A couple of weeks ago, I headed to Birmingham for the Good Finance Live event on social investment to meet experts, social investors, not-for-profits that had accessed social investment and, hopefully, to bring some useful information and ideas back to Dudley borough.
I should say that social investment won’t be for every organisation because of its repayable nature. For instance, it wouldn’t suit an organisation that provides free services because that organisation would find it difficult to raise enough money to pay off the investment. But for an organisation that has something to trade, be it facilities for hire, goods, merchandise or services to sell, social investment could be a feasible source of finance to help it develop. As I’m seeing more requests for support around social enterprise development and community asset transfer, repayable finance might be an appropriate option for these types of organisation (a social enterprise is set up to trade to achieve its social or environmental purposes and an organisation with facilities might be able to generate an income from hiring them out).
So what did I get from the day?
Generally speaking, social investment is repayable finance where the investor wants to receive a social return as well as a financial one. But within that, there are many different types of social investment. The conference centre at BVSC was packed with different social investors that support charities and social enterprises. Between them, they provide a whole range of social investment options, such as:
social impact bonds
social investment tax relief (SITR)
A mind-boggling array of options that may sound very daunting. You can find out more about them here on the Good Finance website.
On top of that, while some investors offer general support to any type of not-for-profit, there are some that are interested in certain areas of work or themes, like:
PICNIC – which is interested in delivering social and environmental impact in parks and green spaces
Sporting Capital – which supports organisations that help communities through sport and physical activity
Homeless Link – which supports organisations that aim to reduce homelessness
As well as meeting social investors, it was incredibly helpful to meet and hear from organisations that had been successful in raising one or more kinds of social investment. Particularly inspiring were contributions from:
Wellington Orbit, a cultural hub owned by the community who raised finance through a community share offer and incorporated social investment tax relief SITR into its funding mix in order to open a community cinema and cafe bar
Creative Optimistic Visions CIC, run by the passionate Stacey who shared her journey from setting up her CIC from scratch, being supported through UnLtd finance and mentoring to taking on blended finance, allowing the CIC to employ staff and expand its work
These examples really demonstrated that social finance is not only for large organisations and already well-resourced organisations.
If you’re interested in finding out more about social finance, I’d always recommend learning from other organisations that have gone through it. Many will be happy to share their experiences and learning with you. As well as the two listed above, a couple of months ago I posted about Stretford Public Hall, which ran a successful community share offer.
I’d also recommend starting with the Good Finance website, which is packed with tools and resources to help you decide whether social finance is a good option for your organisation and what social finance options might be most appropriate. It’s a great source of information.
Finally, I’m doing some work behind the scenes to increase knowledge and understanding of social finance in the Dudley borough. This might include sharing more information about social finance, increasing our skills and bringing in experts who can give support and encouragement. If you’re interested in learning more, or getting involved in any initiatives around social finance in Dudley, please let us know and we can keep you informed.
Did you know that over the last 11 years, Martin and I have supported nonprofits to access more than £11million in grant funding? You probably didn’t because we only recently realised this ourselves!
Given that Martin and I have recently completed our eleventh year at Dudley CVS, and because we’re both utter geeks when it comes to keeping records of the people and groups we’ve worked with over that time, we thought it would be interesting to pull together all of our data about successful funding applications we’ve worked on. We’re both pretty staggered by (and proud of) the results.
Martin and I joined Dudley CVS within a month of each other back in 2008. Over those years we’ve worked together and helped each other to offer the best support possible to all types and sizes of not-for-profit.
