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.

DCVS Covid 19

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.

Listen to our Podcast and learn more about ESF Black Country Community Grants

New for 2020, Dudley CVS podcasts!

For our first ever Dudley CVS podcast, we got together with colleagues from Dudley Council and Black Country Community Grants (run through Walsall Council) to talk about the next rounds of ESF Black Country Community Grants.

Listen and learn more about the programme and how to produce a good-quality application with Becky, Martin, Ruth and Jacki.

We’ll provide a transcript of this podcast as soon as we possibly can.

Support on offer to help Dudley nonprofits access Black Country Community Grants 2019-2021

Community Grants

Over the last six months or so I’ve been publicising this grants programme through our email bulletin. I recently learned that the number of organisations from the Dudley borough applying and receiving funding is very low in comparison to the other local authorities in the Black Country.

As a result I have been discussing alternative approaches with colleagues (Becky and Helena from Dudley CVS, Jacki from Dudley MBC and Ruth from Walsall Council) in order to redress that balance and motivate organisations within the Dudley borough to consider this funding programme. The key area of our discussions has been around the range of support all of us can provide to potential applicants.

The programme itself

The Black Country Community Grants Programme is jointly funded by the Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and the European Social Fund (ESF) providing small grants (£5,000-£20,000) to be distributed in the Black Country region during the period 1 April 2019-31 July 2021. The administration of the programme is managed by Walsall Council providing a range of support to potential applicants as the Grant Co-ordinating Body.

Small community and voluntary groups, charities or not-for-profit organisations (annual turnover below £300,000) based in and providing services in the Black Country that help an individual’s progress towards employability/access to employment are eligible to apply. Grants can be used for the delivery of a range of skills and employment support activities that will engage with people aged over 16 who are hard to reach, affected by multiple disadvantages, unemployed and economically inactive. Projects should help them improve their skills/job prospects to progress towards/obtain employment with priority for over 50s, females, disabled people and ethnic minorities.

One of the charities to already benefit from Community Grants is Top Church Training (also known as The Connect Project), which has been supported by Dudley CVS colleagues for over 10 years. Top Church Training received a grant of just under £20,000 to run the Choices Project, which aims to empower women and provides a holistic package to support the participant’s wellbeing.

The Choices project offers a range of activities from Craft sessions to Yoga, Coffee mornings to Cooking classes. Each of these sessions take place every week and are ran in groups to help to decrease isolation and low levels of confidence.

The majority of participants are long term unemployed, the Choices project is supporting local women to feel more “work ready” by building up their skills and confidence. Top Church Training’s Head of Operations said:

We are delighted to have been successful with our ESF Community Grants application. 

The funding has enabled us to expand our activities and practical support service to help more women in our local community who are feeling lonely and isolated. 

We have been able to provide a safe environment for women to come to, to meet new people and to make new friends. By coming to our groups we are hearing how this is improving their mental health, their confidence and self-esteem and for two others, has motivated them to find employment.

Top Church Training

The Top Church Training Team

The support available to organisations interested in learning more about and applying to the programme

In Dudley borough, we’ve a team of people who can support organisations making applications to this funding programme:

  • Martin Jones (Funding Officer at Dudley CVS) can discuss the application process with potential applicants and provide guidance on completion of the application form. Once the form is completed I’ll review the application before submission to ensure all the relevant information is included and all questions have been answered in full.
  • Jacki Lakin (External Funding and Compliance Officer at Dudley Council) is passionate about Dudley based organisations being properly resourced for their very valuable work in communities and is very keen to assist applicants to this programme helping them obtain funding to continue providing essential activities and projects for their beneficiaries. She will meet with organisations and discuss ways in which she can support them.
  • Ruth Burgess (External Funding and Community Grants Manager at Walsall MBC) manages a small team running the Black Country Community Grants programme. She is responsible for delivering the programme within each of the four boroughs and meets with organisations on a regular basis both before submission of applications and afterwards if they are successful. Her team provide one-to-one support so that organisations have help and guidance when running their projects.
  • Becky Pickin (Small Groups Development Officer at Dudley CVS) has been working with small organisations for over a decade helping them not only with applying for grants but also ensuring they are in a position to apply for funding. It is important that organisations are fit for purpose before making funding applications and Becky ensures they have the correct structure in place as well as all relevant policies and procedures. She also assists with business planning ensuring that fundraising is driven by their future priorities and aspirations so they can continue providing excellent services to people in need.
  • Helena Norman (Dudley CVS Communications Officer) can help organisations tell their stories and celebrate their successes more widely so that they can not only become better known but they can also be more attractive to potential funders. Helena could help organisations develop their social media presence so that they can have a wider and more engaging reach.

