Molly and Sam turn 25… just like Grapevine!

Molly and Sam from Grapevine

Tuesday 20 August 2019.

At Grapevine, we want people and communities to use their untapped power to create better futures. Employing a talented and diverse team of people who care about others is fundamental to helping us achieve this ambition.

Molly and Sam from Grapevine
Molly (left) and Sam from Grapevine

Our latest story to mark 25 years of Grapevine is about team members Molly and Sam – who just happen to have celebrated their 25th birthdays this summer too!

To mark the serendipitous occasion, here’s a little bit about what makes working for Grapevine special for these two ladies.

Molly has worked here since 2017 and is currently spread across the Teenvine Plus, Coventry Youth Activists (CYA) and Warwickshire Empowerment Service projects. She is also just starting on our newest project on Compassionate Communities in Atherstone and Mancetter. She has a Level 3 BTEC in Health and Social Care and Foundation Year in Health and Social Care.

Sam came to Grapevine as a student Occupational Therapist on placement in 2016 and never left! She is currently on the H-Team and Warwickshire Empowerment Service projects. She has a first class degree in Occupational Therapy.

What attracted you to apply for a job at Grapevine?

Molly: When I was 17 I was a buddy on a young people’s project called Get In and I loved it. I actually got involved because I was looking for voluntary work but it became so much more and I made some great friends and had a lot of fun.

When I saw the Teenvine Plus role advertised I was working in social care for the local authority and loved the idea of being able to work with people in creative ways. I was particularly excited about the ‘youth democracy and citizenship group’ which has now grown into CYA.

What do you like most about your job?

Sam: Giving people, some of whom are from seldom heard groups, the skills and confidence to speak up and have a voice. Also that we work on a preventative basis rather than just when crisis hits. I think this is one of the reasons we are so unique.

Molly: Our jobs are so varied. Seeing people achieve things that either they thought they wouldn’t be able to do or were told by society they couldn’t. I can’t help but miss people when they move on to great things but I know it’s because they feel confident to do it without our support and that’s great.

Is there a time you recall feeling like you’d made a real impact?

Sam: I worked on Help and Connect with a young man who was socially isolated and lacked confidence. I worked with him on what was important to him, what he wanted to achieve and why he was not engaging in these things. Due to his disability, his confidence was low and his Mum was very protective of him. Over time, we worked on activities that were meaningful to him with graded support and his self-esteem grew – so much so that he was well on his way to achieving his dream to become a rapper.

What are your hopes for the future for the people we work with?

Molly: I hope the work we do highlights to others to never make assumptions or underestimate someone. My hope for the people we work with is that they have the life they want and are in control of it. A life filled with opportunities and fun like anyone’s else’s and that includes being able to make mistakes – life is all about learning! As well as a good group of friends who are able pick them up when things aren’t so good.

Tell us a fun fact about you

Molly: I’m a terrible singer but I LOVE karaoke! Proud Mary by Tina Turner is my song of choice!

Sam: As a toddler, I hung onto a giraffe’s neck after it poked its head through our car sunroof on safari. My Mum had to pull me back in by my legs!

We got the Trusted Charity Mark!

Celebrations

13 August 2019.

We’re delighted to share the news that we’ve been awarded the Trusted Charity Mark! Another feather in our cap in our 25th year #25yearsofGrapevine.

The endorsement follows an application, audit and interview process by the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and is the only quality assurance award covering all essential areas necessary for the effective management and governance of a charity.

It’s important to us because having it demonstrates our commitment to Trusted Charity standards and we are therefore nationally recognised by funders and commissioners as being both effective and credible in our work.

We have achieved Level 1 and keep this award for three years until we can re-apply.

Learn more about the Trusted Charity Mark and NCVO here.

Zach takes his catering credentials to the next level with help from Michelin star chef

Zach learning in the kitchen with Adam

31 July 2019.

A young Coventry man has embarked on a catering career in the kitchen of a Michelin star chef, with help from Grapevine’s Connect2Work project.

Adam and Zach at The Cross pub
Adam and Zach (right)

Since starting last November, Zach has surprised everyone with his mature attitude and commitment to such a pressured environment straight out of college. Zach, however, is taking it all in his stride – so much so that he has now gone a step further by moving into his first flat close to work.

What makes these achievements even more special is that Zach, who has autism, has found a new social circle centred around his job and an encouraging boss who works closely with him to make the most of his role.

Zach learning in the kitchen with Adam
Zach is learning on the job and making friends too

Adam Bennett, head chef at The Cross in Kenilworth, said: “Employing Zach has been an entirely positive experience.

