Deafscope: Breaking down barriers for the Deaf community

A couple of days ago, Deb, Helena and I met with the lovely people behind Deafscope, a brand new online Deaf community directory.

Set up by Ishtiaq and Kerry, BSL communicators with first-hand experiences of the barriers faced by the Deaf community, Deafscope aims to connect the community, break down barriers and highlight the amazing Deaf-friendly and Deaf-owned businesses around the West Midlands, the UK and eventually around the world.

Bringing together Deaf-friendly and Deaf-owned businesses, services and events in one place means people will be able to see how that business or service can communicate with them along with all the other features they need to see, their location, special offers, contact details and more.Businesses can add listings to the directory to feature products, services, images, social media and website links, special offers, an introduction to their brand and more. The reviews function is designed to build a trusted source of information about accessible businesses and services.

Here’s a great example of how the Deafscope website works:

It’s not only businesses that can feature their services on Deafscope. Deaf-owned or Deaf-friendly charities, voluntary groups, nonprofits and public services such as healthcare services, can register their services, events and activities free of charge. Ishtiaq and Kerry are really keen to get networked so that the website features a whole range of services that reduce the barriers that the Deaf community can face.

And it’s not only a website that lists services, but it can give people ideas. Deaf-owned and Deaf-friendly business can inspire others to set up similar things in their own areas; did you know there’s a Deaf Gym in Bradford? There are also plans for an app and to offer practical support to the Deaf community such as helping people find jobs, training people, nurturing Deaf-owned enterprise. On top of that, being based in Lye means they can offer space, training facilities and events locally!

We’ve helped them to start networking locally and they’ll be linking with the Dudley Deaf Focus Group which is supported by Healthwatch Dudley. Deafscope is also planning a Deaf Community Day for next month. To keep informed about Deafscope, follow on social media:

Facebook: Deafscope
Twitter: @deafscope
Website: deafscope.co.uk

“It all starts with a phone call and a cuppa”

The High Intensity User (HIU) service (developed by NHS Blackpool CCG) has been rolled out across Dudley borough by the Integrated Plus social prescribing team as part of Dudley CVS. The service offers a robust way of reducing avoidable frequent user activity to 999, NHS 111, A&E, and hospital admissions, freeing up front line resources to focus on more clients and reduce costs. It uses a flexible and innovative non-clinical approach, targeting high users of services and supports the most vulnerable people within the community to flourish and find purpose in their lives.

With information given from the Blackpool HIU service, the Integrated Plus team were able to adapt the approach and develop a HIU service in Dudley, match-funded by Dudley Clinical Commissioning Group and the Department of Health.

Danielle and I (Kelly) have been working on this service from its inception in 2018.

Before taking on the role of Urgent Care Link Worker at Integrated Plus, I worked as a substance misuse worker across the Sandwell Borough for 13 years where I developed a good understanding of the skills and attributes needed to work with some of the most vulnerable and complex members of the community. Within that role, I gained experience working across the criminal justice system, child protection, safeguarding adults and children, mental and physical health and domestic abuse. Prior to this, I worked in the community as a carer for the elderly with mental health needs.

My colleague Danielle comes from a background in NHS and private mental health services. For over 10 years Danielle worked in the occupational therapy department within the male and female psychiatric rehab units, working with patients with complex mental health needs, substance misuse, and learning disabilities. From this, Danielle went into hospital discharge learning the pathway patients go through when they are being discharged from hospital and following them through the process. She was then able to use these skills to work alongside GPs in the community co-ordinating patient care, ensuring their discharge from hospital had been completed correctly and they had returned home with all relevant services in place.

In my current role in the HIU team, it all starts with a phone call, from which I am able to actively listen and find out the full extent of the problem/issues that they are facing in their lives. I like to arrange a face-to-face appointment as soon as possible to gain a better understanding of their situation. On the first visit, I try my best to make it very relaxed to allow them to tell their story.

It’s surprising how many people say after the visit it’s the first time they have been really listened to.

From here I give my direct work contact details, agree an action plan with the client and liaise with other agencies involved to ensure that a non-clinical holistic and person-centred approach is taken. The service I then provide is bespoke to that individual, for example, accompanying them to groups, shopping trips, lunch, coffee and medical appointments. I keep my approach relaxed, initially; this may start with speaking to the client two or three times a day as well as out of hours to de-escalate situations that could result in either a 999 call or an A&E attendance.

