!  His nephew Dale Roberts has donated a VW Mk1 Golf Cabriolet and Lee is running a prize draw at £5 a ticket to win the car and all funds raised will go to this year’s Operation Santa Dudley borough appeal.  He has alr

eady raised £3700 selling tickets are various VW events and the Just Giving page is climbing to £400!  Why not watch the video from Lee’s nominator, telling us just what makes him so special?

Community Action Award

Scott Round was the deserving main awardee and his nominator said:

“Scott is always caring and worries about other people and will always put others first, he works hard and is always a joy to see around the Coseley area, he puts a smile on people’s faces. Scott is passionate about Coseley and all its residents, I cannot think of another person like him he deserves recognition for all he does in fact he deserves a medal.”

There was a joint Highly Commended Award in this category for Jasmine Road Community Gardens and Michael Price from White House Cancer Support.

 

Healthy Communities Award

Riverside House CIC were the inspirational main awardees in this category.  Their nominator said:

“The Riverside volunteers are wonderfully inspirational! They have been supporting a growing number of young people with learning disabilities and autism over the last two years; currently they are working alongside nine young people, all of whom have complex needs, requiring understanding, patience and kill to enable their participation.”

 

Wellbeing Award

Ronnie Wheeler from the Recovery Café was granted the main award in this category. His nominator said:

“Ronnie is an inspiration partly because of the challenges he has had to overcome himself. This has also led to him being compassionate and supportive of the group that access the service. His determination, persistence and commitment has created the group. He inspires others and has built a great team of volunteers to meet the increasing need”

Lyn Head was the worthy Highly Commended recipient for supporting lonely and isolated people at the Chit Chat Club.

 

 

The Black Country Radio arts & heritage award

John Raycord from Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust was the main awardee in this category in recognition of his passion and commitment. He’s well-known by local boaters using the canal. Please do follow the link and watch the lovely nomination film, telling you all about him. 

Jo Gresswell from Brierley Hill Musical Theatre Company was given a Highly Commended Award in this category and got an even bigger surprise as her group were performing their ‘Grease’ songs at the Awards.

Children, young people and families award

Caroline Smith from Dudley was granted the main award in this category.  Her nominator has done an amazing film, telling us all about what makes her so special, so please do watch it.

Emily Bills was given a Highly Commended award and runs a Special Educational Needs play group, which offers children and parents much needed support

 

Duncan Edwards Sporting Champion award

This year’s Sporting Champion was Anthony Coghlan from Dudley Water Sports Club.

He was recognised for his drive and commitment in developing the club into a true community asset for local people to get involved.

 

Ray McGuirk young volunteer of the year award

“Ray McGuirk, a proud Dudley resident, helped many in his community and particularly those less well off than himself. He was a great supporter of young people, whom he felt so often received unwarranted bad press. As a member of Dudley CVS Executive Committee for many years, it was only natural for him to ask Dudley Lions to sponsor the CVS Young Volunteer Award. This they have done for 14 years, championing the youth of today.

Sadly Ray passed away in December 2014 at the young age of 88, but his work and legacy lives on in this award. He would be immensely proud to have his name associated with the work that these outstanding young people have carried out”.

The Ray McGuirk Award for outstanding Young Volunteer of the Year is a very special award and is given to young people from across our borough, who demonstrate a commitment to making a difference in their local communities and are positive role models to other young people.

This year’s recipients were no exception and were a truly inspirational group of young role models.

The Panel could not choose between two exceptional young volunteers and made a Joint Main Award to Lauren Bollans and Skye Edwards, who are both Young Health Champions for Healthwatch Dudley.

The Panel also chose to make a joint Highly Commended award in this category to two outstanding young volunteers Chloe Sallis and Thomas Southall.   To read more about these simply exceptional young volunteers, please do follow the links to read their nominations and see the wonderful photos from the evening.

 

Gordon Lindsay Award for long service

Our most prestigious award of the evening is this award in memory of our late Chairman Gordon Lindsay, who dedicated his life to volunteering and local causes. The nominees in this category have usually volunteered for at least 25 years and this year was no exception.  Gordon Lewis took the main award for his unstinting long-term commitment to growing and developing Himley Cricket Club.

 

It was an amazing evening, but don’t just take our word for it 🙂

 

 

 

Working Together for Change

cropped-smile-changeIn 2014 Dudley CVS began a journey to support parent carers across the borough to have a voice, influence decisions and collaborate with professionals to ensure that services improve for children and young people with disabilities and their families.

I can honestly say that this has been one of the most joyful, humbling and enlightening aspects of my work. It is a privilege to work alongside parent carers, their passion, energy and honesty knows no bounds. They are so committed to working with professionals so that together they can figure out how to make things better, look at what’s working well and also be honest about what’s not working so well.

Over the four years through Working Together for Change – Dudley Parent Carer Forum parent carers have given over 1,704 hours of their precious time to influence decisions that effect so many lives.

