What we can achieve if we work together! Celebrating inspirational local people, groups and projects across Dudley Borough #dva19 #dvastory

Dudley CVS’s Annual General Meeting and Awards is a celebration that recognises inspirational local volunteers, people and groups who generously give their time to help make life better for others in Dudley borough. It’s also a time to reflect on some of our greatest achievements throughout the year and to spotlight some of the amazing projects, groups and individuals we have supported. It’s also a lovely opportunity to join our colleagues at the Brierley Hill Civic and showcase our wonderful venue and what it has to offer.

At this year’s event we spotlighted some of the projects, groups and individuals we have been working with during 2018-19 and shared a snapshot our annual review; how we’ve been connecting, inspiring and championing great community work across the Dudley borough. Take a look at the full annual review here: http://www.dudleycvsreview.org.uk

Last year our Carers Co-ordinator and Integrated Plus team continued to support more than 1,000 unpaid carers, people in crisis and those with complex needs. Our Integrated Plus team build a network of support around individuals, ranging from practical help, financial support and community activities to help them to become more socially connected and resilient.

During our AGM we spotlighted our work to develop the Integrated Plus High-Intensity User Service (HIU), supporting people in crisis and those with complex needs. Read more about the project on Danielle and Kelly’s blog post, “Our support to individuals all starts with a phone call and a cuppa.” https://bit.ly/2oXV5X6

Our Healthwatch Dudley colleagues shared highlights from their work last year, you’ll find their annual report here: https://bit.ly/33RAT7K

Integrated Plus, Healthwatch Dudley and our Carers team bring their different skills and experiences together in a way that benefits the sector and ultimately, the communities the sector supports.

Our work with Dudley’s Young Health Champions inspired Lauren to tackle period poverty. Her idea to make up packs now sees them distributed in all sorts of places, from family centres to schools. Lauren is making a real positive difference to the mental health of other young people https://bit.ly/2BEL7fT

We spotlighted Airtime, a weekly group for members of the community with COPD and related conditions, and our work to support the group to become independent and sustainable. Airtime was one amongst 200 hundred not-for-profits we supported last year.

We worked with Age UK Dudley to support a common aim: keeping vulnerable people connected and well. 9 groups were helped to kickstart or expand their activities with grants of between £250 and £500. Age UK funding helped Wall Heath Ladies Choir to get started and get a further grant of £3,000 https://bit.ly/31DCOeD

Our support to groups last year led to 32 successful funding applications totalling almost £2,000,000. We’ve supported groups to raise more than £11.7 million from grant funders over the past 11 years!

Our work with Dudley Voices for Choice (DVC) resulted in them being awarded a grant from the National Lottery Community Fund totalling £415,720 to maintain a regional self-advocacy network https://bit.ly/2MGZeYd

We brought together local charities CHADD, Barnardos and Phase Trust to design a service that would support vulnerable people who were involved or at risk of becoming involved in child criminal exploitation. Read more about the NAVIGATE project: https://bit.ly/2Jf3H2r

We’ve gathered local doers, creatives, makers and all kinds of people who shared an appetite nurture a culture of curiosity and kindness in Dudley town centre. https://bit.ly/361vrkQ

Our work in both Dudley and East Coseley Big Local show how we bring all sorts of people, organisations and partners together to build kinder and more connected communities.

Our Volunteer Centre helps people from all walks of life to connect with good causes and start making a difference. Last year we linked the Art Yard with incredible volunteers doing great things across Dudley borough. Artworks were created in celebration of what volunteers do to help their local communities. https://bit.ly/32C6URb

Following our AGM and highlights from 2018/19 it was time to focus on the awards part of the evening, celebrating local volunteers, people and groups who generously give their time to help make life better for others.

Listen back to the Dudley CVS Awards on Black Country Radio!

 

Deb Brownlee received the Arts and Heritage Award for her tireless work to reopen and restore St John’s Church in Kates Hill and turning it into a community hub. Deb’s nominator said “The ‘never say can’t’ attitude of this group is utterly remarkable and the obstacles they’ve had to overcome would have defeated most. Deb’s dedication is exemplary and having spent 1000s of hours on her beloved project is fully deserving of an award”.