My role is about helping people that want to establish or develop their not-for-profit by providing them with information, guidance and support on a range of topics they’re likely to run into, including:
What type of not-for-profit? Such as the concept of social enterprise, the definition of charity, appropriate legal structures
Planning, including long term vision, mission, purpose-setting, project planning, reviewing the organisation, financial planning
Roles and responsibilities of the people that lead not-for-profits, including governance training for directors and trustees
Connecting with others, which is becoming increasingly important
Governing documents and registration
Compliance – including regulatory obligations, insurance, reporting and policies and procedures
Asset development and asset transfer
Fundraising and income-generation
When I support groups with funding, it tends to be as part of wider support to help a group become established and ‘funding ready’, such as Dudley Feelgood Choir, Wall Heath Tennis Club and Bayer Street Allotments, though I do also help groups to identify appropriate funders for their work or projects and they do the rest. The idea is to give support in a way that helps groups to become more skilled and confident in putting applications together.
Martin’s role focuses on income-generation and because of this, he primarily supports organisations with larger bids. Martin says,
“Like the support groups give to their beneficiaries to help them to increase their skills, confidence and ability to do things for themselves, the way I work with groups can start quite intensively with a lot of handholding until they are in a position to work on an application themselves with me on hand to review it before it’s submitted. Lots of the people I worked with years ago are now flying with their bidwriting!
I supported Dudley Voices for Choice who received £415,720 at the end of 2018. What stood out for me was how the group involved their beneficiaries throughout the process as well as the enthusiasm of the partners in the project led excellently by Sarah.
Overall 80% of the organisations I have supported during the last 11 years have received funding.
Over the last eleven years, between us, we’ve supported:
With 614 successful applications
To 113 grants programmes
Totalling £11,764,436.65 (65p!)”
Of course, this only covers the work that Martin and I have done to support organisations as that’s the data we have to hand. The real total over that eleven years is likely to be much higher if we could incorporate the support that our previous colleagues gave too. On top of that, for obvious reasons, we can only include the successes that our groups have told us about, which doesn’t always happen. Nonetheless, there’s some interesting things to say about the figures we’ve got.
The largest single grant was for £800,000 from the Football Foundation to a local community football club (one of Martin’s)
The smallest grants were two £30 grants from TESCO and the Blakemore Foundation to help the Seniors Luncheon Club get started in 2009 (they’re still going now!)
Here’s a breakdown by grant size:
86% of grants were valued at £10,000 or less. The majority of grants (35%) were for under £1,000, while 33% of grants ranged from £1,000-£5,000. This means well over half the grants (68%) were awards of up to £5,000. 18% of grants were between £5,000 and £10,000 in value. I think this suggests that most of these awards are contributions towards project costs, rather than core funding.
Which funding programmes have been the most accessed by the groups we’ve supported over the last decade? This graphic shows us:
67 of the 113 (59%) of funding programmes made one grant only (that we know of), the remaining 41% gave multiple grants amongst the groups we supported. When we support groups, we help them to identify the most appropriate funders for their needs, matching projects to funders’ interests areas and criteria. This is why there is a spread of 113 grants programmes.
Within that, the ten most prolific grants programmes were:
Dudley Council’s Community Forums (including previous Area Committee funding)
Awards for All (National Lottery Community Fund, formerly Big Lottery Fund)
Dudley Borough Small Grants Fund
Rant About the Grant
Improving Physical Activity Fund
Reaching Communities (National Lottery Community Fund, formerly Big Lottery Fund)
What’s staggering in this list is that 6 of the ten programmes no longer operate and have not been in operation for some years now (programmes that have come to an end are: Dudley Borough Small Grants Fund, Grassroots Grants, Rant About the Grant, Improving Physical Activity Fund, Dudley Council’s Small Grants, BeActive Coaching Bursary). This chimes with our knowledge and our increasing encouragement of groups to look to new sources of income as grant funding opportunities continue to reduce, because the four remaining funders may not be able to increase their level of award.
What else can we say about these grants programmes? We can see how much they have granted the Dudley borough groups we’ve supported:
An enormous 55% of funding awarded to the groups we’ve supported has come from Reaching Communities, that’s £6,507,553.00 of the £11,764,436.65 total! This is perhaps due to a combination of the size of grants available through this programme, its popularity as a programme and the relatively high success rate it enjoys. Other popular programmes like Awards for All and the Community Forums give smaller grants (up to £10,000 and £5,000 respectively).