In 2017/18 parent carers through the forum have attended over 32 strategic meetings where they have been heard and collaborated with senior decision makers. Once again we have built on the success of previous years and increased our reach with over 2,182 views on our website, 240 followers on twitter and 169 followers on Facebook.

None of this would have been possible without the support of the forum parent carers especially the steering group who have been there from the start and are still hanging in! They inspire me every time I have the privilege to be in their company.

Any parent carer within Dudley borough can become a forum member. Its free to join and you can become a member on your terms, so you could opt to just receive information, or you can get involved in consultations, join a task and finish group or represent the forum locally or regionally.

More information about Dudley Parent Carer Forum and our annual report can be found here or you can give Donna a call on 01384 573381

Building friendships for people with dementia and their carers in Brierley Hill

Meet Paul and Alison. They’re the team behind the lovely Alzheimer’s and Friendship Group that meets at the Storehouse in Brierley Hill on most Monday evenings. It’s a place where people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia and their carers can come to meet others, share mutual support and make friends.

I visited them recently to learn more about them and what the group means to the people that attend.

As soon as I got to the door, I was greeted by Paul, who welcomed me into the Storehouse coffee shop which was laid out nicely so that everyone could see and talk to each other, or talk in smaller groups if they wanted to. I introduced myself to everyone and soon people started telling me their own stories about caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, which I think was a sign of how comfortable they felt in their surroundings.

Paul and Alison clearly have time for everyone who walks through the door, helping them to feel welcome, wanted and comfortable. This is something that they’ve been doing for the past nine years; I was bowled over to learn that the group had been going for that long, just over the road from my office!

Back in 2009, Paul, who has a background of working with people with dementia, met someone who couldn’t go out because of their caring role. In response to this, he and Alison, who worked with older people, thought about providing respite, a space for people with dementia while their carers got some time to themselves. They spoke to Albion Street Church, who agreed to let Paul and Alison use some space, first in the church itself and then in the Storehouse when it was refurbished. The Church also holds a small budget for the group which they can dip into for things like refreshments and entertainment, though they rarely use it and make sure it goes a long way!

Over the years, the group has been flexible to the wishes of its participants. While some carers have brought their loved ones and taken advantage of the respite offered, other carers have stayed with their loved ones and participated in the activities. At the moment, the regular participants are all former carers, who continue to attend for the companionship they have gained over the years; none of the participants knew each other before they started attending the group. Some come from as far as Sedgley because of their shared experiences of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. As we all shared our emotional experiences of loving and losing someone with Alzheimer’s, it did feel good to take some solace from people who had experienced it too. I can completely see how the Alzheimer’s and Friendship Groups helps people to feel less isolated.

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On the evening of my visit, we were treated to some entertainment from Rachel a talented  musician, who played a range of pieces on saxophone. As a music obsessive myself, this was a peaceful treat and I think everyone enjoyed it! In fact, Alzheimer’s Society says that

evidence suggests that the brain processes music differently to other functions, allowing people with dementia to enjoy songs and music long after other abilities are challenged.

Rachel is connected to the Church herself and she gave her time and skills freely to entertain us for a couple of hours on a Monday night. This group really is a great example of how great things can happen with the right ingredients: people with a passion; a friendly venue and a supportive organisation behind them; good connections which can be mobilised for very little outlay. This is why I hadn’t heard of the group before: they have everything they need to succeed!

Of course, this group is open to new members, whether they’re carers, cared-for, or both. So if you’re interested in making new friends in a supportive environment, the Alzheimer’s a Friendship Group meets on Monday evenings February-December (except bank holidays), 6pm onwards.

It’s wonderful that the Alzheimer’s and Friendship Group exists. According to figures from Alzheimer’s Society:

  • 225,000 people will develop dementia this year – one every three minutes
  • There are 670,000 carers of people with dementia in the UK
  • In 2015, an estimated 850,000 people were living with dementia

So there’s room for groups like this and others to create supportive environments for carers and their loved ones. In fact, in Coseley residents have been coming together to develop a Dementia Friendly Cinema to help people with dementia to stay connected in their community. Using a wonderful guide from Alzheimer’s Society to make small adaptations to help people with dementia feel safe and supported, they’ve had one screening and are planning another soon. The next screening will be Some Like It Hot on Tuesday 16 October, at 2pm. To register for this, please visit the Coseley Community Cinema page.

If you’d like to get more involved with either the Alzheimer’s and Friendship Group or the Coseley Dementia Cinema, then please feel free to get in touch and I’ll link you with them.

Operation Santa 2018 is go go go! #charitytuesday

Although this year’s appeal will not be launched officially until the end of October, our amazing supporters have already been very busy preparing for what we hope will be another very successful Operation Santa 2018.