The Sporting Champion Award was awarded to Bryn Nicholls and Briony Tonks from Oldswinford and Stourbridge Social Cricket Club. Bryn and Briony have developed a supportive and fun programme of cricket activities for disabled children and young people. Their nominator said “The needs of participants are to the forefront of Bryn and Briony, and sessions are planned and delivered so as to help all involved to develop both personal skills and social skills.”

Kyle Harper was awarded this year’s Ray McGuirk Young Volunteer of the Year Award. Kyle helped to set up All Stars Youth Club, and regularly volunteers at the club which caters for young people with special educational needs and disabilities aged 8-30 years. Kyle’s nominator said “All Stars Youth Club initially had no funding. Kyle decided to fundraise by doing a bag pack at Tesco which raised over £300. He also solely arranged a Charity Ball with singers, raffle, bingo and a disco, raising £700!”

The Business Supporting the Community Award went to Julie Bate from Amblecote Sainsburys for the dedication she has shown to local family carers and organisations that support them in Dudley borough. Julie’s nominator said “She has a social conscience and has made a real impact by helping us all to create positive spaces for people who are struggling with their caring role. She listens to people when they feel unheard, takes action and inspires others to do the same.”

Friends of Wollescote Park received the Community Champion Award for all their hard work to make the park a beautiful oasis for the community. The person who nominated Wollescote Park said “The group are really innovative and tenacious. Their exceptional commitment to involving the whole community and being inclusive is to be commended. Their project work is an inspiration for other community groups.”

Recovery Café volunteers received the Kindness and Inclusion Award. Their nominator said “All the volunteers are, or have been dealing with their own issues, whether that be mental health, addiction or financial hardship and they are all getting through it and supporting each other as well as the customers of the café.”

 

The Mark Ellerby Award for enterprise, digital and technology went to Mike Tolfree, Oliver Bennet and Callum Fowkes who are all volunteers at the Beacon Centre’s FabLab, a workshop that develops visually-impaired people’s digital manufacture skills. Their nominator said: “Mike, Oliver and Callum are hugely dedicated to the Beacon’s FabLab and their enthusiasm has been instrumental in ensuring the successful launch and 1st year of FabLab”

Their nominator said “Mike has pushed forward on an artistic level taking the quality of products to a level we didn’t expect so early on, enhancing photographic and personalised ornaments and corporate branded items such as T-shirts, keyrings and signage”

“Not only has Oliver immersed himself in smart device accessibility to help the Beacon Centre’s visually-impaired customers, he’s dedicated to 3 clients in our home visiting scheme, helping them get out and about, giving IT support & helping one to set up their own company.”

Callum’s nominator said that he “developed his knowledge of 3D printing and design for FabLab to produce bespoke items such as 3D tactile maps. These 3D maps enable visually impaired people gain a better understanding of new surroundings & environments through touch”

“Without Mike, Oliver and Callum, the Fab Lab would, quite simply, not be able to operate.”

The Gordon Lindsay Award for Long Service, is an award for special local heroes who’ve dedicated more than 20 years to their communities. This was awarded to Jillian Fielder.

Jillian has been volunteering for 35 years to help children and young people develop, either with the Boys Brigade or the toddlers group she leads. Jill’s nominator said that her Boys Brigade group “provides a safe environment where children can run off steam, be children, build their confidence and self-esteem by trying new things and discover for themselves who they are as individuals.”

Jill’s Mom & Toddler group “also provides adults with the rare opportunity of sitting and chatting with friends, which helps to reduce isolation and loneliness and encouraging people to make new friends”

And Jill’s nominator thinks Jill is so special because “She sees the hardships that some of these children are going through and strives to make a positive difference to their lives. She is a hidden gem to our community.”

This year’s event also introduced a new award Operation Santa Business with a Big Heart Award.    

Operation Santa is a local campaign, which is run by Dudley CVS. Every year donations of new toys, gifts, food etc. are collected and distributed to local voluntary and community groups who support children, young people and families in crisis within Dudley borough. This year Dudley CVS recognised two outstanding businesses that had generously supported the campaign.

The Court House in Kingswinford, provided 100 free Christmas carvery dinners for children who would otherwise not get a Christmas lunch.