“He has become a valued and trusted member of the team, always doing his best and always completing tasks precisely the way he has been taught.”

And while Zach is currently working as a kitchen porter, Adam hopes he’ll steadily add to his skills at a pace Adam is happy for Zach to set.

His growing confidence in the workplace has spurred him on to move out of home – showing just how secure he feels about his job and the friends he is making there.

Adam, Zach and Kitty in the restaurant
Adam, Zach and Kitty in the restaurant

Project worker Kitty Wright said: “Stories like Zach’s are becoming more common but there is still a big disparity between the percentage of the general population aged 16-64 who are in paid employment, and people who have a learning disability or autism – 74 per cent are working compared to just six per cent.”

Kitty and Zach applied for the kitchen porter position but Kitty asked to visit The Cross in advance of a telephone interview to help Zach familiarise himself with the restaurant.

Adam concludes: “I would urge other employers to seriously consider employing staff with a learning disability or autism.

“The commitment we have made to Zach has resulted in an employee who really values his position, which gives us stability in a key role in the kitchen.

“It is also very rewarding for me as an employer to see Zach settle and progress as a young man with The Cross as part of his life.”

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We wish Zach every success in the future. We are celebrating his story to help mark 25 years of Grapevine this year and show the impact of our work on people and communities.

Connect2Work is the employment strand of the Help and Connect project in Coventry, aimed at people who have a learning disability or autism but don’t use any formal social services.

It cuts across four strands – staying healthy, staying safe, getting work and building friendships, connections and support networks – and is commissioned by Coventry City Council.

Why Ignite shows that change starts with us

Volunteer drive in Willenhall

10 July 2019.

It’s near to an impossible task – writing a story about a project that operates, and likes to remain, uncredited behind the scenes. A project supporting a myriad of offshoot initiatives, spawned by ideas from informal conversations and brought to life by diverse members of the community.

But here we are. Almost four years on from the start of the Ignite project in Coventry’s Willenhall neighbourhood and just a few months before its end.

Ignite was created through a partnership between Grapevine and Central England Law Centre. On the one hand, Grapevine knew how to think outside the box and connect people. On the other, the Law Centre had the legal expertise to unlock systems and rights, handing power to the powerless.

The project set out on its four-year journey in 2015 with Coventry City Council and WM Housing Group alongside as integral partners in making Willenhall a better, more connected place. A Willenhall where help could be offered early before people plunged into crisis and services had to take over. The fact was that ongoing cuts to budgets meant public services were less and less able to be there.

The journey hasn’t been easy – bringing change to systems and beliefs is never linear and without complications. But Ignite team leader, John Toman is hopeful things won’t revert when he and the team move on.

“Ignite has played a unique role in the changes in Willenhall,” he says. “We have nothing to gain from building relationships and confidence in the community and local services.

“Our neutral position helps people trust that we are there to help. We sometimes ask the more difficult questions but we are always honest about why we need to know. From there, energy comes, connections are made and people start to find their own solutions to problems they are facing. And because they provide the solutions, there’s a greater chance of sustaining them for longer.”

Volunteer drive in Willenhall
A volunteer drive helped gather more support

So far the initiatives ‘ignited’ by local people with the project’s backing (and help from community facilities, Willenhall Library and places of worship) include: a uniform swap shop for parents; a weekly grub club with food donations from a local supermarket available to eat and also take home; a Wednesday walking group led by residents who want to keep fit and help familiarise newcomers with their neighbourhood; a Women of Willenhall women’s support group; and a homework club for youngsters run by a local teenager.

From improving a form to make it easier to claim a benefit, to working with renters and housing providers to iron out any issues complying with their tenancy agreement – and much, much more in between – change has been steady, subtle and anchored in mutual respect.

A volunteer drive in March helped bring a small group of eight together to receive weekly training inputs at Wood Side Family Hub that will help give them the knowledge and skills to run their own groups and activities. They each also bring strengths and talents to the table. It is what Ignite set out to do – people in Willenhall doing things for other people in Willenhall, and the future is looking bright.

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More information

We are telling this story of impact as part of our 25th anniversary celebrations.

If you live in Willenhall and want to get involved in your local community, simply drop in at Wood Side Family Hub to find out what’s on.

If you are interested in how Ignite has taken a different approach to getting at the root causes of social problems, not just dealing with the consequences, get in touch with us.

Libby ‘Accelerates’ into teaching career

2 July 2019.

A young woman from Coventry is heading for a bright future in teaching, thanks to a free employment support service designed to help people who are at a disadvantage when looking for paid work.

