Making magic happen!

Well what another amazing Operation Santa 2018 was!  13152 donations was our final figure for 2018.  We had more support than ever from members of the public, statutory partners and businesses, with some phenomenal donations.  Conversely, we also had more sad tales and children, and their families in crisis, than ever before – domestic abuse, burglaries, evictions, deaths, separations, parents with no money and no-one to turn to.

How did we do?

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Who did we support this year?

This year we had 51 lists of children and young people who needed our support to provide a gift when otherwise they would get nothing [average number on list was 25, although there were 89 on one list!].  These lists came from people from the voluntary, community, faith and statutory sector [this included schools, social workers, children’s centres and housing support], who support children and families in need.  We don’t deal with individuals and only take referrals through groups, as that way the group can identify those most in need.  We have had more organisations and groups than ever before through the Operation Santa Grotto this year!

In addition to that we funded 11 Christmas parties, some of which provided a full Christmas lunch and provided grotto presents for parties.

Supporters

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Our regular supporters from Kingswinford Charity Football Club – Simon, Carl, Mike, Jason, Louis and their lovely families supported us again this year:  fundraising to provide a hot Christmas lunch and party for 100 local children and their parents at DY1 Venue.  Simon works in local schools in the borough, so was able to ask them to nominate families most in need.   Abi and Stacey helped us again, as did Becky and Ben Knott who dressed up as elves.  They did a sterling job assisting Santa 3
and keeping the children amused.  Abi’s colouring corner was a huge success too, with those who didn’t want to join in the fun with Wally Wombat having a quiet time with some colouring. Wally did a wonderful job of amusing the children and the adults.

Everyone sat down to a delicious Christmas dinner, prepared once again by the lovely Donna, Dawn and Kayleigh from Lunch on the Run, who gave up their Saturday to cook and serve a piping hot lunch.

Huge thanks to Eric for stepping in to play Santa.  He did a fantastic job and the children thoroughly enjoyed chatting to him. One little boy was trying to grab an armful of presents 4
which brought home to us how little some children may get at Christmas.  Team Santa elves had wrapped lots of lovely grotto presents so everyone got an extra treat on their way out too.  Cheers to Carl too for once again providing goody bags for the parents.

It was a wonderful afternoon and everyone seemed to have fun, although we were moved to tears after discovering that one family had eaten nothing hot for two months and a second family hadn’t eaten anything for a couple of days.  However, we had food spare from lunch and two sizeable take-away bags of food were soon put together for the families, including some fresh baguettes. Turkey and stuffing sandwiches may well have been on the menu for tea that day!

The party was a roaring success as always and it’s all booked again for next year.

 

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ent with providing the party, the lovelies did a huge Smyth’s toy shop the following week, which ensured the grotto was bulging at the seams again.  They drove over to Smyth’s in Longbridge, where Shane the manager kindly offered to open an hour early so they had the shop to themselves.  Here are the boys with their huge pile of toys.

 

 

 

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Maren Lilley from Dudley MBC

Dudley MBC staff and Local Councillors

More staff and councillors than ever kindly supported us this year with a wonderful selection of toys and gifts. Here is Maren from Chief Exec’s Department who organises the council collection each year.

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Glynne after School Club

This lovely group have supported us for several years and this year was no exception with a visit to the grotto loaded with gifts. It’s wonderful that a group of local children want to make a difference to other children who may get nothing for Christmas.  This lovely photo shows Dean Goodman (Deputy Manager), Carley Jewkes-Jones (Deputy Manager), Emily Eades (Chairgirl) and Christian Allport (Chairboy)

Please click here for a full list of all our lovely supporters

Brilliant businesses bringing hope

Brett and the Blaze Angels – Our wonderful Business Ambassador and his team have, as always, gone the extra mile for Operation Santa. They generated an incredible 4946 donations and as always brokered the mystery business supporter’s donation.  This team are on a mission to make a difference and spread the word about the difference Operation Santa makes locally, and the importance of supporting the appeal.

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Our Magical supporter
 – Lee Southerton from Volks Magic and his team of amazing supporters from Santa’s a Gangster were fired up to make a huge difference this year.  Lee’s nephew Dale donated a VW Mk2 Golf Cabriolet and a prize draw was set up.