Future plans to increase the number of applications to Black Country Community Grants

In January we’ll be producing a podcast about the fund involving ourselves at the CVS alongside Jacki and Ruth. We aim to dispel the myths around the difficulties in running projects/activities and the recording of data/outcomes achieved etc. We will clarify aspects of the whole procedure from application to conclusion and the support available along the way.

We’ll also gauge interest in a Community Grants focused event in February where people can learn more and meet those involved in the programme who can provide support to them.

All of this will take place so that organisations will have the opportunity to apply for a Community Grant in either of the three forthcoming rounds (4, 5 and 6) with deadlines 2 March, 1 May and 3 July 2020.

Watch this space for further communication and details about the Black Country Community Grants programme!

Update, January 2020

Community Grants workshop for Dudley borough!

We’ve organised a workshop where you can learn more about Community Grants, meet us to talk about your ideas and get support.

The workshop will take place on Wednesday 26 February, 10am-12noon in Dudley. Book your free place here!

Airtime: A friendly space to meet other people living with COPD and related conditions

At the Dudley CVS Annual Awards and AGM this year we spotlighted some of the amazing groups and individuals we supported during 2018/19. One of those groups was Airtime, a weekly group for members of the community with COPD and related conditions, developed by Integrated Plus and Healthwatch Dudley. Our work with the group over the last year has helped them to become independent and sustainable.

Dudley now has a sustained peer support group for individuals with chronic lung conditions which helps to improve confidence and quality of life. The group have now taken on leadership responsibilities and contribute to the health and wellbeing of its members. They are now looking to expand and find others with similar conditions who may like to join their group.

Members of Airtime understand how important it is to have the opportunity to meet with others experiencing similar challenges in a safe and caring environment. One of the groups main aims is to combat the feeling of isolation by giving people a chance to meet like-minded people with similar lung conditions in social surroundings. It’s a space to relieve stress, to laugh and feel the camaraderie. You can get involved in many activities including arts and crafts, bingo and quizzes, gentle exercises such as seated yoga, tai-chi and meditation. There are informative and educational talks, films, and musical performances.

We caught up with Angela, Dave and Jean at DY1 Community Building on Stafford Street, where the group is held each Thursday from 1pm, to find out how more about their conditions, the impact that Airtime has had on their lives and their exciting plans to develop the group for the benefit of members.

 

Angela has been coming to Airtime since 2016, she has emphysema, a condition that causes shortness of breath,

“Suddenly I had somewhere to go where there were people with the same problems as me. Everybody understands how you feel and we help each other, so you’re not trying to deal with it on your own.

Airtime has given me another interest. With my husband at work all day, I was at home on my own a lot. If you’re sitting at home looking at four walls you can get quite depressed. It doesn’t start until 1, but you’ll find most people turn up in the café at 12 just to have a chat. Suddenly you are not so isolated, you’ve got a friend at the end of the phone. Your mental and physical health improves. It’s like a family.

We talk to each other in a language we can all understand. We can learn things from each other that a consultant might not talk to you about.

There is a core of 20 people that come frequently and others occasionally. It’s just good to come out, talk to somebody and have a laugh. We like the group to bring ideas forward so everyone is involved in planning what we do.

Since joining Airtime, I’ve actually gone on to join many other groups. I’m a Healthwatch Community Reporter, I’m also a part of a research group. It gives you the feeling that you count again as a person, suddenly you are not just a patient.”

The group also have a Christmas party meal with entertainment where they have a raffle to help them to raise money for the group’s activities.

 Jean has long term bronchiectasis which she developed when she was 10. “My condition is progressive, but very slowly. You can live with it, but if you get an infection it’s a struggle. You get through it, but it limits your life.

I love coming to Airtime, I’ve met some really nice people. You build some really good friendships. I met Dave at Airtime, and he’s now one of my best friends. The main thing is to get up off your settee and get out! Every Thursday, I think, it’s Airtime today, and I love it.

The respiratory nurses that come have been massively helpful, although it’s stuff we’ve all been through before, sometimes it goes out of your mind and for them to come in and refresh your memory is massively helpful.”

Dave has had Bronchiectasis for 25 years, he holds the position of Treasurer and also likes to organise quizzes for the group, “I lost my wife about 7 years ago, and when she went, I was completely lost. After 2 years of lying on the settee, I thought, I can’t carry on like this, I’ve got to do something. That’s when I found out about Airtime. For the first time I went dancing, and I met Kathy, who I’ve been with ever since. It’s given me the confidence to go out and meet new people and it’s also something to look forward to.”