The need for the Accelerate project is clear when you see the stats. Just six per cent of adults with a learning disability or autism* are in paid employment, compared to 74 per cent of the general population aged 16-64.

Libby and her family turned to Alex Rigler from Grapevine for help following a few false starts entering the world of work after school. Grapevine forms part of the Accelerate partnership of local organisations providing coordinated employment support.

Alex explains: “Many employers have the best of intentions during the recruitment process but once a candidate with a learning disability or autism is successful in securing a role, support and reasonable adjustments to help them do their job are sometimes simply not in place or made flexible enough to adapt to any changes.”

Libby originally aspired to be an actress, studying drama at college in Stratford-upon-Avon. However, she soon realised that rehearsing and performing in front of an audience were two very different things. Working behind the scenes became more appealing.

After trying her hand at scriptwriting and some voluntary work at local Coventry station Radio Plus though, Libby and Alex tested the waters with retail. None were quite the right fit for Libby.

But everything changed after spotting an advertisement for lunchtime supervisors at Stivichall Primary School, close to Coventry’s War Memorial Park. Libby was keen to apply.

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The school welcomed them both in for a pre-interview visit before Libby faced a panel of three (with Alex there for support) and after a few initial nerves, sailed through.

Jayne Davies, school business manager, said: “We actually struck gold that day – finding two strong candidates who could co-manage the other lunchtime supervisors and bring their different strengths to the table.

“We looked beyond any possible challenges and necessary adjustments to see Libby’s potential as a leader and she has gone on to make such a difference to our school team.”

With lunchtimes running smoothly – including a suggestion book to help staff get involved in making positive changes – teachers have moved from rostered playground duties back into the classroom.

And Libby hasn’t stopped there, reigniting her interest in drama by running an after-school club for the children and also helping them gain their maths times tables badges week by week.

Libby said: “I understand from my own experiences how sitting tests can be hard for some and so I make earning the badges as fun as possible – with quick fire quizzes and laps around the room!”

Alex (left) and Libby

She’s also rapidly working her way through her part-time studies to become a teaching assistant. A course that Coventry City Council’s apprenticeship team extended from one to two years but is now not looking like it will take Libby that long.

Alex concludes: “Libby’s journey is a fantastic example of not being deterred by knockbacks and staying focused on the prize. Her anxieties were just getting the better of her during the recruitment process.

“The school continues to wrap their support around her when it’s needed – including providing a mentor from their leadership team – but they stand back when it’s her turn to take charge.

“Libby is a credit to herself and to the Accelerate project and I am proud to have played a part in what will hopefully be a promising teaching career.”

*who are known to their local authority in England.

About Accelerate

Accelerate is a partnership of local organisations that specialise in supporting people in Coventry and Warwickshire who would like to work but for various reasons find it hard to get a job and enjoy all the benefits that employment brings.

The partnership includes training providers, charities, housing associations, disability support, women’s only services, well-being and mental health organisations, enterprise start-up, childcare providers, local authorities, community radio and employer networks.

Accelerate is a Building Better Opportunities Project funded by the European Social Fund and The National Lottery Community Fund.

Find out more here.

Small Charity Big Impact Awards… we won!

Celebrations

21 June 2019.

We are very excited to announce another award win… and it’s a national one this time!

Today we’ve been unveiled as a winner* of the Foundation for Social Improvement’s (FSI) Small Charity Big Impact awards, having fought off competition from hundreds of other small charities also doing great work across the country.

The news comes as we are celebrate our 25th year and demonstrates the growing impact and reach of our work.

It is also the penultimate day of Small Charity Week (17-22 June), an annual week of initiatives designed to raise awareness and funds for small charities whilst promoting the work they do.

Our awards entry included our track record of adding, on average, two new friends to isolated or vulnerable people’s networks and scoring 8.5 out of 9 for satisfaction in Grapevine’s work. We also provided a number of case studies to represent what this means in reality for the people we help.

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A video explaining why our work is worthy of this award is due out early next week – watch this space!

We’ll be heading to London in July to collect our award. Thank you to everyone who supports our work.

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About the FSI

The FSI is a charity supporting the UK’s vibrant small charity sector with training, advocacy and support programmes aimed at building sustainability and sharing knowledge.

Pauline Broomhead CBE, CEO of the FSI, said: “Small charities do amazing work, often having an impact far beyond their size, yet they often don’t receive the recognition and celebration they deserve.

“We’re delighted that over ten years of Small Charity Week thousands of small charities have had the chance to shout about their work and get the support they need, and our Small Charity Big Impact Awards are one of the highlights of the week.