I will continue to work with a client for up to 6 months intensively with the aim that the support will come to a gradual end and the client no longer feels in crisis. At the end of the service, the client is informed that should they require any further support I would give assistance.”

One service user said,

This service, in my opinion, is vital to help other people from utter despair, I cannot explain in words what this service has done for me.

After another attempt to end it all, I was given a lifeline, introduced to my link worker from Integrated Plus, always at the end of the phone, caring and understanding, non-judgmental who listens to my every need in my recovery. My link worker takes me out for coffee and shopping and has enabled me to laugh again and understand a future without pain. I look forward to her visits helping me to feel normal again”.

If you would like to find out more about the Integrated Plus service visit www.integratedplusblog.com

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.

Integrated Plus delivers a successful peer learning programme for staff delivering social prescribing schemes around the East and West Midlands

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During January – April 2019, Dudley CVS’s Integrated Plus service delivered a social prescribing peer learning programme for link workers around the country. The programme enabled existing link workers from across the East and West Midlands to connect with each other, share learning, successes, challenges and access training in areas such as motivational interviewing, mentoring and solution focused therapy.

25 staff from 9 organisations delivering social prescribing projects around the country attended the 10 day programme delivered over 3 months.

Participants shared that they had learnt:

  • More about what social prescribing is
  • Each other’s social prescribing models
  • Different approaches to supporting people
  • New techniques and coping strategies when working with vulnerable people

“Brilliant, invaluable, interesting and overall a fantastic and worthwhile training package” (participant who attended the programme)

“Spending time offering each other peer support has been incredibly invaluable” (participant who attended the programme)

For more information about the Integrated Plus service, please contact Kate Green on 01384 573381.

For National information and updates on social prescribing visit: https://www.socialprescribingnetwork.com/

Integrated Plus Service – evidencing the value of social prescribing for people living in Dudley borough

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During late 2018, Dudley CVS appointed an external consultant, David Waterfall, to work alongside the team to collate and analyse data regarding the Integrated Plus social prescribing service, and to use this information to produce an evidence-led evaluation report.

Dudley CVS has been delivering a social prescribing service for the nearly 5 years. In early 2014, Dudley CVS with support from Dudley Clinical Commissioning Group (Dudley CCG), identified an opportunity to develop and deliver an innovative, flexible and complementary service called ‘Integrated Plus’.

The service was set up to trial a different approach to supporting people in their own homes to ensure the non-clinical needs of patients are taken into account at the GP-led Multi-Disciplinary Team meetings (MDTs) established in 2014. Integrated Plus offers 1-2-1 social prescribing support to patients aged 16 and over who are:

  • At high risk of hospital admission;
  • Frequently visiting their GP;
  • Vulnerable and in need on non-clinical, social support.

Key findings from the report:

  • 2,720 out of 3,756 clients have connected with the service during September 2014 – August 2018.
  • In terms of a typical patient referral to Integrated Plus; 60% are aged 64 and over, 37% are aged between 24 – 63, 58% are female, 71% have no caring responsibility, 25% are referred due to feeling isolated, 17% because of a long term health condition and 16% due to feeling that they have mild to moderate depression. There is a high correlation between clients feeling isolated and feeling that they have mild to moderate depression.
  • 94% of clients rate the service as 4 or 5 stars (out of 5), 96% consider Integrated Plus has had an impact on them (of which 28% consider this to be significant), and 79% feel that Integrated Plus has helped connect them to services and activities suitable to their needs.

 Performance

Following Integrated Plus, client change for each of the seven core outcomes was:

  • Finance; an 81% reduction in those patients that were not managing, and also an increase of 48% for those who were managing. The greatest enhancement in an indicator was “I have enough money to meet basic needs
  • Physical Health; an 82% reduction in those patients that were not managing, and also an increase of 29% for those who were managing. The greatest enhancement in an indicator was “I am managing long term conditions well”.
  • Mental Health; an 76% reduction in those patients that were not managing, and also an increase of 58% for those who were managing. The greatest enhancement in an indicator was “Feeling optimistic about the future
  • Social Contact; an 80% reduction in those patients that were not managing, and also an increase of 35% for those who were managing. The greatest enhancement in an indicator was ““I regularly have face to face social contact with people who are not family members”
  • Housing; an 82% reduction in patients that were not managing, and also an increase of 24% for those who were managing. The greatest enhancement in an indicator was “I feel able to keep up with my rent”
  • Safety; an 83% reduction in those patients that were not managing, and also an increase of 24% for those who were managing. The greatest enhancement in an indicator was “I feel I have people I can contact”.
  • Learning; an 72% reduction in those patients that were not managing, and also an increase of 10% for those who were managing. The greatest enhancement in an indicator was “I feel happy in my retirement

In broader terms, following the intervention 46% fewer clients report poor quality of life, and 45% fewer clients report poor wellbeing.

