‘Fed up with looking at four walls? Then come and look at ours instead!’ – Senior Citizens Enterprise Woodwork Group

Based at the Meadow Road Youth Centre, the Senior Citizens Enterprise Woodwork Group, in Dudley, is a group for older people who are interested in woodwork.  It’s a fun and friendly environment offering older people a place to learn new or develop existing woodworking skills. It’s also a great place to find new friendships. The group has 23 members in total. Some members live on their own, some are widowers, some just like to get out of the house, make something and put their skills to good use! The oldest member, Ken, is 93 years old.

‘Fed up with looking at four walls? Then come and look at ours instead!’  That’s the motto of the Senior Citizens Enterprise Woodwork Group.

The wood workshop is fully equipped with modern tools and machinery. There really isn’t much that the group hasn’t made, and they’re always on the lookout for new projects to keep them occupied. They’ve kindly created cosy homes for many of the animals at Dudley Zoo, a castle hideout for the zoo’s female guinea pigs, a hotel for rabbits, bird, bat and red panda boxes. They’ve even built penguin boxes – they tell me that they have successfully bred since, so must have done a good job making them feel at home!

Members have also kindly given their time and skills to build a variety of bird habitats for the Midland Metro Alliance which will be installed along the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill route for the Midland Metro. It’s hoped that the bird boxes will attract a wide range of nesting birds.

They’ve built a bench for Acorns Children’s Hospice, nest boxes for local schools and they’re now looking to build Pine Marten boxes for an RSPB site in Shropshire.

The group acquire offcuts of wood donated by local businesses which enables them to build all of the items, these materials would otherwise have gone to landfill. They have even rescued supermarket trolleys from the canal and used the wheels to make wood replenishing trolleys that fit snuggly under the workbenches.

Steve is one of the youngest members of the group, he joined when he was 63 and mainly makes things for the family like shelving and benches. He tells me that people like to come to the workshop because they enjoy the camaraderie and they like to have a good laugh. A couple of members don’t look forward to the Christmas holidays as it just imposes on them coming to the workshop! They’ll open up again as soon as Boxing Day arrives, as long as there are two people in the workshop, for health and safety reasons, they will happily come in over Christmas!

Steve contacted Dudley CVS to get support to apply for a Dudley Community Forum Grant of £550. The application was successful, helping them to purchase sanding disks, belts, saw blades, machine saws and new router bits. They’ve also received £900 from Age UK, which they have used to buy a new router machine.

Dave is one of the founding members of the group, he’s made things including rocking horses and dolls houses. It usually takes him about 3 months to make a rocking horse which is made in blocks, glued together and then carved and painted. He’s also carved a shark out of wood, which sits on his fireplace at home.

Chairman Mick, is highly skilled on the woodturning lathes, he’s made fruit bowls and pens. He’s even made a beautifully carved walking stick.

Dave and Derek have a background in upholstery. Derek recently made an intricate money box. He enjoys coming to the workshop, but doesn’t like Thursdays much, as that’s when the workshop closes for the weekend!

Ken, the oldest member, is making clocks for his sons out of an old sideboard that belonged to his parents.

Bruce makes detailed wooden toy trains, plains and trucks. He finds his inspiration in woodwork books.

Bill is 84, he came to the workshop when he was 70, he started out as Chairman. He likes to make clocks and other things. He remembers the days when they used to walk around timber yards asking for offcuts of wood. He said “Coming here is good, we can discuss things over lunch, at our age, we don’t see anybody, pubs are too expensive and not good for you!’

George, the treasurer, likes to make boats with sails. He keeps them in his large shed, apparently, you have to go in sideways because of the number fabulous boats, lifeboats and submarines he has made.

All members are extremely skilled and talented. Some had skills before, some hadn’t, many have learnt skills from each other. All of their items are beautifully made and finished to a high standard.

The group originally started in the early 2000s when a few people were faced with redundancy from local businesses. It was suggested they go on other courses to re-skill, one of those was a woodwork course at Dudley College. When that closed down the group moved to Mons Hill in Dudley, then amalgamated with another group from Brierley Hill, it was then that they moved to Meadow Road Youth Centre where they have been based for over a decade now. They still use the original machinery that was donated by Dudley College over a decade ago.

