#VolunteersWeek2020 – A round-up of our virtual week of celebration and a heartfelt thank you to all our volunteer stars!

This week we’ve been celebrating #VolunteersWeek2020 and saying a special thank you to volunteers who have been supporting their communities through our six virtual Covid-19 support networks across Dudley borough. These incredible volunteers have worked tirelessly to support local vulnerable people, and those self-isolating or shielding, helping with medication collections, essential shopping, or simply befriending to lessen feelings of isolation, loneliness and uncertainty during these difficult times.

We’ve heard so many heart-warming stories of kindness, companionship and newfound friendships. We’ve also heard how volunteers have gone the extra mile to help people to feel a little bit of normality during lockdown, including deliveries of Friday night fish and chips! Volunteers have responded with such positivity and we’ve seen overwhelming acts of kindness.

As Volunteers Week draws to a close, we look back at just a handful of some of the wonderful stories shared by volunteers and our staff. We also want to pass on the many warm messages of thanks that we’ve received on behalf of the people supported. Many have said how incredibly grateful they are to have had the support of volunteers through these uncertain and difficult times. (Visit our Dudley CVS Covid Heroes Awards 2020 page to find out more about how to nominate your Covid hero/es.)

On Wednesday, Becky, our Small Groups Officer, shared a story about Stourbridge Covid-19 Community Support Group, a brand new mutual aid group that has been working with us since the beginning of lockdown. The group has more than 200 volunteers making shopping trips, collecting medications or offering companionship over the phone. Read the full post here

We’ve shared the stories of volunteer stars, Sheila, Phil, Sam, Sharon, Francesca, Dave, Jayne and Steve, talking about their volunteer experience and how it’s made a difference their lives and the lives of others. Here are some of those stories… 

 “I was quickly matched up with three people who needed help with their shopping.  When I first rang to introduce myself, I was a little nervous but we soon started to get to know each other.  We have now got into a lovely little weekly routine starting with a chat for the shopping lists and a chance to find out a little bit more about each other.  My Mum is vulnerable and lives in Shrewsbury so when we went into lockdown I knew that my sister would take care of her but I felt a bit useless. So, I started this process to help where I could.  What I didn’t expect was to find three different, lovely people who are so grateful of my help but, in turn, have also helped me through these strange and unprecedented times by giving me a sense of purpose.

I feel like we have sailed a path through these stormy waters together and we will keep going until we are able to step out onto a safer shore having battled this storm in the best way we can, with care and kindness for each other. We will never forget one another and I hope one day, when all this is over, we may be able to sit down and have a proper conversation over a nice cup of tea.”

Sheila Jones, volunteer.

Read more…

Nothing is too much trouble for Phil, and over the last 10 weeks, he has supported a number of people with their weekly shopping trips along with undertaking on average two medicine collection runs per week.

“I have volunteered for Operation Santa with my wife Sarah and when I heard Dudley CVS needed help during this current crisis I offered my help.

I was allocated an area and my role is mainly collecting and delivering prescriptions for vulnerable residents living in my local area. I’ve also been asked to help with some shopping and I shop for one lovely old couple every Thursday Morning.

I have earned the role of  ‘go-to source’ for any emergency requests as I am always willing and happy to drop everything and get the job done, and now have the nickname Thunderbird 1!

I have enjoyed meeting people living in my local area and also establishing a good relationship with local pharmacies. To have a sense of purpose during these difficult times has had a very positive effect on me.”

Read more… 

Volunteer, Francesca, said:

“Volunteering has been good for me too. As someone who struggles with anxiety, it’s pushed me out of my comfort zone sometimes, but it’s been very rewarding.

I’ve met some lovely people that (although our ages may differ) have become good friends. Being forwarded emails of thanks makes me realise how fortunate I am to be able to help others and not be reliant on the kindness of strangers – I try my best for them and it’s good to know they are happy with my efforts. I’ve even enjoyed the shopping experience – it’s been challenging at times, but it’s provided some humorous moments in these strange times.

Equally, the people I’ve delivered to have been so kind and appreciative, it’s put a smile on my face on many days. They may be “stuck” in their houses, but their strength and resilience is inspirational. I hope should they need help once we’re “out” of this pandemic they will know they now have friends in the community who are ready to assist. I believe it’s important we all learn from this experience and gain a sense of community so that we can take some good from it!”

