Reflections on Good Finance Live

A couple of weeks ago, I headed to Birmingham for the Good Finance Live event on social investment to meet experts, social investors, not-for-profits that had accessed social investment and, hopefully, to bring some useful information and ideas back to Dudley borough.

I’ve become increasingly interested in social investment opportunities that may be appropriate for some not-for-profits in Dudley borough, and I think there’s untapped potential there and it seems to be growing, judging by the number of social investors brought together at last week’s event.

I should say that social investment won’t be for every organisation because of its repayable nature. For instance, it wouldn’t suit an organisation that provides free services because that organisation would find it difficult to raise enough money to pay off the investment. But for an organisation that has something to trade, be it facilities for hire, goods, merchandise or services to sell, social investment could be a feasible source of finance to help it develop. As I’m seeing more requests for support around social enterprise development and community asset transfer, repayable finance might be an appropriate option for these types of organisation (a social enterprise is set up to trade to achieve its social or environmental purposes and an organisation with facilities might be able to generate an income from hiring them out).

So what did I get from the day?

Generally speaking, social investment is repayable finance where the investor wants to receive a social return as well as a financial one. But within that, there are many different types of social investment. The conference centre at BVSC was packed with different social investors that support charities and social enterprises. Between them, they provide a whole range of social investment options, such as:

  • secured loans
  • unsecured loans
  • community shares
  • social impact bonds
  • blended finance
  • equity
  • social investment tax relief (SITR)

A mind-boggling array of options that may sound very daunting. You can find out more about them here on the Good Finance website.

On top of that, while some investors offer general support to any type of not-for-profit, there are some that are interested in certain areas of work or themes, like:

As well as meeting social investors, it was incredibly helpful to meet and hear from organisations that had been successful in raising one or more kinds of social investment. Particularly inspiring were contributions from:

  • Wellington Orbit, a cultural hub owned by the community who raised finance through a community share offer and incorporated social investment tax relief SITR into its funding mix in order to open a community cinema and cafe bar
  • Creative Optimistic Visions CIC, run by the passionate Stacey who shared her journey from setting up her CIC from scratch, being supported through UnLtd finance and mentoring to taking on blended finance, allowing the CIC to employ staff and expand its work

These examples really demonstrated that social finance is not only for large organisations and already well-resourced organisations.

If you’re interested in finding out more about social finance, I’d always recommend learning from other organisations that have gone through it. Many will be happy to share their experiences and learning with you. As well as the two listed above, a couple of months ago I posted about Stretford Public Hall, which ran a successful community share offer.

I’d also recommend starting with the Good Finance website, which is packed with tools and resources to help you decide whether social finance is a good option for your organisation and what social finance options might be most appropriate. It’s a great source of information.

Finally, I’m doing some work behind the scenes to increase knowledge and understanding of social finance in the Dudley borough. This might include sharing more information about social finance, increasing our skills and bringing in experts who can give support and encouragement. If you’re interested in learning more, or getting involved in any initiatives around social finance in Dudley, please let us know and we can keep you informed.

 

High Intensity User Social Prescribing Service helps reduce demand on emergency services in Dudley

Vulnerable patients are benefitting from a new High Intensity User (HIU) project in Dudley.

A one year evaluation of the project commissioned by Dudley CCG and Dudley CVS has shown a 33% reduction in A&E attendance and a 41% reduction in inpatient admissions saving the NHS over £492,995.

Delivered by the Dudley CVS Integrated Plus social prescribing team and match-funded by Dudley CCG and the Department of Health, the service offers a robust way of reducing avoidable frequent user activity to 999, A&E, and hospital admissions, freeing up front line resources to improve care for all patients and reduce costs.

Working together with partners, the HIU team uses a flexible and innovative non-clinical approach with the voluntary sector, to target high users of services and support the most vulnerable people within the community to flourish and find purpose in their lives.

This is in line with the Right Care Programme, which is part of the NHS Long Term Plan’s focus to better understand the needs of patients who are frequent users of emergency departments. Both will work to improve waiting times and response in emergency departments for those patients with the highest care needs is a priority.

Kelly Rea, (Urgent Care Link Worker), HIU Team said: “It all starts with a phone call, from which I am able to actively listen to understand the needs of patients accessing A&E departments. I like to arrange a face-to-face appointment as soon as possible to gain a better understanding of their situation. On the first visit, I try my best to make it very relaxed to allow them to tell their story.

It’s surprising how many people say after the visit it’s the first time they have been really listened to.

