Setting up for success: Wall Heath Ladies Choir

Over the last few months I’ve been working with the lovely Lorraine, a music enthusiast who wanted to explore the idea of setting up a new ladies choir. I recently visited the choir and spoke to the ladies now taking part in its activities to see how far they’ve come in such a short space of time, a testament to the work Lorraine and her team have put in to get this off the ground!

Setting up a group of any kind takes time and plenty of groundwork to move from being one person’s idea to a collective that a whole team is behind. Much of the requests for support that I receive focus on getting paperwork in place, like constitutions, and funding. I can understand this impulse – having a constitution (with certain key clauses) makes a group eligible for funding and constitutions aren’t something people come across every day – apart from me, I suppose!

But a constitution isn’t a group’s starting point and diving straight into writing one misses crucial steps in the process of setting up a group: team building and planning.

Team building and planning

A not-for-profit group of any kind is always a collective. Although one person might start with their vision and be the driving force, a group should never be run by just one person. A successful group needs a strong, diverse team with a range of skills to be able to make good decisions, reflect society and benefit the people it is set up to help. For me, this is one of the hardest and most crucial aspects of setting up (and continuing to run) a group; building a team will help to ensure that goals are set collectively and that there’s greater motivation to achieve them.

Which leads us to planning. Planning is a really important step in establishing a group and in keeping a group going. The planning process helps everyone involved in the group to agree exactly what the group is about, what it’s trying to achieve and the activities it will do to meet its objectives. Doing it as a team will unite team members behind collectively agreed goals and it will bring lots of different skills and viewpoints to the process, making a plan robust. Planning is also about connecting with others, considering what’s already happening in the community, identifying gaps and linking with other people and organisations to show how the group will operate and demonstrate the level of interest in its work.

Lorraine and her team did this really well, linking with the many community groups in Wall Heath in order to build a picture of potential members, to get word out about the new choir and to secure a venue. This process also helped Lorraine to think about and demonstrate the potential value of the choir and how singing together has social benefits and supports good wellbeing and mental health.

The benefits of planning and connecting with others helped Lorraine to feel more confident about applying for small grants to launch the choir. I helped to identify some small funders who might be interested in supporting the choir, particularly as a way to help people become more connected in their community and feel less isolated. Soon, Lorraine had secured grants totaling just over £3,000 from Blakemore Foundation, Geoff Hill Charitable Trust, Helping Hands Wall Heath CIC and the local Community Forum!

It was great to hear that Wall Heath Ladies Choir could start its activities thanks to the small grants it received which helped to cover venue hire, materials and small items of equipment. It was even better to pay a visit to one of the rehearsals to see how members were getting on!

That night I met a dozen or so smiling women, beginning the night with a catch up, asking about each other and chatting before throwing themselves into warm-up exercises and then into a rousing rehearsal that I couldn’t help but join in with (sorry!). The choir is led by the energising and encouraging Karen, a vocal coach, who has whipped the ladies into shape in no time. Karen’s approach is brilliant and engaging; she helps people feel comfortable and confident, and she knows how important it is to involve everyone in deciding on what songs they should perform. She brings warmth and humour to the group and it’s obvious that she’s built a wonderful rapport with the members of the choir.

During the break, I got to chat with some of the ladies. I found out that all but one of them hadn’t sung in a choir before, but that they didn’t feel stressed or daunted by being in the choir. One member remarked that she liked that they don’t get told off if they get it wrong, which shows how welcoming the choir is to all sorts of abilities. 

Some of the members knew each other before they joined Wall Health Ladies Choir, though all of them said that they’d made new friends by joining.  I was also told that coming to the choir is good fun, a pick me up after a difficult day and a place where you can forget your stresses. One member told me that she hadn’t seen anyone else that day until she came to the choir. It seems pretty clear that the choir is about more than singing, it’s about the fellowship, friendship and sense of belonging that can have a positive effect on mental wellbeing.

So if you’re interested in joining a fun, friendly and relaxed choir, why not go along to a rehearsal and see for yourself? Wall Heath Ladies Choir rehearses on Thursday evenings, 7.15pm-9.15pm at Church of Ascension, Wall Heath. You’ll get a warm welcome!