“As regards Reaching Communities I have a success rate of almost 60% in both number of successful applications and grant values. 50% of the groups I’ve supported with Reaching Communities have received repeat funding from that programme. These include Phase Trust (3), Dudley Counselling Centre/Dudley Community Church (3), Beacon Centre for the Blind (2), Age UK (2) and Headway Black Country (2).
As for high-value grants, some of my highlights are:
£538,524 over 3 applications to an organisation that supports older people
£513,525 over 3 applications to a disability charity
£1,238,328 from 10 applications from a faith-based organisation that supports vulnerable and disadvantaged people
£679,411 across 4 applications from an advocacy charity
£646,272 from 4 applications by a health-based charity
7 applications with a family support charity, totaling £289,016
7 applications supported with a young persons charity, totaling £1,019,710
15 applications supported from a charity that empowers disadvantaged people, totaling £566,465
6 successful applications supported from a young persons advocacy charity, totaling £614,592″
The National Lottery Community Fund (formerly known as the Big Lottery Fund) which runs Reaching Communities, features elsewhere in this top ten, with Awards for All, Advice Services Fund and the Youth Investment Fund accounting for around 10% of money awarded. So what does the picture look like if we combine the programmes run by one funder?
Unsurprisingly, the National Lottery Community Fund makes up 65% of the total money awarded to groups we’ve supported over the past eleven years. Other funders have contributed as follows:
Football Foundation 6.8%
Young People’s Fund 2.62%
Dudley Council 2.51%
BBC Children in Need 2.42%
Lloyds Bank Foundation 2.39%
Building Better Opportunities 2.38%
Sport England 1.89%
Ibstock Cory Environmental Trust 1.6%
Grassroots Grants 1.3%
Remaining funders combined 11.25
The National Lottery Community Fund is still keen to fund Dudley borough organisations and we have great links with John Goodman, the Funding Officer from The National Lottery Community Fund who covers our patch. John is available at our office on Wednesdays to meet organisations interested in accessing funding from The National Lottery Community Fund. To arrange an appointment, email John at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A new fund for Dudley borough
Finally, Dudley CVS has recently launched a new fund for organisations that can develop and provide creative support for people who frequently use unplanned emergency care services (such as calling 999, attending A&E or Urgent Care Centre).
What a difference a year makes! Priory Community Centre now looks a far cry from the empty, not-quite-finished shell of a building I visited in June 2017. Now it’s vibrant, full of people of all ages doing all sorts of creative things together!
It’s a journey that started long before I started working with the passionate group of people who make up Priory Community Association, a charity that’s been without a home since the North Priory estate in Dudley was flattened and redeveloped in 2010. Priory Community Association volunteers live and breathe their community; they continued to work in the community at other venues to make sure they stayed connected, they maintained links with other community centres for support while they were without a home and they provided a strong voice for what the new community centre should look and feel like.
Last year, I was asked to support Priory Community Association through the asset-transfer process, work that had been started by my former colleague Caroline, who’d worked closely with Dudley Council staff on its asset-transfer strategy. In basic terms, asset transfer is when building or land moves from statutory control into the control of not-for-profit organisations. In Dudley borough, this has in most cases been a transfer of management (through a lease) rather than transferring ownership from the local authority to another organisation. Asset transfer can be a lengthy process (with more work required the longer the lease is), so it’s good to approach it with realistic expectations. Generally, the process involves completing a short expression of interest and then working on a business plan that will show the community support for the transfer, what kinds of activities will happen there and how they will benefit the community and the financial viability. Understandably, the local authority will want to make sure that the transfer will benefit the community and that it is sustainable.
So this is the process we started with Priory Community Association. We got busy with the business plan and I think together we made a really strong case for the community benefits, linking not only with the Dudley Council plan but showing links to priorities of the Health and Wellbeing Board, West Midlands Police and Dudley Clinical Commissioning Group. We had some help and good feedback from Martin, who’s the principle link with the local authority for groups looking at asset transfer – he does an excellent job!