The group has recently become a member of UK Men’s Sheds Association. Men’s Sheds provides support and guidance to individuals and groups across the UK, raising awareness of the social and health benefits of Men’s Sheds in reducing isolation, loneliness and in empowering local communities. Men’s Sheds supports individual groups to connect with new members of the community. They also provide advice and guidance on starting up and running a shed providing practical information guides, example documents and toolkits on topics such as registering as a charity, insurance, funding, sourcing equipment and venues, and volunteer recruitment.

To anyone who might be interested to join, they would say, “Come in, do your own thing, we’ve got heating, toilets and cups of tea to keep us nice and warm! What more could you want?”

To find out more about the group visit https://bit.ly/2WxNlHd

Discover U – Providing work-related experience to adults with disabilities

Based in Wollaston, Discover U is a vibrant and welcoming space providing work-related experience to adults with disabilities. Discover U is not a daycare centre, it’s a charity working to support people who face barriers when getting into employment. It’s an environment where people can prosper and grow, fulfil their goals and reach their potential, a place to learn social, emotional, functional and employability skills. The people that go there are supported by volunteers to set their own goals and are helped to achieve them.

Discover U has a well-equipped wood workshop, garden area, front tea room and upstairs sewing room, most of which are busy every day. With materials donated by local businesses, they are able to turn unwanted pieces of wood, fabrics and bottles (some of which donated by the Brierley Hill Civic) into beautifully handcrafted and saleable items. They even have donations of fruit from people in the local community which they use to make cakes for the tea room. It’s now a community hub where local people can pop in for a hot drink, a cake, and look at all the wonderful items for sale.

You only have to look around the workshop to see the passion to learn, the creativity, the enjoyment and sense of pride in the products they have made. Everywhere you look there are beautifully made high-quality products, Bee Hotels, bird boxes, bottle lights, knitted tea cosies, cushions, chairs, you name it…they have probably made it! They even made our wooden awards for the Dudley CVS Volunteer Awards last year.

It’s a wonderful hive of activity. Lorna is busy drawing up ideas for her next recycled bottle project; she shows us her sketchbook full of ideas and designs. James has invested his time learning about safeguarding and what you need to do to keep people safe. Thanks to James, Discover U is now recognised as a Safe Place to visit in Dudley. Kieran is busy tidying up the cabin shop showing us the variety of products for sale. Darren tells us how he wants to work as a painter and decorator having learnt painting skills in the workshop.

Discover U members come from a variety of backgrounds, together they are building a vibrant, fun and pleasant working environment.

Everybody plays an important part, whether it’s in the design of a new concept, the manufacturer or the sale of a product at the end. Everybody’s involved in the process right from the very start and they take pride in what they’re doing.

In the workshop, they are supervised and learn how to use power tools. When they have passed their food hygiene course they can then work in the kitchen and serve customers. Operating the till helps them to learn about money management, it also helps them to improve their social skills by interacting with customers.

Steve Smith, one of the founders of Discover U, tells us of how for so long they have been told ‘you can’t do it because…’, at Discover U, volunteers will support people to do tasks on their own, build their confidence and tell them ‘you can do it!’

We hope you enjoy this short film we have made to spotlight this amazing group in Dudley.

If you would like to find out more about Discover U, visit their website www.discoveru2015.org or Facebook page. Or why not pay them a visit? They are open Mon-Thu from 9.30 until 4, they also have a stall at Kingswinford market on most Saturdays during the warmer months.

 

Bored to Tears

There are over 6000 people in Dudley who have been diagnosed with COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and most likely many more undiagnosed. COPD might be something you have never even heard of – or might affect you personally, but it is a condition that is supported by the Dudley Airtime group. The group is facilitated by Integrated Plus, a Dudley CVS social prescribing project,  have been meeting since 2016 at DY1 Community Building on Stafford Street, where the group is held each Thursday from 1pm. The aim of the group, funded through The Health Foundation, and most recently through Dudley Clinical Commissioning Group and Public Health, is to provide a peer-led group supporting people with respiratory conditions, to reduce social isolation and take pressure off the NHS by reducing hospital admissions and GP surgery appointments that relate to the disease, by providing a safe, caring environment for people to learn how to control and manage their condition better, meet with others experiencing similar challenges, and to take part in enjoyable activities, with lashings of tea and cake of course.

