Healthwatch Dudley welcomes over 100 new Information Champions

During the last five years, hundreds of people from local organisations and community groups, have joined Healthwatch Dudley to network with other people in information giving roles.

Our unique training enables people to learn, share and practice how to help people to get information using trusted online resources.  In the last year alone, over 100 new Information Champions have come on board from a wide range of organisations including…

…Mary Stevens Hospice, Springs Church, Brett Young Dementia Gateway, Dudley borough Assisted Living Centres, Trading Standards, Dudley and Walsall Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust (Occupational Therapy), Barnardos, Home Instead Senior Care, Camphill Village Trust, Dudley Carers Network, YMCA, Age UK Dudey, Abberley Street Day Centre, Stonewater Housing, Solutions 4 Health, Just Straight Talk, Black Country Partnership Foundation Trust, Dudley Council Public Health, Dudley CCG, Chawn Hill Church, Victim Support, Top Church Training and Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust, to name but a few!

Coseley Info ChampsOur network now also includes GP practice staff such as receptionists, healthcare assistants and Practice Managers, as a result of NHS England funding allocated through Dudley Clinical Commissioning Group, which has supported practice staff to become care navigators.  The idea is to help people to play a greater role in their own health and care, by being signposted to non-medical services to improve personal health, wellbeing and independence.

We are really proud that our Information Champion Network was recently recognised with a Better Connected ‘Forging a Future for All’ award by a partnership between the Dudley, Stourbridge and Halesowen News, Dudley Council and local partners, at the launch of the new vision for Dudley borough.

Lloyds Bank Access Rep Lorna tells us why she joined the Dudley Community Information Point Network

“Finding out about Healthwatch Dudley has been really interesting, as it will help me to better support my colleagues at Lloyds Bank where I am an Access Network Representative.

Lloyds Banking Group supports employees through a wide range of networks, we have ‘Rainbow’, which helps and connects our LGBTQ colleagues, ‘Breakthrough’ for women in the workplace, ‘Reach’ supporting colleagues from an ethnic minority background, ‘Family Matters’ for parents and carers and ‘Access’ supporting people with disabilities.

Lloyds Bank also has employee assistance programmes to help colleagues who are struggling.  Having a connection with Healthwatch will fit in really well as if people in our network want to share experiences of health and care with an independent body, I can now point them in the right direction.

I have been supporting colleagues as an Access Rep for ten years and finding the right information can sometimes be difficult. Often people who see me have had a recent diagnosis and where I can, I put them in touch with support groups or other people within the organisation who are in a similar situation.

I found out about Information Champion training that Healthwatch Dudley provides to help organisations, charities and groups better connect people with health and wellbeing information.

Joining the Information Champion Network will make such a difference I now have even more up to date and accurate information as well as new contacts.  Some health websites contain obsolete or inaccurate details with broken links, which can be really frustrating.  It’s been great to learn about where to find trusted health and wellbeing information on the net.

I am encouraging all of our other reps to contact their local Healthwatch and make the same links as me so we can provide even better support across the country which will help to make our network even stronger.”

Lorna Wilson, Lloyds Bank Access Network Representative

For more information or to register for free training, visit: http://healthwatchdudley.co.uk/infopoints/ or call 03000 111 001.

Dementia is not a natural part of ageing

Bingo? Knitting? Wartime songs? Nope!

This certainly wasn’t what I experienced when I visited the Alzheimer’s Society Working Age Dementia Café.

Dementia is not a natural part of ageing is 1 of 5 key messages promoted by the national Dementia Friends campaign. It is indeed true that dementia can affect younger people. I had the pleasure of meeting Patrick, John and Steve who are all living with dementia.  

The group meets at The Oakfield Centre, Brettell Lane in Brierley Hill. It takes place on the last Wednesday of every month from 7pm till 9pm. Anyone who has been diagnosed with any form of dementia under the age of 65 is more than welcome. The group would love to see some new friendly faces!

When I popped along to meet the group I received such a warm welcome. Led Zeppelin was playing in the background and the group told me they were known as “The Rockers.” This was so refreshing. Patrick and John were having a go at a rock music themed word search and Steve was amazing us all with his musical knowledge. Later in the evening the group got creative and made different models out of clay which they all seemed to enjoy. Even the less creative amongst us found it quite therapeutic!

