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/

Setting up for success: Wall Heath Ladies Choir

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

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

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

Team building and planning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Tips for being successful with your funding applications

Organisations in the voluntary, community and faith sector have, over many years, carried out essential and important work helping people who are vulnerable, disadvantaged, lonely and unable to access services for a variety of reasons. As a consequence of what they do they are able to apply for grants from a variety of funding bodies such as trusts/foundations (e.g. Lloyds Bank Foundation, Henry Smith Charity and Garfield Weston Foundation) as well as national funders such as BBC Children in Need and the Big Lottery.

In these times of austerity and poverty the role of charitable organisations in society and communities has increased massively however many of them have experienced funding cuts and, as a result, there has been a massive strain on their resources affecting their ability to support vulnerable people to the extent that they used to.

So what are the options facing these organisations? Some have fallen by the wayside and no longer exist. Others continue providing services, activities and projects however at a much reduced rate with many reporting growing waiting lists. At Dudley CVS we provide funding support through identifying potential funders that may be able to help as well as working with organisations when they make applications to funders.

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Grant funding is more important than ever. And it’s not always just about submitting an application. There are many things to consider before starting to work on a funding application. The most important thing is to plan what you want to do and then consider the aim or aims of funders you are considering approaching. Ensure your aims and what you want to do closely match the funder’s requirements. Beware “MISSION DRIFT” – don’t let what you do or want to do be influenced by what funders want.

There are plenty of funding opportunities so do the research. At DCVS we can identify which funders to apply to so long as we have the information on which to base our research. Once we have details of the intended project, what you want the money for (such as revenue costs including salaries, project costs, capital for equipment/buildings etc.), how much you want and for how long we can provide details of potential funders.

Having obtained these details then carry out more investigation by looking at the websites (if applicable) and/or speak to the funders explaining what you want the grant for. By speaking to a funder can save a lot of time if they tell you straight away not to bother applying. Conversely they may be very interested which gives you the confidence to make an application to them.

Always start either a discussion with a funder or an application request by providing background information about the organisation/project alongside a summary of your funding requirements. This should be brief and to the point with sufficient information to attract their interest. If they are “turned off” early on by too much detail/information they may not read the rest of the application which might be for some excellent work that would justify support. The secret is to “hook the funder” early on.

There are a variety of things a funder will want to know when you submit an application and if there is a form that needs completing then the questions will be supplied on the form. Always answer the questions accurately – don’t provide information you want to say or you think they want to know. Follow their guidelines very carefully and if they provide “prompts” on the application form make sure you cover each one as suggested. If any of these prompts are not applicable then explain why. However if you find that too many are not applicable then you may need to consider whether they are an appropriate funder to approach.

The key areas of a funding application are:

  • Need identified for the project or piece of work you want funded. Outline the issues/problems and evidence. Clearly explain what these issues are and how you know. Evidence is critical and can be results and/or successes of existing/previous work, consultation with beneficiaries/stakeholders/interested parties and research (local or national). Many applications fail because the need hasn’t been identified and evidenced sufficiently.
  • Beneficiary details stating who they are (people/individuals, communities, organisations), how many and where they are from.
  • Aims and Outcomes – the differences or changes you want to make for your beneficiaries using words of change (such as improve, more, better, increase, reduce, less etc.). Ensure the outcomes address the problems or issues identified and the aim shows what impact you want to make.
  • Activities – describe what you will do to meet the needs of your beneficiaries and achieve the outcomes you have planned.

Think of all of this as a journey where you have people (your beneficiaries) with problems or issues in their lives (need for your work or project) and you provide support for them (your activities) so that you can make their lives better (outcomes).

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You must have clear, efficient and good monitoring/evaluation procedures in place ensuring the measurement systems capture not only the inputs/outputs data reporting what you do/the activities you provide but also the subsequent results that show how well the beneficiary’s needs have been met through the achievement of successful outcomes. Then, by analysing this information, you can evaluate the impact of your work/project (meeting your aims) and showing the funder their money was well spent. In this way you may be able to approach them again for repeat funding or, if you have an ongoing grant (initially agreed for say 3/5 years), then they may continue supporting you as you are doing what you said you would do in your initial application.