  • For hospital data, there are significant reductions in A&E attendance after Integrated Plus with a 14% reduction after 6 months, increasing to a 17% reduction after 12 months. Regarding inpatient admissions, after Integrated Plus there is a 14% reduction after 6 months, increasing to a 15% reduction after 12 months. In terms of hospital cost avoidance, data shows £751,400 for reductions in Inpatients, and £58,305 in reduced A&E admissions; totaling £809,705
  • For GP data, of the 43 surgeries engaged; 34 had a decrease in surgery consultations, 21 had a decrease in telephone consultations, and 26 had a decrease in home visits. In terms of GP cost avoidance, data shows £73,115 in fewer GP Consultations, and £16,400 for fewer GP Home Visits; totaling £89,915. The surgery with the greatest extent of cost avoidance was Wychbury Medical Centre/Cradley Road Medical Practice, with a cost avoidance of £11,135 (from 306 referrals, of which 189 supported)
  • Through surveying of GPs, 100% of surgeries rated Integrated Plus as good or excellent, and 89% felt that the Link Officers added value to the current Multi-Disciplinary Team meetings. All surgeries agreed that Integrated Plus had helped to reduce inappropriate GP consultations, and most surgeries felt that “Reduces isolation and loneliness” was a key benefit for patients. Wider benefits included, “Our main Link Officer has an excellent rapport with our patients, nothing is too much trouble for him and he is literally only a phone call away. He attends all MTD meetings and has good input from the patients he sees.”

For more information you can read the full report here:

For more information, please contact Kate Green. Tel: 01384 573381.

Email: buildingblocks@dudleycvs.org.uk

Hearts and Crafts: A lifeline for people in Sedgley

Hearts and Crafts group based in Sedgley is a social group where people can take part in a range of arts and crafts activities in a welcoming and supportive environment. It’s a place where people can learn new skills from their peers, share knowledge and get creative! Perhaps more importantly, it’s a place that nurtures people as well as their creativity.

I was introduced to Hearts and Crafts by my colleague Georgia, who through her role as Integrated Plus Link Support Worker has referred people to this group as a way of helping them to be more connected in their local community. The group has been running for 4 years, and it’s co-ordinated by a team that shares all the practical tasks. In fact, it’s become so popular that they’ve set up another session on the same day so that more people can attend and take part in comfort. There were at least 25 people when I paid the group a visit recently as part of the work I’m doing with Age UK Dudley. The knitting table was particularly busy!

At Hearts and Crafts, there are opportunities to take part in a range of creative activities. There’s a table for knitting, needlework and crochet, a table dedicated to papercrafts and another table for painting. People are free to choose to do as much or as little as they please and as I chatted to some of the members it became clear that Hearts and Crafts was less about what they did and more about the friendships that have been made there.

One lady didn’t find it easy to be among new people or in new situations. She was introduced to the group after someone struck up conversation with her at a party where she didn’t know many people. That one connection led her to tentatively joining the group. Now she’s a regular and gets involved in the papercrafts, chatting to her new friends and helping each other to design cards. She told me that this is the only place she goes, so she really looks forward to it every week. She walks there and she’s certain going to Hearts and Crafts gives her purpose and keeps her fit and active.

Over on the knitting table, participants were making all kinds of things for themselves and for others, sharing skills and encouraging each other. I was told that one of the participants who was knitting with such dexterity was recovering from a stroke. It was obvious how much people value Hearts and Crafts as participants told me that attending had given them a sense of purpose.