What struck me the most was the bond between the group members, not just the gents but also their wives and daughters. Maureen, Louise and Sandra all told me that they enjoyed attending the group and found the element of peer support invaluable. When I asked the guys what they liked most about the group John said that he loves the company, Steve agreed and Patrick said he liked the biscuits! I love his honesty, a man after my own heart…

I’d definitely recommend this group to any younger people living with dementia and their carers. I really enjoyed myself and I’m sure that others would too. Patrick, John and Steve all met one another on Alzheimer’s Society’s Living Well With Dementia Course and have since become great friends. You can find out more about the course and the café by contacting the local branch on 0121 521 3020 or by visiting the website.

Before I came to work for Integrated Plus, I worked for Alzheimer’s Society as a Senior Dementia Friends Officer. I had the pleasure of training up volunteer Dementia Friends Champions who delivered Dementia Friends Information Sessions. These Sessions help the public gain a basic understanding of dementia and learn some of the small things that they can do to help people with dementia living in their community. Awareness raising is so important as with the right support and understanding people with dementia can have the opportunity to live well.

Within Integrated Plus, my colleagues and I have supported 140 people living with dementia to access the support that they need and to help them remain active in their communities. The Working Age Dementia Café was a great example of a group of friends who are living well and enjoying one another’s company. To find out more about how you can become a Dementia Friend please visit the website.

How a weekly cake, cuppa and chat keep people connected

St Paul’s Community and Learning Centre is a haven on the Hawbush estate in Brierley Hill. No wonder, then, that it’s the location of the welcoming Cake, Cuppa and Chat Group (or ‘3 Cs’), which gets together every Monday afternoon (except bank holidays).

The group is open to anyone who has been bereaved, is feeling lonely, facing a life changing experience like having a partner go into long-term care or for people caring for a loved-one. The idea of the group is to give participants the opportunity to chat with people in a similar situation over a drink and some delicious homemade cake. The group makes it clear that “People who come set the agenda – if you want to play cards or do a jigsaw such things are available, but if you want to come for a chat only that is fine!” It’s like a big tea party every week!

The group’s main organiser is Beryl (whose cakes are incredible!), but it’s probably fair to say that everyone chips in to make the group happen and the conversations flow. Beryl wasn’t there when I arrived, having to pop out for something, but I was welcomed in like an old friend and swiftly offered a place to sit, a cuppa and of course a piece of delicious homemade cake. I’m not great around new people, especially large groups whose members already know each other well; but I was encouraged by a helper to introduce myself to the entire group and to explain why I was visiting. After reassuring everyone that I wasn’t there to talk at them, but that I wanted to be involved in the conversations, I was invited to sit with a small group who were happily chatting about their week.

It became clear to me very quickly that this was a group in which all the participants had built important relationships with each other. It felt like over the years, people had really taken the time to learn about what made each other tick, that they’d listened to each other and respected one another. At the same time, the warm welcome I’d received told me that they were still very open to new people visiting and joining them.

I learned that some of the members had been coming for the seven years the group has been running, others were very new and enjoying making new friendships. Some members came because they lived alone and wanted to feel connected, some were carers and this was their only respite from their caring responsibilities, while others were also involved in lots of other hobbies groups. One gentleman is a member of two singing groups and a keen plant collector, giving me some hints and tips on how to keep my orchids alive! He seemed so busy with his hobbies and told me he really enjoyed keeping active and interacting with people, including his friend who he helps out with lifts to 3 Cs group and to other appointments.

One member was a carer for her husband. She told me that Cake, Cuppa and Chat was the only chance she got to take some time for herself, so it was clearly crucial to her wellbeing. It was really lovely to hear her speak highly of the support she’d received from our Integrated Plus team!

I’d expected most of the members to live within walking distance of the venue, since it’s right in the middle of a large housing estate, and many of them told me they walked there and that they went to other activities at St Paul’s Community and Learning Centre. I was surprised to learn that some members came from further afield. St Paul’s Community and Learning Centre is on a bus route, and some participants feel able to get buses there, while others drive and offer their friends lifts.

The friendship group doesn’t work in isolation and is connected to other things that happen at the centre and in the community. This much was obvious when Kathleen from Briar Lea Over 50s Club paid a visit to invite the members of Cake, Cuppa and Chat to their next trip to Liverpool because they had some spaces available. It’s this kind of sharing that helps groups to keep their costs down and reach more people!