Win a car for £5

Yes you did read that correctly!  Last year Lee Southerton from Volks Magic and his lovely team of ‘Santa’s a Gangster’ supporters joined Operation Santa and made a huge impact. After dropping off toys and raising cash donations for last year’s appeal, this year they have taken their support to a whole new level!  Dale Roberts who is Lee’s nephew, has donated a VW Mark 1 Golf Cabriolet and Lee has organised a prize draw, where people can contribute to this year’s appeal by purchasing as many prize draw entries as they wish at just £5 a time. All donations will go to this year’s appeal and the grand draw will take place on 14th December 2018.  Lee and Dale were fundraising on 14th-16th September at V-Dubs in the Valley in Bewdley and raised an incredible £2700 with an auction and prize draw ticket sales. The team also organised a reverse Santa with visitors dropping off toys in the car for this year’s appeal. Wow that’s incredible and will be a huge boost to this year’s appeal!

The link is here for more information: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/santasagangster2018

 

Taking the plunge

Jayne Bond and Matt Cook from Brierley Hill Civic are doing a parachute jump to raise funds for this year’s Operation Santa too. They’ve already raised almost £300 and we will be sharing pictures from the jump when they do it. This is a really lovely gesture and very brave of Jayne and Matt!

Eleven elves a ‘elping

I’m delighted to announce this year we have three new volunteer ‘elves’ joining the existing team, plus a fourth one who is yet to confirm.  Jayne and Sarah are going to be helping with the grotto and events, and Phil is our new volunteer sleigh driver, helping with collecting donations. Welcome to the team J   The lovely Rose and Andy will be helping us once again, alongside Abi, Mike, Stacey, Simon and Carl.

Spreading the word

By popular demand we have got a dedicated Operation Santa poster this year. We are hoping they will help us spread the word about what we do and whether it’s someone who wants to donate, or an organisation who supports children, young people and their families, they will be able to get in touch. If you can help us by putting up a poster or sharing via your social media feed we would be very grateful.  We also have wishlists with suggested items to donate too, so why not see if your family, friends or colleagues could help this year by collecting donations?

Oh no you haven’t!  Boo Hiss

We do love a good panto and this year will be no exception.  Thanks to our lovely friends at Brierley Hill Musical Theatre Company, who do us a special price on tickets, some lucky local children will be enjoying a visit to Brierley Hill Civic Hall to see Rapunzel in January 2019.

Date for your diary – 23rd May 2019

After the runway success [hope you like the pun!] of last year’s fabulous fundraising fashion show in May 2018, I’ve taken the plunge and booked another date in the Civic’s diary for 2019. We raised just short of £1000 in ticket sales, tombola, auction and sales on the night, which is a huge amount of money for the appeal. So far I’ve booked Eloise Amelia and Bradley Stokes to provide some musical entertainment on the evening, and will finalise what sort of event it will be next year. The fashion show was a great success, but it depends if we have any clothes donated for this year’s Operation Santa. So watch this space and I will keep you posted.

Keep yourself updated on what we’re doing this year!

 

 

Tips for being successful with your funding applications

Organisations in the voluntary, community and faith sector have, over many years, carried out essential and important work helping people who are vulnerable, disadvantaged, lonely and unable to access services for a variety of reasons. As a consequence of what they do they are able to apply for grants from a variety of funding bodies such as trusts/foundations (e.g. Lloyds Bank Foundation, Henry Smith Charity and Garfield Weston Foundation) as well as national funders such as BBC Children in Need and the Big Lottery.

In these times of austerity and poverty the role of charitable organisations in society and communities has increased massively however many of them have experienced funding cuts and, as a result, there has been a massive strain on their resources affecting their ability to support vulnerable people to the extent that they used to.

So what are the options facing these organisations? Some have fallen by the wayside and no longer exist. Others continue providing services, activities and projects however at a much reduced rate with many reporting growing waiting lists. At Dudley CVS we provide funding support through identifying potential funders that may be able to help as well as working with organisations when they make applications to funders.

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Grant funding is more important than ever. And it’s not always just about submitting an application. There are many things to consider before starting to work on a funding application. The most important thing is to plan what you want to do and then consider the aim or aims of funders you are considering approaching. Ensure your aims and what you want to do closely match the funder’s requirements. Beware “MISSION DRIFT” – don’t let what you do or want to do be influenced by what funders want.

There are plenty of funding opportunities so do the research. At DCVS we can identify which funders to apply to so long as we have the information on which to base our research. Once we have details of the intended project, what you want the money for (such as revenue costs including salaries, project costs, capital for equipment/buildings etc.), how much you want and for how long we can provide details of potential funders.

Having obtained these details then carry out more investigation by looking at the websites (if applicable) and/or speak to the funders explaining what you want the grant for. By speaking to a funder can save a lot of time if they tell you straight away not to bother applying. Conversely they may be very interested which gives you the confidence to make an application to them.