On the busy painting table, people of all abilities were trying out working with watercolours and acrylic. A gentleman was helping two people who had come for the first time, reassuring them that the worst that could happen was that their paintings might end up in the bin! By the end of the session, the two people had painted beautiful landscapes and they were looking forward to coming again. It’s that kind of welcome and encouragement that has made Hearts and Crafts so popular.
When I asked the gentleman about his painting, he told me that he’d been to a class in the 1990s and realised it was harder than it looked at first. But he persevered and now helps his wife to decorate cards that she makes. He loves painting and told me that he can forget all of his troubles by becoming immersed in his creativity. He comes to Hearts and Crafts specifically to help others to get the same benefits.

Another lady told me that Hearts and Crafts was her lifeline, especially after she’d been through a difficult period in her life. She was full of admiration for the team members who make Hearts and Crafts happen every week. She said that the team got upset when the group was so big that team members couldn’t get around to everyone to have a conversation with them; that was the reason for setting up another session later that day. It felt like the team has really fostered a sense of belonging and family as I was told that the team members would text people if the session had to be cancelled to save them setting out; whenever anyone missed a week, someone would be in touch to check everything was ok. It’s the kind of belonging that would help anyone feel connected and wanted.

Celebrating Integrated Plus as part of International Social Prescribing Day – Connecting and supporting for wellbeing and a sense of purpose

 

Dudley CVS has been delivering a social prescribing service for the nearly 5 years. In early 2014, Dudley CVS with support from Dudley Clinical Commissioning Group (Dudley CCG), identified an opportunity to develop and deliver an innovative, flexible and complementary service called ‘Integrated Plus’.

The service was set up to trial a different approach to supporting people in their own homes to ensure the non-clinical needs of patients are taken into account at the GP-led Multi-Disciplinary Team meetings (MDTs) established in 2014. Integrated Plus offers 1-2-1 social prescribing support to patients aged 16 and over who are:

  • At high risk of hospital admission
  • Frequently visiting their GP
  • Vulnerable and in need on non-clinical, social support

Our support is about enabling and facilitating connections with others, nurturing new friendships and helping people to find purpose in their lives. We focus on the whole person’s needs whatever they might be, to jointly find solutions to challenges faced. Our approach is about spending quality time with people, actively listening to their needs, goals and aspirations. We explore what is important to the person and help them to identify, amplify and reflect on their strengths, passions and skills. 99% of people we have connected with stated that spending quality time with them actively listening and exploring what they want to achieve as the most valuable component of our service.

Other key facts and stats

  • 4,326 referrals from GPs and at the MDT meetings. Of 4,326 we have connected with 3,132 people.
  • 81% reduction change in people that were not managing in the areas of finances but who are now getting appropriate support or now managing ok
  • 82% reduction change in people that were not managing their physical health but who are now getting support or now managing ok
  • 80% reduction change in people that were isolated and lonely but who are now accessing services/activities or no longer feel isolated or lonely
  • 8,719 outward referrals to organisations, 60% to the voluntary sector
  • Avoidable A&E attendances have reduced by 17% over a 12 month period after Integrated Plus interventions, cost avoidance totalling £58,305
  • Avoidable hospital admissions have reduced by 15% over a 12 month period after Integrated Plus interventions, cost avoidance totalling £751,400
  • Overall GP consultations have reduced by 15%, cost avoidance totalling £73,115

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Karen supported to find time for herself and regain her confidence

Karen was referred to Integrated Plus by her GP. She was diagnosed with depression and finding life difficult to cope with.  Karen is selfless and spends most of her time caring for others.  She has caring responsibilities for her mother, an aunt and a son who is disabled.  Despite her busy schedule, Karen is regarded as being positive and upbeat about herself and her life but while looking after everybody else her own mental health was deteriorating and she became unwell.

When Karen met the Locality Link Officer for Stourbridge, Wollescote and Lye she said she felt “Lost and exhausted and didn’t know what to do.” The Link Officer listened to Karen and discussed options for her to have some time concentrating on herself, regaining her confidence and doing something she would find helpful and worthwhile.  The Link Officer asked Karen what hobbies and interests she had and if she would like to do some activities. Karen said yes and the Link Officer agreed to accompany her to her first activity until she felt comfortable with her surroundings.  They went to the University of the 3rd Age in Stourbridge (U3A) and Karen enjoyed it and settled in a lot quicker than she thought she would.

Karen now has the confidence to attend on her own and has been to the U3A several times and is going to join the group as a member. She is looking forward to enrolling on a diverse programme of classes in the New Year, including, lace making, walking and tap dancing. She was surprised and pleased to find that the lace making course is taught by a neighbour and this has rekindled their friendship.