A local service user said, “This service, in my opinion, is vital to help other people from utter despair, I cannot explain in words what this service has done for me.

After another attempt to end it all, I was given a lifeline, introduced to my link worker from Integrated Plus, always at the end of the phone, caring and understanding, non-judgmental who listens to my every need in my recovery. My link worker takes me out for coffee and shopping and has enabled me to laugh again and understand a future without pain. I look forward to her visits helping me to feel normal again”.

Sarah Knight, Commissioning Manager, Dudley CCG, “We are really happy that the service is benefiting people in Dudley, we are always looking at new and innovative ways to meet the needs of our local population, and this is one way we are doing this”.

The programme initiated by NHS Blackpool CCG has also been rolled out in a number of other CCGs across the country.

The full impact report is available to read below:

Over £11million over 11 years! 261 nonprofits, 113 grants programmes, 614 successful applications supported

Did you know that over the last 11 years, Martin and I have supported nonprofits to access more than £11million in grant funding? You probably didn’t because we only recently realised this ourselves!

Given that Martin and I have recently completed our eleventh year at Dudley CVS, and because we’re both utter geeks when it comes to keeping records of the people and groups we’ve worked with over that time, we thought it would be interesting to pull together all of our data about successful funding applications we’ve worked on. We’re both pretty staggered by (and proud of) the results.

Martin and I joined Dudley CVS within a month of each other back in 2008. Over those years we’ve worked together and helped each other to offer the best support possible to all types and sizes of not-for-profit.

My role is about helping people that want to establish or develop their not-for-profit by providing them with information, guidance and support on a range of topics they’re likely to run into, including:

  • What type of not-for-profit? Such as the concept of social enterprise, the definition of charity, appropriate legal structures
  • Planning, including long term vision, mission, purpose-setting, project planning, reviewing the organisation, financial planning
  • Roles and responsibilities of the people that lead not-for-profits, including governance training for directors and trustees
  • Connecting with others, which is becoming increasingly important
  • Governing documents and registration
  • Compliance – including regulatory obligations, insurance, reporting and policies and procedures
  • Profile-raising
  • Asset development and asset transfer
  • Fundraising and income-generation

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When I support groups with funding, it tends to be as part of wider support to help a group become established and ‘funding ready’, such as Dudley Feelgood Choir, Wall Heath Tennis Club and Bayer Street Allotments, though I do also help groups to identify appropriate funders for their work or projects and they do the rest. The idea is to give support in a way that helps groups to become more skilled and confident in putting applications together.

Martin’s role focuses on income-generation and because of this, he primarily supports organisations with larger bids. Martin says,

“Like the support groups give to their beneficiaries to help them to increase their skills, confidence and ability to do things for themselves, the way I work with groups can start quite intensively with a lot of handholding until they are in a position to work on an application themselves with me on hand to review it before it’s submitted. Lots of the people I worked with years ago are now flying with their bidwriting!

I supported Dudley Voices for Choice who received £415,720 at the end of 2018. What stood out for me was how the group involved their beneficiaries throughout the process as well as the enthusiasm of the partners in the project led excellently by Sarah.

Overall 80% of the organisations I have supported during the last 11 years have received funding.

Over the last eleven years, between us, we’ve supported:

261 organisations

With 614 successful applications

To 113 grants programmes

Totalling £11,764,436.65 (65p!)”

Of course, this only covers the work that Martin and I have done to support organisations as that’s the data we have to hand. The real total over that eleven years is likely to be much higher if we could incorporate the support that our previous colleagues gave too. On top of that, for obvious reasons, we can only include the successes that our groups have told us about, which doesn’t always happen. Nonetheless, there’s some interesting things to say about the figures we’ve got.

  • The largest single grant was for £800,000 from the Football Foundation to a local community football club (one of Martin’s)
  • The smallest grants were two £30 grants from TESCO and the Blakemore Foundation to help the Seniors Luncheon Club get started in 2009 (they’re still going now!)

Here’s a breakdown by grant size:

86% of grants were valued at £10,000 or less. The majority of grants (35%) were for under £1,000, while 33% of grants ranged from £1,000-£5,000. This means well over half the grants (68%) were awards of up to £5,000. 18% of grants were between £5,000 and £10,000 in value. I think this suggests that most of these awards are contributions towards project costs, rather than core funding.