“We are thrilled to award Grapevine Coventry and Warwickshire this prize and congratulate them on their amazing work.”

*£500k – £1 million annual turnover category.

Back down to London town!

Walk and Talk taking place in Coventry

19 June 2019.

Grapevine returns to London today (19 June) to bring news of our pioneering work in Coventry and Warwickshire to the movers, shakers and decision-makers from local and national government, health, housing and social care.

CEO Clare Wightman has been invited to be one of the speakers at the Civil Society Futures* forum, organised by public policy events provider Inside Government.

Clare Wightman
Clare

She will tell the audience how we are using our out-of-the-box thinking and expertise to take a place-based approach to meeting local needs.

What this means for us at the moment is a National Lottery Community Fund project in Stoke Aldermoor (Coventry) to help a group of community-minded residents improve their place.

Their plan focuses on young people, families and connecting cultures. It will bring together civil society, citizens, local authority and businesses to address local priorities through collective action.

Today’s event coincides with ‘Policy Day’ of Small Charity Week – an annual awareness week to celebrate and promote small charities across the UK.

In describing our approach, Clare will give examples of earlier work igniting change with people and communities. Included is the story of Rishard – a young man on the edge of crisis whose needs were misdiagnosed as care, support and treatment.

His real need was for a life shaped by his hopes and dreams, one that could stretch and grow.

With Grapevine, he found his way back with help from a network of good people to become an actor (his dream) and no longer a client with needs to be serviced.

She says: “It’s not magic. It happened because relationships keep on giving – regrouping around new problems or new opportunities in a way that services just can’t.”

Relationships are able to go way beyond the remit of services and will be key to our place-based approach in Stoke Aldermoor and many other current and future projects.

We wish Clare all the best for her latest speaking engagement. Follow her on Twitter at @GrapevineCEO. The event hashtag today is #IGCivilSociety.

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*Background

The government’s Civil Society Strategy was published in August 2018 and outlines a plan to enhance collaboration between the voluntary and public sectors.

It recognises the pivotal role that voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations have to play in tackling the challenges we face in today’s society.

Today’s event gives practitioners a forum to debate and disseminate current thinking and information about the strategy from organisations like us who are taking up the opportunity and running with it. We are attending in the lead up to our 25th anniversary celebrations this October (1994 – 2019).

More information

Visit: www.insidegovernment.co.uk/civil-society-strategy

More on Place Based Social Action in Stoke Aldermoor.

Find out more on Small Charity Week here.

She believed she could so she did! Meet Melissa

Celebration of Doers

30 May 2019.

A special event recently brought together a group of ‘doers’ helping to grow a movement of people who have a long term health condition or chronic illness in common. The idea of the event was simply to celebrate how far they’ve come over the past few months.

The Saturday afternoon shindig was hosted inside an impressive shop front theatre that inhabits a once disused retail premises in a Coventry arcade.

Celebration of Doers
Melissa (centre) at the Celebration of Doers

Setting the term ‘disused’ to one side, it could almost be a metaphor for the transformation undergone by the woman who organised the ‘Celebration of Doers’ – from teacher, to patient, to community organiser and social entrepreneur.

To tell Melissa Smith that in just four years she’d grow a community of thousands based around the idea that creativity boosts wellbeing – and have won an ‘Inspiring Entrepreneur’ award from Coventry University and Santander – would have been met with complete disbelief. It has been a long and often painful road.

Following a spinal injury after a routinely energetic gym session and subsequent injury at work, Melissa was diagnosed with a rare, incurable condition called Symptomatic Tarlov Cyst Disease – painful fluid-filled cysts rooted in the vertebrae at the base of the spine.

So rare in fact that it took many months and numerous appointments to convince specialists that the condition was the problem and not underlying stress from a recent close bereavement. Melissa also later developed ME.

Even with a diagnosis, Melissa’s life became a waiting game – for the next appointment, consultation or surgery and all the while focussing on every symptom. Her teaching career was over. But some tough love from her older sister (who also works for Grapevine) provided the impetus she needed to take a love of art and turn it into a business.

“I didn’t want to swim or do yoga. I wanted to put on my pink gloves, box, flip tyres and do wolf runs. But I couldn’t any more. I was living my story but without a call to action. I was struggling.

“My sister said I should focus on what I can do, not what I can’t. So my passion for using creativity as a tool to feel good became my reason to get back up. Doodling with my pad and pens had seen me through many dark times in hospital and at home.”

Self portrait by Melissa Smith
Self portrait by Melissa Smith

Armed with a grant from UnLtd and the community building tools she was learning from Grapevine, Melissa started to carve out a name for her Feel Good Community both on and offline.