Always start either a discussion with a funder or an application request by providing background information about the organisation/project alongside a summary of your funding requirements. This should be brief and to the point with sufficient information to attract their interest. If they are “turned off” early on by too much detail/information they may not read the rest of the application which might be for some excellent work that would justify support. The secret is to “hook the funder” early on.

There are a variety of things a funder will want to know when you submit an application and if there is a form that needs completing then the questions will be supplied on the form. Always answer the questions accurately – don’t provide information you want to say or you think they want to know. Follow their guidelines very carefully and if they provide “prompts” on the application form make sure you cover each one as suggested. If any of these prompts are not applicable then explain why. However if you find that too many are not applicable then you may need to consider whether they are an appropriate funder to approach.

The key areas of a funding application are:

  • Need identified for the project or piece of work you want funded. Outline the issues/problems and evidence. Clearly explain what these issues are and how you know. Evidence is critical and can be results and/or successes of existing/previous work, consultation with beneficiaries/stakeholders/interested parties and research (local or national). Many applications fail because the need hasn’t been identified and evidenced sufficiently.
  • Beneficiary details stating who they are (people/individuals, communities, organisations), how many and where they are from.
  • Aims and Outcomes – the differences or changes you want to make for your beneficiaries using words of change (such as improve, more, better, increase, reduce, less etc.). Ensure the outcomes address the problems or issues identified and the aim shows what impact you want to make.
  • Activities – describe what you will do to meet the needs of your beneficiaries and achieve the outcomes you have planned.

Think of all of this as a journey where you have people (your beneficiaries) with problems or issues in their lives (need for your work or project) and you provide support for them (your activities) so that you can make their lives better (outcomes).

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You must have clear, efficient and good monitoring/evaluation procedures in place ensuring the measurement systems capture not only the inputs/outputs data reporting what you do/the activities you provide but also the subsequent results that show how well the beneficiary’s needs have been met through the achievement of successful outcomes. Then, by analysing this information, you can evaluate the impact of your work/project (meeting your aims) and showing the funder their money was well spent. In this way you may be able to approach them again for repeat funding or, if you have an ongoing grant (initially agreed for say 3/5 years), then they may continue supporting you as you are doing what you said you would do in your initial application.

An accurate and detailed budget must be supplied covering either the organisation’s full costs or just the costs of the project depending on what you are requesting. Include within the funding request the amount you want and for how long. Also provide details of other funding towards the cost of your work i.e. from your own resources and/or from other funders if applicable (if you are not asking for 100% funding).

Always consider value for money and the engagement of volunteers in your project or work. Funders like to know that their grant goes a long way to not only help lots of vulnerable people but also trigger other aspects of support via volunteers etc. so even more people are helped. They see this as key in proposals and often work out the value attributed to each person that you engage with by dividing the number of beneficiaries you plan to work with into the anticipated grant. This can, where there are many good applications to consider, swing the decision your way by you showing the funder how far their grant will go.

Enclosures/further information. Provide details of any other information you are sending such as evaluation reports (from previous projects/work), job descriptions (for any salaried posts you are asking to be funded in whole or part), accounts, annual report, publicity leaflets etc. This additional information provides funders with more in depth knowledge of your organisation and good background.

Don’t forget to thank the funder first of all for taking the time to consider your request and (most importantly) afterwards if you are successful. Write a short letter thanking them for agreeing to fund your organisation/project and, if they don’t ask for a formal evaluation of how their money was spent, provide feedback voluntarily sending photos if you feel this would add value.

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These “tips” are to help organisations get started. Once you have sorted out your plans and what you want to do then contact DCVS and we will arrange to meet with you to discuss your organisation/project and how to proceed in making strong funding applications getting in money to help you continue your valuable work in supporting disadvantaged/vulnerable people.

A club for everyone! Dudley Rowing Club

You’d be forgiven for not associating landlocked Dudley with watersports! But did you know there are lots of opportunities to get on (and in!) the water without venturing too far from home? There’s the canal network, where Stourbridge Arm Canoe Club paddle; there’s the lake at Himley Hall that I once fell in after an argument with an uncooperative kayak, and which is home to Himley Hall Sailing Club; there’s all sorts going on at Dudley Watersports Centre based at Lodge Farm Reservoir in Netherton, including waterskiing and wakeboarding, sailing, scuba diving and open water swimming!

One of the newest additions to Dudley Watersports Centre is Dudley Rowing Club, a friendly group that wants to pass its love of rowing to anyone and everyone. I met with them recently to find out more about them, discuss their plans and help them to find some funders that might support what they’re trying to achieve. It’s always a pleasure to visit Dudley Watersports Centre, a real haven in the middle of a built up area!

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Dudley Rowing Club is a community amateur sports club (CASC), which means it is (and always will be) set up help anyone in the community to access rowing, whatever their ability or circumstance. The people there certainly embrace that concept.