When I met Beryl, she told me that the group had been meeting for the last seven years. Initially, members played board games, but it soon became clear that participants simply wanted to talk to one another, it almost didn’t matter what kinds of other activity they did. And I heard lots of different conversations on my visit; people sharing their experiences, giving knitting tips and swapping patterns, sharing their skills and encouraging each other.

The group regularly gets out and about, too. Members have visited places like Barnet Hill for afternoon tea, they’ve done theatre trips together, pub lunches, visited botanical gardens and they always have a Christmas party! The group is dementia friendly; both carers and those living with dementia are welcome to attend and there’s a quiet space in case anyone feels distressed. Beryl also let me know that every month, she offers time and space for people to reflect and think about their loved ones that they may have lost, which brings us back to the whole point of the group. It’s a caring environment for those that have gone or are going through challenging experiences, a place that shows them that there are still friendships to be made and people that care about them.

If you would like to see if the Cake, Cuppa and Chat Group is suitable for you or a loved one, you’ll get a warm welcome every Monday (except bank holidays), 2pm-4pm. There is no charge to attend, but donations are gratefully received for the hospitality you’ll be shown.

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

 

Hearts and Crafts: A lifeline for people in Sedgley

Hearts and Crafts group based in Sedgley is a social group where people can take part in a range of arts and crafts activities in a welcoming and supportive environment. It’s a place where people can learn new skills from their peers, share knowledge and get creative! Perhaps more importantly, it’s a place that nurtures people as well as their creativity.

I was introduced to Hearts and Crafts by my colleague Georgia, who through her role as Integrated Plus Link Support Worker has referred people to this group as a way of helping them to be more connected in their local community. The group has been running for 4 years, and it’s co-ordinated by a team that shares all the practical tasks. In fact, it’s become so popular that they’ve set up another session on the same day so that more people can attend and take part in comfort. There were at least 25 people when I paid the group a visit recently as part of the work I’m doing with Age UK Dudley. The knitting table was particularly busy!

At Hearts and Crafts, there are opportunities to take part in a range of creative activities. There’s a table for knitting, needlework and crochet, a table dedicated to papercrafts and another table for painting. People are free to choose to do as much or as little as they please and as I chatted to some of the members it became clear that Hearts and Crafts was less about what they did and more about the friendships that have been made there.

One lady didn’t find it easy to be among new people or in new situations. She was introduced to the group after someone struck up conversation with her at a party where she didn’t know many people. That one connection led her to tentatively joining the group. Now she’s a regular and gets involved in the papercrafts, chatting to her new friends and helping each other to design cards. She told me that this is the only place she goes, so she really looks forward to it every week. She walks there and she’s certain going to Hearts and Crafts gives her purpose and keeps her fit and active.

Over on the knitting table, participants were making all kinds of things for themselves and for others, sharing skills and encouraging each other. I was told that one of the participants who was knitting with such dexterity was recovering from a stroke. It was obvious how much people value Hearts and Crafts as participants told me that attending had given them a sense of purpose.

On the busy painting table, people of all abilities were trying out working with watercolours and acrylic. A gentleman was helping two people who had come for the first time, reassuring them that the worst that could happen was that their paintings might end up in the bin! By the end of the session, the two people had painted beautiful landscapes and they were looking forward to coming again. It’s that kind of welcome and encouragement that has made Hearts and Crafts so popular.
When I asked the gentleman about his painting, he told me that he’d been to a class in the 1990s and realised it was harder than it looked at first. But he persevered and now helps his wife to decorate cards that she makes. He loves painting and told me that he can forget all of his troubles by becoming immersed in his creativity. He comes to Hearts and Crafts specifically to help others to get the same benefits.

Another lady told me that Hearts and Crafts was her lifeline, especially after she’d been through a difficult period in her life. She was full of admiration for the team members who make Hearts and Crafts happen every week. She said that the team got upset when the group was so big that team members couldn’t get around to everyone to have a conversation with them; that was the reason for setting up another session later that day. It felt like the team has really fostered a sense of belonging and family as I was told that the team members would text people if the session had to be cancelled to save them setting out; whenever anyone missed a week, someone would be in touch to check everything was ok. It’s the kind of belonging that would help anyone feel connected and wanted.

‘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/

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!