Self Care Social came along a few months later with some funding from the NHS’s Integration Better Care Fund and Grapevine employed Melissa. The idea being that self-care when you’re poorly is hard to practice alone at home and much easier to share with others who understand. Although, it is sometimes hard to attend the social side of Self Care Social, no-one is ever ‘written off’ and they can come when they are able.

And now this is Melissa. A fully fledged community organiser, movement builder and social entrepreneur in the making. It may take her a bit longer than other people (her own words) but she will get there, altering direction slightly with new challenges but always on course.

She’s bringing a Festival of Creativity and Wellbeing to life at Coventry’s Herbert Art Gallery and Museum on 15 June with her friend Kerry. Feel Good product development and an online shop are also coming soon.

Melissa Smith
Melissa

Back at the celebration party, if anyone understands what it takes to show up and get on with things, it’s Melissa. Gathering these people together for a fun few hours of sharing games, food, creativity and stories seems a fitting way to mark everyone’s achievements thus far.

“I’m meeting more new and different types of people than I ever would have as a teacher.

“I think now that becoming poorly was a catalyst for creating change in my life. I had thought there might be a cure and that doctors would have all the answers.

“The challenges I’ve faced have brought creativity, community, positivity and a new outlook for me. A new way of doing things.

“It’s given me a voice and Grapevine has given me the platform to do all this. They’re willing to take the risk on ideas and people like me.”

We’re celebrating Melissa’s story as one of our 25 stories for #25yearsofGrapevine sparking community action, strengthening people and shifting power in Coventry and Warwickshire.

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Gaynor’s story – from self-doubt to self-belief

21 May 2019.

The third in our series of 25 stories for 25 years of Grapevine is the story of Gaynor Leech.

Gaynor was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and as a result of radiotherapy treatment the following year, she developed Lymphoedema – a life-long condition that causes swelling in the body’s tissues.

Although there is no cure, it can be managed and treated but this has meant a huge change in lifestyle for Gaynor. It hasn’t held her back though from establishing a community of help for others with the same condition. And this is where Grapevine comes in.

Gaynor (centre) with Melissa and Dawn from Grapevine (left and right)

Her involvement with Self Care Social, Feel Good Ambassadors and the Collective Leaders Group has in her own words, “transformed the way I think about volunteering. I have found a way to incorporate everything I have learned from Grapevine into my lymphoedema support group.”

She admits her approach to running Lymph-What-Oedema (L-W-O) had previously harked back to a time before the internet where geography determined reach and having a platform to share stories on a much wider scale simply didn’t exist. Gaynor takes up the tale from her first Innovation Factory with Grapevine…

“I am fortunate, I do not have a problem in walking into a room full of strangers, but it was clear from the start that this was very different from anything I had ever attended before.

“I had struggled with both the business side and getting our voice heard in the community.

“I was so out of my depth and comfort zone on the first course but it really did change my thinking. There were so many ideas, the language used was different, the importance of storytelling, the pledges all very new to me.”

Gaynor is now a Self Care Champion

Helping people and communities use their untapped power to create better futures – strengthening through natural networks of community support that bring opportunity and help people take charge of their lives is what Grapevine is all about. This has certainly proved true for Gaynor.

“The most important aspect of working with Grapevine is the people I meet. Each and every one of them either lives with a long-term condition or takes care of someone who has a challenged life, and yet they are passionate about helping others with daily challenges.

“I come home feeling inspired and this then reflects in my approach to life and volunteer work. Through the storytelling, I can see how my writing style has changed.

“Living with lymphoedema can be very isolating so working on social self-care is very important to my group. A place where they will not be judged and a place where we can share knowledge, information and community. I do not want others to feel the way I did when I was first diagnosed.

“All of this progress aside, I was still surprised – and thrilled – to become a Self Care Champion for the Self Care Forum recently.”

For those in similar situations, Gaynor’s advice is to “look around at your local community, network – see who is out there, ask for help. See if there are organisations that are of similar size to yours or with the same ethos.

“The training I have received from Grapevine has been invaluable – the connections you make will be one of your biggest assets.”

And what does the future hold?

“The journey of living with lymphoedema and running L-W-O are things I would never have envisaged for myself. Even with all the knocks and frustrations, I love what I do, I love that I have a purpose in life and while I do take good care of myself, I love being busy. Importantly, I love that in a small way L-W-O has contributed to raising awareness of lymphoedema.

“Thank you to Melissa, Naomi and Dawn for the encouragement, help, patience, time and support that has helped me transform my thinking of volunteering in the 21st century voluntary sector.”

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