The Link Support Worker met Karen a couple of months later to do a follow up review and she said her mental health has significantly improved and that she is feeling much better. Karen has also grown in confidence and has attended some Carers Coffee Mornings and said this has been important in reducing the isolation and loneliness felt by many carers.

Karen has reconnected with neighbours and her wider community and has made new friends since being referred to Integrated Plus. She said she was very grateful for the “…impartial support from Integrated Plus.”  And without this support she said she would probably be “sat at home rocking back and forth in her chair not knowing what to do next.” With support from Integrated Plus and Karen’s desire to make changes she is looking forward to the future with renewed confidence and hope.

For more information contact: Kate Green. Email: buildingblocks@dudleycvs.org.uk

 

‘Fed up with looking at four walls? Then come and look at ours instead!’ – Senior Citizens Enterprise Woodwork Group

Based at the Meadow Road Youth Centre, the Senior Citizens Enterprise Woodwork Group, in Dudley, is a group for older people who are interested in woodwork.  It’s a fun and friendly environment offering older people a place to learn new or develop existing woodworking skills. It’s also a great place to find new friendships. The group has 23 members in total. Some members live on their own, some are widowers, some just like to get out of the house, make something and put their skills to good use! The oldest member, Ken, is 93 years old.

‘Fed up with looking at four walls? Then come and look at ours instead!’  That’s the motto of the Senior Citizens Enterprise Woodwork Group.

The wood workshop is fully equipped with modern tools and machinery. There really isn’t much that the group hasn’t made, and they’re always on the lookout for new projects to keep them occupied. They’ve kindly created cosy homes for many of the animals at Dudley Zoo, a castle hideout for the zoo’s female guinea pigs, a hotel for rabbits, bird, bat and red panda boxes. They’ve even built penguin boxes – they tell me that they have successfully bred since, so must have done a good job making them feel at home!

Members have also kindly given their time and skills to build a variety of bird habitats for the Midland Metro Alliance which will be installed along the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill route for the Midland Metro. It’s hoped that the bird boxes will attract a wide range of nesting birds.

They’ve built a bench for Acorns Children’s Hospice, nest boxes for local schools and they’re now looking to build Pine Marten boxes for an RSPB site in Shropshire.

The group acquire offcuts of wood donated by local businesses which enables them to build all of the items, these materials would otherwise have gone to landfill. They have even rescued supermarket trolleys from the canal and used the wheels to make wood replenishing trolleys that fit snuggly under the workbenches.

Steve is one of the youngest members of the group, he joined when he was 63 and mainly makes things for the family like shelving and benches. He tells me that people like to come to the workshop because they enjoy the camaraderie and they like to have a good laugh. A couple of members don’t look forward to the Christmas holidays as it just imposes on them coming to the workshop! They’ll open up again as soon as Boxing Day arrives, as long as there are two people in the workshop, for health and safety reasons, they will happily come in over Christmas!

Steve contacted Dudley CVS to get support to apply for a Dudley Community Forum Grant of £550. The application was successful, helping them to purchase sanding disks, belts, saw blades, machine saws and new router bits. They’ve also received £900 from Age UK, which they have used to buy a new router machine.

Dave is one of the founding members of the group, he’s made things including rocking horses and dolls houses. It usually takes him about 3 months to make a rocking horse which is made in blocks, glued together and then carved and painted. He’s also carved a shark out of wood, which sits on his fireplace at home.

Chairman Mick, is highly skilled on the woodturning lathes, he’s made fruit bowls and pens. He’s even made a beautifully carved walking stick.

Dave and Derek have a background in upholstery. Derek recently made an intricate money box. He enjoys coming to the workshop, but doesn’t like Thursdays much, as that’s when the workshop closes for the weekend!

Ken, the oldest member, is making clocks for his sons out of an old sideboard that belonged to his parents.

Bruce makes detailed wooden toy trains, plains and trucks. He finds his inspiration in woodwork books.

Bill is 84, he came to the workshop when he was 70, he started out as Chairman. He likes to make clocks and other things. He remembers the days when they used to walk around timber yards asking for offcuts of wood. He said “Coming here is good, we can discuss things over lunch, at our age, we don’t see anybody, pubs are too expensive and not good for you!’