Rowing is often seen as a sport for better off people because it requires a stretch of water, a boat and someone to teach how to do it; there are obvious risks if it is not done properly and it takes time to reach a safe level. The club is working hard to make rowing accessible, allowing people to pay by instalments and running a row as you go rate of £5 per session. Dudley Rowing Club also offers rowing to a school for learning disabled children, a homelessness project, a charity for people with head injuries and a mentoring service for 18-30 year-olds who have a range of needs. The club works with the charity Access in Dudley too, getting disabled people onto the water.

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As well as improving physical fitness, the club knows that rowing has other benefits including:

  • Increasing people confidence: some people start off quite nervous of the water but the majority soon find that any misgivings are offset by their sense of achievement.
  • Improving people’s feelings of achievement
  • Developing skills such as teamwork, cooperation, loyalty and empathy
  • Improving feelings of wellbeing and general positivity
  • Improving at a person’s own rate and moving into roles where they mentor and support others

When the club was working on a small funding bid, I asked if they could include any case studies to help bring their club to life. Mark, the Secretary of Dudley Rowing Club shared these two stories of young people whose participation in club activities has been a real journey:

Debbie is a young person who presents as very nervous and low in confidence, she frequently seeks confirmation that she is doing things correctly and seems genuinely surprised and delighted when she is told that she is.  Debbie responds well to positive criticism, she says that she loves rowing and has progressed from being very anxious about being in the stable four that we have, to now rowing on her own in a stable boat, she enjoys helping other members of her group if they get into any difficulties (getting stuck in surrounding bushes is a frequent problem for beginners) and the leaders of her project report that they have seen a significant improvement in Debbie’s confidence.

 

Liam is a very quiet young man, he does not initiate conversations with anyone other than his closest friend in the group; when spoken to Liam will give as short an answer as possible.  He is friendly, likes to be spoken to, but is noticeably uncomfortable if a response is sought; we are sensitive to this when speaking with him.  Liam was slow to pick up the skills required for rowing in the four, possibly because he could not ask for help or clarification.  We have worked patiently with Liam to the point where he is now rowing well in a single and his technique is amongst the best in his group.

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And Dudley Rowing Club is ambitious about providing opportunities to row at any level. As Mark says “We want our club to become sustainable and one that is known for giving fantastic opportunities for people that want to try rowing, whether for fun, fitness or to excel. Our ambitions are to:

  • Build our membership, retain current members by having a great facility with excellent equipment, making us sustainable in years to come
  • Introduce more people to rowing, especially those who would find the sport difficult to access, and get them as passionate about it as we are while developing their skills
  • Raise the profile of our club
  • Develop people’s skills and talents

The biggest thing the club is looking for at the moment is the £15,000 to buy a ‘quad’, a boat its junior members can use, as they currently have to practise at a nearby club using its equipment. Dudley Rowing Club would dearly love to bring its junior members back to Netherton as soon as possible.

For Dudley Rowing Club, being able to buy a new quad will mean that:

  • It can retain its current junior members by providing attractive and competitive facilities, saving them from moving to clubs further away, or leaving the sport entirely
  • It can build the junior membership as it will be able to market the facilities it has to offer and provide peace of mind to parents that the equipment is safe to use
  • The organisations that currently work with Dudley Rowing Club can continue to do so, allowing people with disadvantages to access rowing
  • Dudley Rowing Club can work with more schools and organisations to make rowing accessible to many more children and adults experiencing disadvantage.
  • Dudley Rowing Club will be able to develop people’s soft skills, such as confidence and team work, as well as developing the technical rowing skills of those that want to progress in the sport
  • The club will be able to offer routes of progression through the sport to more people
  • Dudley Rowing Club will be able to engage Schools to take up rowing lessons and from this attract some of the pupils to join, helping the club to become more sustainable in the future.

If you would like to learn more about Dudley Rowing Club, join or help them, please visit the club’s Facebook page. You’ll be made really welcome.

Thank you to Dudley Rowing Club’s Facebook page for allowing me to use their excellent pictures in this blog too! I’m looking forward to working with this club more.

 

Great news from the brand new Priory Community Centre!

What a difference a year makes! Priory Community Centre now looks a far cry from the empty, not-quite-finished shell of a building I visited in June 2017. Now it’s vibrant, full of people of all ages doing all sorts of creative things together!

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It’s a journey that started long before I started working with the passionate group of people who make up Priory Community Association, a charity that’s been without a home since the North Priory estate in Dudley was flattened and redeveloped in 2010. Priory Community Association volunteers live and breathe their community; they continued to work in the community at other venues to make sure they stayed connected, they maintained links with other community centres for support while they were without a home and they provided a strong voice for what the new community centre should look and feel like.