Rose Cook Monk shared her heartwarming story of newfound friendship. An older man she was supporting was rushed to hospital as he had fallen down the stairs of his maisonette. When the nurse asked if there was anyone they could call, Rose was the only person he could think of.

“I ring him to tell him I’m on my way and he puts the money in an envelope – I ask if he’s ok – he always says the same thing “I am now I’ve seen you bless you for looking after me”.

So why after such a short time with such little contact was I his only ‘friend’ – what on earth did this poor Man do before the lockdown? Who helped him? Who did he talk to?

There must be hundreds of people like him out there. Please if you live by an elderly person or even someone living on their own – keep yourself safe – socially distance yourself – but knock on their door – drop a note through their letterbox, check that they are okay. One face, one voice could make all the difference to their day.”

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Mother and daughter, Sam and Sharon, shared how they have been connecting with local isolated people.

“We have had a number of local residents in Kingswinford and Amblecote we have been shopping for, collecting prescriptions and offering a friendly chat on the phone when they need it.

We feel we have made a difference by allowing vulnerable people to have a connection to the outside world in this awful time. Without the volunteers, they wouldn’t have access to essentials at this difficult time. It has been a very rewarding experience and it’s brilliant to help the community where possible.”

Read more…

Dave has predominantly carried out collections of medication from chemists to deliver to vulnerable people.

“One man, in particular, stated that I was the first person he had seen face to face for a week and it was so refreshing for him. We chatted for about 20 minutes (at a safe distance of course).

I gave him my works number and told him that if he wanted a chat at anytime he could call me. He said that he had plenty of telephone calls but it was just nice to actually see someone and have a conversation.

I also support another Coseley resident who has not left his house since March. He is always very grateful for a quick chat when we deliver anything.​”

Steve and Jayne have been volunteering with Black Country Foodbank. They pay tribute to those wonderful people who are selflessly keeping the country going during the pandemic often at risk to themselves.

“I’ve kept my head down volunteering in the strange world of the Covid crisis but today need to pay tribute to WONDERFUL PEOPLE who give so much expecting little or nothing in return. My dear Jayne of whom I’m always proud has been volunteering with me since the start of the crisis three days a week at Black Country Foodbank with a brilliant group of like-minded volunteers whose only objective is to help those so much less fortunate. Thank you to all.”

Read more…

And, here, just one of the messages of thanks that was sent to us from a lady supported with essential shopping:

“I just wanted to thank you for arranging my shopping requirements, which arrived just after 7.00pm tonight. Your volunteer called me from her car after she had left the shopping on my doorstep, so she followed the separation guidance perfectly. The shopping was spot on, in every respect, and even though I did thank her, may I perhaps ask you to pass on my gratitude to her. I am a little embarrassed that I was unable to even offer her a contribution towards her additional fuel costs. Her voluntary actions have allowed me to relax now, and obviously this also wouldn’t have been possible without the actions of Gemma and yourself. The system works well! Thank you. Ironically, until he sadly passed away last July, for many years I was providing the same service to a 97 year old friend, never thinking that I would need similar help less than a year later. It goes to show that you never know what’s around the corner.”

Our Children, Young People and Families team shared stories of many incredible young people who are making a difference by getting involved to help and support others during this pandemic, delivering meals to families, shopping and collecting prescriptions for vulnerable people, baking cakes for key workers and producing information and resources to support other young people.

Tom an electrical engineer and Chloe a nursery assistant have both been furloughed so have plenty of time on their hands and wanted to help. Tom was clear from the start that he was not a ‘shopper’ and this would be his worst nightmare but he was happy to collect and deliver prescriptions which he did most days. They followed all of the social distancing guidelines and used hand sanitiser after each delivery. People were so incredibly grateful for their help, they got lots of smiles and waves which made it all worthwhile.

Katie is a student at Halesowen College and has been volunteering with Dudley CVS and partners including West Midlands Police for the past 5 years. Katie has a huge heart and passion to help others young or old.  A quick call to Katie any time of day with a chance to get involved will always result in a big yes, what time and where?  Katie arrives every time with a big smile and a huge amount of enthusiasm that is infectious.

During this pandemic volunteers from Black Country Wellbeing Hub, Dudley CVS and DMBC Public Health Colleagues delivered a massive 6000 meals to children across the borough in just 8 days. We calculated that just Katie and driver covered 376 miles and she alone must have jumped out of the car and run up drives to grateful families and smiley children at least 250 times. However this is not the end of Katie’s kindness, she has shopped for a family of 5 who are socially isolating due to their dad being shielded. She was the master of the Tesco scan gun!