George, the treasurer, likes to make boats with sails. He keeps them in his large shed, apparently, you have to go in sideways because of the number fabulous boats, lifeboats and submarines he has made.

All members are extremely skilled and talented. Some had skills before, some hadn’t, many have learnt skills from each other. All of their items are beautifully made and finished to a high standard.

The group originally started in the early 2000s when a few people were faced with redundancy from local businesses. It was suggested they go on other courses to re-skill, one of those was a woodwork course at Dudley College. When that closed down the group moved to Mons Hill in Dudley, then amalgamated with another group from Brierley Hill, it was then that they moved to Meadow Road Youth Centre where they have been based for over a decade now. They still use the original machinery that was donated by Dudley College over a decade ago.

The group has recently become a member of UK Men’s Sheds Association. Men’s Sheds provides support and guidance to individuals and groups across the UK, raising awareness of the social and health benefits of Men’s Sheds in reducing isolation, loneliness and in empowering local communities. Men’s Sheds supports individual groups to connect with new members of the community. They also provide advice and guidance on starting up and running a shed providing practical information guides, example documents and toolkits on topics such as registering as a charity, insurance, funding, sourcing equipment and venues, and volunteer recruitment.

To anyone who might be interested to join, they would say, “Come in, do your own thing, we’ve got heating, toilets and cups of tea to keep us nice and warm! What more could you want?”

To find out more about the group visit https://bit.ly/2WxNlHd

A place to connect and make lasting friendships: Lye Men’s Group

The idea for The Men’s Group began in 2015 when my colleague Nick Tromans, the Integrated Plus Locality Link Officer for Stourbridge, Wollescote and Lye, had a high number of referrals for men with similar mental health needs and social isolation.  This led Nick to Reverend Simon Falshaw the Vicar from Christ Church in Lye and they discussed the need to offer a place for men to come and connect with each other.  The church was interested in supporting the idea and offered the church hall as a place to host the group.  A successful funding bid to the Near Neighbours Fund was approved and this helped start the group and pay for room hire.

The main factor for the success of the group is the volunteers who help run the group, they set up the room, serve refreshments and ensure a warm and friendly welcome to everybody who attends.  They can empathise with the group because they have had similar experiences and are well placed to offer peer to peer support.  Andrew was the first volunteer and he fostered an atmosphere of calm, respect and empathy.  Unfortunately, Andrew died suddenly in 2017 but his ethos remains within the group. Nick and I are involved in some aspects of the running of the group but the volunteers are the mainstay of the group and are vital and committed to its ongoing success.

The group has blossomed and three years on it is still going strong.  We have men aged from 19 to 90 in the group.  Over 130 men have attended the group in total and there are around 20-25 men from a pool of about 40 who attend every week.  Over the past few years we have had lots of activities at the group including, Get Cooking courses, glass engraving, bread making and well-being sessions.  The group also have regular cooked breakfasts, pool and darts tournaments and celebrations for Eid and Christmas.  There is no pressure for anybody to be involved in the activities and they are welcome to come and have a cup of tea and do their own thing.

Peer support reduces loneliness and isolation and improves self-esteem and confidence, this is certainly evident in the group.  Many positive and enduring friendships have been made by those attending the group.  People attend together and those in the group with limited mobility and difficulty attending have lifts arranged with friends they have met in the group.  If somebody has not attended in a while people rally round and see if they can help.  Friends meet outside of the group and do social activities together and meet at each other’s homes independent of the group, some have even gone on holiday together.  Another major reason for the success of the group is the non-judgemental attitude of all who attend and volunteer, it is inspiring and makes for a smoothly run and supportive group.

Barry began attending the group supported by his wife and Nick and has now become a regular attendee.  He has made new friends who he looks forward to spending time with in the group.  His friendships have developed further and he now meets up with his new friends outside of the group at home and in social situations.  Barry said he was not aware of any groups or activities like this in his local area and he said the group and the friendships he has made have ‘lifted me off the floor and given me something to look forward to.’

Those men who attend who can afford to make a donation can contribute to the running of the session.  Using an asset-based approach and working in partnerships with the local council and other organisations has enabled the group to run for little cost and has further helped the success of the group.

