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 firstname.lastname@example.org to get the full toolkit.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
An early Spring evening in Coventry, the last Saturday of March. Crowds are arriving for a gig at a former coal storage bunker in the city’s Canal Basin, now a thriving music and arts venue.
But this is no ordinary gig – it’s months of hard work come to fruition to take one troubling statistic and make inroads into changing it.
This is the first Coventry Youth Activists (CYA) #CYASaturdays gig, a campaign aiming to challenge the fact that one in three young disabled people spend less than an hour outside their home on a Saturday. A day when most other people are out and about enjoying what the weekend has to offer.
The story behind the statistic tells how for some of these young people logistics can be the problem – wheelchair access for example – and for others, fear of the unknown, not knowing how to find the place they want to go to and what to do once they get there, stop the fun before it even starts.
So Grapevine’s youth democracy group set about doing something about it and everyone – CYA included – has been amazed by its success.
#CYASaturdays Presents SOLD OUT with over 100 gig-goers of all abilities coming to The Tin Music and Arts event on 30 March.
It showcased three acts, all donating their time for free, plus inimitable double act Rishard and Richard (referring to themselves as Coventry’s answer to Ant and Dec) compering the night.
Young people came from all over the city, finding out about the event through social media, events and meet ups and school mailers. Some came with family, others with friends and some had never been to a gig before. Three even got up on stage to sing!
One Mum commented that her son enjoyed the gig and for her “it was important as it provided an opportunity for him to be a 14-year-old.” And that’s the whole point really.
The CYA ‘crew’ wore their trademark yellow t-shirts firstly to offer a point of contact for anyone feeling unsure and secondly so they could rightly own the success of the night!
But they didn’t do it alone. So a big thank you to the venue, to the acts Izeidi Izeidi, Duck Thieves, Lily Hayes (from CYA), Rishard Beckett and Richard Walls. And of course, everyone who came and had fun! Until next time… [mic drop].
A charity dinner and dance hosted by a community organisation in aid of Grapevine has raised almost £3,800 to help fund a project that will see 40 young people with learning disabilities plan for the future they want over the next two years.
The Great Gatbsy themed event at the Doubletree Hilton hotel in Walsgrave in November last year saw guests dressed up 1920s style, dining and dancing to Bollywood, Bhangra and Western music.
The donated money from tickets sold at the successful event can now be channelled into Big Plan training after some of the team from Leuva Patidar Samaj – Coventry, Rugby, Nuneaton (LPS-CRN) handed the £3,789.54 cheque over earlier this week. Included in the amount is £1,000 match-funded by Barclays and a donation of £150 from Jaguar Land Rover.
The Big Plan will take the progress established by Grapevine’s Teenvine Plus project (and others over the last ten years) to a whole new level.
Where Teenvine Plus helps bring together a circle of support around a young person who has a learning disability to grow their confidence, resilience and independence, the Big Plan sees them making plans for their future not on a 1:1 basis but alongside other people their age, plus their families.
This means a far wider network of group supporters all contributing to and encouraging one another’s dreams and aspirations. The more people in the room, the more opportunities to discover talents and resources that can help the young people on their journey.
The result is a Big Plan for a great life.
Grapevine Deputy CEO Mel Smith said: “I am both humbled and delighted for the funds raised to enhance the work we do with young people.
“We also want to train the majority of our staff in this way – we can then maximise the reach of the Big Plan so that it has a greater impact for people with learning disabilities across Coventry.”
LPS-CRN is a member organisation affiliated to registered charity Leuva Patidar Samaj – UK. Its members are from the Surat, Navsari and Valsad districts of southern Gujarat in India.
It has raised more than £20,000 over the last few years for other worthwhile local causes including the Air Ambulance Service and a children’s hospice.
Kiran Patel, President of LPS Coventry, Rugby and Nuneaton said: “It was an honour to be a part of this project and raise thousands to support the great work that Grapevine undertakes.
“None of this would be possible without the kind support and generosity of all the sponsors, raffle prize donors and the attending guests who whole heartedly support these events.
“We would like to take this opportunity to express our heartfelt gratitude to everyone involved.”
Click here to find out more about fundraising or volunteering for Grapevine.
What do an 18th century former coal storage bunker and a group of young Coventry activists have in common? Well, they’re combining next month to host a live gig like no other at the heart of the city’s Canal Basin.
For those who don’t know, Coventry Youth Activists (or CYA as they’re known) are a group of young disabled people who want to say “CYA” to the inequalities faced by themselves and others.
They identify the issues that are important to them, give them a good shake and come up with campaigns that set about changing these barriers.
The #CYASaturdays Presents… gig on 30 March is one facet of their latest campaign to challenge the disheartening statistic that one in three young people spend less than an hour outside their home on Saturday.
The Saturday night showcase – on a Saturday of course! – features local talent in the shape of bands Duck Thieves, Izeidi Izeidi and CYA’s own singer/songwriter/guitarist Lily Hayes.
Lily says: ““I have autism but I won’t let it stop me from being a singer. It’s who I am and is part of me.”
The night will be compered by actor / theatre maker duo Rishard Beckett and Richard Walls.
The gig is accessible to all and tickets are just £4 in advance or £6 on the door. The venue is The Tin Music and Arts – a charitable organisation committed to fostering art, creativity and talent at the Canal Basin and throughout the city.