Along with fundraising at VDubz in the Valley, the Prize Draw and other lovely supporters, this year over £9000 was raised!  Lee even had a video made by the legendary Fuzz from the Car SOS TV programme encouraging everyone to support the appeal!

This phenomenal figure meant that we were able to do a huge shop for toys and gifts, which meant the grotto was piled up to the ceiling and at one point we couldn’t get in the door.  Also we were able to provide food gift cards, toys etc and emergency support to families in crisis, including one who was the victim of a burglary right before Christmas, when the thieves stole Christmas presents for 3 girls, but left the TV and electronics!  This incredible fundraising has also meant that we have a very healthy bank balance for Operation Santa 2019.

Not content with providing funds, Lee and Billy the Elf popped in regularly with piles of donations too, totalling a jaw dropping 1576 donations of toys and gifts too!

Court House Carvery – Chris, Paula and Paul who run the pub kindly donated 100 free Christmas lunches for local children. We approached two local schools and provided a coach for the Monday 17th December meal, when 50 children and their parents from Bromley Primary School enjoyed a Turkey Dinner with all the trimmings and ice cream for dessert.  Santa was there too and every child received a present.

On Wednesday 19th December the Court House hosted another lunch and 50 children and their parents from Bromley Hills Primary School enjoyed lunch, dessert and a present from Santa too.

Smyth’s Toys – Shane the Manager at the Longbridge store generously opened his store an hour early one Sunday, so Simon, Mike, Carl and Jason for Kingswinford Charity Football Club could shop in peace. He also gave them a generous discount and some free toys – what a star!

Prospect coaches – kindly provided us with a free coach for the 19th December Court House Christmas lunch, after we had to change the school attending and needed a coach at very short notice.

Merry Hill private hire – when the appeal went out for a free coach, Adam from Merry Hill Private Hire kindly offered us one too and although we did not take him up on his generous offer, we have been invited to ask again next year if we are again offered free carveries.

Geoff Hill – We sadly said goodbye to Geoff Hill this year and he was a much loved and stalwart supporter of Operation Santa for many years.  He was also a founding member of the Hope Charity that used to support the appeal.  Geoff popped into the office every year with a cheque to support the appeal.  He will be sadly missed as he was so much a part of Operation Santa, amongst all his other charity activities.

Nicklin – are one of our longest serving supporters and Harvey was on the original Hope Charity Board.  Each year staff collect for us and encourage their customers to donate too, so they always arrive with a lovely pile of gifts.

We also had a small business who had ceased trading and donated their stock to us, which was entirely toys and colouring packs.

Our mystery supporter – each year we have a sizeable donation from a large high street retailer who insists on remaining anonymous, but is brokered via Brett Harris from Blaze Hair.  This year they generously gave us around 2000 items, which have all gone to good homes.

Team Santa

As Operation Santa has grown we’ve had to grow the team too and three new elves joined our ranks in 2018.  It’s certainly a volunteer role with a difference as it’s a hectic 6 weeks of collections and deliveries of toys and gifts, sorting, counting, wrapping grotto presents, helping with toy and gift selection, plus helping at our Christmas parties, greeting guests, helping with activities, laying the room out, helping to serve lunch and clear away after, plus numerous other tasks.  I would like to record my heartfelt support to the incredible team who helped make Operation Santa so successful and supported me through an extremely stressful and emotional period.

Trev is my long-suffering husband who is conscripted each year to support Operation Santa.  He’s always spend hours of his own time, petrol and money to support me to make Operation Santa go smoothly, and reach as many children and young people as possible.