Young Health Champion Becky has been busy writing blogs for www.dudleyyhc.wordpress.com. Becky has produced a number of flyers for young people on handwashing, things to do during lockdown and how young people can look after their emotional health.

Another Young Health Champion, Ash, has written a number of blogs providing information on dental hygiene during lockdown and other health-related information. Ash has also been shopping and collecting medication for local residents in Stourbridge.

We just want to finish by saying a heartfelt thank you to all our volunteers who have been supporting their communities through our Covid-19 support networks across Dudley borough. You’re all stars!


 

Why not nominate your Covid Hero/es today!

2020 has been an unprecedented time for us all with the Covid-19 Pandemic and Dudley CVS feels that this year’s awards need to recognise and reflect the outstanding contributions made by both individuals and groups, to support those most vulnerable during these challenging times. We wish to recognise volunteers, paid staff and local groups who have truly gone the extra mile.

Please visit our Dudley CVS Covid Heroes Awards 2020 page and nominate today!

Time to pause and reflect for Volunteers’ Week: A special thank you to volunteers from Stourbridge, Lye and Wollescote

It’s been quite a while since any of our team here at Dudley CVS blogged about our work. The reasons might be obvious; our work has changed beyond recognition since February as we’ve flexed to respond to and help our sector and our communities respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But it might be fitting that our first post, now we’ve been able to pause for breath, comes in Volunteers’ Week, which we are celebrating virtually this year. I wanted to celebrate and thank an incredible group of volunteers that has been working tirelessly to support people who may have needed some extra help during lockdown.

The background

In early March, our team started exploring how we might support the sector and help people who might start to come forward to lend a hand safely. We felt that many groups would want to help, that new mutual aid groups would spring up and that people would want to roll up their sleeves. We weren’t disappointed on that score!

We established six virtual Covid-19 support networks which covered the whole borough in six areas along the same geographical lines as our Integrated Plus project. These networks consisted of CVS staff and partners such as the local authority, police, NHS services and other voluntary organisations such as Black Country Foodbank. At the same time, we put a call out for individual volunteers and voluntary groups to sign up with us so that we could ensure that support was co-ordinated.

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Dudley borough didn’t disappoint! We had 600 individual volunteers sign up and we’ve been bowled over that people have stepped up in their numbers to do whatever they can.

Eileen is spending this week sharing stories from our star volunteers who have been giving so much to their communities at the most testing times. I want to share how an army of volunteers have helped people in Stourbridge, Lye and Wollescote in all sorts of ways.

The amazing volunteers!

Through the six virtual networks, we’ve been supporting people who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, such as those with long-term conditions, as well as helping those who might be self-isolating or shielding. Networks have been receiving referrals from all sorts of places: GPs surgeries, local authority services, self-referrals to our helpline or the Black Country Radio helpline, Facebook, even from concerned friends and family members in different parts of the country.

While our Integrated Plus colleagues have helped to ensure that services are wrapped around the people that need them, us CVS leads in each area have been matching those volunteers to people that need some extra support with things like picking up medication, essential shopping or telephone befriending. The ideal has been to help foster relationships and promote neighbourly behaviours so that the support is less transactional and in the hope that this relationship continues, though we recognise that people’s circumstances can change.

We’ve been so grateful for any help our borough’s volunteers have been able to offer, whether it’s been a one-off medication delivery or more sustained support. I know that the willingness of so many to help has given us confidence that people are getting support and we hear constantly from the people referred to us that volunteers have been lifesavers!

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In Stourbridge, Lye and Wollescote, the areas I’ve been covering, I’ve been particularly lucky to have the magnificent support of Cat, Emma, Lee and the whole team involved in the Stourbridge Covid-19 Community Support Group, a brand new mutual aid group that got in touch with us as soon as we put the call out for volunteers and groups to work with us.

The group has more than 200 volunteers and is remarkably well-organised, quickly adopting systems and processes to make sure their volunteers and the individuals they support are kept safe. They’ve given me incredible confidence that the people I’m referring will get swift and appropriate help.

As well as responding to the hundreds of referrals I’ve made to them, allocating volunteers to make shopping trips, collect medications or offer companionship over the phone, the Stourbridge Community Support Group has been taking referrals themselves, through their Facebook page or their phone line. They also offer food parcels to people who have found their income unexpectedly cut off. Their support is pretty much around the clock and as lockdown starts to ease, they are still offering help.