Which funding programmes have been the most accessed by the groups we’ve supported over the last decade? This graphic shows us:

67 of the 113 (59%) of funding programmes made one grant only (that we know of), the remaining 41% gave multiple grants amongst the groups we supported. When we support groups, we help them to identify the most appropriate funders for their needs, matching projects to funders’ interests areas and criteria. This is why there is a spread of 113 grants programmes.

Within that, the ten most prolific grants programmes were:

  • Dudley Council’s Community Forums (including previous Area Committee funding)
  • Awards for All (National Lottery Community Fund, formerly Big Lottery Fund)
  • Dudley Borough Small Grants Fund
  • Grassroots Grants
  • Rant About the Grant
  • Improving Physical Activity Fund
  • Reaching Communities (National Lottery Community Fund, formerly Big Lottery Fund)
  • Dudley Council’s Small Grants Fund
  • Ibstock Enovert Environmental Trust (formerly Ibstock Cory Environmental Trust)
  • BeActive Coaching Bursary

What’s staggering in this list is that 6 of the ten programmes no longer operate and have not been in operation for some years now (programmes that have come to an end are: Dudley Borough Small Grants Fund, Grassroots Grants, Rant About the Grant, Improving Physical Activity Fund, Dudley Council’s Small Grants, BeActive Coaching Bursary). This chimes with our knowledge and our increasing encouragement of groups to look to new sources of income as grant funding opportunities continue to reduce, because the four remaining funders may not be able to increase their level of award.

What else can we say about these grants programmes? We can see how much they have granted the Dudley borough groups we’ve supported:

An enormous 55% of funding awarded to the groups we’ve supported has come from Reaching Communities, that’s £6,507,553.00 of the £11,764,436.65 total! This is perhaps due to a combination of the size of grants available through this programme, its popularity as a programme and the relatively high success rate it enjoys. Other popular programmes like Awards for All and the Community Forums give smaller grants (up to £10,000 and £5,000 respectively).

Martin says,

“As regards Reaching Communities I have a success rate of almost 60% in both number of successful applications and grant values. 50% of the groups I’ve supported with Reaching Communities have received repeat funding from that programme. These include Phase Trust (3), Dudley Counselling Centre/Dudley Community Church (3), Beacon Centre for the Blind (2), Age UK (2) and Headway Black Country (2).

As for high-value grants, some of my highlights are:

£538,524 over 3 applications to an organisation that supports older people

£513,525 over 3 applications to a disability charity

£1,238,328 from 10 applications from a faith-based organisation that supports vulnerable and disadvantaged people

£679,411 across 4 applications from an advocacy charity

£646,272 from 4 applications by a health-based charity

7 applications with a family support charity, totaling £289,016

7 applications supported with a young persons charity, totaling £1,019,710

15 applications supported from a charity that empowers disadvantaged people, totaling £566,465

6 successful applications supported from a young persons advocacy charity, totaling £614,592″

The National Lottery Community Fund (formerly known as the Big Lottery Fund) which runs Reaching Communities, features elsewhere in this top ten, with Awards for All, Advice Services Fund and the Youth Investment Fund accounting for around 10% of money awarded. So what does the picture look like if we combine the programmes run by one funder?

Unsurprisingly, the National Lottery Community Fund makes up 65% of the total money awarded to groups we’ve supported over the past eleven years. Other funders have contributed as follows:

  • Football Foundation 6.8%
  • Young People’s Fund 2.62%
  • Dudley Council 2.51%
  • BBC Children in Need 2.42%
  • Lloyds Bank Foundation 2.39%
  • Building Better Opportunities 2.38%
  • Sport England 1.89%
  • Ibstock Cory Environmental Trust 1.6%
  • Grassroots Grants 1.3%
  • Remaining funders combined 11.25

The National Lottery Community Fund is still keen to fund Dudley borough organisations and we have great links with John Goodman, the Funding Officer from The National Lottery Community Fund who covers our patch. John is available at our office on Wednesdays to meet organisations interested in accessing funding from The National Lottery Community Fund. To arrange an appointment, email John at john.goodman@tnlcommunityfund.org.uk.

A new fund for Dudley borough

Finally, Dudley CVS has recently launched a new fund for organisations that can develop and provide creative support for people who frequently use unplanned emergency care services (such as calling 999, attending A&E or Urgent Care Centre).

Grants of up to £5,000 are available to support this work and there are no deadlines. For more information, visit: https://interests.me/org/dudleycvs/story/177364

Deafscope: Breaking down barriers for the Deaf community

A couple of days ago, Deb, Helena and I met with the lovely people behind Deafscope, a brand new online Deaf community directory.