So come out and support what will be a great night as well as a good cause. There’ll be music, laughter and a few surprises and above all you’ll be making a group of young activists very happy! We want as many people there as possible who don’t usually get out and about on a Saturday too.
The next generation of social workers from Coventry University have been getting an insight into people with a learning disability directly from the very people who know the most about it!
Grapevine’s Sam and a core group of people with different learning disabilities who make up the H Team visited the university last month for the innovative session.
The ‘H’ stands for Health and that is what the team is all about – educating peers, professionals and services alike on how to stay healthy and well when you have a learning disability.
This advice and training is vital for a section of the community proven to have generally poorer physical and mental health and a significantly lower life expectancy than the rest of the population.
But it wouldn’t be this way if there was greater uptake on annual health checks with GPs, promptly diagnosed health conditions, effective treatment and more informed self care.
And improvements can always be made in the way health and social care professionals communicate with people with a learning disability – hence the need for some interesting training right at the beginning of a career in social work.
During the Coventry University awareness session, students were able to get to know the seven members of the H Team, each one with his or her own unique story, likes and dislikes.
Games and quizzes helped break down any barriers, including one called ‘Scaredy Pants’ where the students wrote their fears on paper pants hung on a make-shift washing line.
Each fear was examined with H Team participants giving students advice and strategies to help overcome them. Some fears were even reflected on both sides – for example, a fear of communicating in a way that was not understood or misinterpreted. The students didn’t want to make a person uncomfortable and the H Team didn’t want to appear ‘stupid’ for not understanding.
The ‘New Perspective’ game then sees society’s labels discarded on the floor and ‘Mum’ or ‘Activist’ (and many others) used instead. Team members said they are not defined by their disability.
By the end of the session, the students and H Team were working together to develop an assessment tool that would equip professionals to phrase questions in different ways and encourage them to consider individuals holistically, particularly including their mental health. Social prescribing and making community connections may be things not previously considered for example.
“We got great feedback,” Sam said. “The students loved the session – having the H Team there to talk to them and give them advice was better than any pen exercise! It was learning through a first-hand experience that they will always remember.”
H Team sessions like this continue on a regular basis throughout the year and the H Team is always looking for new members to bring diversity and knowledge to their group.
The Building Connections Fund provides a cash injection for 126 much-needed organisations and projects throughout England that are finding innovative ways to tackle the ongoing social issue of loneliness.
The fund was created in 2018 in partnership between the government, Big Lottery Fund* and the Co-op Foundation.
Minister for Loneliness, Mims Davies, said: “There is no one cause of loneliness and therefore no one solution. That is why we are working alongside a broad range of businesses, voluntary organisations and local councils to ensure that those who feel alone are best supported.”
The announcement about Grapevine’s successful bid came just before Christmas and will help bolster growing Coventry-based initiative Self Care Social.
The movement’s vision is of a connected culture of self care for the estimated 99,000 – or approximately one in three – residents in Coventry who have a long term health condition.
The vision itself was co-created by some of the people it is aimed at – including former teacher Melissa Smith, who was forced to find an alternative career after being diagnosed with the rare spinal condition Symptomatic Tarlov Cyst Disease in 2014.
Melissa went on to secure a role as a community organiser for Grapevine through the Better Health, Better Care, Better Value programme and build her own social enterprise Feel Good Community.
She and the Self Care ‘socialites’ hope to gather more people in from the fringes to support one another’s ideas, build collective action for positive change and most important of all, make the journey together. The Building Connections funding will help them do that.
If you or someone you know would like to get involved in Self Care Social – sharing self care tips, making friends, telling your story to inspire others, organising social events… making cake – visit Self Care Social on Facebook or drop us a line here and we’ll pass your details on. There are free events coming up in January and February.
Read more about how Self Care Social got started on the Feel Good Com website here.
*The Big Lottery Fund becomes the National Lottery Community Fund from 30 January.
In August, Daniel was cycling through Spon End when he stumbled across a table, some coloured chalk and a collection of handwritten placards bearing individual messages of isolation and hope.
Standing at the table was Alice from Grapevine and Daniel felt compelled to stand still and take it all in. This was exactly what the silent megaphone event was designed to do – stop people in their tracks.
Following that first serendipitous chat with Alice, Daniel came to the Connecting for Good Ideas Factory the following month and sat with a group of strangers who were talking about how better communication between agencies, organisations and people could go a long way to helping Coventry people feel less socially isolated.
Since the event, Daniel has taken the ‘People’s Directory’ idea and run with it. He’s been spreading the word on the #connectingforgood movement, drawing both professionals and public in with his boundless enthusiasm for making positive change.
This Thursday (8 November) marks the next milestone for Daniel – who is now leading a community of people who care about better communications – with the first Communications Forum, spawned from those original group discussions at the Ideas Factory.
This is Invitation > Idea > Leadership > Event > Progress in action and it’s exciting to see!
So, would you like to see some sort of directory created that would make finding out what is going in Coventry easier? It could include communities and groups to join, hobbies and activities that are happening, opportunities to take part in positive causes, events to attend (or even help run!), or simply services that offer advice and support.
How could we do this? What would YOU do? If you have ideas, come to the Communications Forum! Everyone is welcome.