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Rose Cook Monk

Has volunteered for Operation Santa for three years and loves to make a difference. She juggles her volunteering around her existing charitable activities, most notably the Duncan Edwards Foundation, her speaking and family commitments. Rose’s comments about Operation Santa below sum up why she is so passionate about supporting #TeamSanta every year:

 

“Operation Santa for me is what Christmas is all about…..thinking of others, giving love where it is needed and sharing the true meaning of the festive period.   When you see your time and effort rewarded with hugs, smiles and tears, it is worth every second.   Operation Santa is an extension of my own family Christmas and the team behind it my extended Family”

Jayne Waltho

“Brilliantly organised operation to deal with a very large amount of donations.  Superb team, all pulling together to make it all happen and ensure that as many children as possible have some joy at Christmas time.  Very humbling, and at times some upsetting stories, but so happy to be part of the incredible “Operation Santa” and to know that I helped in making a difference!  Ready to help when it all starts again this year!!  “

Sarah Alliband

“What I liked most was knowing that my efforts are helping to make a difference to people’s lives, parents and children alike 😁”

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Steve Mukovic [aka Steve Ford]

Joined us an elf in November 2018 and spent hours in the grotto with the other elves, sorting donations and wrapping approx 650 grotto presents!  Steve was a lovely, warm-hearted man, with a wonderful sense of humour and always made you smile.  He volunteered for 35+ years on the Children’s Ward at Russell’s Hall Hospital, granting wishes to over 500 children and also volunteered for Dudley Hospital Radio and as a minibus driver for Dudley CVS when they ran their transport project.  We were sad to learn that Steve passed away between Christmas and New Year, and we will miss him dearly.

Sandra Moss

We also recruited another elf this year, especially to help us with the Court House events. The lovely Sandra [who is a friend of Brett Harris from Blaze Hair] arrived at the Court House in her elf outfit at both of our special carveries, helping to set up the room, serving lunch and helping Santa.

Feedback

It’s always good to hear that Operation Santa has made a difference and we’ve had some lovely feedback this year.

A grateful Mum

Just before Christmas we supported a single Mum Chloe who had been the victim of a burglary. Her car and all the Christmas presents for her three daughters were all stolen, whilst the family slept upstairs.  Her mum sent us a lovely thank you message:

“I cannot thank you and your team enough.  I just can’t believe how you have turned a really horrendous situation upside down. My daughter sat on the kitchen floor when Marieclare brought the presents and broke her heart. You and your team have totally restored my faith in the human race … you cannot imagine the difference this gesture will make to the girls xmas… U are truly amazing and I cannot thank you enough. What a blessed xmas Chloe will have xxxxx”

Jon Stevens – Head teacher, Bromley Hills Primary School

“Before Christmas we were given the opportunity to send a group of children, with their parents, for a Christmas lunch at the Court House Carvery in December. It was Eileen Fielding who contacted us and arranged this for us. I would like to send my appreciation and thanks, first of all to Eileen for organising this so well and then to the Court House Carvery for providing the food free of charge to families who cannot afford this normally. It was a fantastic experience for the children, who came back buzzing with excitement, and for the parents who all said how wonderful the food was and also that they were given this chance and opportunity.

Therefore, on behalf of the children and parents, I would like to say a very big thank you for providing this chance for us, it really did make a difference.”

Sarah Parkes – Brierley Hill Family Centre

“Just an email to say thank you for all of the hard work you and your team put in to support our families. Without people like you the children we work with would not have had that special gift to make their Christmas. You’re a star 🙂 “

Sutton School

“Operation Santa has given Sutton School students a magical Christmas and a huge smile on their faces”

http://www.sutton.dudley.sch.uk/blog/2018/12/21/operation-santa-iii-parenthub?fbclid=IwAR2i95PKstVENSBAP5CdS7TejM4odAauHXWXp7e7k6HpzEwDg_6xJb0LS4g

What’s next?

We are organising another fundraising event on 23rd March, so please help us spread the word and raise lots of funds for this year’s Operation Santa. We are hoping to raise £1000 to pay for hot Christmas meals for children and families across the borough, who may otherwise not get a hot meal.

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.

 

A lifetime of volunteering -Steve Mukanovic [aka Steve Ford]

Steve was a volunteer for 35 years, supporting Dudley Hospital Radio and then  the Children’s Ward at Russells Hall Hospital.  He was also a volunteer for Dudley CVS for many years, driving our minibuses around the borough offering the elderly and disabled an opportunity to enjoy social activities. His warm personality and sense of humour made him very popular with his passengers, who always left the bus with a smile on their face.