What we all found more difficult was the financial figures. We were lucky enough to be able to get some figures from other community centres, but we weren’t sure how realistic they would be, given that Priory’s was a completely new building (and hopefully more energy efficient!). On top of that, while we were working on the plan, the completed building risked standing empty and Priory Community Association couldn’t give any certainty to potential users and hirers of the centre. So I asked Martin whether a temporary lease might be an option; this would allow Priory Community Association to get in the building and start managing it, giving them experience, building interest and providing a more realistic view of what the costs would be thus making their business plan more robust. At the same time, the building wouldn’t have to stand empty for too long and be at risk of deterioration.
Dudley Council was open to this, which was wonderful news! We thought ahead and it seemed that the timings might coincide with the summer holidays, so I suggested that Awards for All might be interested in funding a playscheme with a difference – one that would help to launch the brand new community centre and kickstart other activities that would happen there. Together we worked on the application – it was a good one! – and Priory Community Association landed a grant of around £5,000 from Awards for All. The group also successfully applied to Dudley Council’s Community Forums to help them furnish the kitchen and other areas of the centre, and their good relationships with other community centres in the borough meant they had lots of chairs and tables donated.
I recently went back to the centre on the last day of the playscheme to see how things had gone. I was utterly staggered by what this passionate group of people has achieved! They’ve made connections with children and families who’ve come to the playscheme and joined in the range of the activities on offer, connections that will last many years judging by the ‘Thank you’ cards on display and the wonderful comments Priory Community Centre has received on its Facebook page, which has been joyously charting each day of the playscheme. Honestly, if you want to brighten your day, take a look at the wonderful pictures and comments like the ones below:
During my visit a group of children and adults descended on trustees and volunteers with flowers and chocolates to say thank you for the two weeks of fun they’d had. Of course, I had to get a snap!
Leaders, people like Celia, Sally and Rachel, have also instilled the sense that the community centre is for absolutely anyone and everyone. The behaviours the leaders have shown and the language they’ve used have helped people feel a sense of ownership. Children have made posters encouraging everyone to tidy up after themselves and people feel like they can contribute to making activities happen. The fact that they had enough volunteers to cover a day trip of 59 people to Weston and keep activities going at the centre shows that people are willing to help and volunteers are valued there. This is great news for the future of the centre!
The people I spoke to had lovely things to say about the local PCSO’s too. They went to each day of the play scheme, getting involved in the activities, judging competitions, doing the less attractive jobs! It seems like the play scheme has been a great way to connect communities with each other and with the people that serve those communities, like the Police, who want to be visible and engaged there.
The future looks good. Throughout the last few months, Priory Community Association have been engaging with people and organisations that might want to use the centre. There’s an exciting plan in the pipeline with young people’s charity Top Church Training, which might see the Community Centre cafe opening regularly, and there’s been a lot of learning about what works from the play scheme – a regular families session might be on the cards!
Whatever the plans, I wish Priory Community Centre every success. The people involved make my job an utter privilege and we’ll always be happy to support them as they develop.
I’m really pleased that one of the small charities that Dudley CVS has supported has been awarded funding from one of Dudley Council’s Community Forums (Netherton, Woodside and St. Andrews and Quarry Bank and Dudley Wood Community Forum) to set up a pilot project to help people build important social connections where they live.
Netherton Regeneration Group is setting up a pilot in the Darby End area to train volunteers to help lonely people to get out and about. We are setting up a network of street champions and lots of interesting and healthy activities open to all comers. We want to help people who are not able to get out easily, have lost touch with friends, need something to get them moving, get help with health problems, find out about healthy foods and exercise, but mainly to have some fun!
We have been awarded £2,300 from the Community Forum and hope to win some more funds through DMBC’s Innovation Fund for the Voluntary Sector.
Our idea is simple!
