Community and opportunity on the up for people in Willenhall

Wood Side Family Hub

28 September 2018.

Sitting across the table from John Toman and Ravinder Dhadda, it is easy to get a strong sense of the time and energy they are committing to making the Ignite partnership a success.

John is the team leader of four Grapevine ‘connectors’ – himself included – and Ravinder, or Rav as she prefers to be called, is a legal advisor for Central England Law Centre. All are based primarily at Wood Side Family Hub – a Coventry City Council community facility in the heart of Willenhall.

John Toman from Ignite

Combining a constant flow of ‘connecting’ work with sound legal advice for local people since Ignite launched two years ago this month, John, Rav and the rest of the team are really starting to reap the rewards of their joint efforts, agreeing that this summer has been “the best six weeks so far”.

Those six weeks have seen Ignite trawling local primary school lost property stores for forgotten items of uniform and returning them to a clean, ready to be re-loved state with the use of the hub’s washing machine.

Local families coming to the usual Wednesday hub grub club (more on this later) were able to browse the collection and take whatever they needed – without having to come to a dedicated event and perhaps feel a little embarrassed about it.

The good will was subsequently returned when Mums and Dads who’d claimed items for their families, brought back their own outgrown uniforms for other parents to take home too.

Ravinder Dhadda from Ignite

Rav said: “There’s no stigma attached to needing larger-sized uniform all the time – children grow at a rapid rate – but sometimes people feel it anyway.

“Putting the clothing rail out at an event that was already happening allowed parents to take a look through, chat to their neighbours and experience a real sense of community with immediate effect.”

In fact, the uniform swap was such a success that next year John and Rav hope local groups such as Women of Willenhall (WoW) will take the helm, working with the community’s four primary schools and one another to keep it going.

“The hub had previously been seen as a ‘provider of needs’,” says John.

“But Ignite is showing how public services can partner with communities in new ways and as a result, people become more open to receiving help when they need it.”

Recently, that help has also included the aforementioned hub grub club to combat some of the ‘holiday hunger’ experienced by low income families feeding children all day during school holidays. This can often mean a choice between buying food and paying rent.

Some funding for the club came via the city council from national food poverty charity Feeding Britain and more came from direct food donations from the community.

The work complements existing help for families coming from St. John the Divine Church in Robin Hood Road and Midland Langer Service which provides basic food for communal settings in three Coventry temples.

Midland Langer Service has been bringing food to the Family Hub each week – creating a ‘takeaway’ style feel to Wednesday evenings where local people can socialise and enjoy a hot meal together.

Many children in Willenhall don’t have holidays away from home either, putting added pressure on parents to keep them entertained out of school. The Family Hub offers an outlet for this with an outdoor play area plus parties and workshops designed and delivered by groups such as Friends of Wood Side which was started up spontaneously by some local Mums.

During term time there’s a homework club on a Monday run by a local teenager.

These activities are just the tip of iceberg for the Ignite experiment, which has another two years left to run – with the hope of leaving a lasting legacy in Willenhall where public services act earlier, build community strength and release their capacity to solve many of their own problems as they arise.

The Ignite Partnership has its own dedicated website at www.cnccoventry.org.uk

Follow their activities and updates on Twitter @CoventryIgnite

Find out more about Coventry’s family hubs here.

The power of six – social action plan making headway in Stoke Aldermoor

28 September 2018.

Six women from Stoke Aldermoor are channelling their efforts into creating a social plan that could secure £250,000 of Big Lottery funding for their community.

The group meets weekly at the local community centre to exchange stories and ideas about how they might transform their neighbourhood for the better. They also meet once a month at Catherine’s Church for a social supper with another six residents who are interested in helping.

Welcome to Stoke Aldermoor Social Supper

Some of the forerunners from the ideas pooled so far include opening a one stop shop in the area for support; more training opportunities for young people; improved provision for families to build parenting skills and raise aspirations; a family walking group; a summer school; and the creation of an annual festival to celebrate Stoke Aldermoor’s diversity and boost community cohesion.