The group have been running independently for 6 months now, they are planning activities and making their own decisions. Dudley CVS supported them to look at the frameworks within which they could operate, and the implications of running the group independently. Together they developed a simple constitution and elected the first committee to run the group democratically. Airtime was one amongst 200 hundred not-for-profits we supported last year.

Dave said, “Looking after Airtime now and being part of the committee has given me an extra lease in life. Now I do extra things for the group which I really enjoy. It’s brought me out of myself. Being treasurer also gives me something to do at home.

We ask new people to take a survey when they join Airtime, after 6 months we ask them to take the survey again to see if coming to the group has made a difference to their lives. Nearly everybody has commented about being able to get out of the house, most people were isolated. For some people, Airtime is the only thing they do. You can see people improving, it helps them to manage their condition.”

After our chat, we went to meet the rest of the group who were busy getting creative carving pumpkins and making Halloween crafts. The group also had a special visit from Chief Superintendent, Sally Bourner, who presented them with their Dudley CVS Spotlight certificate, a surprise for the benefit of those who weren’t present at the awards evening.

So, what can you expect if you dropped by Airtime? A warm welcome that’s for sure! A place to meet new people, take part in fun activities and listen to talks from respiratory experts and other guests. The chance to mix with other people living with respiratory conditions and to make friends. A lovely afternoon out for free with a superb supply of tea and biscuits of course!

If you are interested in joining Airtime Dudley, it’s free and runs each Thursday from 1pm – 3pm at DY1 Community Building, Stafford Street, Dudley, DY1 1RT and is open to anyone suffering from chronic lung conditions such as COPD, pulmonary fibrosis or bronchiectasis.

New members are very welcome.

For further information please feel free to contact Angela Rea angela2ree@gmail.com or Dave Taylor on axnfel@talktalk.net

Over £11million over 11 years! 261 nonprofits, 113 grants programmes, 614 successful applications supported

Did you know that over the last 11 years, Martin and I have supported nonprofits to access more than £11million in grant funding? You probably didn’t because we only recently realised this ourselves!

Given that Martin and I have recently completed our eleventh year at Dudley CVS, and because we’re both utter geeks when it comes to keeping records of the people and groups we’ve worked with over that time, we thought it would be interesting to pull together all of our data about successful funding applications we’ve worked on. We’re both pretty staggered by (and proud of) the results.

Martin and I joined Dudley CVS within a month of each other back in 2008. Over those years we’ve worked together and helped each other to offer the best support possible to all types and sizes of not-for-profit.

My role is about helping people that want to establish or develop their not-for-profit by providing them with information, guidance and support on a range of topics they’re likely to run into, including:

  • What type of not-for-profit? Such as the concept of social enterprise, the definition of charity, appropriate legal structures
  • Planning, including long term vision, mission, purpose-setting, project planning, reviewing the organisation, financial planning
  • Roles and responsibilities of the people that lead not-for-profits, including governance training for directors and trustees
  • Connecting with others, which is becoming increasingly important
  • Governing documents and registration
  • Compliance – including regulatory obligations, insurance, reporting and policies and procedures
  • Profile-raising
  • Asset development and asset transfer
  • Fundraising and income-generation

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When I support groups with funding, it tends to be as part of wider support to help a group become established and ‘funding ready’, such as Dudley Feelgood Choir, Wall Heath Tennis Club and Bayer Street Allotments, though I do also help groups to identify appropriate funders for their work or projects and they do the rest. The idea is to give support in a way that helps groups to become more skilled and confident in putting applications together.

Martin’s role focuses on income-generation and because of this, he primarily supports organisations with larger bids. Martin says,

“Like the support groups give to their beneficiaries to help them to increase their skills, confidence and ability to do things for themselves, the way I work with groups can start quite intensively with a lot of handholding until they are in a position to work on an application themselves with me on hand to review it before it’s submitted. Lots of the people I worked with years ago are now flying with their bidwriting!

I supported Dudley Voices for Choice who received £415,720 at the end of 2018. What stood out for me was how the group involved their beneficiaries throughout the process as well as the enthusiasm of the partners in the project led excellently by Sarah.

Overall 80% of the organisations I have supported during the last 11 years have received funding.

Over the last eleven years, between us, we’ve supported:

261 organisations

With 614 successful applications

To 113 grants programmes

Totalling £11,764,436.65 (65p!)”