We will create a regular support group, to help people become more active and less isolated. People will be offered lots of fun activities including:
cooking food together
having a cup of tea and a chat
making new friends
learning to grow plants and vegetables
cooking easy, healthy meals and sharing them
taking part in healthy walks
arts and crafts activities
playing games and having a good time!
practical community work to make Netherton a better place to live and work
setting up a patients’ garden in the Health Centre courtyard over the next year! Instead of looking at weeds, we will be able to see fresh flowers and herbs that we have grown!! Funds are being provided from the Health Centre’s Patient Participation Group Purse to set up the garden.
Volunteers are needed now!
We will be training ten volunteers to help us run the programme and they will get free First Aid and Food Hygiene courses provided.
If you’re interested in helping to make any of this happen, please contact us using our Facebook page and letting us know what kinds of things you’d like to help with.
A couple of local volunteers working with our Trustee, Chris, to tidy up Joe Darby’s statue in Netherton Centre last summer.
CoLab Dudley team members have been doing and inviting people from all walks of life to get involved in all sorts of practical projects which build and strengthen connections. The team will be releasing a full report on its work very soon.
I’m really pleased that Netherton Regeneration Group is thinking about how its members can help people to get involved with building kinder communities and I like that there are lots of different opportunities to participate.
I’m sure there are lots of other ways people are building links with each other across Dudley borough, whether that’s on an individual level or through a group or charity. If you’re inspired to get involved, get in touch with Netherton Regeneration Group through its Facebook page or get in touch with us if you want to be linked to people doing good things somewhere else in Dudley borough.
During Trustees’ Week two years ago, I shared some data and thoughts about the diversity of trustee boards. Back then, the picture revealed that trustee boards didn’t reflect society in all of its diversity; just 0.5% of trustees were aged between 18 and 24 and two-thirds were over 50.
My feelings then were that charities could do more to make trusteeship appealing and accessible, by thinking about the barriers to becoming trustees and actively trying to reduce them, by being clear on what the role involved and what the charity is all about, by considering what gaps are on the board of trustees, by offering training, induction and mentoring.
And now? Having spent two more years supporting charities, my feelings are much the same, something which may be borne out by updated research findings released yesterday. The research commissioned by the Office for Civil Society and the Charity Commission makes these key findings:
Men outnumber women trustees on boards by two to one
The vast majority (92%) of trustees are white, older and above average income and education
71% of charity chairs are men and 68% of charity treasurers are men
The average age of trustees is 55-64 years; over half (51%) are retired
75% of trustees have household incomes above the national median
60% of trustees have a professional qualification; 30% have post-graduate qualifications
71% of trustees are recruited through an informal process
In 80% of charities trustees play both a governance role and an executive role – they have no staff or volunteers from whom they can seek support
70% of trustees are involved in charities with an income of less than £100k a year
Trustees report lacking relevant legal, digital, fundraising, marketing and campaigning skills at board level
Trustees are concerned about their skills in dealing with fraud and external cyber-attack
Trustees seek support and advice from one another – 80% of all respondents regard this as their most important internal source of advice and support, with only 6% seeking guidance or training from an external provider
On average, trustees donate almost 5 hours a week to their trustee roles
It should be said that according to the Charity Commission, “researchers surveyed a sample of 19,064 trustees, via a national survey in January 2017. Around 3,500 trustees responded to the survey.”
I’d like to know more about what the research findings mean by ‘an informal process’ that accounts for 71% of trustees recruited. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making a process more informal to reduce barriers (as long as constitutional requirements are followed), but if by ‘an informal process’ the research means ‘word of mouth’ or ‘asking around networks’ then that might account for a lack of diversity on trustee boards. In my experience (and in the experience of others), the majority of trustee recruitment is done by asking people personally. It’s understandable; trustees get a sense of someone’s skills and quickly see how they could add great value to their board. But this can have its drawbacks and make boards less diverse than they can be. Charities risk casting their net too narrowly, in a pool in which people are already in demand or already giving time to other charities; trustees may only ask people like them to become trustees. The risk here is that no-one asks the obvious questions, no-one brings different perspectives, no-one asks more difficult questions. Diverse boards make the best decisions.