Set up by Ishtiaq and Kerry, BSL communicators with first-hand experiences of the barriers faced by the Deaf community, Deafscope aims to connect the community, break down barriers and highlight the amazing Deaf-friendly and Deaf-owned businesses around the West Midlands, the UK and eventually around the world.

Bringing together Deaf-friendly and Deaf-owned businesses, services and events in one place means people will be able to see how that business or service can communicate with them along with all the other features they need to see, their location, special offers, contact details and more.Businesses can add listings to the directory to feature products, services, images, social media and website links, special offers, an introduction to their brand and more. The reviews function is designed to build a trusted source of information about accessible businesses and services.

Here’s a great example of how the Deafscope website works:

It’s not only businesses that can feature their services on Deafscope. Deaf-owned or Deaf-friendly charities, voluntary groups, nonprofits and public services such as healthcare services, can register their services, events and activities free of charge. Ishtiaq and Kerry are really keen to get networked so that the website features a whole range of services that reduce the barriers that the Deaf community can face.

And it’s not only a website that lists services, but it can give people ideas. Deaf-owned and Deaf-friendly business can inspire others to set up similar things in their own areas; did you know there’s a Deaf Gym in Bradford? There are also plans for an app and to offer practical support to the Deaf community such as helping people find jobs, training people, nurturing Deaf-owned enterprise. On top of that, being based in Lye means they can offer space, training facilities and events locally!

We’ve helped them to start networking locally and they’ll be linking with the Dudley Deaf Focus Group which is supported by Healthwatch Dudley. Deafscope is also planning a Deaf Community Day for next month. To keep informed about Deafscope, follow on social media:

Facebook: Deafscope
Twitter: @deafscope
Website: deafscope.co.uk

Healthwatch Dudley welcomes over 100 new Information Champions

During the last five years, hundreds of people from local organisations and community groups, have joined Healthwatch Dudley to network with other people in information giving roles.

Our unique training enables people to learn, share and practice how to help people to get information using trusted online resources.  In the last year alone, over 100 new Information Champions have come on board from a wide range of organisations including…

…Mary Stevens Hospice, Springs Church, Brett Young Dementia Gateway, Dudley borough Assisted Living Centres, Trading Standards, Dudley and Walsall Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust (Occupational Therapy), Barnardos, Home Instead Senior Care, Camphill Village Trust, Dudley Carers Network, YMCA, Age UK Dudey, Abberley Street Day Centre, Stonewater Housing, Solutions 4 Health, Just Straight Talk, Black Country Partnership Foundation Trust, Dudley Council Public Health, Dudley CCG, Chawn Hill Church, Victim Support, Top Church Training and Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust, to name but a few!

Coseley Info ChampsOur network now also includes GP practice staff such as receptionists, healthcare assistants and Practice Managers, as a result of NHS England funding allocated through Dudley Clinical Commissioning Group, which has supported practice staff to become care navigators.  The idea is to help people to play a greater role in their own health and care, by being signposted to non-medical services to improve personal health, wellbeing and independence.

We are really proud that our Information Champion Network was recently recognised with a Better Connected ‘Forging a Future for All’ award by a partnership between the Dudley, Stourbridge and Halesowen News, Dudley Council and local partners, at the launch of the new vision for Dudley borough.

Lloyds Bank Access Rep Lorna tells us why she joined the Dudley Community Information Point Network

“Finding out about Healthwatch Dudley has been really interesting, as it will help me to better support my colleagues at Lloyds Bank where I am an Access Network Representative.

Lloyds Banking Group supports employees through a wide range of networks, we have ‘Rainbow’, which helps and connects our LGBTQ colleagues, ‘Breakthrough’ for women in the workplace, ‘Reach’ supporting colleagues from an ethnic minority background, ‘Family Matters’ for parents and carers and ‘Access’ supporting people with disabilities.

Lloyds Bank also has employee assistance programmes to help colleagues who are struggling.  Having a connection with Healthwatch will fit in really well as if people in our network want to share experiences of health and care with an independent body, I can now point them in the right direction.

I have been supporting colleagues as an Access Rep for ten years and finding the right information can sometimes be difficult. Often people who see me have had a recent diagnosis and where I can, I put them in touch with support groups or other people within the organisation who are in a similar situation.

I found out about Information Champion training that Healthwatch Dudley provides to help organisations, charities and groups better connect people with health and wellbeing information.