Garry and Hayley Aulton behind Beer Buz, organised a reverse Santa where people brought presents, plus an auction of donated items.  This auction raised over £3500 for local children and young people this Christmas.

View the full photo gallery from the event on the #DVA19 blog

What people said:

Always a special evening … I am in awe of all the volunteers who give so much to this community

I never cease to be amazed at the wonderful work that is being carried out by our volunteers!

Kindness ♥♥

Inspired, enthused and motivated to volunteer. Thank you DCVS!

Lovely to see kind, hardworking people recognised and the difference they make.

Inspiring and humbled. Great to see people being recognised

Still lots of things to achieve but let’s hope we are on the right road to success

Proud to work in Dudley ♥

A wonderful uplifting evening

Volunteers are worth their weight in gold x

 

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 the 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.

 

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

Grace Community Church: Working together to build a vibrant new community space for local people in Pensnett

Grace Community Church, based in Pensnett, is a passionate congregation of people, committed to making their local area a better place to live by responding to the changing needs of the community around them. As a community, they have pulled together using their individual skills and connections to build a vibrant new community space that will become a place where local people can come together, learn new things, and get support.

I recently visited Nigel Rowe, Pastor at Grace Community Church, at their new community building to find out more about their recent asset transfer success and future plans for the building and the local community.

It was in early 2018 when Nigel approached Dudley CVS looking for a community space in the Pensnett area to use as a base for their group’s activities. After an initial discussion about potential buildings they could rent in the area, Becky, Dudley CVS Small Groups Officer, suggested community asset transfer as an option to consider and pointed in the direction of Dudley Council to find out more about potential buildings available in the area.

After a short period of looking around, Nigel found a local building that wasn’t being fully utilized. It had previously been used for a senior citizens club, which only met once or twice a week for bingo. The space had the potential to offer lots more. After expressing an interest in the building, they put together a business plan and worked with Dudley Council to start the asset transfer process. They received the keys in October last year.

Community asset transfer involves the transfer of responsibility for buildings or land from the local authority to a voluntary or community organisation. It presents opportunities to ensure that facilities can continue to be available locally for social, community and public use. The process starts with an expression of interest, followed by a business plan to show community support for the transfer, the kinds of activities that would take place in the building that would benefit the community, and financial sustainability.

Although they found the asset transfer a lengthy process, it gave them some extra time to raise the funds to renovate the building. Roughly £25,000 has been spent on the renovations so far. The Ibstock Enovert Trust, an environmental body that supports community and environmental projects, awarded £15,000 for the project, and the church’s congregation worked hard to raise the rest of the money.

When I visited Nigel at the building, I was amazed to find wonderfully welcoming, bright and spacious rooms, beautifully decorated with modern fixtures and fittings, a vast improvement from the old photos I’d seen of the building. Although not entirely finished, it’s very nearly there, even as I arrived there was somebody busily painting away!

Nigel told me about the incredible support from the local community, how everybody pulled together to make this project happen, not only the congregation but also local businesses that had donated fittings, materials and equipment.

Tiles were donated by a local business doing a renovation job in the area. Electricians, Sunny Electrical, and local plumbing company Gill Mechanical Service offered their skills at a reduced rate. Will Hire from Lye hired out scaffolding and core drills free of charge. Howdens donated a fitted kitchen after hearing about their various food-related projects for local people, including hampers during the winter, and ‘Make Lunch’, providing free school meals to young people and children during the school holidays.

It’s unbelievable to see old photos of how the building looked before the renovation work began:

And today, the incredible transformation – a bright and modern space!

And, the congregation are not just a vibrant and friendly bunch, they themselves are also very ‘handy’ with skills in decorating, painting, plastering and building work. Locally, Grace Community Church has taken on gardening and DIY projects for elderly people that can’t get out of the house, or for people that might be struggling for other reasons. Nigel told me, “It’s surprising how much you need for a renovation project like this that you don’t realise. We’re already using a lot of these skills out in the community, and we’re now using them to complete this project so that we can bring the community in. Local people and businesses just wanted to help because they had heard about all the good things we were planning to do with the space.”

All Nations Church Wolverhampton, their parent church, has also helped and supported the work in the area.