Last year, I was asked to support Priory Community Association through the asset-transfer process, work that had been started by my former colleague Caroline, who’d worked closely with Dudley Council staff on its asset-transfer strategy. In basic terms, asset transfer is when building or land moves from statutory control into the control of not-for-profit organisations. In Dudley borough, this has in most cases been a transfer of management (through a lease) rather than transferring ownership from the local authority to another organisation. Asset transfer can be a lengthy process (with more work required the longer the lease is), so it’s good to approach it with realistic expectations. Generally, the process involves completing a short expression of interest and then working on a business plan that will show the community support for the transfer, what kinds of activities will happen there and how they will benefit the community and the financial viability. Understandably, the local authority will want to make sure that the transfer will benefit the community and that it is sustainable.

So this is the process we started with Priory Community Association. We got busy with the business plan and I think together we made a really strong case for the community benefits, linking not only with the Dudley Council plan but showing links to priorities of the Health and Wellbeing Board, West Midlands Police and Dudley Clinical Commissioning Group. We had some help and good feedback from Martin, who’s the principle link with the local authority for groups looking at asset transfer – he does an excellent job!

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What we all found more difficult was the financial figures. We were lucky enough to be able to get some figures from other community centres, but we weren’t sure how realistic they would be, given that Priory’s was a completely new building (and hopefully more energy efficient!). On top of that, while we were working on the plan, the completed building risked standing empty and Priory Community Association couldn’t give any certainty to potential users and hirers of the centre. So I asked Martin whether a temporary lease might be an option; this would allow Priory Community Association to get in the building and start managing it, giving them experience, building interest and providing a more realistic view of what the costs would be thus making their business plan more robust. At the same time, the building wouldn’t have to stand empty for too long and be at risk of deterioration.

Dudley Council was open to this, which was wonderful news! We thought ahead and it seemed that the timings might coincide with the summer holidays, so I suggested that Awards for All might be interested in funding a playscheme with a difference – one that would help to launch the brand new community centre and kickstart other activities that would happen there. Together we worked on the application – it was a good one! – and Priory Community Association landed a grant of around £5,000 from Awards for All. The group also successfully applied to Dudley Council’s Community Forums to help them furnish the kitchen and other areas of the centre, and their good relationships with other community centres in the borough meant they had lots of chairs and tables donated.

I recently went back to the centre on the last day of the playscheme to see how things had gone. I was utterly staggered by what this passionate group of people has achieved! They’ve made connections with children and families who’ve come to the playscheme and joined in the range of the activities on offer, connections that will last many years judging by the ‘Thank you’ cards on display and the wonderful comments Priory Community Centre has received on its Facebook page, which has been joyously charting each day of the playscheme. Honestly, if you want to brighten your day, take a look at the wonderful pictures and comments like the ones below:

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During my visit a group of children and adults descended on trustees and volunteers with flowers and chocolates to say thank you for the two weeks of fun they’d had. Of course, I had to get a snap!

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Leaders, people like Celia, Sally and Rachel, have also instilled the sense that the community centre is for absolutely anyone and everyone. The behaviours the leaders have shown and the language they’ve used have helped people feel a sense of ownership. Children have made posters encouraging everyone to tidy up after themselves and people feel like they can contribute to making activities happen. The fact that they had enough volunteers to cover a day trip of 59 people to Weston and keep activities going at the centre shows that people are willing to help and volunteers are valued there. This is great news for the future of the centre!

The people I spoke to had lovely things to say about the local PCSO’s too. They went to each day of the play scheme, getting involved in the activities, judging competitions, doing the less attractive jobs! It seems like the play scheme has been a great way to connect communities with each other and with the people that serve those communities, like the Police, who want to be visible and engaged there.

The future looks good. Throughout the last few months, Priory Community Association have been engaging with people and organisations that might want to use the centre. There’s an exciting plan in the pipeline with young people’s charity Top Church Training, which might see the Community Centre cafe opening regularly, and there’s been a lot of learning about what works from the play scheme – a regular families session might be on the cards!

Whatever the plans, I wish Priory Community Centre every success. The people involved make my job an utter privilege and we’ll always be happy to support them as they develop.

Meet the volunteers transforming Lye and Wollescote Cemetery

Shadowed by the beautifully refurbished Lye and Wollescote Chapels (now known as the Thomas Robinson Building) Lye and Wollescote Cemetery is a peaceful spot for reflection and an historically fascinating site. I visited recently and was overwhelmed by the transformation the Friends of Lye and Wollescote Cemetery have made to the site in the past two and a bit years since I saw them last!

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IMG_20180808_113733885_HDR-01Lye and Wollescote Chapels is a rare example of two chapels – Church of England and Nonconformist – being housed in one building, and originally the cemetery was divided along those lines. The cemetery now has an area for Muslim burials, it houses the graves of 29 servicemen who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars (managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) and it’s the final resting place of local people of historical significance, from inventors to entrepreneurs.

