“JUST GO FOR IT” funding success Dudley Voices for Choice

Dudley Voices for Choice (DVC) is a user led self-advocacy organisation that supports and empowers people with learning disabilities and autism to speak up for themselves and their peers, actively participating in community meetings and strategic meetings with the council and health services around the borough. Recently the charity celebrated a funding success, having been awarded a grant from the National Lottery Community Fund totalling £415,720 to maintain a regional self-advocacy network.

Martin, Funding Officer at Dudley CVS tells us more about his support, the application stages and the success achieved at the end of a long but rewarding process.

Almost 2 years ago (April 2017) I was approached by Sarah Offley (Project Manager at DVC) enquiring about funding for a regional forum comprising 12 West Midlands Self Advocacy charities previously in receipt of statutory funding. Following cuts by local authorities they were concerned that their essential work may not be able to continue. They wanted to maintain the network and work on a consortium bid to secure funding.

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I met with the network in June and was enthused not just by their passion and desire for the work they were doing but also, and most importantly, by the ongoing involvement of their beneficiaries in the work they were carrying out. The self-advocacy was guided by support workers however the direction and decisions were led by beneficiaries i.e. people with learning disabilities. This influenced me in suggesting they approach the Lottery large grant programme Reaching Communities bearing in mind their stipulation that all funded projects must involve beneficiaries throughout the various elements of the work e.g. planning, delivery and evaluating. I provided them with a contact at the Lottery who they could speak to.

Over the remainder of 2017 and into January 2018 Sarah and her team worked on putting together a stage one application receiving support and encouragement along the way from Dudley CVS and the Lottery grants officer. I explained the time-scales involved over not only two application stages but also the possibility of a telephone interview along the way pointing out the importance of having strong evidence of need to show the Lottery how essential their work was and the need for it to continue.

They took on board the challenge led by Sarah. It was decided to submit the application via DVC rather than as a consortium bid. The emotion and passion provided by Sarah was key in the success of the application. Working closely with Sarah we were able to capture all of this translating it into words that would convey the message to the Lottery whilst at the same time highlighting the massive importance of their plans and what they wanted to achieve.

Having been invited to submit a stage two application they were guided and supported by initially Dudley CVS but, very importantly, all along the journey by the new Lottery grants officer for Dudley John Goodman. Sarah received great support also from Claire who was there to proof read her submissions and give her feedback where appropriate. An excellent team effort all round.

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In early December 2018 Sarah received the news that they had been successful and that the Lottery had agreed to provide them with a 4-year grant totalling £415,720. The good news was embargoed until February 14th when a launch event was held at DY1 where all the charitable organisations involved in the network attended along with many beneficiaries, all celebrating together having achieved a fantastic result.

All of this would never have taken place without the dedication and hard work of everyone involved in the network. Detailed planning and many discussions took place over an 18-month period to rejuvenate the regional forum looking at what they wanted and how they would approach the work/do things differently in the future. Everything centred on the importance of people with learning disabilities having their voices heard and being able to be remunerated/paid for delivering excellent advocacy work to others. This was a key issue throughout as they looked at what was important to people with learning disabilities so they could understand their rights and consider the many opportunities available to them alongside the challenges they may face.

One of the interesting areas of the application, and the ongoing work that will take place over the next 4 years, is the involvement of Regional Champions. They will champion the great work going on throughout the network and feedback key information and case studies so evaluation of this great work can take place throughout the 4 years and beyond. They will have a defined role and purpose continually learning and developing so that they have transferable skills that they can use now and in the future in the work place providing them with good employment prospects and opportunities that they can take to the job market.

All of this will be delivered alongside Local Community workers who will ensure everything runs smoothly and people with learning disabilities are given fantastic support throughout.

To sum up all of this is a short quote from Sarah when she said “we were encouraged to just go for it” which is directed at the process of applying to get the money but can also be used as a mantra for the beneficiaries in all of this as people with learning disabilities are encouraged to “just go for it”.

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