Joining the Information Champion Network will make such a difference I now have even more up to date and accurate information as well as new contacts.  Some health websites contain obsolete or inaccurate details with broken links, which can be really frustrating.  It’s been great to learn about where to find trusted health and wellbeing information on the net.

I am encouraging all of our other reps to contact their local Healthwatch and make the same links as me so we can provide even better support across the country which will help to make our network even stronger.”

Lorna Wilson, Lloyds Bank Access Network Representative

For more information or to register for free training, visit: http://healthwatchdudley.co.uk/infopoints/ or call 03000 111 001.

Dementia is not a natural part of ageing

Bingo? Knitting? Wartime songs? Nope!

This certainly wasn’t what I experienced when I visited the Alzheimer’s Society Working Age Dementia Café.

Dementia is not a natural part of ageing is 1 of 5 key messages promoted by the national Dementia Friends campaign. It is indeed true that dementia can affect younger people. I had the pleasure of meeting Patrick, John and Steve who are all living with dementia.  

The group meets at The Oakfield Centre, Brettell Lane in Brierley Hill. It takes place on the last Wednesday of every month from 7pm till 9pm. Anyone who has been diagnosed with any form of dementia under the age of 65 is more than welcome. The group would love to see some new friendly faces!

When I popped along to meet the group I received such a warm welcome. Led Zeppelin was playing in the background and the group told me they were known as “The Rockers.” This was so refreshing. Patrick and John were having a go at a rock music themed word search and Steve was amazing us all with his musical knowledge. Later in the evening the group got creative and made different models out of clay which they all seemed to enjoy. Even the less creative amongst us found it quite therapeutic!

What struck me the most was the bond between the group members, not just the gents but also their wives and daughters. Maureen, Louise and Sandra all told me that they enjoyed attending the group and found the element of peer support invaluable. When I asked the guys what they liked most about the group John said that he loves the company, Steve agreed and Patrick said he liked the biscuits! I love his honesty, a man after my own heart…

I’d definitely recommend this group to any younger people living with dementia and their carers. I really enjoyed myself and I’m sure that others would too. Patrick, John and Steve all met one another on Alzheimer’s Society’s Living Well With Dementia Course and have since become great friends. You can find out more about the course and the café by contacting the local branch on 0121 521 3020 or by visiting the website.

Before I came to work for Integrated Plus, I worked for Alzheimer’s Society as a Senior Dementia Friends Officer. I had the pleasure of training up volunteer Dementia Friends Champions who delivered Dementia Friends Information Sessions. These Sessions help the public gain a basic understanding of dementia and learn some of the small things that they can do to help people with dementia living in their community. Awareness raising is so important as with the right support and understanding people with dementia can have the opportunity to live well.

Within Integrated Plus, my colleagues and I have supported 140 people living with dementia to access the support that they need and to help them remain active in their communities. The Working Age Dementia Café was a great example of a group of friends who are living well and enjoying one another’s company. To find out more about how you can become a Dementia Friend please visit the website.

Is your community thinking of taking on land or a building? Here’s what to think about and some resources to help

If you’re thinking of taking on a community building or facility, check out this excellent short webinar from Good Finance. It’s called ‘How to build a cocktail of funding for your community group’, but it covers so much more than that, as we all know that funding is about much more than asking funders, donors or supporters for money!

Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash

This webinar covers the things you’ll need to think about before you start and has a useful overview of fundraising options from Locality, as well as an introduction to social investment from Good Finance. It also contains an excellent case study from Stretford Public Hall, whose members brought its community together to bring a disused public building back to life, and ran a successful community share offer to raise the finance needed. Take a look at the webinar below.

Here are the main things that I would take away from the webinar:

  1. Funding options (led by Debbie Lamb, from Locality)
  • Business planning is incredibly important. You’ll have to be clear about what the running costs will be and what will generate income, as well as having a good sense of the advantages and risks of running a community building.
  • Be dispassionate. Try to be realistic about how viable this is and don’t let your emotions lead you to take on something that has very slim chance of success.
  • Think about your organisational structure and the people you have. Does your structure help you to manage risk and liabilities? Does it allow you to borrow (if you plan to borrow)? Does it allow you to raise money through a community share offer (if you plan to do this)? Do you have the right amount of people with the necessary skills and expertise to work as a team?
  • You’re more likely to be raising money through a ‘patchwork’. It’s very unlikely that you will have just one source of income.

This all chimes with my experience of supporting nonprofits with community asset transfer and funding. The strength of the team and its planning is really crucial to success.