An accurate and detailed budget must be supplied covering either the organisation’s full costs or just the costs of the project depending on what you are requesting. Include within the funding request the amount you want and for how long. Also provide details of other funding towards the cost of your work i.e. from your own resources and/or from other funders if applicable (if you are not asking for 100% funding).

Always consider value for money and the engagement of volunteers in your project or work. Funders like to know that their grant goes a long way to not only help lots of vulnerable people but also trigger other aspects of support via volunteers etc. so even more people are helped. They see this as key in proposals and often work out the value attributed to each person that you engage with by dividing the number of beneficiaries you plan to work with into the anticipated grant. This can, where there are many good applications to consider, swing the decision your way by you showing the funder how far their grant will go.

Enclosures/further information. Provide details of any other information you are sending such as evaluation reports (from previous projects/work), job descriptions (for any salaried posts you are asking to be funded in whole or part), accounts, annual report, publicity leaflets etc. This additional information provides funders with more in depth knowledge of your organisation and good background.

Don’t forget to thank the funder first of all for taking the time to consider your request and (most importantly) afterwards if you are successful. Write a short letter thanking them for agreeing to fund your organisation/project and, if they don’t ask for a formal evaluation of how their money was spent, provide feedback voluntarily sending photos if you feel this would add value.

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These “tips” are to help organisations get started. Once you have sorted out your plans and what you want to do then contact DCVS and we will arrange to meet with you to discuss your organisation/project and how to proceed in making strong funding applications getting in money to help you continue your valuable work in supporting disadvantaged/vulnerable people.

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

Feelgood Choir has plenty to sing about: Grant funding success!

The Feelgood Choir really does have something to sing about, after being awarded a grant from Awards for All!

I’m really pleased to have been able to help the Feelgood Choir to get established and to access some funding to give it a great kick start!

The Feelgood Choir originally started as Dudley Mind Feelgood Choir, with the idea that group singing could be a wonderful aid to mental health. The choir regularly sang at shows and events, including at two Dudley Volunteer Awards where they really revved up our attendees.

Late last year, two choir members contacted me to explore the idea of setting the choir up as an independent group that might be able to manage itself and make it more sustainable. Due to cuts to the voluntary sector, Dudley Mind could offer the choir limited support and a free venue for rehearsals, but could no longer cover all the costs involved with running the choir.

I got together with Jan and Val and talked them through setting up as a voluntary group. I helped the group get set up on a firm footing by explaining the role of the committee and helping to develop the constitution.

The next step was to think about planning the group’s work so that we could identify what difference the group wanted to make to people’s lives and how it would do that. This also involved thinking about what costs were involved so that any funding application we worked on would be as detailed and specific as possible. We came out with a simple plan and I recommended Awards for All as an appropriate funder to approach.

Jan worked incredibly hard on the funding application, putting in research, stories from members and learning from running the choir with help from Dudley Mind. I was on hand to review the application and make some suggestions for improving it so that it was completely clear. It was a great application; you can always spot a good application but these days the competition is so tough that there’s never any guarantee.

feelgoodAfter a few months of waiting and nailbiting, we finally heard the great news! Jan popped into our July DY1 drop in, with a beautiful orchid and a beaming smile to say thank you for the support. It really was a pleasure to help them and Jan should get great credit for all of the commitment she’s put into making it happen.

While working on the bid, Dudley Mind had to close Dove House where the Feelgood Choir rehearse because of further cuts to its funding. Thankfully, the Feelgood Choir was able to secure another venue – DY1 itself! – to continue rehearsing and now it has room for many more members. So if you’d like to join a fun, welcoming group, you can go along at 6.15pm on Wednesday evenings (except in August). It’s £4 per week and no experience is necessary. They don’t do auditions either; everyone is welcome.

The Feelgood Choir is also holding a summer fundraiser on Friday 21 July, 6.30-9pm at the Carlisle Centre in Stourbridge. Admission is £5 and you’ll enjoy homemade cakes, a quiz and of course performances from the choir itself. For more information on this event and to learn more about the Feelgood Choir, visit its lovely website: feelgoodchoir.co.uk

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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Bayer Street Allotments flushed with success!

Bayer Street blog‘Flush and grow’ is a great title for a project. This is what Bayer Street Allotments Association have called their new project, which will help people in Coseley grow more green-fingered thanks to a grant of £10,000 from Awards for All. It’s been both fun and fascinating to support this group of volunteers who’ve given so much of their time to the community in recent months.

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