Diverse boards make the best decisions and it isn’t surprising that the updated Code of Governance makes diversity a principal in its own right. On top of that, board composition, recruitment and skills are integral to principal 5 of the Code of Governance, ‘Board effectiveness‘. I’ve worked with many charities on trustee recruitment and the most successful ones are those that recruit through a planned process. Many have approached us desperate for trustees because a current trustee (or, more often than not, a whole group of trustees) will retire. Sometimes, it feels that the need to recruit trustees has been identified too late (and that’s when a planned process goes out of the window and people ask anyone who might be willing out of sheer desperation). Think about how unappealing it would be to be asked to become a trustee because the current trustees want to resign! This doesn’t give time to help new trustees to understand their roles and settle in and it could be very destabilising.
What I’m talking about is succession planning, an important though sometimes overlooked task of a board. It’s about striking a balance between continuity and fresh ideas and perspectives, . Here are some steps I’m currently taking some charities through:
1. Consider what barriers there are to people becoming trustees
Knowing the barriers mean you can then work to reduce them!
2. Follow your governing document and the law
Who is eligible to be a trustee? What is the minimum and maximum number of trustees you should have? How are trustees appointed?
3. Make sure your trustees are ready for new trustees
Understand what skills you currently have and think about what skills you need. Think about how you will welcome, train and induct a new trustee. Make sure current trustees are open to new ideas and input (the charity doesn’t belong to any one person)
4. Draw up role descriptions and person specifications
You should have a clear picture of what you want from a trustee and people should know what’s expected of them
5. Develop a way people can apply to become a trustee
What information should they receive? What processes will you use? Application? Interview? Invitation to a meeting? Who should they contact? How will they be welcomed? How will you train them? How will they be appointed?
6. Target people and promote your vacancy
If you’re looking for people with specific skills, think about: Where they might work; What publications / websites they might read; How you will target them. Promote your vacancy as widely as possible, not just in your own networks.
7. Consider how you will welcome and induct new trustees
Think about how to make any new trustees feel welcome. For instance, introduce them to trustees and staff, consider buddying, provide documents, plans and ongoing training and support.
And for Trustees’ Week, I wanted to share some useful resources and stories that others have shared which might be helpful for you:
Finally, I’m happy to support any Dudley borough charity that wants to think about succession planning, board diversity and recruitment and to work with trustees to improve their skills. Equally, if anyone is interested in becoming a trustee, I’d love to have a chat and link you up with charities that do wonderful work. As well as running regular drop ins with Eileen on the first Wednesday of each month, I’d like to know from you whether there is any appetite for specific events and activities around aspects of trusteeship. This might be a regular network of trustees, training and other support I might not have thought of! Feel free to let me know what might work for you and your trustees.
Anne Adams, Dudley CVS Trustee, has been supporting people who have suffered a stroke and their families for more than thirty years and is now up for an award for her lifelong dedication to helping others.
After forming Dudley Stroke Association in 1987, Anne still devotes many hours of her time to the organisation, supporting people who have been affected by strokes throughout their journey to better health.
Through the organisation, Anne also coordinates evening events, coffee mornings, day trips and lunch clubs for people who have been through a stroke. Anne said:
“Our motto ever since we started in 1987 is ‘there is life after stroke’ because people who have been through it feel so isolated and alone before they realise support is out there.”
In 1977, Anne worked as a speech therapist with people affected by stroke. In those early days, Anne was convinced more could be done to help both the person suffering a stroke and their loved ones. In 1982, Anne formed the Dudley Stroke Club to provide opportunities to share experiences and organise social events. But specific information about how to help people post-stroke was very limited.
In 1987, a stroke victim, Jeanne Hignett, encouraged Anne to create Dudley Stroke Association.