Airtime Dudley has made a particular impact on the life of Angela, who has been attending the group since August 2016. At this time, Angela was feeling increasingly low in mood, had become very isolated, and had no peer groups – in fact she was, in her own words, “bored to tears”.

Angela has made many friends through attending Airtime, and being part of the group has had a wider impact on her, and others. She now supports Airtime through identifying speakers to attend and present to the group. Through Airtime, Angela came into contact with Healthwatch Dudley and gave a talk to The Peoples Network about Airtime. She went on to become a member of The Peoples Network and now supports recruitment within the NHS, and sits on the Voluntary Sector Innovation Fund panel. She was also part of a team tasked with simplifying Dudley Safeguarding online process. Angela keeps a portfolio of all the work she does with Dudley Healthwatch and The Peoples Network, and explained that ‘I would never have been connected with the if it wasn’t for Airtime’

Angela has also gone on to support the creation of a general social group – ‘Friday Friends’, and has supported people with other conditions, such as ME, to make friends and connect. She has even completed a sponsored walk for The Lung Foundation, raising £100. Angela also has begun to meet some new friend’s she has made at a local social club.

Along with some other members of the Airtime Group, Angela worked on simplifying information for Dudley Council employees. A large book, detailing many long term health conditions and illnesses. These are now condensed to a simple A4 handout, giving a brief explanation of each condition or illness.

Through Winter Warmth attending Airtime to give a talk on their services, Angela has had a new boiler installed at home, as well as a wet room and stair lift installed into her property after Winter Warmth put her in contact with Dudley Home Improvement Service.

Angela has kept a portfolio of all the work she has been involved in with the council and Healthwatch Dudley, and is very proud of the changes she has helped to implement. Angela said that she would never have been in a position to be asked to do this work without being a member of Airtime. It was due to Airtime that those connections were made and cultivated.

The Airtime project was evaluated by Coventry University, who has produced a short video on their findings, in which Angela, and other members of the group feature below.

 

Angela feels coming to the group have transformed her life. ‘Airtime has given me quality of life, has built my confidence and I have made lots of good friends. We’re not labelled at no good, not fit for anything…I’ve had a new lease of life.

Airtime Dudley is free and runs each Thursday from 1pm – 3pm at DY1 Community Building, Stafford Street, Dudley, DY1 1RT and is open to anyone suffering with a chronic ling conditions such as COPD, pulmonary fibrosis or bronchiectasis.

Friday Friends is also based at the DY1 Community Building, and runs on the second and last Friday of each month from 1pm – 3pm. A small charge of £1 is asked to cover refreshments and is open to the general public looking to meet with others and socialise.

New members are welcome, and for any further information please feel free to contact Terry Gee on 01384 217056

A place to connect and make lasting friendships: Lye Men’s Group

The idea for The Men’s Group began in 2015 when my colleague Nick Tromans, the Integrated Plus Locality Link Officer for Stourbridge, Wollescote and Lye, had a high number of referrals for men with similar mental health needs and social isolation.  This led Nick to Reverend Simon Falshaw the Vicar from Christ Church in Lye and they discussed the need to offer a place for men to come and connect with each other.  The church was interested in supporting the idea and offered the church hall as a place to host the group.  A successful funding bid to the Near Neighbours Fund was approved and this helped start the group and pay for room hire.

The main factor for the success of the group is the volunteers who help run the group, they set up the room, serve refreshments and ensure a warm and friendly welcome to everybody who attends.  They can empathise with the group because they have had similar experiences and are well placed to offer peer to peer support.  Andrew was the first volunteer and he fostered an atmosphere of calm, respect and empathy.  Unfortunately, Andrew died suddenly in 2017 but his ethos remains within the group. Nick and I are involved in some aspects of the running of the group but the volunteers are the mainstay of the group and are vital and committed to its ongoing success.

The group has blossomed and three years on it is still going strong.  We have men aged from 19 to 90 in the group.  Over 130 men have attended the group in total and there are around 20-25 men from a pool of about 40 who attend every week.  Over the past few years we have had lots of activities at the group including, Get Cooking courses, glass engraving, bread making and well-being sessions.  The group also have regular cooked breakfasts, pool and darts tournaments and celebrations for Eid and Christmas.  There is no pressure for anybody to be involved in the activities and they are welcome to come and have a cup of tea and do their own thing.

