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.

Staying active with Mary Stevens Park Sons and Daughters of Rest

Mary Stevens Park in Stourbridge is an undeniably beautiful place to be. Whether you’re taking part in sport, walking the dog, enjoying a picnic or just watching the world go by, it’s a place that helps you to relax.

And based within the park is a group of people helping each other to make the most of later life, stay active and build a friendly and supportive community. They’re known as Mary Stevens Park Sons and Daughters of Rest and they have a range of activities for anyone over 55. There are currently 70 or so members to get to know!

One of the activities group members participate in is bowls. The group has around 30 bowlers of all abilities; some bowl competitively against other clubs, others for the fun and exercise. The group’s bowling section has the bowling green on Monday afternoon, all day Wednesday and Friday afternoon. On Friday mornings they use the bowling green to run beginners bowls sessions, which are open to anyone of any age who would like to learn how to play bowls.

Helena and I recently paid the beginners sessions a visit on a sunny Friday morning where we met and chatted to some of the bowlers about what they enjoy about the sessions. Immediately members asked if we’d like to try, but neither of us was brave enough to give it a go!

We learned about some of the people taking part. One bowler told us that he used to bowl competitively but had stopped more than a decade ago. He wasn’t sure he would be able to play after double knee replacement surgery, so he started getting fitter by walking around the park, the distance of a mile, which took 15 minutes. It was on one of these walks that he saw the beginners bowlers sessions, so he took the plunge to see if he could bowl again. Now he covers more ground by bowling than when he walked a circuit of the park, so he’s much more active now.

Another member told us that he’d always been sporty, and that he enjoys playing bowls because he can’t do high intensity sports like cricket or football anymore. He enjoys playing in 4s and sometimes it can get competitive in a good-natured way. He told us that it’s good to meet new people at these sessions.

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A third member told us it was his first week there, so we asked him the obvious question “Will you be back for more?” Of course the answer was a resounding “Yes”. We’re not surprised at all. What came across to both of us was how welcoming, social and warm everyone was both towards us and to each other. Members agreed that the camaraderie of playing bowls together was brilliant for their health and wellbeing.

But if bowls isn’t your thing, there are other activities on offer and people can participate in as little or as much as they want. The Sons and Daughters of Rest meet three times a week, 12noon-4pm, and members have access to the group’s building every day. Members get together for a cuppa and a chat or for hobbies such as darts, dominoes, snooker, cards and pool. Whatever the activity, we know new people will be made really at home in this welcoming group.

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If you would like to get involved, call Jim Griffiths (Chairperson) on 07918 197197 or look out for the Sons and Daughters of Rest in Mary Stevens Park, near the bowling green.

Share how you’re connecting older people in your community

team-spirit-2447163_1920Dudley CVS is involved in a small piece of work with Age UK Dudley to help older people make connections in their communities that can combat loneliness, boost health and help people to be more resilient.

We’d like to shout about the great work that is already happening at a small scale, local level in community groups across Dudley borough, celebrate what they’re doing and learn about how we can support more of this type of activity.

If your group is helping older people to stay connected, or you’d like to get started, tell us:

  • What types of activities you do together, if you’re already doing things as a group
  • What more you would like to do – and what’s making it difficult to do more of what you’d like to do
  • What would help you to do continue or extend your activities

For inspiration, you might like to read about what Netherton Regeneration Group is doing to build kindness and social connectedness in their community.

If you get in touch, Helena and I will pay you a visit to help you to shout about the great things you’re up to and to offer you further support. So please, feel free to contact us using the comments section below, emailing smallgroups@dudleycvs.org.uk or calling Becky on 01384 573381.

 

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

Three new charities in Dudley borough

In the last few weeks, three of the brilliant groups I’ve been supporting have successfully become registered charities, hopefully unlocking further opportunities for each of them. This is great timing, as the inaugural Local Charities Day is coming up on 16 December!

The three charities do very different work, which goes to show the enormous variety of wonderful work that benefits people and communities.

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My first weeks at Dudley CVS

It’s been an action packed start!

I’ve hugely enjoyed my first few weeks as Communication Officer at Dudley CVS, there are so many exciting and innovative projects happening in the Dudley borough.

To introduce myself, my name is Helena and I thought with this first blog it might be interesting to pull out some particularly exciting moments from my first few weeks..

Connections

In my first week I was invited to ‘Mass Connect’ an event organised by Andy Mullaney, Dudley’s first Business Connector. The concept was created to encourage connections and collaboration between the Public, Private and Third sectors.

Andy used an effective method to connect people at the event by introducing each person with a short summary of their company, enterprise, charity or group, providing an opportunity for people to note down key connections for collaboration.

This was followed by a productive networking session, a great opportunity to mingle and find new people to connect with. The room was buzzing with exciting conversations.

The event really opened my eyes to the importance of partnerships and connections.

Volunteers

On my second week I visited Age UK Daybreak Centre where I met long serving volunteer Judy, and youngest, Bailey, a Doberman puppy, both nominated for a volunteer award.