But this is no casual chat over a cuppa – these women with differing backgrounds, home lives and cultural heritage, are forging ahead with a joint plan to make these ideas happen. Women who may not otherwise have come into contact with one another had it not been for this common purpose.

Together they want to make the neighbourhood they inhabit better – moving away from issues of crime, drug use, community tensions, inadequate access to local travel networks and feelings of isolation towards realising their vision of a safer, more cohesive place to live.

They were connected by Mel and Dom from Grapevine who, together with Community Development Workers Lorna and Stef from Coventry City Council, had hundreds of conversations as well as listening events with local people.

Mel and Dom join the weekly sessions, rallying the women to keep their eyes on the prize and helping them develop the best plan to attract the funding they want.

They bolster the group with support from the further six ‘social supper’ residents plus four associate members – from the local library, Aldermoor Farm primary school, Stoke Aldermoor community centre and St Catherine’s Church.

Statutory agencies such as the city council are also remain in the mix, offering their specific expertise on neighbourhood services and local communities to the plan. More partner organisations have also expressed an interest in being involved.

Dom says: “Everyone involved is passionate about making change happen. But for a long while, Stoke Aldermoor’s experiences as a deprived area of Coventry has affected its residents and the perceptions of those outside of it.

“The frustration is how to change the area so people living there benefit from the same opportunities, neighbourliness and community pride we might see in other parts of the city.

“That doesn’t mean these things don’t already exist in Stoke Aldermoor – we just need to build them up.

“And part of that is the realisation they have the power to make the change themselves and sustain it for future generations.”

The future generation plays an important role in the present, as the group continues to develop its plan. The son and daughter of one of the Group members – who is originally from the Congo in Africa – have received listening training from Grapevine so they can in turn consult with 16-25 year olds in the area.

Dom continues: “We’re all trying to come at this with fresh eyes and an open agenda – what’s the dream and how can we get there? So who better to speak to young people than young people themselves?

“And just because there are currently six in the group, plus another ten supporting from the sidelines, we realise many more people care about the future of Stoke Aldermoor.

“We want them on board too so the voices of all sections of the community can be heard.”

The deadline for the social change plan to be submitted to Big Lottery Fund is the end of October – so watch this space for news!

It’s not a movement if it doesn’t move without you…

14 September 2018.

It's not a movement if it doesn't move without you

At Grapevine, we don’t think of ourselves as providers of ‘social care’ or that we are a social care organisation.

If we aren’t these things, then what are we?

Grapevine CEO Clare Wightman explains: “We aid people and communities to find a voice, organise, advocate for shared interests, and bring about change.”

To read on, please click this link to her latest post on the Social Care Future blog – an informal, volunteer-run platform for people wishing to bring about major positive change in ‘social care’.

“Thought-provoking” plays demonstrate how to talk to families in need

Geese Theatre performing for Ignite Coventry

25 July 2018.

A troupe of actors have helped to highlight why some families in Coventry are needlessly living in poverty for an audience of the city’s social welfare practitioners.

The ‘First Meetings’ session was part of Coventry City Council’s Practice Week 2018 at the end of June which aimed to bring together Children’s and Adults Services teams for a week of learning, developing and challenging the way they do things.

Audience hands up
The audience getting involved

The session at Willenhall Social Club was put together by Ignite – a partnership formed by Grapevine and Central England Law Centre to demonstrate how vital first meetings are in creating lasting relationships that mean people or families can and will access ‘early help’.

Early help is support and services offered in the early stages of challenges or problems that families may face such as parenting, education, health or financial issues. The idea being that with early help, families overcome these problems, become stronger and no longer need ongoing support from services or reach crisis point.

Loosely based on real life cases, the performance focused on three stories exploring the kinds of problems families appear to have and the root causes which may lie beneath. Some causes are as preventable as mistakes in benefit payments, sanctions or missed opportunities to get financial support.

Audience watching
The performance focused thoughts on first meetings

Others situations will clearly be more multi-layered and complex but the golden thread running throughout is how the first interaction with a health, housing, education or social welfare professional can shape how help is offered and families’ enthusiasm to let the help in.