In 2016 Steve Mukanovic was awarded the Children & Families Main Award at Dudley Volunteer Awards 2016, for his outstanding contribution to making children’s stays in hospital more pleasant and in recognition of making 500+ local children’s dreams come true. Everything from riding in a helicopter or a Ferrari, to meeting a celebrity or smashing gnomes!

His nominator Linda tells us just what made him so special. She said:

“He is not only an inspiration to us all but is also truly humbling. You would have to really meet him to understand his charisma and unique sense of fun, he is truly a one off and we are so proud that he chooses to help us.  It would be the best thing ever to give him some of the recognition he truly deserves especially as he is rather down awaiting further surgery.”

 Steve’s presentation photo and nomination film may be viewed by following this link

Midlands Film and Art’s Character Portraits Project 2018

In 2018 Dudley CVS were approached by Midlands Art Yard to help them identify 12 local community volunteers to take part in their Characters Portrait Project, where they would be a feature of a unique piece of artwork.

Steve’s Character Portraits Project video may be viewed here and it’s wonderful to hear him talking about his passion for volunteering and the joy he got from it.

In the video Steve shared his thoughts on volunteering:

“Volunteering has kept me active physically and mentally, and hopefully there’s 500 children from the Dudley area who had their wish come true already.

 As a volunteer of course you don’t get paid for what you do not in financial terms, but to see that smile how can you put a price on that? Then of course you’ve got the day itself when you meet up and you see them lift off in that helicopter, or set off in that car so you get another smile, and you get a smile from the family and that’s a very fulfilling it’s very rewarding.”

 

Team Santa Elf

Steve with Sarah Alliband and Jayne Waltho

In October 2018 Steve joined the volunteer elves supporting Operation Santa Dudley borough and spent 6 weeks, sorting and wrapping gifts in the grotto.  He also attended the special Christmas party on 17th December at the Court House carvery in Kingswinford along with the other elves, helping us set up the room and entertaining the 50+ children, and their parents who attended.

 

We were sorry to hear that Steve passed away in December 2018 and will be sadly missed.  There was a lovely feature in the Express & Star.

Eileen from Operation Santa said:

“Steve was just 100 per cent the nicest man. The outpouring of love for him is incredible. He was an absolute star.”

 

 

 

 

The Big Lottery Fund invests in CoLab Dudley

We have good news. The Big Lottery Fund has agreed to invest in our Colab Dudley work. CoLab Dudley is a social lab in Dudley town centre which has developed through work led by Dudley CVS over the last eight years, and has been made possible through a collaboration with Gather Dudley CIC and UnLtd.

The investment from the Big Lottery Fund means that we can continue to build a platform of trust in the town, one which makes it easier for people to grow and maintain fruitful relationships.

The money will help us over the next three years: in part with resources, but also it gives us a boost to know that Big Lottery appreciates this way of working.

We’ve been talking to the Lottery team for nearly a year. The funding is not for us to provide services but to support the skills, approach, ideas, space and lab team that help connect people in Dudley.

Emergent Cultures

For the last two years, CoLab Dudley has been experimenting and making that case to build this platform, starting in the town centre. Together we make it easier for people in Dudley to create, share, make, do and learn things together.

This means that at the heart of our work is relationships. The friendships formed when care is taken to welcome everyone. The pleasure people experience in passing on knowledge and practical skills to others. Connections between local creatives who make, perform, exhibit and trade spaces which are open to all. Support and encouragement shared between emerging and established social entrepreneurs making change in the same town. Our powerful relationships with place and the natural world. A collective sense of possibility nurtured when we turn ideas into experiments and learn together.

In the last year CoLab has helped with: Trade Schools, Crafternoons, Make Fest, Do Fest, Edible Dudley and many other ways in which people come together. It takes time, effort, ideas and persistence and helps people shape their lives in many ways, as the audio clip below highlights.

These are some of the elements of the platform:

Place and Spaces: We create access to all kinds of spaces and support for people to connect, collaborate, test and incubate activities, projects and social enterprises. Our focus is currently on the High Street and St Thomas Quarter.

Inspiration and innovation: The lab draws on and shares inspiration from anywhere where people are collaborating and sharing to create social good. The inspiration acts as a curio and a catalyst for people who want to try something new or change things around them and their family or friends.

