A club for everyone! Dudley Rowing Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Great news from the brand new Priory Community Centre!

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

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It’s a journey that started long before I started working with the passionate group of people who make up Priory Community Association, a charity that’s been without a home since the North Priory estate in Dudley was flattened and redeveloped in 2010. Priory Community Association volunteers live and breathe their community; they continued to work in the community at other venues to make sure they stayed connected, they maintained links with other community centres for support while they were without a home and they provided a strong voice for what the new community centre should look and feel like.

Last year, I was asked to support Priory Community Association through the asset-transfer process, work that had been started by my former colleague Caroline, who’d worked closely with Dudley Council staff on its asset-transfer strategy. In basic terms, asset transfer is when building or land moves from statutory control into the control of not-for-profit organisations. In Dudley borough, this has in most cases been a transfer of management (through a lease) rather than transferring ownership from the local authority to another organisation. Asset transfer can be a lengthy process (with more work required the longer the lease is), so it’s good to approach it with realistic expectations. Generally, the process involves completing a short expression of interest and then working on a business plan that will show the community support for the transfer, what kinds of activities will happen there and how they will benefit the community and the financial viability. Understandably, the local authority will want to make sure that the transfer will benefit the community and that it is sustainable.

So this is the process we started with Priory Community Association. We got busy with the business plan and I think together we made a really strong case for the community benefits, linking not only with the Dudley Council plan but showing links to priorities of the Health and Wellbeing Board, West Midlands Police and Dudley Clinical Commissioning Group. We had some help and good feedback from Martin, who’s the principle link with the local authority for groups looking at asset transfer – he does an excellent job!

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What we all found more difficult was the financial figures. We were lucky enough to be able to get some figures from other community centres, but we weren’t sure how realistic they would be, given that Priory’s was a completely new building (and hopefully more energy efficient!). On top of that, while we were working on the plan, the completed building risked standing empty and Priory Community Association couldn’t give any certainty to potential users and hirers of the centre. So I asked Martin whether a temporary lease might be an option; this would allow Priory Community Association to get in the building and start managing it, giving them experience, building interest and providing a more realistic view of what the costs would be thus making their business plan more robust. At the same time, the building wouldn’t have to stand empty for too long and be at risk of deterioration.

Dudley Council was open to this, which was wonderful news! We thought ahead and it seemed that the timings might coincide with the summer holidays, so I suggested that Awards for All might be interested in funding a playscheme with a difference – one that would help to launch the brand new community centre and kickstart other activities that would happen there. Together we worked on the application – it was a good one! – and Priory Community Association landed a grant of around £5,000 from Awards for All. The group also successfully applied to Dudley Council’s Community Forums to help them furnish the kitchen and other areas of the centre, and their good relationships with other community centres in the borough meant they had lots of chairs and tables donated.

I recently went back to the centre on the last day of the playscheme to see how things had gone. I was utterly staggered by what this passionate group of people has achieved! They’ve made connections with children and families who’ve come to the playscheme and joined in the range of the activities on offer, connections that will last many years judging by the ‘Thank you’ cards on display and the wonderful comments Priory Community Centre has received on its Facebook page, which has been joyously charting each day of the playscheme. Honestly, if you want to brighten your day, take a look at the wonderful pictures and comments like the ones below:

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During my visit a group of children and adults descended on trustees and volunteers with flowers and chocolates to say thank you for the two weeks of fun they’d had. Of course, I had to get a snap!

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Leaders, people like Celia, Sally and Rachel, have also instilled the sense that the community centre is for absolutely anyone and everyone. The behaviours the leaders have shown and the language they’ve used have helped people feel a sense of ownership. Children have made posters encouraging everyone to tidy up after themselves and people feel like they can contribute to making activities happen. The fact that they had enough volunteers to cover a day trip of 59 people to Weston and keep activities going at the centre shows that people are willing to help and volunteers are valued there. This is great news for the future of the centre!

