Resources for charities and not-for-profits during the Coronavirus pandemic

It’s probably fair to say that it’s an uncertain time for the not-for-profit sector. The Coronavirus pandemic has affected organisations in different ways, depending on their activities, their size or how they’re funded. Some have had to suspend their activities; others have continued but scaled down; some have had their income streams completely dry up; others have faced an unprecendented increase in demand. Odds are also that added into that mix have been the challenges of doing things differently, loss of staff or volunteers due to sickness, shielding or furlough, and mental health implications.

Reassuringly, people have come forward in their droves to help in their community; this is very welcome and many of us are beginning to think about how this impetus is best harnessed as we enter new phases. The increase in volunteering could pose challenges in itself as organisations try to ensure that people volunteer safely.

I wanted to bring together some of the useful things we’ve been sharing to help not-for-profits over the past few months, share what’s coming up and pose some questions for us to explore over the next few months.

I’ll start with what’s coming up.

Next week is Small Charity Week and there are lots of events listed on the Small Charity Week website. We’re hosting three events next week.

Virtual drop in SCW

On Tuesday, we’ll host a virtual drop-in for small charities, voluntary groups & nonprofits. We can chat about anything to do with running a not-for-profit. We’ll also be joined by Jade from Severn Trent Community Fund and John from The National Lottery Community Fund.

Charity governance code SCW

On Thursday, we’ll run a brief training workshop on the Charity Governance Code to help trustees understand their role. It will be most useful for trustees of registered charities or people who are thinking of registering their organisation as a charity.

Sector catch up

And on Friday, we’ll host a sector catch up for charities, voluntary groups and other nonprofits. An opportunity to network, to catch up with developments and to discuss moving forward through the Covid19 pandemic.

NCVO (National Council of Voluntary Organisations) is also hosting a webinar on ‘Building organisational resilience: things for small charities to consider‘ next Wednesday.

This builds on the excellent series of webinars NCVO has produced on a whole range of topics, from protecting people, financial planning and making decisions during the Coronavirus pandemic. The webinars are all recorded and published on Youtube, so don’t worry if you’ve missed any; you can access them here.

I recently caught the recent NCVO webinar on ‘Board leadership: Supporting your charity through the next phase of the Coronavirus pandemic’

It encourages you to think about where your board of trustees are currently. Have they been helping out with delivery recently? It’s important to understand where the board is so that it can move on from emergency / survival stage and into the next phase; easing the board from management into governance and setting the charity’s direction will be important. And if planning might seem a futile exercise at the moment, there are some tools and tips for planning during uncertain times.

Finally, in case you missed our updates on our news page and in our regular email bulletin (you can sign up to that here), here’s a round up of the things we’ve put together over the last few months. The first two links are still regularly updated as the situation is changing quickly:

Help for not-for-profits

This resource covers

  • government guidance on working and providing services during the pandemic
  • guidance on governing your organisation, holding meetings, AGMs and other legal compliance matters
  • HR tools
  • financial help

It is regularly updated and visiting the page will always give you the most up-to-date version.

Funders for Covid-19

Covid19 funding

This is a comprehensive list of funders that have grants programmes for projects that will support the community during the ongoing pandemic.

It is regularly updated and visiting the page will always give you the most up-to-date version.

Helping in your community during Covid-19

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For both individuals who want to help and groups that have been taking on more volunteers during the period. This contains

  • hints and tips for what individual volunteers can do to keep themselves and others safe
  • ideas for what people can do to help depending on their circumstances
  • help and resources for groups that involve volunteers covering safety, confidentiality, lone working guidance and more.

We are still offering one-to-one support to Dudley borough groups. We can offer this support either by email or by online meetings. We do have quite a bit of demand so we appreciate your patience on this; please don’t hesitate to make contact with us!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sheila Jones, volunteer.

Read more…

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

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

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

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

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

Read more… 

Volunteer, Francesca, said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more…

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

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

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

Read more…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

Why not nominate your Covid Hero/es today!

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

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

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

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

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

The background

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

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

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

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

The amazing volunteers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

thank you heart text

Photo by Řaj Vaishnaw on Pexels.com

Thank you; you’re all stars.

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

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.