The ‘First Meetings’ actors were professionals supplied by Geese Theatre Company which specialises in interactive theatre, drama based group work, staff training and consultation services for the criminal justice system.

In feedback collated at the end of the “thought-provoking” and “inspirational” session, one participant commented it reminded them that “families are real people and their priorities are not always the same as ours.”

More than nine out of ten respondents agreed the session made them reflect on the importance of identifying people’s strengths as well as concerns.

The session also offered an opportunity to get to know and learn from other professionals, find out more about what services are out there and to reflect on the usefulness of creative thinking in finding answers.

It builds on work underway in Willenhall and city-wide through Ignite to raise awareness of the importance building good relationships early on and recognising poverty and its impact.

About Ignite

Central England Law Centre and Grapevine have formed ‘Ignite’ with the ambition of nurturing stronger communities in Willenhall who get early and effective help.

Our partners, Coventry City Council and WM Housing Group are using Ignite to learn how they can turn lives around and save money in the long run – changing how public services are delivered and needs met.

Ignite demonstrates how the public sector can partner with people and communities in new ways… acting earlier, building strengths and releasing capacity.

A Better Way to help Chris and Margaret

A Better Way Network logo

4 July 2018.

Wednesday again and that can only mean one thing – another trip to London for our CEO Clare!

Insights for a Better Way report cover
Insights for a Better Way

This week she’s attending the launch of a book of essays – or ‘insights’ – for A Better Way.

A Better Way is a national network of social activists from the voluntary sector and beyond, focused around a shared vision of better services and stronger communities everywhere.

They want to use their ideas, knowledge and experiences to help make this vision a reality – where people and places are no longer treated as ‘passive recipients of services, as problems to be solved, or as failing communities’.

As a member of this network and contributor to the collection of essays’ latest volume, Clare will talk to the audience at the launch event about how building on strengths is better than focusing on weaknesses. Her story, ‘The Good and the Bad’ is illustrated through the experiences of Coventry couple, Chris and Margaret.

“Chris, Margaret and their daughter lived on a tough estate. Some neighbours spotted their vulnerability.

‘They swore and shouted us. Put rubbish through our letterbox. They would knock our door at night with masks on. They even stole our daughter’s birthday balloons and banners.’

“Faced with Chris and Margaret’s experiences we had a choice. We could have just given them a service, a set of transactions – called the police, called the social landlord, supported them to have their say in meetings and make reports to both. But then at the close of day they’d have gone home, to the estate, alone.

“We chose to help them get some real friends instead. Help is available in communities if we know how to find it.”

Read the rest of Clare’s essay in ‘Insights for a Better Way: improving services and building stronger communities’ to find out how Grapevine helped. Plus many other interesting reads from dozens more contributors: www.betterway.network/insights-for-a-better-way

A Better Way is hosted by Civil Exchange, and is co-ordinated by Steve Wyler and Caroline Slocock.

Comment: Grapevine CEO on Social Change Project Report

Social Change Report by Melissa Smith

3 July 2018.

For the past 18 months, the Sheila Mckechnie Foundation (SMK) has been asking: what can we learn about how social change is happening today that can strengthen civil society’s future efforts? The answer was launched last week and I was delighted both to join SMK’s discussion panel and to see Grapevine featured in the report.

Click here to read our article on the report and follow this link to read the Social Change Project report itself, plus a quick summary of its key findings.

Here are a couple of thoughts from me as the leader of a place based charity on what hit home as I read this important report:

Social Change Report by Melissa Smith
Artwork by @FeelGoodMel

UK civil society is often – even mainly – associated with charity and charity is often – even mainly – associated in the public mind with relief of suffering. We are not in the business of relieving suffering. We’re working with the strengths of people and communities to help them bring about change that will improve their lives and futures.

We reject the label of service provider too – that label is given to us by commissioners – it’s their typology. I remember at one particularly low point being introduced as a ‘delivery agent’! Pizza anyone? Language of this kind should not be allowed to shape how we see ourselves. We are a charity that aids people and communities find a voice, to organise, to advocate for shared interests, to hold to account and to bring about change. I think many charities would say the same.