The building is now equipped with everything that is needed for a fully functioning community space. It has a large bright main room for events, a brand new modern kitchen space, toilet facilities and a day/activities room for toddler groups.

The vision for what takes place in the building has been built around what they have learnt from the changing needs of the community around them. They will start with a toddler group to support isolated parents in the area, as since the closure of the local children’s centre there hasn’t been a great provision for parents. Their aim is to ensure that people can drop in at any time, and there will always be someone available in the building to support parents. Nigel added, “It will be a place where answers can be found. We don’t have all the answers, but we can work together to find them”. The Toddler Group meets every Tuesday morning from 9:30am until 11am.

Nigel is also a Chaplain at Crestwood School, offering extra support for young people during lunchtime. This helps them to understand the needs of young people in the area.

The space will be used to run activities with young families, to start youth groups, art clubs, coffee mornings, and in the future, they hope to put on parenting classes, and workshops to support people with managing their finances. There will be summer school meals in the new kitchen and big events during the summer and Christmas time. Currently, they run a music workshop on a Wednesday evening and are looking to expand. People of all ages are welcome to come and use the equipment. They also plan to link up with the local food bank and potentially use the building as a distribution point.

Their aim is to build up better relationships with local people through running groups, classes and events. It’s also about connecting people socially by offering a safe place to meet to get to know other people, with a hope that new friendship groups will blossom.

Nigel tells me, “Isolation affects people of all ages. There is nowhere local to just sit down and have a coffee. We want to have drop-ins so that people can come in and have a friendly face to share a hot drink and a cake with.” Exciting future plans include potentially opening a coffee shop in the building to provide people with a place to meet and do things, also giving local people job opportunities.

Grace Community Church is now focused on getting over the starting line so they can bring exciting new projects and activities to the community. It’s wonderful to see such a transformation, providing the Pensnett community with a place to be for many years to come. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what comes next.

Grace Toddler Group meets every Tuesday morning from 9:30am until 11am. There is also a meeting every Sunday morning from 10:30am for an open and friendly church service with children’s activities and refreshments at the end. All are welcome.

If you would like to find out more about the project contact gracechurch@allnations.org.uk

 

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.

Nurturing caring, vibrant and caring communities – A snapshot of our story over the last year

We are really pleased to share the work that our Dudley CVS team have been doing over the past year in our most recent annual review. The 2016-17 review is a snapshot of the work we’ve done between April 2016 and March 2017 to support individuals, communities and organisations across Dudley borough.

Take a look at our annual review website and read about how we’ve been connecting and inspiring people and organisations to achieve positive change and championing their work.

Visit www.dudleycvsreview.org

Or, if you would like to read a short snapshot of our story, you can download our pdf version by clicking on the image below:

I hope you enjoy learning about the work we’ve been doing over the past year. If you’ve any feedback please feel free to leave a comment!

Be part of our collective story and share how you’ve been involved in our work or how you would like to get more involved! #dcvstory

A snapshot of our work supporting people, communities and organisations over the last year

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I’m really pleased to share the work that my colleagues and I have been doing over the past year in a our most recent annual report. So new, it’s not yet hot off the press, the 2015-16 annual report is a snapshot of the work we’ve done between April 2015 and March 2016 to support individuals, communities and organisations across Dudley borough.

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Dudley groups that got involved in Small Charity Week

Small Charity Week 2016I just wanted to say a big ‘THANK YOU!’ to everyone who got involved in Small Charity Week in Dudley borough and to highlight the organisations that joined in our conversations.

We had quite a few conversations online and some busy activities that I really hope were useful and stimulating for everyone that joined in.

 

 

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A fireside chat and five priorities

Photo of Joel Gascoigne and Nick Holzherr in front of screen with glowing fireplace

Photo from the fireside chat shared by Laura Creaven on twitter

On Tuesday I went along to a Fireside Chat* with Joel Gascoigne, co-founder and CEO at Buffer. Buffer is a really handy software application which you can use for free to schedule posts to social media accounts in Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and more.  Joel studied in the West Midlands at the University of Warwick, and Buffer was developed and launched in 2010 while he lived in Digbeth, Birmingham. The co-founders moved to Silicon Valley in 2011 and have always been the subject of much interest and attention because of their radically open and transparent business practices.