If you would like more information about the Men’s Group contact gary@dudleycvs.org.uk

Find out more about how Integrated Plus are supporting people to become more involved, connected and active in their communities at https://integratedplusblog.com/about/

Setting up for success: Wall Heath Ladies Choir

Over the last few months I’ve been working with the lovely Lorraine, a music enthusiast who wanted to explore the idea of setting up a new ladies choir. I recently visited the choir and spoke to the ladies now taking part in its activities to see how far they’ve come in such a short space of time, a testament to the work Lorraine and her team have put in to get this off the ground!

Setting up a group of any kind takes time and plenty of groundwork to move from being one person’s idea to a collective that a whole team is behind. Much of the requests for support that I receive focus on getting paperwork in place, like constitutions, and funding. I can understand this impulse – having a constitution (with certain key clauses) makes a group eligible for funding and constitutions aren’t something people come across every day – apart from me, I suppose!

But a constitution isn’t a group’s starting point and diving straight into writing one misses crucial steps in the process of setting up a group: team building and planning.

Team building and planning

A not-for-profit group of any kind is always a collective. Although one person might start with their vision and be the driving force, a group should never be run by just one person. A successful group needs a strong, diverse team with a range of skills to be able to make good decisions, reflect society and benefit the people it is set up to help. For me, this is one of the hardest and most crucial aspects of setting up (and continuing to run) a group; building a team will help to ensure that goals are set collectively and that there’s greater motivation to achieve them.

Which leads us to planning. Planning is a really important step in establishing a group and in keeping a group going. The planning process helps everyone involved in the group to agree exactly what the group is about, what it’s trying to achieve and the activities it will do to meet its objectives. Doing it as a team will unite team members behind collectively agreed goals and it will bring lots of different skills and viewpoints to the process, making a plan robust. Planning is also about connecting with others, considering what’s already happening in the community, identifying gaps and linking with other people and organisations to show how the group will operate and demonstrate the level of interest in its work.

Lorraine and her team did this really well, linking with the many community groups in Wall Heath in order to build a picture of potential members, to get word out about the new choir and to secure a venue. This process also helped Lorraine to think about and demonstrate the potential value of the choir and how singing together has social benefits and supports good wellbeing and mental health.

The benefits of planning and connecting with others helped Lorraine to feel more confident about applying for small grants to launch the choir. I helped to identify some small funders who might be interested in supporting the choir, particularly as a way to help people become more connected in their community and feel less isolated. Soon, Lorraine had secured grants totaling just over £3,000 from Blakemore Foundation, Geoff Hill Charitable Trust, Helping Hands Wall Heath CIC and the local Community Forum!

It was great to hear that Wall Heath Ladies Choir could start its activities thanks to the small grants it received which helped to cover venue hire, materials and small items of equipment. It was even better to pay a visit to one of the rehearsals to see how members were getting on!

That night I met a dozen or so smiling women, beginning the night with a catch up, asking about each other and chatting before throwing themselves into warm-up exercises and then into a rousing rehearsal that I couldn’t help but join in with (sorry!). The choir is led by the energising and encouraging Karen, a vocal coach, who has whipped the ladies into shape in no time. Karen’s approach is brilliant and engaging; she helps people feel comfortable and confident, and she knows how important it is to involve everyone in deciding on what songs they should perform. She brings warmth and humour to the group and it’s obvious that she’s built a wonderful rapport with the members of the choir.

During the break, I got to chat with some of the ladies. I found out that all but one of them hadn’t sung in a choir before, but that they didn’t feel stressed or daunted by being in the choir. One member remarked that she liked that they don’t get told off if they get it wrong, which shows how welcoming the choir is to all sorts of abilities. 

Some of the members knew each other before they joined Wall Health Ladies Choir, though all of them said that they’d made new friends by joining.  I was also told that coming to the choir is good fun, a pick me up after a difficult day and a place where you can forget your stresses. One member told me that she hadn’t seen anyone else that day until she came to the choir. It seems pretty clear that the choir is about more than singing, it’s about the fellowship, friendship and sense of belonging that can have a positive effect on mental wellbeing.

So if you’re interested in joining a fun, friendly and relaxed choir, why not go along to a rehearsal and see for yourself? Wall Heath Ladies Choir rehearses on Thursday evenings, 7.15pm-9.15pm at Church of Ascension, Wall Heath. You’ll get a warm welcome!

I’ll leave you with a cheeky video I took of the choir rehearsing ABBA’s Dancing Queen and I challenge you not to smile!