Design and Detectorism: The platform approach brings together two very conscious ways or working: we use simple design methods to help people explore what they want to do and test and experiment with their ideas. We also encourage people to actively watch what is happening, record it and learn from that, a method we call this detectorism.

Network Weaving: The spaces and the things people do together help create relationships. In the lab we also deliberately think about networks of people and consciously connect people up.

You can follow progress with our lab experiments and interact with our research through the CoLab Dudley publication on Medium.

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!

 

 

The event with the ultimate feelgood factor #dva18

18th October was our annual Dudley Volunteer Awards and as always it was a truly inspirational and emotional evening, celebrating amazing local individuals and groups of volunteers who give their time to grow communities, and support the people who live in them.

The Brierley Hill Civic and Dudley CVS staff teams spent the day preparing the Civic for the event and I think you will agree that it looked fabulous.

Brierley Hill Civic was packed with around 300 guests, including local voluntary, faith, community, statutory and private sector partners, MP’s, Deputy Lieutenants and of course the VIP’s of the evening, fabulous local volunteers and their guests.  All 80 of this year’s nominees were invited along on the evening to receive their certificates and our illustrious Awards Panel selected main awardees and highly commended awards across the nine categories.

A showcase for local talent

We are always fortunate to have talented local people performing at #dva each year and this year was no exception.  Guests enjoyed performances by three entertainers during the evening.

Dancers from Sutton School were the stars who opened the evening.

We were also treated to a stunning performance by Brierley Hill Musical Theatre Youth Group, performing songs from their recent sell-out production of ‘Grease’

Our final entertainer was Malcolm Palmer, a talented ukulele player, who started the Stourbridge branch of the George Formby Society.

 

Say ‘cheese’

We had some wonderful photos taken on the evening and were sharing the event’s highlights through our Twitter feed during the evening.  Unfortunately not everyone came to the group photo call, but I think you will agree that this lovely photo catches the spirit of the evening perfectly.  If you would like to see the photos please click here to visit our special #dva2018 blog page.

Their moment in the spotlight

Once the nominated volunteers had each received their certificate, it was time to focus on the nine different award categories and distinguished local dignitaries were invited to introduce the awards and announce the awardees.

I’ve listed all the main awardees and highly commended for each category, including links to our special blog pages, with photos, video links and copies of the nomination forms, so you can see just what makes these exceptional volunteers so inspirational.

Business Supporting the Community Award

Shaz Saleem from Express Taxis was given a highly commended award for his contributions to local communities and causes.

 

The main awardee for this category was Lee Southerton from Volks Magic in Oldbury, whose mission is to ensure th

at no local child thinks that Santa has forgotten them.  He’s fundraised and collected donations for years and this year has pulled off a small miracle!  His nephew Dale Roberts has donated a VW Mk1 Golf Cabriolet and Lee is running a prize draw at £5 a ticket to win the car and all funds raised will go to this year’s Operation Santa Dudley borough appeal.  He has alr

eady raised £3700 selling tickets are various VW events and the Just Giving page is climbing to £400!  Why not watch the video from Lee’s nominator, telling us just what makes him so special?

Community Action Award

Scott Round was the deserving main awardee and his nominator said:

“Scott is always caring and worries about other people and will always put others first, he works hard and is always a joy to see around the Coseley area, he puts a smile on people’s faces. Scott is passionate about Coseley and all its residents, I cannot think of another person like him he deserves recognition for all he does in fact he deserves a medal.”

There was a joint Highly Commended Award in this category for Jasmine Road Community Gardens and Michael Price from White House Cancer Support.

 

Healthy Communities Award

Riverside House CIC were the inspirational main awardees in this category.  Their nominator said:

“The Riverside volunteers are wonderfully inspirational! They have been supporting a growing number of young people with learning disabilities and autism over the last two years; currently they are working alongside nine young people, all of whom have complex needs, requiring understanding, patience and kill to enable their participation.”

 

Wellbeing Award

Ronnie Wheeler from the Recovery Café was granted the main award in this category. His nominator said:

“Ronnie is an inspiration partly because of the challenges he has had to overcome himself. This has also led to him being compassionate and supportive of the group that access the service. His determination, persistence and commitment has created the group. He inspires others and has built a great team of volunteers to meet the increasing need”

Lyn Head was the worthy Highly Commended recipient for supporting lonely and isolated people at the Chit Chat Club.