Of course, this only covers the work that Martin and I have done to support organisations as that’s the data we have to hand. The real total over that eleven years is likely to be much higher if we could incorporate the support that our previous colleagues gave too. On top of that, for obvious reasons, we can only include the successes that our groups have told us about, which doesn’t always happen. Nonetheless, there’s some interesting things to say about the figures we’ve got.

  • The largest single grant was for £800,000 from the Football Foundation to a local community football club (one of Martin’s)
  • The smallest grants were two £30 grants from TESCO and the Blakemore Foundation to help the Seniors Luncheon Club get started in 2009 (they’re still going now!)

Here’s a breakdown by grant size:

86% of grants were valued at £10,000 or less. The majority of grants (35%) were for under £1,000, while 33% of grants ranged from £1,000-£5,000. This means well over half the grants (68%) were awards of up to £5,000. 18% of grants were between £5,000 and £10,000 in value. I think this suggests that most of these awards are contributions towards project costs, rather than core funding.

Which funding programmes have been the most accessed by the groups we’ve supported over the last decade? This graphic shows us:

67 of the 113 (59%) of funding programmes made one grant only (that we know of), the remaining 41% gave multiple grants amongst the groups we supported. When we support groups, we help them to identify the most appropriate funders for their needs, matching projects to funders’ interests areas and criteria. This is why there is a spread of 113 grants programmes.

Within that, the ten most prolific grants programmes were:

  • Dudley Council’s Community Forums (including previous Area Committee funding)
  • Awards for All (National Lottery Community Fund, formerly Big Lottery Fund)
  • Dudley Borough Small Grants Fund
  • Grassroots Grants
  • Rant About the Grant
  • Improving Physical Activity Fund
  • Reaching Communities (National Lottery Community Fund, formerly Big Lottery Fund)
  • Dudley Council’s Small Grants Fund
  • Ibstock Enovert Environmental Trust (formerly Ibstock Cory Environmental Trust)
  • BeActive Coaching Bursary

What’s staggering in this list is that 6 of the ten programmes no longer operate and have not been in operation for some years now (programmes that have come to an end are: Dudley Borough Small Grants Fund, Grassroots Grants, Rant About the Grant, Improving Physical Activity Fund, Dudley Council’s Small Grants, BeActive Coaching Bursary). This chimes with our knowledge and our increasing encouragement of groups to look to new sources of income as grant funding opportunities continue to reduce, because the four remaining funders may not be able to increase their level of award.

What else can we say about these grants programmes? We can see how much they have granted the Dudley borough groups we’ve supported:

An enormous 55% of funding awarded to the groups we’ve supported has come from Reaching Communities, that’s £6,507,553.00 of the £11,764,436.65 total! This is perhaps due to a combination of the size of grants available through this programme, its popularity as a programme and the relatively high success rate it enjoys. Other popular programmes like Awards for All and the Community Forums give smaller grants (up to £10,000 and £5,000 respectively).

Martin says,

“As regards Reaching Communities I have a success rate of almost 60% in both number of successful applications and grant values. 50% of the groups I’ve supported with Reaching Communities have received repeat funding from that programme. These include Phase Trust (3), Dudley Counselling Centre/Dudley Community Church (3), Beacon Centre for the Blind (2), Age UK (2) and Headway Black Country (2).

As for high-value grants, some of my highlights are:

£538,524 over 3 applications to an organisation that supports older people

£513,525 over 3 applications to a disability charity

£1,238,328 from 10 applications from a faith-based organisation that supports vulnerable and disadvantaged people

£679,411 across 4 applications from an advocacy charity

£646,272 from 4 applications by a health-based charity

7 applications with a family support charity, totaling £289,016

7 applications supported with a young persons charity, totaling £1,019,710

15 applications supported from a charity that empowers disadvantaged people, totaling £566,465

6 successful applications supported from a young persons advocacy charity, totaling £614,592″

The National Lottery Community Fund (formerly known as the Big Lottery Fund) which runs Reaching Communities, features elsewhere in this top ten, with Awards for All, Advice Services Fund and the Youth Investment Fund accounting for around 10% of money awarded. So what does the picture look like if we combine the programmes run by one funder?

Unsurprisingly, the National Lottery Community Fund makes up 65% of the total money awarded to groups we’ve supported over the past eleven years. Other funders have contributed as follows:

  • Football Foundation 6.8%
  • Young People’s Fund 2.62%
  • Dudley Council 2.51%
  • BBC Children in Need 2.42%
  • Lloyds Bank Foundation 2.39%
  • Building Better Opportunities 2.38%
  • Sport England 1.89%
  • Ibstock Cory Environmental Trust 1.6%
  • Grassroots Grants 1.3%
  • Remaining funders combined 11.25

The National Lottery Community Fund is still keen to fund Dudley borough organisations and we have great links with John Goodman, the Funding Officer from The National Lottery Community Fund who covers our patch. John is available at our office on Wednesdays to meet organisations interested in accessing funding from The National Lottery Community Fund. To arrange an appointment, email John at john.goodman@tnlcommunityfund.org.uk.