The people I spoke to had lovely things to say about the local PCSO’s too. They went to each day of the play scheme, getting involved in the activities, judging competitions, doing the less attractive jobs! It seems like the play scheme has been a great way to connect communities with each other and with the people that serve those communities, like the Police, who want to be visible and engaged there.

The future looks good. Throughout the last few months, Priory Community Association have been engaging with people and organisations that might want to use the centre. There’s an exciting plan in the pipeline with young people’s charity Top Church Training, which might see the Community Centre cafe opening regularly, and there’s been a lot of learning about what works from the play scheme – a regular families session might be on the cards!

Whatever the plans, I wish Priory Community Centre every success. The people involved make my job an utter privilege and we’ll always be happy to support them as they develop.

Meet the volunteers transforming Lye and Wollescote Cemetery

Shadowed by the beautifully refurbished Lye and Wollescote Chapels (now known as the Thomas Robinson Building) Lye and Wollescote Cemetery is a peaceful spot for reflection and an historically fascinating site. I visited recently and was overwhelmed by the transformation the Friends of Lye and Wollescote Cemetery have made to the site in the past two and a bit years since I saw them last!

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IMG_20180808_113733885_HDR-01Lye and Wollescote Chapels is a rare example of two chapels – Church of England and Nonconformist – being housed in one building, and originally the cemetery was divided along those lines. The cemetery now has an area for Muslim burials, it houses the graves of 29 servicemen who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars (managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) and it’s the final resting place of local people of historical significance, from inventors to entrepreneurs.

The Friends of Lye and Wollescote Cemetery are working hard to make sure people can still see these links to the past and to create a pleasant environment for visitors. The group came together during the renovation of the Grade II listed chapels led by West Midlands Historic Buildings Trust (WMHBT). As part of the £1.2m project, WMHBT wanted to engage with the community to increase the chances of the project’s long-term sustainability. Soon, a small group of volunteers was clearing the cemetery ground on the first Saturday of every month.

FoLWCDonna and I met the volunteers in 2016. We visited the cemetery, which was overgrown and pretty uninviting (I’m sure it didn’t help that it was a cold and dismal January morning!) and did a series of workshops in the nearby (and warm) Stambermill House where we built a vision for what the cemetery could be like in the future, painted a picture of the skills, talents and networks that each volunteer brought and created a simple plan. We also developed a simple constitution during our conversations about whether the volunteers would like to become a constituted group or to remain informal for the time being.

Fast forward two years and the group has achieved so much! The Friends of Lye and Wollescote Cemetery signed their constitution and opened a bank account, which unlocked a grant of £5,000 from the Community Forums. They’ve also managed to raise a further £2,500!

The visible difference the group has made to cemetery is clear. They’ve cleared grounds and uncovered graves that they didn’t know were there; they’ve cleaned graves meticulously; they’ve brought in professionals to repair graves; they’ve installed two beautiful benches commemorating those who died in the First and Second World Wars; they’ve set up a system to make it easier for people to carry water from the site’s only tap.

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All of this work has increased the number of visitors to the cemetery, whether for the local history, for remembrance or for the peaceful environment that’s open to everyone. The Friends have told me that more people now come to lay flowers at graves, many of which have no family members left to tend to them.

IMG_20180808_112838443_HDR-01The group’s Facebook group is very active too, and there are always lots of messages of thanks to the Friends from local people who walk through the grounds, as well as progress reports from the Friends themselves. It really feels like these volunteers have built a sense of community around this almost forgotten site.

Coincidentally, when I paid a visit to the grounds I met Ian from Dudley Council’s Bereavement Services, which manages the cemetery. Ian was as enthusiastic about the group’s achievements as I am and he’d love it if every cemetery in the borough had a friends group, testament to how local people really do make local places.

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So what about the future? Members of the Friends of Lye and Wollescote Cemetery plan to continue their work. They want to repair more graves, which costs money; each grave that needs professional repair costs in the region of £400-£1,500. I’m in the process of identifying funders that may support this type of work and the group will do plenty of its own fundraising. Wish us luck!