Between 1987 and 2007 Anne wore two hats, by day a professional speech therapist and at other times a volunteer champion of the work of Dudley Stroke Association and people affected by stroke.
Anne retired from paid work in 2007, but continued to give her time volunteering with the Dudley Stroke Association.
About her 25 years as a Dudley CVS Board Member, Anne said, “Dudley Stroke Association is indebted to Dudley CVS for the help and support we have received over many years, particularly when we were applying for Charity status. Dudley Stroke association would not be where it is today without Dudley CVS. I feel privileged to be a Board Member.”
Today, Anne has been nominated for volunteer of the year at the Great Big Thank You Awards.
Anne said: “If I won the Volunteer of the Year Award, it would really be for everyone who has helped make the group what it is today. It would be for all the people who have worked so hard to overcome their obstacles. For all those people who have tried so hard to get their lives back on track after going through such a difficult time.”
We are really pleased to share the work that our Dudley CVS team have been doing over the past year in our most recent annual review. The 2016-17 review is a snapshot of the work we’ve done between April 2016 and March 2017 to support individuals, communities and organisations across Dudley borough.
Take a look at our annual review website and read about how we’ve been connecting and inspiring people and organisations to achieve positive change and championing their work.
I’m really pleased that one of the first groups I worked with since joining Dudley CVS, has now become a charity and it was lovely to pay them a visit earlier this week to see how they were getting on.
Friends of Huntingtree Park started in 2006 to address issues of antisocial behaviour in and around the park, which was causing the park to be underused and therefore unloved. Supported initially by my Dudley CVS colleague Kate, the Friends set up a simple constitution to formalise themselves as a voluntary group. They were also supported by a network of ‘Friends of…’ groups across Dudley borough and the local authority’s Parks Development team.
Friends groups are all sorts of shapes and types of not-for-profit organisation. Some are simple voluntary groups that don’t have much paperwork (in fact, many start this way), such as Friends of Grange Park, which I’ve helped to get set up in the last few months; others are registered charities and incorporated in some way because they have taken on more responsibilities. Some Friends of Parks groups work alongside the local authority to help keep their park looking attractive; some manage buildings on the park; others put on all sorts of events; some try to raise funds to improve facilities on the park; others do a combination of all of these things! Some groups focus on things like nature and biodiversity; others focus on health and social activities. It really depends on what kind of park and facilities are there and of course, on the kinds of things local people want to do on that particular park. I’ve met people from lots of different Friends groups and it’s clear that they have something in common. They all love their local green spaces and understand how important it is to protect them!
When I started working with Friends of Huntingtree Park in 2008, they were a simple voluntary group with a constitution and a determination to make their park an attractive environment that everyone could enjoy. Group members were passionate about involving children in the park, believing that if children had a sense of ownership in the park, the park would be loved for years to come.
Friends of Huntingtree Park planned a lovely project with Huntingtree and Lutley primary schools; bringing in borough artist, Steve Field, to design and make two mosaics which would be installed at the park’s entrances. I helped the group to access £10,000 in grant-funding from Awards for All and the now-defunct Grassroots Grants programme. The mosaics were installed and they still look beautiful!
Nowadays Friends of Huntingtree Park continue their association with the local schools and regularly plant flowers and trees with their pupils. On top of that, the group has good links with Halas Homes, whose community also gets involved in projects on the park.
Huntingtree Park was chosen as one of the five ‘Healthy hubs’ in Dudley borough’s Healthy Towns initiative; the Friends think that having a really active Friends group was crucial to Huntingtree Park being chosen. Being a ‘Healthy hub’ meant that the park benefited investment of staff and money that allowed the MUGA (multi-use games area), outdoor gym and other facilities to be developed and many healthy activities to run in and from the park’s activity centre.
The park also has a bowling green where people of different ages and abilities get together for a game. The green was previously managed and maintained by Dudley Council, with bowlers paying the Council for access. The Friends of Huntingtree Park has built relationships with the bowlers over the years, helping to purchase equipment and promoting the sport as something anyone can get involved in.