It’s not a new point but it bears repeating by the report – many civil society organisations like ours when we contract with government are working to commercial models and cultures that don’t allow us to work in the ways we need to and which distort our value. That’s well known and talked about but it isn’t changing – yet except among some of the major grant makers and Trusts. Grist to SMK’s mill if they can help us bring that shift to the public sector too.

The report says that civil society is putting too much on influencing formal power. I agree. We don’t spend time in the corridors of Westminster but we do spent time in the corridors of local authorities – and sometimes tread a fine line between co-production and co-option which can leave us passive and powerless. Increasingly, we’ve decided to step away and create more human and personal ways of coming together with a local authority in spaces that weren’t theirs, with agendas they hadn’t set and a much more varied group of people who were there because they wanted to be. See our Walk and Talk clip.

Finally what excited me most was SMK’s inclusive ecosystem of change makers, from activists to movements, from individual campaigners to charities large and small. But as they note in spite of our common cause there’s a striking lack of identity across all social change makers and few opportunities to build one.

My hope for what’s next for SMK is that they can help us build that shared identity.

Social Power: Playing big to create change

27 June 2018.

Grapevine’s local work in Coventry and Warwickshire is on a national stage again this week at the launch of a major new report into social power and change.

Social Change Project

@FeelGoodMel’s artwork

Our CEO Clare Wightman will sit on a panel of sector experts today (27 June) at St Bride’s Church in London to speak about the ‘Social Change Project’ report which is being unveiled at the event.

The project is run by the Sheila McKechnie Foundation – the UK’s leading provider of training and support to those seeking to bring about positive social change.

The Foundation’s ethos is that “people should be able to shape their world” and it exists to help them do just that by building their capacity to effect social change.

Click here to read the report and a quick summary of its key findings.

The report starts from a point of stark contrast between North America’s extensive industry of activating communities to drive societal change (both for-profit and not-for-profit) compared to the UK’s less developed operation.

It aims to learn from what is happening on both sides of the Atlantic so we can work towards a fairer, kinder society where people are not marginalised or excluded because of their differences.

Grapevine is one of three case studies of different types of significant social change (the Living Wage and #MeToo Movement being the other two) and is summarised in the report as follows:

“This local charity helps people experiencing isolation, poverty and disadvantage to build better lives. By bringing what they describe as a ‘social movement approach’, they hope to be not a provider but an enabler, centred on really listening to those who need support.

“As Grapevine Coventry and Warwickshire looks outward into the community to see what is already there that could help, they crowdsource ideas and offers and find creative ways to provide the support that is needed.

“Such an innovative and high impact approach starts to capture national attention. Featuring in the Good and Bad Help report sparks new relationships with national funders, allowing them to work with more people and continue to forge new ways of approaching everything from relationships with commissioners to their own monitoring, evaluation and learning.” (from the report ‘Social Power: How civil society can ‘Play Big’ and truly create change’).

The report concludes that these three examples – and many others shared during a series of ‘Community of Practice’ workshops, events and away days – demonstrate civil society’s huge potential to effect change. It calls this ‘Social Power’.

It is hoped that by highlighting the scope and possibilities of social power, the report will help to evolve the relationship between civil society and the state and initiate new opportunities and investment in its growth.

Our very own resident artist and community organiser @FeelGoodMel was also commissioned to illustrate the report.

For those who don’t know her story, she uses ‘doodling’ to take her mind off the pain caused by a rare spinal condition. With Grapevine’s help, she set up her own social movement ‘Feel Good Community’ based around the idea that creativity can be used as a tool for health and wellbeing for people with long-term conditions. A perfect choice for a report on social change.

Inclusive cities – a new era of action for inclusion

30 May 2018.

This Friday (1 June) our Grapevine CEO Clare Wightman takes to the stage again to talk about Grapevine’s ongoing work across Coventry and Warwickshire – this time at the Inclusion International World Congress in Birmingham.