I’ll leave you with a cheeky video I took of the choir rehearsing ABBA’s Dancing Queen and I challenge you not to smile!

 

 

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.

Stourbridge Sons and Daughters of Rest

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.

Active Citizens in Dudley borough

active-citizens-logoWest Midlands Police are encouraging people to get actively involved in projects that they benefit from and which make a positive difference where they live. The Active Citizens programme was launched in June. West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson said: ”Community-spirited people who want to make real changes to the neighbourhoods in which they live and work should be celebrated. Active Citizens is a great opportunity to fund projects that makes people’s lives better and community’s safer and I would urge people to get involved.”

Dudley Police are taking a unique approach to delivery of the West Midlands Police Active Citizens fund. By collaborating with Dudley CVS they have helped to create an opportunity which is open to all potential active citizens, including children and young people. Our local approach to Active Citizens is starting with what we’ve already got. We’ve called it A Place To _

A Place To _ is connecting people, places and great ideas for projects. Anyone can start a project where they live. People who want to start projects will be supported to build their team, design and test out their ideas in real life, and access Active Citizens funding to take their project forward.

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Ways to find out more and get involved

Visit www.aplaceto.net for information and updates, like A Place To on Facebook or follow @aplaceto_ on Twitter

Talk to us: Come along to a drop-in chat, the coffee is on us. See aplaceto.eventbrite.com for upcoming dates (please register if you will be coming along).

Be inspired: Register and come along to an Activate workshop to find out more, learn about imaginative projects from around the world (and right here in Dudley) and take the first steps to start something different where you live. See aplaceto.eventbrite.com for upcoming workshops.

Take part: Come along to projects which have started in Dudley, such as Trade School, Incredible Edible, Crafternoons in Coseley or Dudley SOUP.

Help project teams to form: If your group or organisation supports or works with people who might like to have a go at starting a project where they live, we can come and run an Activate session with them. Project teams will be given a free Activate Pack full of inspiring ideas, and ongoing free support to develop their ideas and access Active Citizens funding.

Start something: Ideas need to be tested in the real world. This can happen quickly with these kinds of projects – think in terms of days to weeks. Get in touch with us if you already have a team and an idea you’d like to try. Contact Lorna Prescott: lorna@dudleycvs.org.uk / 07501 722255

Get connected: Join us for a Bring & Share Supper on 16 November 2016 to get connected to people who share your passion who want to help you.

Offer A Place To_ : Great projects need great places. If your group or organisation has a space people could use to start participatory projects – whether it’s a small room, a large kitchen or a bit of land outdoors that things could happen on, please do let us know.

Become an Active Citizens Assessment Panel member: We are looking for people to join a pool of assessors who will help West Midlands Police to make decisions on Active Citizens funding in Dudley borough. Panel members will be briefed and supported. There will be 4 panel meetings per year, but you can commit to just one if you wish. Contact Lorna Prescott: lorna@dudleycvs.org.uk / 07501 722255

5 things I learned from being part of a successful crowdfunding campaign

It’s Day 5 of Small Charity Week 2015, and today is all about fundraising. I’ve offered to write about crowdfunding. There are no shortage of articles, blogs and even whole books about crowdfunding out there. Becky has shared some useful links on the last slide in this presentation. I’m not going to repeat what is already out there. I thought it might be useful to share what I learned from actually being involved in a crowdfunding campaign. A bit of background follows, feel free to skip to the learning points if you wish, and let me know what you think.

How it began

Back in autumn 2013 I went along to some informal pizza suppers and conversations in coffee shops in Birmingham which were open to anyone and shared widely on social media. The sessions were convened with a view to finding people who would contribute ideas and work together to build a community of innovators, creatives and entrepreneurs and create a home for them in Birmingham.

A group of around 15 people emerged as being committed to taking things forward, and we met over a period of months to develop our thinking. 12 months later we were ready to start planning a crowdfunding campaign to help our vision turn in to reality. By this time a few more people had joined the team, crucially some amazing film makers, a designer and one of Birmingham’s best photographers. We aimed to raise £50,000 from our networks, by far the highest target to date for a Kickstarter project in Birmingham.