Late last year, the bowling green at Huntingtree Park came under threat due to public sector budget constraints. The Friends group entered into discussions with the local authority and the bowlers to explore how the green could be saved and maintained in the future. Everyone agreed that the Friends of Huntingtree Park could manage the green on lease from the local authority. At this point, the Friends recognised that it might be the right time to alter how the group was set up to get them on the right footing for taking on this extra responsibility. That’s when the group asked me for some support to think about how they could develop.
I met Alan, Lynda and Jane from the group and we talked about how it might work, what could go wrong and how the group could reduce that risk. We looked at budgets and the pros and cons of charity registration. We also discussed appropriate legal structures that might offer group members more protection when their liabilities increased. With some consideration, group members decided to set Friends of Huntingtree Park up as a CIO (charitable incorporated organisation), which would give them the benefits of charitable status and a corporate structure that would give them some protection.
The process involved developing a new constitution for the group; we did a fair amount of working getting the group’s charitable purposes (its reasons for existing) just right so that the Charity Commission would accept them. Once the constitution was ready, it was time to work on the application. I worked with Alan and Lynda on this and the application was submitted after a couple of meetings. We were really pleased when the Charity Commission confirmed a few weeks later that Friends of Huntingtree Park was now a CIO!
In the meantime, the Friends group and the bowlers were working together and with the Council to help a smooth transition. When the heads of terms for the lease came from the Council, the group was able to plan with real figures and it looked very positive! The group was able to pay a modest sum per year for the lease, engage a groundskeeper who would do routine maintenance. The bowlers agreed to transfer their subs from the Council to the Friends group to ensure that the green can be used for years to come.
And as Lynda walked us around the park earlier this week, it seems clear why this is working beautifully; it’s the relationships that the members of the Friends group have built with bowlers, residents, schools, park rangers, people from other groups. Everyone seemed to know each other and to have time for each other! It was lovely to meet Colin, a bowler who simply started teaching others to bowl a few years ago and hasn’t stopped since, building a social group that gets together for a game. I met Stuart, the Physical Activity Activator, who told us about his involvement in ShareFest! It was equally a treat to meet members of the social group who meet each Tuesday afternoon for an amble around the park, knitting (the results of which often go to babies born prematurely), coffee, cake and a chat. I was so happy to see the networks and friendships that had developed between everyone and this is something that only needs a few ingredients: open, caring people who want to share their skills and a place where they can do it!
It’s been a year since Eileen and I launched ‘DY1-stop shop‘, our monthly drop-in for anyone with questions about community groups, charities, social enterprises, getting involved in community activities or volunteering.
Here’s a little infographic that gives you a little bit more detail about the kinds of conversations we’ve been having over the first year!
I’ve really enjoyed working in this way. It’s a non-threatening way for people to make their first contact with us and it’s quite fun not knowing what to expect from one month to the next! I think Eileen and I have both benefited from each other’s differing knowledge and skills, on top of those of our colleagues we’ve been able to call on by virtue of simply being in the same place – thanks to Donna, Nicki, and Melissa from Healthwatch Dudley for being there for us! It’s meant that people have left us buzzing with new ideas, contacts and lines of inquiry.
Most recently, Eileen and I met Cllr Steve Waltho and his wife, Jayne, who are part of a new group being set up to keep alive the legacy of Dudley mountain climber and peace campaigner Bert Bissell. I gave Steve some help with a constitution to help formalise the Bert Bissell Memorial Society and Eileen had lots of ideas for connections the new group could make.
At April’s DY1-stop shop we’ll be joined by our Funding Officer, Martin and Inderjit Nijjer who’s the External Funding and Community Grants Manager on the ESF Programme at Walsall Council. Inderjit will be available to answer any questions you may have about the ESF grants programme.
DY1-stop shop is open on the first Wednesday of every month, 10am-1pm in the coffee shop of DY1, Stafford Street, Dudley. Maybe I’ll see you there soon!