 

 

The Black Country Radio arts & heritage award

John Raycord from Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust was the main awardee in this category in recognition of his passion and commitment. He’s well-known by local boaters using the canal. Please do follow the link and watch the lovely nomination film, telling you all about him. 

Jo Gresswell from Brierley Hill Musical Theatre Company was given a Highly Commended Award in this category and got an even bigger surprise as her group were performing their ‘Grease’ songs at the Awards.

Children, young people and families award

Caroline Smith from Dudley was granted the main award in this category.  Her nominator has done an amazing film, telling us all about what makes her so special, so please do watch it.

Emily Bills was given a Highly Commended award and runs a Special Educational Needs play group, which offers children and parents much needed support

 

Duncan Edwards Sporting Champion award

This year’s Sporting Champion was Anthony Coghlan from Dudley Water Sports Club.

He was recognised for his drive and commitment in developing the club into a true community asset for local people to get involved.

 

Ray McGuirk young volunteer of the year award

“Ray McGuirk, a proud Dudley resident, helped many in his community and particularly those less well off than himself. He was a great supporter of young people, whom he felt so often received unwarranted bad press. As a member of Dudley CVS Executive Committee for many years, it was only natural for him to ask Dudley Lions to sponsor the CVS Young Volunteer Award. This they have done for 14 years, championing the youth of today.

Sadly Ray passed away in December 2014 at the young age of 88, but his work and legacy lives on in this award. He would be immensely proud to have his name associated with the work that these outstanding young people have carried out”.

The Ray McGuirk Award for outstanding Young Volunteer of the Year is a very special award and is given to young people from across our borough, who demonstrate a commitment to making a difference in their local communities and are positive role models to other young people.

This year’s recipients were no exception and were a truly inspirational group of young role models.

The Panel could not choose between two exceptional young volunteers and made a Joint Main Award to Lauren Bollans and Skye Edwards, who are both Young Health Champions for Healthwatch Dudley.

The Panel also chose to make a joint Highly Commended award in this category to two outstanding young volunteers Chloe Sallis and Thomas Southall.   To read more about these simply exceptional young volunteers, please do follow the links to read their nominations and see the wonderful photos from the evening.

 

Gordon Lindsay Award for long service

Our most prestigious award of the evening is this award in memory of our late Chairman Gordon Lindsay, who dedicated his life to volunteering and local causes. The nominees in this category have usually volunteered for at least 25 years and this year was no exception.  Gordon Lewis took the main award for his unstinting long-term commitment to growing and developing Himley Cricket Club.

 

It was an amazing evening, but don’t just take our word for it 🙂

 

 

 

Working Together for Change

cropped-smile-changeIn 2014 Dudley CVS began a journey to support parent carers across the borough to have a voice, influence decisions and collaborate with professionals to ensure that services improve for children and young people with disabilities and their families.

I can honestly say that this has been one of the most joyful, humbling and enlightening aspects of my work. It is a privilege to work alongside parent carers, their passion, energy and honesty knows no bounds. They are so committed to working with professionals so that together they can figure out how to make things better, look at what’s working well and also be honest about what’s not working so well.

Over the four years through Working Together for Change – Dudley Parent Carer Forum parent carers have given over 1,704 hours of their precious time to influence decisions that effect so many lives.

In 2017/18 parent carers through the forum have attended over 32 strategic meetings where they have been heard and collaborated with senior decision makers. Once again we have built on the success of previous years and increased our reach with over 2,182 views on our website, 240 followers on twitter and 169 followers on Facebook.

None of this would have been possible without the support of the forum parent carers especially the steering group who have been there from the start and are still hanging in! They inspire me every time I have the privilege to be in their company.

Any parent carer within Dudley borough can become a forum member. Its free to join and you can become a member on your terms, so you could opt to just receive information, or you can get involved in consultations, join a task and finish group or represent the forum locally or regionally.

More information about Dudley Parent Carer Forum and our annual report can be found here or you can give Donna a call on 01384 573381

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.

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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.