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.

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.

Let’s get Around the Kitchen Table!

Jen from Self Care Social

11 June 2019.

It’s Loneliness Awareness Week next week (17-21 June) and the government also launches its #LetsTalkLoneliness campaign to help reduce the stigma associated with admitting to feeling lonely and the vital importance of social connections.

Our Self Care Social ‘Building Connections’ project is funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the National Lottery Community Fund to prevent or reduce loneliness in people with long term health conditions in Coventry. The aim is for all participants to experience a sense of connected community – and that is where Around the Kitchen Table comes in. It’s about getting people together over a shared interest or skill they’d like to learn together. Our video shows ‘Art Breakfast Club’ to give you an example.

We want to tackle isolation and loneliness by sparking the kind of community action that helps people to organise themselves and lead their own solutions. Getting people Around the Kitchen Table is the perfect chance to do this!

The toolkit consists of a set of questions and suggestions to help you think about how to get your own initiative started and it focuses on three areas:

  • Purpose – what is it that you want to achieve?
  • People – who do you need to gather around you to make this happen?
  • Places – where can/will you gather?

In addition to the information, Grapevine’s Jen is also in the toolkit! A real-life person to chat your ideas through with and to help you create a successful Around the Kitchen Table. She can’t wait to hear your ideas – please contact her on jcooke@grapevinecovandwarks.org to get the full toolkit.

Organisations without walls

A Better Way Network logo

4 June 2019.

“And again there was that sense of relationships being able to keep on giving and reconfigure themselves around new problems.”

Our CEO Clare Wightman has written a new blog for an independent network of social change activists known as ‘A Better Way’.

Clare Wightman
Clare

Many of the members, of which she is one, are from the voluntary sector but others are from different sectors. Their common vision is of helping to liberate people’s potential rather than writing them off as problems, difficult to reach localities and hard hit communities.

Clare’s latest blog is about services having their place but also their limits. What people need in life, she says, is other good people around them who can back them up, encourage, problem solve and find opportunities.

The outcome being that these people and networks of help are there when services can’t be.

It doesn’t mean that services can walk away and leave people to it. It means that this is the kind of help that flexes, reciprocates and strengthens in ways services can’t.

“It’s our way of creating ‘organisations without walls’ where people and solutions come first, not organisational identities and self interests.”

To read more, click 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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CYA Sofa Safari in Coventry city centre? Tell us more!

Getting ready for show time

28 May 2019.

The sun was smiling down on Coventry Youth Activists’ (CYA) performance for youth loneliness last Saturday (25 May).

CYA and their sofa were at Broadgate in the city centre to raise awareness of the troubling statistic that one in three young disabled people spend less than an hour outside of home on a Saturday.

Open Theatre Company provided the artistic direction to the ‘sofa safari’ performance dreamed up by CYA, and the safari element was made possible by Imagineer UK giving movement to the sofa through wheels.

All told, it was an attention grabbing event that disrupted the bustling shopping area’s usual Saturday happenings and propelled a group of determined young people straight into the spotlight.

CYA’s Lily explains: “We fight for disabled people’s rights… they can be kind of bored and alone and we want to change that. So people can get out more and be accepted and just make everyone feel they fit in.

“So we thought if we did this, it would get it out more so people would find out about it.”

And they have. A very big well done and thank you to all of you.

Here’s our pick of the best pics – click to enlarge each photo. Find out more about CYA and how you might like to join in here.

Rehearsals at EGO Performance Company.

Performance preparations.

Show time!

Photographs by John Whitmore Photography | Follow @thedarkshed on Instagram.

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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