The Friends of Lye and Wollescote Cemetery are working hard to make sure people can still see these links to the past and to create a pleasant environment for visitors. The group came together during the renovation of the Grade II listed chapels led by West Midlands Historic Buildings Trust (WMHBT). As part of the £1.2m project, WMHBT wanted to engage with the community to increase the chances of the project’s long-term sustainability. Soon, a small group of volunteers was clearing the cemetery ground on the first Saturday of every month.

FoLWCDonna and I met the volunteers in 2016. We visited the cemetery, which was overgrown and pretty uninviting (I’m sure it didn’t help that it was a cold and dismal January morning!) and did a series of workshops in the nearby (and warm) Stambermill House where we built a vision for what the cemetery could be like in the future, painted a picture of the skills, talents and networks that each volunteer brought and created a simple plan. We also developed a simple constitution during our conversations about whether the volunteers would like to become a constituted group or to remain informal for the time being.

Fast forward two years and the group has achieved so much! The Friends of Lye and Wollescote Cemetery signed their constitution and opened a bank account, which unlocked a grant of £5,000 from the Community Forums. They’ve also managed to raise a further £2,500!

The visible difference the group has made to cemetery is clear. They’ve cleared grounds and uncovered graves that they didn’t know were there; they’ve cleaned graves meticulously; they’ve brought in professionals to repair graves; they’ve installed two beautiful benches commemorating those who died in the First and Second World Wars; they’ve set up a system to make it easier for people to carry water from the site’s only tap.

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All of this work has increased the number of visitors to the cemetery, whether for the local history, for remembrance or for the peaceful environment that’s open to everyone. The Friends have told me that more people now come to lay flowers at graves, many of which have no family members left to tend to them.

IMG_20180808_112838443_HDR-01The group’s Facebook group is very active too, and there are always lots of messages of thanks to the Friends from local people who walk through the grounds, as well as progress reports from the Friends themselves. It really feels like these volunteers have built a sense of community around this almost forgotten site.

Coincidentally, when I paid a visit to the grounds I met Ian from Dudley Council’s Bereavement Services, which manages the cemetery. Ian was as enthusiastic about the group’s achievements as I am and he’d love it if every cemetery in the borough had a friends group, testament to how local people really do make local places.

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So what about the future? Members of the Friends of Lye and Wollescote Cemetery plan to continue their work. They want to repair more graves, which costs money; each grave that needs professional repair costs in the region of £400-£1,500. I’m in the process of identifying funders that may support this type of work and the group will do plenty of its own fundraising. Wish us luck!

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If you’d like to get involved with Friends of Lye and Wollescote Cemetery, you’ll find them on site on the first Saturday of every month from 9.30am. They meet on the third Wednesday of the month, 6.30pm at Stambermill House and you can always join the Facebook group.

Staying active with Mary Stevens Park Sons and Daughters of Rest

Mary Stevens Park in Stourbridge is an undeniably beautiful place to be. Whether you’re taking part in sport, walking the dog, enjoying a picnic or just watching the world go by, it’s a place that helps you to relax.

And based within the park is a group of people helping each other to make the most of later life, stay active and build a friendly and supportive community. They’re known as Mary Stevens Park Sons and Daughters of Rest and they have a range of activities for anyone over 55. There are currently 70 or so members to get to know!

One of the activities group members participate in is bowls. The group has around 30 bowlers of all abilities; some bowl competitively against other clubs, others for the fun and exercise. The group’s bowling section has the bowling green on Monday afternoon, all day Wednesday and Friday afternoon. On Friday mornings they use the bowling green to run beginners bowls sessions, which are open to anyone of any age who would like to learn how to play bowls.

Helena and I recently paid the beginners sessions a visit on a sunny Friday morning where we met and chatted to some of the bowlers about what they enjoy about the sessions. Immediately members asked if we’d like to try, but neither of us was brave enough to give it a go!

We learned about some of the people taking part. One bowler told us that he used to bowl competitively but had stopped more than a decade ago. He wasn’t sure he would be able to play after double knee replacement surgery, so he started getting fitter by walking around the park, the distance of a mile, which took 15 minutes. It was on one of these walks that he saw the beginners bowlers sessions, so he took the plunge to see if he could bowl again. Now he covers more ground by bowling than when he walked a circuit of the park, so he’s much more active now.

Another member told us that he’d always been sporty, and that he enjoys playing bowls because he can’t do high intensity sports like cricket or football anymore. He enjoys playing in 4s and sometimes it can get competitive in a good-natured way. He told us that it’s good to meet new people at these sessions.

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A third member told us it was his first week there, so we asked him the obvious question “Will you be back for more?” Of course the answer was a resounding “Yes”. We’re not surprised at all. What came across to both of us was how welcoming, social and warm everyone was both towards us and to each other. Members agreed that the camaraderie of playing bowls together was brilliant for their health and wellbeing.