The one thing I’d add here is that evidence of community involvement and buy in is equally important. It’s one of the key things Dudley Council will take into account when making decisions on bids for community asset transfer and funders like the National Lottery Community Fund make community involvement a key criterion of all its programmes. You’ll need to be able to demonstrate that the community has been involved in the development of your plans and that the community wants your project to happen!

In terms of community asset transfer in Dudley borough, Dudley Council has made a ‘How to’ guide which tells you what they look for in a robust business case and I’ve made a template business plan which is based on this. What the local authority will look for can be boiled down into a few things:

  • Realistic costings, projections and sources of income: Do you know what condition the facility is in? Does any money need to be spent to bring the building back into use and if so, where is this money likely to come from? Do you already have some confirmed resources to put into it? What are the likely running costs?
  • Robust income-generation model / evidence of sustainability: What activities will bring in income? How realistic are these? Have you spoken to people who are willing to spend money here? What evidence do you have to show that your income will be able to cover running costs?
  • Benefits for the whole community: How will the community benefit? How will people be able to get involved? What positive difference will this make? How will your activities link to local and national strategies? If your building will be used for just one type of activity, it’s less likely to get support.
  • Evidence of community-involvement in the plan: How have members of the local community been able to have a say on what will happen at your facility? Can they be involved as members or will they be able to have a stake in your project?
Photo by Jens Behrmann on Unsplash

2. Social investment (Kieran Whiteside, Good Finance)

Social investment comes in many forms and, although it’s not particularly new, it’s constantly evolving. Not many of the organisations I’ve worked with have wanted to consider social investment, being put off by its repayable nature. In the current climate, though, I think groups should seriously consider it.

The starting point is to learn about what it is to find out about what type might suit you. And in this webinar, Kieran gives us a brief overview of what social investment is and what tools can help you to get started:

  • Social investment is repayable finance, where the investor looks for a social as well as a financial return on their investment. This means you need to be clear about what you need the money for, whether there’s an income stream that will help you to repay, and what social impact you will create (this is about ‘outcomes’ and I recommend the now archived ‘Getting funding and planning successful projects’ guide from National Lottery Community Fund back when it was known as the Big Lottery Fund).
  • The Good Finance website can help you to understand social investment. It has a diagnostic tool to help you to understand whether social investment is right for you and the type of social investment you should consider.
  • Community shares: This involves raising money from the community by issuing shares in the organisation through a formal community share offer. It’s a great way of demonstrating real community buy-in for a project, but only certain types of organisation can issue shares. The Community Shares Unit is a good source of information.
  • Blended finance: This type of social investment is typically a grant + a loan. It’s more common for investments of £250,000 or less.
  • Secured loans: Like a mortgage against an organisation’s asset. This means that the organisation needs to own a building / asset for use as collateral. Social banks, some high street banks and some specialist funders offer secure loans with typically lower interest rates.
  • Finally, crowdfunded investment: Different from rewards-based crowdfunding (Kickstarter, for instance), but more like peer-to-peer lending. You’ll find more information on Ethex or Community Chest

3. Case study of Stretford Public Hall, which ran a successful community share offer (Simon Borkin, Stretford Public Hall)

I was really inspired by the story Simon told of Stretford Public Hall and the power of a community coming together to make things happen!

Stretford Public Hall is a Grade II listed Victorian building that fell into disuse (for the second time) in 2014. In 2015 the Friends of Stretford Public Hall successfully used the Localism Act to get the building listed as an asset of community value. The group secured the freehold of the hall from Trafford Council which meant they could start refurbishment.

To raise money through a community share offer, the Friends of Stretford Public Hall had to set up as a community benefit society (or Ben Comm) so that the organisation could issue shares. This allowed members to invest in the organisation in return for shares, but the principle of the Ben Comm is that each member gets one vote, no matter how many shares they bought.

To set up a community share offer, the organisation had to draw up a business plan and a formal share offer document. Both of these are available on the Stretford Public Hall website, along with lots of other information about how the organisation is run.

What struck me most about this case study was the importance of engaging with the community and the real openness to involving the community in the organisation’s set up and decision-making. It really shows that the friends of Stretford Public Hall did the legwork to make sure the community was engaged and motivated, resulting in the organisation successfully raising £255,000 over 56 days from 790 people in the community and 7 organisations. It’s that kind of community involvement that decides whether a venture will succeed.

Photo by “My Life Through A Lens” on Unsplash

Let’s celebrate and recognise amazing local volunteers across Dudley borough.