Peer support reduces loneliness and isolation and improves self-esteem and confidence, this is certainly evident in the group.  Many positive and enduring friendships have been made by those attending the group.  People attend together and those in the group with limited mobility and difficulty attending have lifts arranged with friends they have met in the group.  If somebody has not attended in a while people rally round and see if they can help.  Friends meet outside of the group and do social activities together and meet at each other’s homes independent of the group, some have even gone on holiday together.  Another major reason for the success of the group is the non-judgemental attitude of all who attend and volunteer, it is inspiring and makes for a smoothly run and supportive group.

Barry began attending the group supported by his wife and Nick and has now become a regular attendee.  He has made new friends who he looks forward to spending time with in the group.  His friendships have developed further and he now meets up with his new friends outside of the group at home and in social situations.  Barry said he was not aware of any groups or activities like this in his local area and he said the group and the friendships he has made have ‘lifted me off the floor and given me something to look forward to.’

Those men who attend who can afford to make a donation can contribute to the running of the session.  Using an asset-based approach and working in partnerships with the local council and other organisations has enabled the group to run for little cost and has further helped the success of the group.

If you would like more information about the Men’s Group contact gary@dudleycvs.org.uk

Find out more about how Integrated Plus are supporting people to become more involved, connected and active in their communities at https://integratedplusblog.com/about/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_20180910_185500595_BURST000_COVER-01-01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A club for everyone! Dudley Rowing Club

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

DRC6

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

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

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

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

 

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

DRC3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Great news from the brand new Priory Community Centre!

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

fb_img_1534519085117-01.jpeg

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

IMG_20180817_105837414_BURST000_COVER-01

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!

IMG_20180808_121859403_HDR-01

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.

IMG_20180808_114511900_HDR-01

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.

IMG_20180808_120026426_HDR-01

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!

IMG_20180808_121634359_HDR-01

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

Staying active with Mary Stevens Park Sons and Daughters of Rest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Hope Project – Building positive futures for people of all ages

Paul and Joanne Westwood arrived in Coseley three years ago with a vision to improve the lives and welfare of people in the community. They are now turning their ideas into a reality, building positive futures for people of all ages.

The Hope Project, presents three very distinct programmes, designed to positively impact the health and wellbeing of people in the community. Music Moves, a music based course supporting the emotional well-being of 11-17 year olds, Living Life to the Full, designed to support people who struggle with anxiety, low mood and depression, and Beauty for Ashes, designed to support survivors of domestic abuse.

We were invited to the celebration and launch of this new charity at their base, New Hope Baptist Church, a welcoming, vibrant and multi-use space located in the heart of Coseley, the perfect destination for three wonderfully different projects.

IMG_20180613_204036246_BURST000_COVER-01

Long before starting the Music Moves programme, Paul and Joanne were working with groups of young people in a youth club setting. They found that the young people came along to the club because they were a little at a loose end or for social reasons, a couple were a little introverted, anxious, and found it difficult to mix and communicate.

When arriving in Coseley 3 years ago, Paul, Pastor of New Hope Baptist Church and musician of 20 years, decided to set up a music club to help young people to socialise, build confidence and play music together. It was at this point he realised how much young people of all backgrounds were communicating whilst playing music together, and the idea behind Music Moves started to grow…

Music Moves has been designed to positively impact the emotional well-being of young vulnerable people. It is a 12-week programme, primarily designed to introduce a new way for 11-17 year olds to cope with anxiety, emotional and physical bullying, and other mental health issues. Using a referral method through schools, health professionals, police and other agencies, the programme will take them on a journey of positive personal growth and development through the medium of music.

Paul said, “The structure of the programme is in three parts. The first 4 sessions we teach the young people to play something within their skill set, the second 4 week period is bringing them together collectively, in a band environment, and in the final 4 weeks we take them into the recording studio to produce a CD or a digital download. This means they will also be introduced to music production.”

Paul has worked with many young people who have experienced bullying in school, cyber bullying and anxiety, he has also worked over many years with young offenders, and understands the challenges faced by young people.