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

Nurturing caring, vibrant and caring communities – A snapshot of our story over the last year

We are really pleased to share the work that our Dudley CVS team have been doing over the past year in our most recent annual review. The 2016-17 review is a snapshot of the work we’ve done between April 2016 and March 2017 to support individuals, communities and organisations across Dudley borough.

Take a look at our annual review website and read about how we’ve been connecting and inspiring people and organisations to achieve positive change and championing their work.

Visit www.dudleycvsreview.org

Or, if you would like to read a short snapshot of our story, you can download our pdf version by clicking on the image below:

I hope you enjoy learning about the work we’ve been doing over the past year. If you’ve any feedback please feel free to leave a comment!

Be part of our collective story and share how you’ve been involved in our work or how you would like to get more involved! #dcvstory

A snapshot of our work supporting people, communities and organisations over the last year

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I’m really pleased to share the work that my colleagues and I have been doing over the past year in a our most recent annual report. So new, it’s not yet hot off the press, the 2015-16 annual report is a snapshot of the work we’ve done between April 2015 and March 2016 to support individuals, communities and organisations across Dudley borough.

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Bayer Street Allotments flushed with success!

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

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Working Together for Change

changeOne of the highlights of my time with Dudley CVS has been the opportunity to help develop and support Dudley Parent Carer Forum – Working Together for Change. Not just because they are a group of awesome people with such amazing strength, that are giving, insightful and bundles of fun, but because they are completely committed to influencing decisions that affect their lives and the lives of other parents with children who have disabilities or additional needs. It has been a privilege to see their confidence and relationships with professionals develop and to see the real tangible outcomes of these collaborations. I truly believe that this has been possible partly because of the liberating leadership model of governance that they have chosen to use.

Strong foundations 

The forum formed just over 2 years ago now and is made up from six organisations, all with three seats each, and a number of independent parent carers and grandparents. The steering group is large in comparison to some organisations but it really works for WTFC; as parent carers have complex lives, having a large steering group removes pressure to have to be at meetings but still gives us solid representation to make decisions and move work forward.

The steering group is working to a liberating leadership style which makes the best use of people’s strengths, skills and experiences. Roles, tasks and groups are allocated based on interest and skills.

The forum spent the first few meetings really getting to know each other, forming a solid team with a collective understanding and vision. The purpose of the first session was to come together and collectively agree what the forum stood for and agree a way to move forward together. It was also an opportunity to agree how we want the forum to be seen. The session was designed to have an interactive and creative focus.

postcardsBox of postcards

To start the process the group was asked to look through a selection of postcards and pick one that they were particularly drawn to and one that they were not sure about. It was interesting to hear the reasons why different postcards were selected and different perspectives.

 Drawing with eyes closed

Each member of the group was given a piece of blank paper and a pen. They were then asked to draw a flower with their eyes closed and hand the drawing in without looking at their own or each others. Incredibly everyone identified their own drawing even though they had not seen what they had drawn!

The group again with eyes closed were asked to draw something they liked. They then had to identify who had drawn what. We learnt a lot about each other through these activities as well as identifying some ideas of what our visual identity should be.drawing wtfc

The group began to think about the importance of how they put their message across, and about the key elements that deliver that message such as a logo, the images we use, and our title. It was agreed that as a forum they need to be clear and say ‘this is what we do, and this is what we don’t do!’

After this session a clear vision was formulated which is to “Empowering Dudley Parent Carers to have their voices heard in a way that influences change & service design”

Having solid foundations and a clear vision has enabled the forum to work together, giving over 850 hours of volunteer time to collaborate with professionals, to influence policies, develop statutory organisations’ publicity materials and websites, encouraged partnerships working and discouraged silos and helped to shape new services!

They have achieved all this whilst still offering support, friendship and fun to all parent carers across Dudley borough, communicating and sharing with over 800 parent carers within the network.