A new fund for Dudley borough

Finally, Dudley CVS has recently launched a new fund for organisations that can develop and provide creative support for people who frequently use unplanned emergency care services (such as calling 999, attending A&E or Urgent Care Centre).

Grants of up to £5,000 are available to support this work and there are no deadlines. For more information, visit: https://interests.me/org/dudleycvs/story/177364

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.

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.

‘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

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!

 

 

Building friendships for people with dementia and their carers in Brierley Hill

Meet Paul and Alison. They’re the team behind the lovely Alzheimer’s and Friendship Group that meets at the Storehouse in Brierley Hill on most Monday evenings. It’s a place where people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia and their carers can come to meet others, share mutual support and make friends.

I visited them recently to learn more about them and what the group means to the people that attend.

As soon as I got to the door, I was greeted by Paul, who welcomed me into the Storehouse coffee shop which was laid out nicely so that everyone could see and talk to each other, or talk in smaller groups if they wanted to. I introduced myself to everyone and soon people started telling me their own stories about caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, which I think was a sign of how comfortable they felt in their surroundings.

Paul and Alison clearly have time for everyone who walks through the door, helping them to feel welcome, wanted and comfortable. This is something that they’ve been doing for the past nine years; I was bowled over to learn that the group had been going for that long, just over the road from my office!

Back in 2009, Paul, who has a background of working with people with dementia, met someone who couldn’t go out because of their caring role. In response to this, he and Alison, who worked with older people, thought about providing respite, a space for people with dementia while their carers got some time to themselves. They spoke to Albion Street Church, who agreed to let Paul and Alison use some space, first in the church itself and then in the Storehouse when it was refurbished. The Church also holds a small budget for the group which they can dip into for things like refreshments and entertainment, though they rarely use it and make sure it goes a long way!

Over the years, the group has been flexible to the wishes of its participants. While some carers have brought their loved ones and taken advantage of the respite offered, other carers have stayed with their loved ones and participated in the activities. At the moment, the regular participants are all former carers, who continue to attend for the companionship they have gained over the years; none of the participants knew each other before they started attending the group. Some come from as far as Sedgley because of their shared experiences of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. As we all shared our emotional experiences of loving and losing someone with Alzheimer’s, it did feel good to take some solace from people who had experienced it too. I can completely see how the Alzheimer’s and Friendship Groups helps people to feel less isolated.

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On the evening of my visit, we were treated to some entertainment from Rachel a talented  musician, who played a range of pieces on saxophone. As a music obsessive myself, this was a peaceful treat and I think everyone enjoyed it! In fact, Alzheimer’s Society says that

evidence suggests that the brain processes music differently to other functions, allowing people with dementia to enjoy songs and music long after other abilities are challenged.

Rachel is connected to the Church herself and she gave her time and skills freely to entertain us for a couple of hours on a Monday night. This group really is a great example of how great things can happen with the right ingredients: people with a passion; a friendly venue and a supportive organisation behind them; good connections which can be mobilised for very little outlay. This is why I hadn’t heard of the group before: they have everything they need to succeed!

Of course, this group is open to new members, whether they’re carers, cared-for, or both. So if you’re interested in making new friends in a supportive environment, the Alzheimer’s a Friendship Group meets on Monday evenings February-December (except bank holidays), 6pm onwards.

It’s wonderful that the Alzheimer’s and Friendship Group exists. According to figures from Alzheimer’s Society:

  • 225,000 people will develop dementia this year – one every three minutes
  • There are 670,000 carers of people with dementia in the UK
  • In 2015, an estimated 850,000 people were living with dementia

So there’s room for groups like this and others to create supportive environments for carers and their loved ones. In fact, in Coseley residents have been coming together to develop a Dementia Friendly Cinema to help people with dementia to stay connected in their community. Using a wonderful guide from Alzheimer’s Society to make small adaptations to help people with dementia feel safe and supported, they’ve had one screening and are planning another soon. The next screening will be Some Like It Hot on Tuesday 16 October, at 2pm. To register for this, please visit the Coseley Community Cinema page.

If you’d like to get more involved with either the Alzheimer’s and Friendship Group or the Coseley Dementia Cinema, then please feel free to get in touch and I’ll link you with them.