“We hope it will be a preventative model for those who struggle with low self-esteem and other mental health issues, and it will give them something they can do away from their usual environment of school.”

The Hope Project has successfully received £13,000 from East Coseley Big Local to finish equipping a recording studio at the church, and to pay professional musician Dan Healey to run the Music Moves programme. The studio has state of the art equipment that will allow young people to develop their skills in recording and also allow them to learn and master different instruments.

Dan is also a talented musician. During his musical career he has performed with major artists in the music industry and now teaches music at Wolverhampton University. He has a passion to support young people to develop their skills in music, and to help them interact and communicate in new and creative ways.

At the launch we heard a fantastic performance from the Music Moves pilot group, young people that had started out as complete beginners only a few months before, formed a band and had now built the confidence to perform to a live audience.

Living Life to the Full is a life skills 8-week programme, produced by psychologist, Dr Chris Williams, nationally recognised to support people who struggle with anxiety and low mood, and is designed to help people deal with life on a day to day basis.

Joanne was a nurse for 30 years before starting work with the church. “I found that a lot of people found it difficult to say that they were struggling with depression. To say I’m feeling really low or I’m anxious, to come forward and open up was a struggle for some people due to the stigma surrounding it, many had suffered for many years without coming forward. We decided to think about how we could support people with anxiety and low mood and people that suffer from depression.”

“Many people simply try to live with low mood and anxiety.  This can often lead to more severe mental health issues if no interventions are found.”

Joanne and Ruth Carter, also a nurse, working with patients with chronic pain, run the self-referral project together in a group setting, providing useful resources to people that may feel a little low and isolated in the community.

It’s a low intensity and practical programme, that’s not here to replace what the local mental health team does, but to complement it.

Joanne said, “We ran two pilot courses, mindful of those with faith and the struggles that they will encounter, and also those without faith. One of the great things that has come out of this is that one of the ladies wants to set up a peer support group so that there will be continued support for people in the community.”

Beauty for Ashes is a women’s group designed to support survivors of domestic violence who have removed themselves from the relationship. The group gives help, both emotionally and practically, to those who are trying to realise a positive future further on down the line, and in need of that extra bit of support.

Joanne said, “We knew we wanted to work with survivors of domestic violence as we had previously sat on a West Midlands Police steering group and we knew from that group how much of a need there was to do this.”

The aim of the group is to provide an environment of support, concentrating on overcoming personal difficulties that are experienced as a result of abuse and to help women to feel more equipped to lead improved and independent lives, building self-esteem and empowerment. Many of the women who attend will be at various stages in the rebuilding of their lives.

“Even though we are a church some of what we do is non-faith based. We wanted to do both groups. In some faiths there is a distorted belief that the man is the authority in the relationship and it’s difficult for women to come forward and talk about it.”

Joanne has successfully completed Power to Change, a Women’s Aid training course in order to help her to support women to have healthy relationships post domestic abuse. “The name Beauty for Ashes symbolises turning a really difficult and horrible situation into something that is really positive and good.”

Joanne and fellow church member Davinda, will fully launch Beauty for Ashes in the summer of 2019 and will again look at the two groups, those with faith and those without faith.

The Hope Project received support from Dudley CVS around 18 months ago when they first had the idea of setting up the project and the three associated programmes. “We knew what we wanted to do, but we didn’t know how to do it. We were struggling for direction. Becky helped us to identify that a Community Interest Organisation (CIO) was the best route for us, whilst leaving it up to us to decide, she gave us good advice. We had time to question and take it all in, with what we thought was a minefield, she gave us the reassurance and guided us through it at our pace. Lorna, (Dudley CVS) supported us with an application for funding from East Coseley Big Local, she helped us to see our vision more clearly.”

“Dudley CVS gave us knowledge and information but allowed us to find our own direction.”

Paul, Joanne, and the rest of the team radiate enthusiasm and energy, you can see how committed and passionate they are about building positive futures and improving the well-being of local people of all ages.

“Our key ingredients are commitment, a pioneering spirit, compassion and willingness to work hard for no reward. We are non-judgemental and accept people where they are at in their lives.”

For more information on The Hope Project or associated programmes, please contact info@thehopeprojectcoseley.org.uk or visit the website at www.thehopeprojectcoseley.org.uk