I’ve spoken to more than 200 people that have been referred to us for support, some of whom I’ve spoken to more than once or twice and I’ve been really blown away by the connection I’m feeling to people I’ve only ‘met’. I’m sure this is magnified for the Stourbridge Community Support Group, since when I’ve made a referral, I’ve learned that the group keeps in touch with that person to offer ongoing support, which is astounding commitment. Another thing I’ve been struck by is the number of people who have been shielding or self-isolating saying that they would ordinarily be volunteering if their circumstances were different.

In our last network meeting, which has representatives from the Stourbridge Community Support Group, Dudley CVS, Integrated Plus, the local authority, NHS mental health services and other partners, Emma from the Stourbridge Community Support Group asked for some feedback from us so that they could better understand whether there was a continuing need for what they were offering. The responses overwhelmingly showed how services and partners perceived the volunteers’ fantastic contribution as of equal if not greater value! I shared my own gratefulness for the group by sharing an example of how responsive they have been in urgent situations which are not so straightforward. A couple of weeks ago we had a lady referred to us who should have received a government food parcel, which hadn’t arrived, leaving the lady with very little food. I contacted the local authority to try to get to the bottom of what had happened and to set up a food parcel. Given that we were near the end of the day and local authority staff are juggling all sorts of priorities in very challenging circumstances, I also got in touch with the group, since I knew they are constantly checking their referrals email. Within ten minutes, the ever-ready Lee responded to let me know that they would get a food parcel to the lady within the hour. (Our local authority colleagues also responded very quickly and they’re doing a wonderful job within our partnership in really challenging circumstances – it really is a great team effort!)

At the moment referrals have tailed off. This might be a reflection that people have become more accustomed to the situation and got support in place. It could be because there is now a centralised helpline and food distribution hub in place, led by the local authority. But I think it’s in no small part to the incredible volunteers across the whole borough who’ve now built relationships with the hundreds if not thousands of people that were referred to us throughout March and April and are continuing to support them now. We’re so grateful for their willingness to help people in their communities and hope we can harness this positivity as we tentatively find new ways of working.

My usual job is to support people to set up, run and organise their voluntary group, charity or social enterprise. It’s quite a change that I’ve come to rely on a voluntary group over the last few months. I hope that I can return the favour and help the Stourbridge Community Support Group and its volunteers to think about how they can build on the goodwill of the army of volunteers, the connections they’ve made, the people they’ve supported and develop community resilience that outlives the emergency situation. At the very least, I hope to be able to thank them face-to-face someday.

thank you heart text

Photo by Řaj Vaishnaw on Pexels.com

Thank you; you’re all stars.

If you would like to donate to the Stourbridge Community Support Group, to help it continue its work, you can do so here: https://bit.ly/3dtknAl.

Healthwatch Dudley welcomes over 100 new Information Champions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lorna Wilson, Lloyds Bank Access Network Representative

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

Is your community thinking of taking on land or a building? Here’s what to think about and some resources to help

If you’re thinking of taking on a community building or facility, check out this excellent short webinar from Good Finance. It’s called ‘How to build a cocktail of funding for your community group’, but it covers so much more than that, as we all know that funding is about much more than asking funders, donors or supporters for money!

Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash

This webinar covers the things you’ll need to think about before you start and has a useful overview of fundraising options from Locality, as well as an introduction to social investment from Good Finance. It also contains an excellent case study from Stretford Public Hall, whose members brought its community together to bring a disused public building back to life, and ran a successful community share offer to raise the finance needed. Take a look at the webinar below.

Here are the main things that I would take away from the webinar:

  1. Funding options (led by Debbie Lamb, from Locality)
  • Business planning is incredibly important. You’ll have to be clear about what the running costs will be and what will generate income, as well as having a good sense of the advantages and risks of running a community building.
  • Be dispassionate. Try to be realistic about how viable this is and don’t let your emotions lead you to take on something that has very slim chance of success.
  • Think about your organisational structure and the people you have. Does your structure help you to manage risk and liabilities? Does it allow you to borrow (if you plan to borrow)? Does it allow you to raise money through a community share offer (if you plan to do this)? Do you have the right amount of people with the necessary skills and expertise to work as a team?
  • You’re more likely to be raising money through a ‘patchwork’. It’s very unlikely that you will have just one source of income.

This all chimes with my experience of supporting nonprofits with community asset transfer and funding. The strength of the team and its planning is really crucial to success.