It was great to meet someone who had devoted so many years to volunteer to help other people, and also, as a mad animal lover, it was very nice to meet Bailey.. who interestingly seemed to take a particular shine to me… until he smelt lunch.

Visiting the centre reminded me of the importance of volunteers and providing safe social spaces in order to tackle the health and wellbeing issues older people face. It was also interesting to learn more about the therapeutic influence of animals.

This led me on quite nicely to the Dudley CVS Volunteer Awards, which was a very special evening.

Red carpet, gold statues, decorated tables… I thought I had accidentally walked into the Oscars! The effort that went in to the make the evening special was very evident.

There are some truly inspirational and generous people who devote their time to volunteer in the Dudley borough and I’m pleased that I started just in time to see them all collect their awards.

Communities

Another great brainstorming event I recently attended was the East Coseley Big Local Forum. The ideas were flowing and there was a real sense of community spirit and passion to make a positive difference to the Coseley area.

Inspirational special guests were invited to give talks about their current projects in the area identifying possible collaborations in the room. Similar to ‘Mass Connect’, the main message that seemed to crop up was the importance of working in partnership and that anything can happen if we all work together.

Innovation and communications

The most important thing that I have learnt over my first weeks at Dudley CVS is that if you have a good idea, a space and the right connections, anything is possible.

I’m looking forward to supporting these great ideas and stories in my communications role and working with colleagues to make the best use of design and technology.

And remember you can always contact me at comms@dudleycvs.org.uk

 

 

 

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

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

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Trade school – barter for knowledge

jam making 2Have you ever wanted the chance to try something new? Do you know someone that can shabby-chic, build or mend and do you think ‘Oh I wish they would show me how to do that!’? Do you know any amazing makers, bakers, growers, creators and think they are so awesome they should share their skills and knowledge to inspire others? Can you do something amazing and would love the opportunity to share how to do it with others? If so Trade School Dudley is just the thing for you!

Be a teacher, learner, co-founder or all three! Join me on Tuesday 7 June 10am-1pm at DY1 Stafford Street, Dudley to find out more!

Trade School is a non-traditional learning space that runs on barter where anyone can teach a class! People with a skill or talent that they can teach to others propose a class and ask for a small barter item from learners. For example, if you teach a class about making butter, you might ask students to bring cream, jars, bread, recipes, music tips, or help with something like finding a flat.

Learners sign up for classes by agreeing to bring a barter item for the teacher. Everyone has something to offer!

You could learn how to bake bread in exchange for potted herbs, teach basic bike maintenance in return for recipe suggestions or books, and learn how to use social media and the internet by bringing wool or materials. You can teach a class about anything you are passionate about –and say what you’d like to receive in exchange.

The Trade School network is made up of self-organized barter-for-knowledge schools across the world. It started in 2010 with a small group of friends in New York, but they now have Trade Schools in over 50 cities internationally. You can read more about trade school by visiting their website.

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Residents in Wrens Nest, Dudley have run a number of pop up trade schools and how to session over the last 3 years. This summer we are hoping you will help start Trade School Dudley and Trade School Coseley, because wow people can do incredible things and have the most amazing skills to share!

A magic moment for me is when Wrens Nest ran a trade school so people could learn how to make jam. I got chatting to Stuart, a local resident, about growing and he explained how his garden is overflowing with plums that he didn’t know what to do with. I told him about a baking project that a seven year old girl had started and said that I was sure we could make use of his surplus supplies!

The following week whilst the Seed and Feed growing gang were meeting, Stuart popped along with bags and bags of plums. One of the gardeners had harvested some beans from his garden and shared these with Stuart as thanks for the plums. We all sat staring at the ample pile stacked before us and thought ‘Right, what can we do… ‘ Steve, one of the gardeners, suggested that they would make great jam and it just so happened that he knew how to make it, which was a good job ’cause the rest of us didn’t have a clue! So Jam Trade School popped up.

Steve asked that learners brought barter items that included jars to put the jam into, anything that supported the gardening project, anything useful for baking or a surprise. People brought barter items including jars, tomato feed, pots, flour and one lady shared her grandmother’s recipes.

jamOur youngest learner was just five and our oldest was in their seventies but everyone came together to learn, have fun, share and take home some of the best jam ever tasted! There was even time to make upside down plum pudding! And Stuart who had donated the plums in the first place got a bowl of pudding, a jar of jam and some new friends in his community.

Other Wrens Nest Trade Schools have included gardening, crocheting, seed balls, how to make an insect home and relaxation techniques. There is something magical in seeing someone who has a skill like crocheting or jam making showing someone else how to start, the spark of passion being passed from one person to another, the patience and encouragement, the laughter and fun. It really is quite wonderful!

So come on, who’s up for bartering knowledge and getting Trade School Dudley on the go?!

Join me on Tuesday 7 June 10am-1pm at DY1 seed ballsStafford Street, Dudley. This session is for anyone interested in being part of starting, or teaching or learning at Trade School Dudley or anyone simply curious to know more. It will be a friendly, informal chance to find out about how Trade School started. Find out what types of activities you might do as part of a Trade School founding team or join a conversation about what the first season of classes could be.