The first Connecting for Good Ideas Factory took place on Friday 14 September at FarGo Village market place in Coventry.
The Ideas Factory brought together a group of around 40 people who care about how social isolation affects all kinds of people in the city and want to end it for good. It is in simple terms an informal meeting where your idea can make friends.
“Living my best life” is a term broadly used on social media, sometimes in an authentic way and sometimes with more than a sprinkle of sarcasm.
But here at Grapevine what it means to us is a vision of people and communities with the energy and confidence to tackle challenges and take opportunities. All kinds of people actually, experiencing isolation, poverty and disadvantage.
And this is where you might come in…
We want to build a team of three creative problem solvers with the ability to communicate at all levels and who genuinely care about supporting people with a ‘vulnerability’ to live the best life they possibly can. These ‘Community Powered Advocacy Worker’ roles will work in Warwickshire and be split between one full time 37-hours per week post and two part-time posts of 22.5 hours per week.
Each one an everyday word with an important meaning and a potentially big impact on a person’s life – in this case, Holly’s.
Six months ago, 20-year-old Holly from Coventry embarked on her adventure with Grapevine’s Help and Connect team. This adventure set Holly on a path to acquire the knowledge, skills and support networks to take care of herself and take up life’s opportunities.
The journey has seen Holly meet and complete challenges along the way to help build her confidence and expose her to new experiences outside of the family home where she previously spent much of her time.
She’s visited the city centre with Grapevine’s Naomi (and without her parents), getting to know the location of shops and the bus stop (plus somewhere to pick up a nice hot chocolate – see Adventure Holly!).
She then moved on to travelling to town solo to meet Naomi, buying a few items and staying for lunch. She followed this excursion up by sorting out her own bus pass application – even seeking supporting evidence for her application from her doctor and checking its weight and postage at the Post Office to make sure it reached its destination. She was flying!
Now she has accepted her final challenge… to meet her friend in town on a Saturday completely independently. This challenge is the one we were working towards all along because it was Holly’s idea of a ‘great day’ when we asked her what those words meant to her.
These building blocks will pave the way for a bright future where Holly can be independent and feel empowered to make her own choices.
To support this, Naomi and Holly have drawn up a ‘road map’ with reminders of how far she has come and some blank space for Holly to fill with her new goals and achievements.
Those everyday words at the start of this article all feature on her road map and we can’t wait to see what’s around the next turn for her.
The Help and Connect project is for people with a learning disability who don’t use any formal services in Coventry and cuts across four strands – staying healthy, staying safe, getting work and building friendships, connections and support networks.
Find out more the current breadth of Grapevine’s work across systems, communities, families and individuals here.
Last week marked the start of our Connecting for Good movement against isolation in Coventry. It’s been a busy few days since then so we’re taking a moment to reflect on the day and capture some of the great feedback, news coverage and photos.
Click here to view the story so far on Wakelet. Read all about it in the Coventry Telegraph here!
Thank you to everyone who joined us on Wednesday and please look out for more news soon. To get involved, email Jess, Dom, Alice or Mel from the team.
One week from today an inspiring city centre event heralds a new chapter for people in Coventry – including some with disabilities, job seekers, recent arrivals, new parents, young people and older people. All united by a common feeling of isolation.
The ‘Connecting for Good Walk & Talk’ on Wednesday 8 August aims to bring together individuals who are or have been isolated from society as well as the services which tackle the effects of isolation, such as Public Health.
With backing from the Big Lottery Fund to the tune of £500,000 over the next three years, Grapevine’s ‘Connecting for Good’ movement hopes to help at least 3,000 Coventry residents connect to others on a richer and more widespread level than ever before.
The movement is based on evidence that isolation makes people more vulnerable to abuse, cruelty and loneliness. It can also be linked to ill health as has been widely reported recently.
The movement approach has already proven effective as our Deputy CEO Mel explains in this video.
Mel herself experienced isolation as a single parent to her son Rishard, who also has Down’s syndrome. Rishard’s life nearly went down a very different path to the one he enjoys now as an established actor pursuing his dream of an independent life.
The first event starts from a bench on the bridge across the city’s ring road between Greyfriars Green and Coventry train station at 12 noon.
Participants will follow a mapped out route into the city, met along the way by thought-provoking story tellers and artistic performances about experiences of isolation.
The Walk & Talk will weave its way to a local eatery and from this event and many other planned activities, a movement will grow.
Connecting for Good’s vision of a ‘culture of connectedness’ also runs parallel to the city’s own aspirations for its year as UK City of Culture in 2021. In line with these aspirations, Connecting for Good seeks to bring people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to the celebrations through their new found networks and friendships – changing lives now and sustaining those changes well beyond 2021.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In May, we introduced Holly, a 20-year-old young lady from Coventry who we have the pleasure of walking alongside on part of her journey towards adulthood and independence.
Then she had just completed her first challenge on ‘Adventure Holly’ to visit Coventry city centre and navigate her way through shopping areas, bus stops and a general feeling of anxiety about doing new things without her parents.
Holly, who has a learning disability, told us she wants to one day go into town on her own to meet her friends. So Grapevine’s Naomi is helping her lay the foundations for that first trip and hopefully many more positive experiences to follow.
Since the May expedition, Holly and Naomi have returned to the city centre but this time Holly made the bold step of meeting Naomi at Coventry Cathedral.
Money and vouchers were used to buy a discounted lunch, in spite of a long queue at the till, and the ladies also paid a visit to Bodycare and Poundland. Holly located Poundland herself from memories of previous trips to town with her parents, treating herself to a new bright red lipstick from the shop to celebrate!
But now Holly has gone even further in her quest for independence.
After completing her own bus pass application form and realising it was missing supporting information from her doctor, she took the initiative to visit the surgery by bus, ask the receptionist for help and returned both the evidence and application form to the Post Office where she asked that her letter was weighed to check she had the right postage. Every step by herself.
Add jogging around her neighbourhood to keep fit to the list and it is clear Holly’s confidence is growing every day.
“Holly seems to be finding her voice and discovering herself. Building community confidence seems not just to be about meeting her friends in town, but also about building the confidence to do things that increase her sense of wellbeing and happiness,” says Naomi.
The next chapter of Adventure Holly will involve visiting Coventry’s creative quarter Fargo Village so that opportunities to attend their events and festivals can be opened up.
Holly just wants to see and do things like other young people, rather than stay at home most of the time.
Holly’s adventure is being made possible through our Help and Connect project which aims to give local people with a learning disability the opportunities, connections and confidence to create building blocks towards a better, more independent future.
Click here and select the ‘Activities’ tab to find out more about the current scope of our work.
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:
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.
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.
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.