The one thing I’d add here is that evidence of community involvement and buy in is equally important. It’s one of the key things Dudley Council will take into account when making decisions on bids for community asset transfer and funders like the National Lottery Community Fund make community involvement a key criterion of all its programmes. You’ll need to be able to demonstrate that the community has been involved in the development of your plans and that the community wants your project to happen!

In terms of community asset transfer in Dudley borough, Dudley Council has made a ‘How to’ guide which tells you what they look for in a robust business case and I’ve made a template business plan which is based on this. What the local authority will look for can be boiled down into a few things:

  • Realistic costings, projections and sources of income: Do you know what condition the facility is in? Does any money need to be spent to bring the building back into use and if so, where is this money likely to come from? Do you already have some confirmed resources to put into it? What are the likely running costs?
  • Robust income-generation model / evidence of sustainability: What activities will bring in income? How realistic are these? Have you spoken to people who are willing to spend money here? What evidence do you have to show that your income will be able to cover running costs?
  • Benefits for the whole community: How will the community benefit? How will people be able to get involved? What positive difference will this make? How will your activities link to local and national strategies? If your building will be used for just one type of activity, it’s less likely to get support.
  • Evidence of community-involvement in the plan: How have members of the local community been able to have a say on what will happen at your facility? Can they be involved as members or will they be able to have a stake in your project?
Photo by Jens Behrmann on Unsplash

2. Social investment (Kieran Whiteside, Good Finance)

Social investment comes in many forms and, although it’s not particularly new, it’s constantly evolving. Not many of the organisations I’ve worked with have wanted to consider social investment, being put off by its repayable nature. In the current climate, though, I think groups should seriously consider it.

The starting point is to learn about what it is to find out about what type might suit you. And in this webinar, Kieran gives us a brief overview of what social investment is and what tools can help you to get started:

  • Social investment is repayable finance, where the investor looks for a social as well as a financial return on their investment. This means you need to be clear about what you need the money for, whether there’s an income stream that will help you to repay, and what social impact you will create (this is about ‘outcomes’ and I recommend the now archived ‘Getting funding and planning successful projects’ guide from National Lottery Community Fund back when it was known as the Big Lottery Fund).
  • The Good Finance website can help you to understand social investment. It has a diagnostic tool to help you to understand whether social investment is right for you and the type of social investment you should consider.
  • Community shares: This involves raising money from the community by issuing shares in the organisation through a formal community share offer. It’s a great way of demonstrating real community buy-in for a project, but only certain types of organisation can issue shares. The Community Shares Unit is a good source of information.
  • Blended finance: This type of social investment is typically a grant + a loan. It’s more common for investments of £250,000 or less.
  • Secured loans: Like a mortgage against an organisation’s asset. This means that the organisation needs to own a building / asset for use as collateral. Social banks, some high street banks and some specialist funders offer secure loans with typically lower interest rates.
  • Finally, crowdfunded investment: Different from rewards-based crowdfunding (Kickstarter, for instance), but more like peer-to-peer lending. You’ll find more information on Ethex or Community Chest

3. Case study of Stretford Public Hall, which ran a successful community share offer (Simon Borkin, Stretford Public Hall)

I was really inspired by the story Simon told of Stretford Public Hall and the power of a community coming together to make things happen!

Stretford Public Hall is a Grade II listed Victorian building that fell into disuse (for the second time) in 2014. In 2015 the Friends of Stretford Public Hall successfully used the Localism Act to get the building listed as an asset of community value. The group secured the freehold of the hall from Trafford Council which meant they could start refurbishment.

To raise money through a community share offer, the Friends of Stretford Public Hall had to set up as a community benefit society (or Ben Comm) so that the organisation could issue shares. This allowed members to invest in the organisation in return for shares, but the principle of the Ben Comm is that each member gets one vote, no matter how many shares they bought.

To set up a community share offer, the organisation had to draw up a business plan and a formal share offer document. Both of these are available on the Stretford Public Hall website, along with lots of other information about how the organisation is run.

What struck me most about this case study was the importance of engaging with the community and the real openness to involving the community in the organisation’s set up and decision-making. It really shows that the friends of Stretford Public Hall did the legwork to make sure the community was engaged and motivated, resulting in the organisation successfully raising £255,000 over 56 days from 790 people in the community and 7 organisations. It’s that kind of community involvement that decides whether a venture will succeed.

Photo by “My Life Through A Lens” on Unsplash

How a weekly cake, cuppa and chat keep people connected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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