Great news from the brand new Priory Community Centre!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the volunteers transforming Lye and Wollescote Cemetery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thirty years supporting people who have suffered a stroke and their families

Anne Adams, Dudley CVS Trustee, has been supporting people who have suffered a stroke and their families for more than thirty years and is now up for an award for her lifelong dedication to helping others.

After forming Dudley Stroke Association in 1987, Anne still devotes many hours of her time to the organisation, supporting people who have been affected by strokes throughout their journey to better health.

Through the organisation, Anne also coordinates evening events, coffee mornings, day trips and lunch clubs for people who have been through a stroke. Anne said:

“Our motto ever since we started in 1987 is ‘there is life after stroke’ because people who have been through it feel so isolated and alone before they realise support is out there.”

In 1977, Anne worked as a speech therapist with people affected by stroke. In those early days, Anne was convinced more could be done to help both the person suffering a stroke and their loved ones. In 1982, Anne formed the Dudley Stroke Club to provide opportunities to share experiences and organise social events. But specific information about how to help people post-stroke was very limited.

In 1987, a stroke victim, Jeanne Hignett, encouraged Anne to create Dudley Stroke Association.

Between 1987 and 2007 Anne wore two hats, by day a professional speech therapist and at other times a volunteer champion of the work of Dudley Stroke Association and people affected by stroke.

Anne retired from paid work in 2007, but continued to give her time volunteering with the Dudley Stroke Association.

About her 25 years as a Dudley CVS Board Member, Anne said, “Dudley Stroke Association is indebted to Dudley CVS for the help and support we have received over many years, particularly when we were applying for Charity status. Dudley Stroke association would not be where it is today without Dudley CVS. I feel privileged to be a Board Member.”

Today, Anne has been nominated for volunteer of the year at the Great Big Thank You Awards.

Anne said: “If I won the Volunteer of the Year Award, it would really be for everyone who has helped make the group what it is today. It would be for all the people who have worked so hard to overcome their obstacles. For all those people who have tried so hard to get their lives back on track after going through such a difficult time.”

Each day, until November 18th special vote tokens will be published in the Express & Star to collect. For more information on how to vote for Anne visit: http://www.starthankyou.expressandstar.co.uk/

A year of DY1-stop shop!

It’s been a year since Eileen and I launched ‘DY1-stop shop‘, our monthly drop-in for anyone with questions about community groups, charities, social enterprises, getting involved in community activities or volunteering.

Here’s a little infographic that gives you a little bit more detail about the kinds of conversations we’ve been having over the first year!

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I’ve really enjoyed working in this way. It’s a non-threatening way for people to make their first contact with us and it’s quite fun not knowing what to expect from one month to the next! I think Eileen and I have both benefited from each other’s differing knowledge and skills, on top of those of our colleagues we’ve been able to call on by virtue of simply being in the same place – thanks to Donna, Nicki, and Melissa from Healthwatch Dudley for being there for us! It’s meant that people have left us buzzing with new ideas, contacts and lines of inquiry.

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Most recently, Eileen and I met Cllr Steve Waltho and his wife, Jayne, who are part of a new group being set up to keep alive the legacy of Dudley mountain climber and peace campaigner Bert Bissell. I gave Steve some help with a constitution to help formalise the Bert Bissell Memorial Society and Eileen had lots of ideas for connections the new group could make.

At April’s DY1-stop shop we’ll be joined by our Funding Officer, Martin and Inderjit Nijjer who’s the External Funding and Community Grants Manager on the ESF Programme at Walsall Council. Inderjit will be available to answer any questions you may have about the ESF grants programme.

DY1-stop shop is open on the first Wednesday of every month, 10am-1pm in the coffee shop of DY1, Stafford Street, Dudley. Maybe I’ll see you there soon!

Celebrating our work with people, communities and organisations

Dudley CVS Annual Report, 2014-15

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

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Six simple steps to involving volunteers for small charities @SCWeek2015

Eileen (@dudleyvols) has shared a nice, visual six simple steps to involving volunteers in advance of Small Charity Week when we’ll be holding a drop in to answer all of your volunteer-involving questions on Thursday 18th June, 1pm-5pm.

Why not drop into our office between those times or, if you can’t make it, ask your questions here, on the Volunteer Centre blog, Twitter or Facebook and we’ll do our best to answer them for you.

As Eileen said, she can help you every step of the way and all year round to help your volunteers have the best possible experience with you.