But if bowls isn’t your thing, there are other activities on offer and people can participate in as little or as much as they want. The Sons and Daughters of Rest meet three times a week, 12noon-4pm, and members have access to the group’s building every day. Members get together for a cuppa and a chat or for hobbies such as darts, dominoes, snooker, cards and pool. Whatever the activity, we know new people will be made really at home in this welcoming group.

Mary Stevens Sons and Daughters of Rest

If you would like to get involved, call Jim Griffiths (Chairperson) on 07918 197197 or look out for the Sons and Daughters of Rest in Mary Stevens Park, near the bowling green.

The groups making new friends on Wednesdays and Fridays

As part of the work I’m doing with Age UK to understand and celebrate the local activities that keep people connected, I’ve been meeting groups that help people to build new friendships in Brierley Hill and Dudley.

New Friends meets at 8pm every Wednesday at the Storehouse in Brierley Hill. I visited them recently and enjoyed an evening of conversation, quizzing and laughter!

The informal group was set up by Barbara, who wanted to expand her social circle after losing people close to her. So Barbara posted on Facebook, asking others if they would like to get together, meet new people and become friends, using this poem to grab people’s attention:

I used to have a comfort zone, where I knew I couldn’t fail.
The same four walls of busy work were really more like a jail.
I longed so much to do things I’d never done before, but stayed inside my safe comfortable zone and paced the same old floor.
I said it didn’t matter that I wasn’t doing much,
I said I didn’t care for things like dreams & goals and such.
I claimed to be so busy with the things inside my zone, but deep down inside I longed for something special of my own.
I couldn’t let my life go by just watching others win.
I held my breath and stepped outside and let the change begin.
I took a step, and with new strength I’d never felt before, I kissed my comfort zone goodbye, then closed and locked the door.
Anon.

Barbara said “I felt like that after losing so many people out of my life in one year. So I started New Friends. Lots of people messaged me, over a thousand in 12 hours! 25 came the first night of meetings, majority stayed, until their confidence grew, and some picked up their life and started employment. Others just moved on to pastures new.”

New Friends now has 8 regular attendees who play games, share food, do quizzes or just have a natter. Everyone decides what they would like to do; occasionally they go out for meals and they’ve discussed taking trips together. Whatever they do, they have fun, end up laughing and the hours whiz by!

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Some of the New Friends and their leftover cake!

Group members would love more people to join them, but they recognise that it’s not just about how many turn up, it’s about the quality of the friendships they’ve made and the impact the friendships have had on their wellbeing.

None of the members knew each other before joining the group. Now they’re in touch with each other not only once a week when they meet, but on their Facebook group and chatline, swapping stories, guidance and supporting each other. When I chatted to them, every member said they felt the benefits to their wellbeing since joining.

It’s the second time I’ve joined New Friends for the evening; each time I’ve gone, I’ve felt a boost myself. I’ve been inspired by how open, warm and friendly everyone is, as well as by the simple things that Barbara does to help people feel at ease, like arranging chairs in a circle and meeting new people outside so they don’t have to walk in on their own for the first time.

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So why not take the plunge and join New Friends? As Barbara says, “The hardest thing is stepping out your own front door and entering another by yourself. Please take that step, come n have a lof!” If you’re interested, you can ask to join the New Friends Facebook group or text or call the New Friends mobile number on 07491 798705 (text is best and Barbara will get back to you). Alternatively, just drop at the Storehouse, 2 Albion Street, Brierley Hill, DY5 3EE on Wednesday at 8pm.

 

Friday Friends currently meets on the second and last Friday of each month at 1pm at DY1 in Dudley.

Friday Friends developed when some members of Airtime, a group supporting people with respiratory conditions, felt that they would like to get together on another day to be with their newly-made friends more often. Like New Friends, Friday Friends is open to absolutely anyone over the age of 16, including people and their carers. Friday Friends now has regular members, some of whom are not members of Airtime.

Members decide exactly what they would like to do. When I visited, we chatted about each other’s weeks to help break the ice and we all took part in a couple of quizzes to get the brain firing! Once more, the stories of why people attended were very similar; it was about social contact being important for their emotional well being, getting out of the house and preventing isolation.

Some of the Friday Friends I met!

Friday Friends have plans to do more structured activities, such as bringing in occasional speakers on health, wellbeing and safety, having classes such as tai chi and massage. The group would like to build up its membership before committing to these activities, but current members know that it’s about the connections they’ve made and the supportive networks they’ve built simply by getting together twice a month that are more important than the activities they do! Again, when I met with members, I was struck by how welcoming and friendly they were, supporting each other to participate in inclusive ways. I’d also told Friday Friends members about New Friends and was so pleased when two members suggested they pay them a visit, so I hope that the two groups become friends themselves!

Anyone is welcome to join Friday Friends on the second and last Friday of the month, 1pm at DY1, Stafford Street, Dudley, DY1 1RT. For more information, you can ask to join the Friday Friends Facebook group.