Buffer made the salary calculations and salaries of each team member public and openly publish revenues from their paid for products. They are fully transparent with email (all team members can see all emails) and they have introduced transparent pricing so you see where every penny (or cent) goes if you subscribe to a paid plan. In Buffer one of their values is default to transparency.

I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Joel share his story and respond to questions which were submitted through twitter. And it got me thinking about what we’re sharing about Dudley CVS. Then I realised we haven’t really talked much about some priorities we’ve developed this year, and now is a great time to share them here because we have just started getting together as staff and board members to take each of them forward.

Our priorities have been shaped in response to what we heard from our sector in a survey we carried out late last year (Kate shared the findings in this post) and also give focus to key areas of activity we have been developing. Here is a run down of our 5 priorities.

Championing Dudley CVS and the sector 

Our survey told us that the top request in relation to support we should offer over the next year was raising the profile of the voluntary and community sector. A group of Dudley CVS staff and trustees met last week to begin collective work around this priority, so you’ll soon be seeing a growing offer to groups and organisations around this. Do get in touch with Becky (smallgroups@dudleycvs.org.uk) if you have skills or ideas to contribute to our work around this.

Enabling and promoting innovation, transformation and sustainability

Our survey also highlighted that people want support in relation to:

  • identifying gaps in local provision, working with new and existing groups to address unmet needs in communities
  • developing groups and organisations
  • ways to diversity income streams
  • innovation and transformation
  • advocacy and leadership of the voluntary and community sector

While we offer support around these areas already, we think there will be some value in us offering a programme of support which people can access in different ways. A group of Dudley CVS staff and trustees met last week and discussed some initial ideas, the next step is to involve people from local groups and organisations in shaping the programme. If you’d like to make suggestions please add a comment to this post, if would like to join an informal ideas session in September please let me know (lorna@dudleycvs.org.uk).

Supporting and enabling collaboration in Dudley borough

Ranked fourth in the list of support people want us to offer is supporting and enabling networking and collaboration. And ranked third is creating the conditions for our sector to influence. A group of our staff and trustees will be reviewing pervious and current work around this and shaping what we can do in the next 12 months. I have already been sharing some examples of activity over the last few years and thinking on collaborative practices on the CoLab Dudley blog. We’ll keep you updated on the work of the group looking at this priority, our first meeting will be next month.

Collaborating and demonstrating impact (using PSIAMS)

Dudley CVS and a number of voluntary organisations in the borough are changing their approach to working with people, and using a tool called PSIAMS to help them manage relationships, communicate and collaborate within and across teams, and to measure the impact and value of their work. We already have a great team supporting the use of the approach and software (Mark Ellerby from Cloudberry, plus Dudley CVS officers James Baggot and Adam Deyes). There will also be a trustee and staff group working on ways that our sector can collaborate and demonstrate impact.

Ensuring use of our venues benefits local communities 

Over the last few years Dudley Council has been working with Dudley CVS to explore ways to make the most of the council’s underused buildings and land in a challenging climate and safeguard them (or even unlock them) for community use. Asset transfer was a option for one building we looked at, a management move was an option in another. The council is continuing to develop and test new processes which involve community-based organisations taking on facilities. The initial steps with us should help to set the tone and ease this transition for other facilities and organisations.

Dudley CVS are now managing Brierley Hill Civic, and we have staff and a Lunch on the Run cafe moving in to a building on Stafford Street in Dudley Town Centre (the name of the building will be revealed shortly). It is really important to us that we both show that we can make a financial success of such ventures, and that we can do that in ways which support, connect and benefit local communities, groups, clubs and societies, as well as our sector more widely. We have a group of trustees and staff with a diversity of skills and connections who will give time to making ensuring we achieve this.

Do leave a comment or get in touch if you have any thoughts on any of our priorities, and please do share links to information about what your group or organisation is currently focusing on. We’d love to hear about it!


For anyone interested in the Buffer event, I’ve archived some useful links, tweets and pictures from the Fireside Chat here.

*Fireside Chats were a series of radio addresses given by President Franklin Roosevelt and the contemporary spin on this at the event I went to was a backdrop of a 3 hour You Tube fireplace video screened for the entire duration of the talk. It was nearly as mesmerising as a real fire!