It’s that time of year again, when volunteer-involving organisations’ thoughts turn to how to celebrate their wonderful volunteers.  However, a volunteer is for life and not just Volunteers Week, so I thought I would share a series of posts around ensuring your volunteers have the best possible experience.

So lots of articles out there around managing volunteers and good practice tend to focus on the volunteer-involving organisation’s view of the volunteering journey and I’ve decided it’s time to see things from the volunteer’s perspective.

Running a volunteer centre means that I am often contacted by volunteers who feel they have not had the best experience, been treated unfairly or are quite simply disillusioned with the whole thing and have decided it’s not worth the effort!  I’m often called on to do mediation or advocacy to try to repair the volunteer/organisation relationship too, so I’m encouraging you lovely volunteer managers out there to walk in your volunteers’ shoes and see the other side of the relationship.

These posts are not a criticism in any way of how you do things, they are just aimed to help you understand a volunteer’s perspective and enhance your volunteer/organisation relationships.   Managing volunteers is challenging as all volunteers are totally unique and often you are constrained by systems and procedures you don’t really have control over: however, you can certainly personalise parts of your volunteer management systems to make them more volunteer-friendly I’m sure.

Hopefully this series of posts will help you see things from the volunteer’s perspective and improve the way you interact with them, after all a happy, valued volunteer is more productive and a great advertisement for your organisation.

There are eight elements to this series and although there may some sections that appear to repeat what is in other posts, I felt it would be easier if I themed each one, so please do bear with them.

  1. Recruitment
  2. Selection and interviews
  3. Induction
  4. Support
  5. Motivation
  6. Development and training
  7. Recognition

“It all starts with a phone call and a cuppa”

The High Intensity User (HIU) service (developed by NHS Blackpool CCG) has been rolled out across Dudley borough by the Integrated Plus social prescribing team as part of Dudley CVS. The service offers a robust way of reducing avoidable frequent user activity to 999, NHS 111, A&E, and hospital admissions, freeing up front line resources to focus on more clients and reduce costs. It uses a flexible and innovative non-clinical approach, targeting high users of services and supports the most vulnerable people within the community to flourish and find purpose in their lives.

With information given from the Blackpool HIU service, the Integrated Plus team were able to adapt the approach and develop a HIU service in Dudley, match-funded by Dudley Clinical Commissioning Group and the Department of Health.

Danielle and I (Kelly) have been working on this service from its inception in 2018.

Before taking on the role of Urgent Care Link Worker at Integrated Plus, I worked as a substance misuse worker across the Sandwell Borough for 13 years where I developed a good understanding of the skills and attributes needed to work with some of the most vulnerable and complex members of the community. Within that role, I gained experience working across the criminal justice system, child protection, safeguarding adults and children, mental and physical health and domestic abuse. Prior to this, I worked in the community as a carer for the elderly with mental health needs.

My colleague Danielle comes from a background in NHS and private mental health services. For over 10 years Danielle worked in the occupational therapy department within the male and female psychiatric rehab units, working with patients with complex mental health needs, substance misuse, and learning disabilities. From this, Danielle went into hospital discharge learning the pathway patients go through when they are being discharged from hospital and following them through the process. She was then able to use these skills to work alongside GPs in the community co-ordinating patient care, ensuring their discharge from hospital had been completed correctly and they had returned home with all relevant services in place.

In my current role in the HIU team, it all starts with a phone call, from which I am able to actively listen and find out the full extent of the problem/issues that they are facing in their lives. I like to arrange a face-to-face appointment as soon as possible to gain a better understanding of their situation. On the first visit, I try my best to make it very relaxed to allow them to tell their story.

It’s surprising how many people say after the visit it’s the first time they have been really listened to.

From here I give my direct work contact details, agree an action plan with the client and liaise with other agencies involved to ensure that a non-clinical holistic and person-centred approach is taken. The service I then provide is bespoke to that individual, for example, accompanying them to groups, shopping trips, lunch, coffee and medical appointments. I keep my approach relaxed, initially; this may start with speaking to the client two or three times a day as well as out of hours to de-escalate situations that could result in either a 999 call or an A&E attendance.

I will continue to work with a client for up to 6 months intensively with the aim that the support will come to a gradual end and the client no longer feels in crisis. At the end of the service, the client is informed that should they require any further support I would give assistance.”

One service user said,

This service, in my opinion, is vital to help other people from utter despair, I cannot explain in words what this service has done for me.