Clare Wightman

This 17th World Congress takes place over three days (30 May – 1 June), bringing together people and organisations from all over the world to influence how inclusion can become a reality for people with intellectual disabilities and their families.

The event, held at the International Convention Centre, will be a forum for self-advocates, families and professionals to learn from and inspire one another to achieve this mutual aim.

Clare’s topic on the event’s final day ‘Inclusive cities’, examines how people, families and organisations can form civic partnerships – working with political and professional leaders to make our cities better for everyone.

Here is an excerpt of the paper Clare will present for the first time at this event, co-written with Lucie Stephens and David Towell.

The ‘Cities for all’ research paper* includes an interesting and accurate reflection of part of Grapevine’s current work with learning disabled people. It was originally founded in 1994 as a project to offer a drop-in centre for people with intellectual disabilities.

If you would like to know more, read on!

Cities for all: Disabled people as partners in making our towns and cities better for everyone

“Put at its simplest, Grapevine is a team, at the heart of local communities, working to change things so that those at most risk of exclusion can help make their community a better, fairer and more welcoming place for everyone.”

“…Today we work with many others facing disadvantage: young people, migrants, families in crisis and many groups of disabled people and their families.

“…If people can get the resources they need and can make the best use of public services, then they can shape their own lives. At different stages of finding their own paths to community, people may need different kinds of support, all of which we try to make available. We characterise the main kinds of support as:

  • Partnership – Some people need someone along with them on the journey, at least for a while, to keep them strong and hopeful.
  • Preparation – Some people need help to prepare for personal change and transition, to get inspiration, support to plan or practical assistance.
  • Self-direction – Some people just need to access information and networks to find the right resources for themselves and their families.

“…Over [this] 20 years at Grapevine, citizen advocacy has become community advocacy. This is not just because the community is itself critical to every person’s ability to lead a valued life. It is also because the community needs these different voices and experiences in order to become fully itself.

“The goal is not just that the individual becomes part of the community; the goal is that the community becomes more truly what it should be, a place that welcomes, supports, and is in turn nourished by, all of its members.”

*Click here to read the full paper in the Centre for Welfare Reform’s library.

For more information about the Inclusion International World Congress click here.

 

International Women’s Day

International Women's Day Creative Workshop Photo
For the second event celebrating IWD in Nuneaton, Mel from Escape Arts led an art session with folk  at the Ramsden Centre.
The group had great fun with paints, brushes, stamps and sponges to create a piece of artwork to be displayed at a series of IWD events over the next two weeks.
We are proud to say lots of mess was made, laughter filled the room and everyone enjoyed the experience.
The session was made possible by Dawn from Grapevine Empowerment Service and Maxine who is the Community Development officer for Nuneaton and Wembroook. It was a great example of partnership working within the local community.
Find out what else is going on and how you can get involved.

Good and Bad Help

Purpose and confidence can transform lives. We know this but how do we know that what we’re doing has a positive, sustainable effect on people and communities?

Helping for the sake of helping can sometimes result in ‘bad help’ that offers short term fixes and fails to hand the reins back to individuals when they’re ready to take over.

This is what the Good Help Project hopes to clarify. The brainchild of Nesta, a global innovation foundation that backs new ideas to tackle big challenges, the project is bringing together case studies from all over the UK to help create a ‘good practice guide for good help’.

Grapevine is one of those case studies – alongside organisations such as The Stroke Association, British Lung Foundation, Mayday Trust, Whizz Kidz and many more. We’ve shared how our work in supporting young people with learning disabilities and the communities in which they live aims to enable everyone to get free of service dependency.

Clare spoke at the launch event in early February and hopes this project might signal a sea-change in the way social programmes are designed and delivered. The project’s seven characteristics of ‘good help’ will also provide public services with a barometer check on how they’re currently delivering these programmes.

Clare will also judge the forthcoming ‘Good Help Awards’ to search out the best of the best in services that are helping people take action.

Read more here: https://www.nesta.org.uk/project/good-help