You can find out more about Working Together for Change and their incredible journey by visiting the website or following them on Twitter.

Coming together is a beginning; Keeping together is progress; Working together is success!

 Henry Ford

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Supporting innovation in our sector

Innovation T&F group questionBack in September we invited people to help us design a programme of support for our sector who are keen to lead innovation and transformation in their teams, organisations or communities.  This was part of work that Dudley CVS staff and trustees have been undertaking around five priorities we set ourselves this year, which I blogged about in August.

The group of us working on the priority around innovation, transformation and sustainability have recently fed back to Dudley CVS board, below are the highlights. These are from in depth conversations with leaders of eight different organisations in Dudley borough.

What do innovation, transformation and sustainability mean for people in different contexts?

Innovation

“Seeing things that work in other contexts and bringing them to your own work and applying them in different ways, to different things.”

“The ethos and core of who we are stays the same, but the way we meet that has to be continually up for discussion.”

Transformation

“Culture change.” “It needs strong vision and leadership.”

“It is ongoing on constant.”

“It is about change, responding to change, adapting to change, including being responsive to digital technologies.”

Sustainability

“Survival – diversifying income streams, looking at a variety of funding models.”

“I used to think it was  about staying where you are. Now I think it’s about pushing forward.”

“It’s not about the organisation, it’s about the customer. If the way to preserve services is that our organisation isn’t here, that’s fine. We have to help people to help themselves.”

Innovation, transformation etc definitions

Emerging themes

The people we have spoke to frequently touched on ways in which the sector is becoming more like social enterprise, using tactics previously thought of as belonging to business. Publications such as the Compendium for the Civic Economy and The Convergence Continuum: towards a 4th sector in global development? highlight ways in which the boundaries between the private, public, and non-profit sectors have been blurring. Pioneering organisations have emerged with new models for addressing societal challenges that blend attributes and strategies from all sectors. They are creating hybrid organisations that transcend the usual sectoral boundaries.

The key question we explored with people we have spoken to was: how might we support voluntary organisations in Dudley borough to innovate, transform and become more sustainable? We were explicit that ‘we’ didn’t mean specifically Dudley CVS, it could mean anyone who wanted to be involved, including people supporting each other.

Five headline themes are emerging around:

  • Collaboration and less competition. Collaboration has been mentioned more frequently than anything else.
  • Seeing or knowing about other things from elsewhere / other contexts to bring and innovate with. This has come up a number of times.
  • Creativity – trying things out, making mistakes. This has also been mentioned a lot, sometimes in relation to a perception that the sector underestimates it’s knowledge and skills, it’s ability to be nimble and creative. People we spoke to wanted the sector to be more confident.
  • Commissioners understanding the impact and value of the sector. (Influencing commissioners was also a major discussion point in the Task & Finish group which met to discuss supporting collaboration in the borough.)
  • Vision and leadership.

Other points which stand out from the conversations include how we respond to and use digital technology to help innovation etc. Also suggestions about using assets (buildings, equipment, skills etc.) differently, and sharing assets with each other. One conversation delved into alternative forms of finance, such as social investment bonds. Another explored the importance of language and framing – the need to help overcome fear, resistance and closing in with an optimism around opportunities and a focus on what we do have (rather than what is being taken away).

Our next step is to start evolving our some of our support to respond to what we’ve found, and the ideas we heard during these conversations. We’d love to hear from you about:

  • Your thoughts on the emerging themes
  • Ideas do you have around support you would like
  • Examples you’ve seen or read about of innovation being encouraged and nurtured

Celebrating our work with people, communities and organisations

Dudley CVS Annual Report, 2014-15

I’m really pleased to share the work I and my wonderful colleagues have done to support individuals, communities and organisations last year. The Dudley CVS Annual Report outlines how we’ve been connecting and inspiring people and organisations to achieve positive change and championing their work. It covers the year April 2014-March 2015.

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