After another attempt to end it all, I was given a lifeline, introduced to my link worker from Integrated Plus, always at the end of the phone, caring and understanding, non-judgmental who listens to my every need in my recovery. My link worker takes me out for coffee and shopping and has enabled me to laugh again and understand a future without pain. I look forward to her visits helping me to feel normal again”.

If you would like to find out more about the Integrated Plus service visit www.integratedplusblog.com

How a weekly cake, cuppa and chat keep people connected

St Paul’s Community and Learning Centre is a haven on the Hawbush estate in Brierley Hill. No wonder, then, that it’s the location of the welcoming Cake, Cuppa and Chat Group (or ‘3 Cs’), which gets together every Monday afternoon (except bank holidays).

The group is open to anyone who has been bereaved, is feeling lonely, facing a life changing experience like having a partner go into long-term care or for people caring for a loved-one. The idea of the group is to give participants the opportunity to chat with people in a similar situation over a drink and some delicious homemade cake. The group makes it clear that “People who come set the agenda – if you want to play cards or do a jigsaw such things are available, but if you want to come for a chat only that is fine!” It’s like a big tea party every week!

The group’s main organiser is Beryl (whose cakes are incredible!), but it’s probably fair to say that everyone chips in to make the group happen and the conversations flow. Beryl wasn’t there when I arrived, having to pop out for something, but I was welcomed in like an old friend and swiftly offered a place to sit, a cuppa and of course a piece of delicious homemade cake. I’m not great around new people, especially large groups whose members already know each other well; but I was encouraged by a helper to introduce myself to the entire group and to explain why I was visiting. After reassuring everyone that I wasn’t there to talk at them, but that I wanted to be involved in the conversations, I was invited to sit with a small group who were happily chatting about their week.

It became clear to me very quickly that this was a group in which all the participants had built important relationships with each other. It felt like over the years, people had really taken the time to learn about what made each other tick, that they’d listened to each other and respected one another. At the same time, the warm welcome I’d received told me that they were still very open to new people visiting and joining them.

I learned that some of the members had been coming for the seven years the group has been running, others were very new and enjoying making new friendships. Some members came because they lived alone and wanted to feel connected, some were carers and this was their only respite from their caring responsibilities, while others were also involved in lots of other hobbies groups. One gentleman is a member of two singing groups and a keen plant collector, giving me some hints and tips on how to keep my orchids alive! He seemed so busy with his hobbies and told me he really enjoyed keeping active and interacting with people, including his friend who he helps out with lifts to 3 Cs group and to other appointments.

One member was a carer for her husband. She told me that Cake, Cuppa and Chat was the only chance she got to take some time for herself, so it was clearly crucial to her wellbeing. It was really lovely to hear her speak highly of the support she’d received from our Integrated Plus team!

I’d expected most of the members to live within walking distance of the venue, since it’s right in the middle of a large housing estate, and many of them told me they walked there and that they went to other activities at St Paul’s Community and Learning Centre. I was surprised to learn that some members came from further afield. St Paul’s Community and Learning Centre is on a bus route, and some participants feel able to get buses there, while others drive and offer their friends lifts.

The friendship group doesn’t work in isolation and is connected to other things that happen at the centre and in the community. This much was obvious when Kathleen from Briar Lea Over 50s Club paid a visit to invite the members of Cake, Cuppa and Chat to their next trip to Liverpool because they had some spaces available. It’s this kind of sharing that helps groups to keep their costs down and reach more people!

When I met Beryl, she told me that the group had been meeting for the last seven years. Initially, members played board games, but it soon became clear that participants simply wanted to talk to one another, it almost didn’t matter what kinds of other activity they did. And I heard lots of different conversations on my visit; people sharing their experiences, giving knitting tips and swapping patterns, sharing their skills and encouraging each other.

The group regularly gets out and about, too. Members have visited places like Barnet Hill for afternoon tea, they’ve done theatre trips together, pub lunches, visited botanical gardens and they always have a Christmas party! The group is dementia friendly; both carers and those living with dementia are welcome to attend and there’s a quiet space in case anyone feels distressed. Beryl also let me know that every month, she offers time and space for people to reflect and think about their loved ones that they may have lost, which brings us back to the whole point of the group. It’s a caring environment for those that have gone or are going through challenging experiences, a place that shows them that there are still friendships to be made and people that care about them.

If you would like to see if the Cake, Cuppa and Chat Group is suitable for you or a loved one, you’ll get a warm welcome every Monday (except bank holidays), 2pm-4pm. There is no charge to attend, but donations are gratefully received for the hospitality you’ll be shown.