Kickstarter

#EpicBrum Kickstarter rewards image

Some of our Kickstarter Rewards

We got together for a 48 hour crowdfunding design lab to look at other crowdfunding campaigns, figure out what we wanted ours to feel like, make key decisions, create video storyboards, generate design content and shape our rewards structure to get us to our target. We launched on 4 December 2014. The first two weeks were amazing, then we plateaued at the £25,000 mark (50% of our target) for over a week, way past Christmas, with only 8 days left to our deadline. Something important to consider in crowdfunding is that platforms like Kickstarter are all or nothing. If you don’t hit your target no money is taken from the people who pledged support from you.

We re-grouped just after New Year’s Day and put in a final, monumental effort, reaching out as far as we could in our networks, following up any likely leads, and still remembering to have fun together. (Fun included some guerrilla gardening style placing of plants around Digbeth, where we wanted to make our home.) Thanks to the relentless positivity and effort of the whole team we hit our £50,000 target a matter of days later, leaving us 2 days to try and hit a stretch target of £65,000. Which we did, with minutes to spare! We had successfully engaged a community of 586 backers, all of whom have an interest in everything we’ve been doing since, many of whom are now signed up members of our Impact Hub community and amazing space.

What I learned 

I learned a huge amount being part of this Kickstarter campaign, and below I’ve attempted to draw out 5 of the most important things I learned.

1. You need to invest in your networks if you are going to ask them to invest in you

It took years of investment in relationships, countless conversations and coffees and 3 mind-blowing TEDx events in Birmingham to create a network and team strong enough to do something this audacious. If I was looking to raising just £5,000 through crowdfunding I would spend at least a year building genuine face to face and online relationships. That means saying ‘yes’ to all sorts of conversations and invitations, and thinking hard about how well your existing relationships are being maintained.

Wellington boot with a plant in it and “#EpicBrum" painted on it

Kickstarter campaign plant propaganda!

2. Being ridiculously optimistic definitely helps!

A strong, well networked and ridiculously optimistic team was crucial. Our team used a WhatsApp group to constantly encourage, celebrate, scream with excitement, be silly and talk tactics. Without that willingness to communicate at all hours of day and night and be hugely supportive of each other I don’t think we’d have achieved what we did.

3. Our secret sauce: diversity

A really diverse range of skills and experience was our secret sauce. A huge amount of credit is due to Immy Kaur, who convened this diverse team, spotted gaps and knew who to lure in at the right times!

4. Know your talents and step up

You have to step up. When things are this big and bonkers you can’t wait for someone to ask, or give you instruction. You have to know your strengths and talents and use them. For example Verity developed a wonderful photography project which got picked up by the Birmingham Post.

5. Amanda Palmer’s book helped me to really understand what we were doing

I think it is really worth reading Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking. You can get a flavour of what she has achieved in her TED Talk, however the book will give you much more of a sense of what it means to fall in to your crowd and ask them to catch you. In order to ‘crowd fund’ you need to make sure you have a crowd, and they are ready to catch you. Which takes me back to learning point 1 above.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this, let me know if anything surprised you, resonated for you or just doesn’t feel relevant to you.

If you are embarking on crowd building and crowd funding I wish you the very best of luck!

And if you’re interested in Impact Hub Birmingham, the community and collaborative workshop I’m part of, please do let me know, I’d love to introduce you. You can get me on twitter: @dosticen, call, text or WhatsApp on 07501 722255 or good old email: lorna@dudleycvs.org.uk

What will be the future role for the voluntary and community sector in integrated care in Dudley borough?

What is integrated care?
Integrated Care means care and support built around the needs of the individual, their carers and family. It aims to achieve high quality and compassionate care, resulting in better health and wellbeing of citizens in Dudley borough. Integrated care will mean getting better at preventing deterioration of health and fewer people ending up in hospital, by providing a seamless service focussed on the individual within their own homes.

There is a need to create a culture of better cooperation and coordination between health, social care, public health, other local services and the voluntary and community sector. There needs to be an end to institutional divide between physical and mental health, primary and secondary care, and health and social care as budgets and resources reduce.

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