Sitting across the table from John Toman and Ravinder Dhadda, it is easy to get a strong sense of the time and energy they are committing to making the Ignite partnership a success.
John is the team leader of four Grapevine ‘connectors’ – himself included – and Ravinder, or Rav as she prefers to be called, is a legal advisor for Central England Law Centre. All are based primarily at Wood Side Family Hub – a Coventry City Council community facility in the heart of Willenhall.
Combining a constant flow of ‘connecting’ work with sound legal advice for local people since Ignite launched two years ago this month, John, Rav and the rest of the team are really starting to reap the rewards of their joint efforts, agreeing that this summer has been “the best six weeks so far”.
Those six weeks have seen Ignite trawling local primary school lost property stores for forgotten items of uniform and returning them to a clean, ready to be re-loved state with the use of the hub’s washing machine.
Local families coming to the usual Wednesday hub grub club (more on this later) were able to browse the collection and take whatever they needed – without having to come to a dedicated event and perhaps feel a little embarrassed about it.
The good will was subsequently returned when Mums and Dads who’d claimed items for their families, brought back their own outgrown uniforms for other parents to take home too.
Rav said: “There’s no stigma attached to needing larger-sized uniform all the time – children grow at a rapid rate – but sometimes people feel it anyway.
“Putting the clothing rail out at an event that was already happening allowed parents to take a look through, chat to their neighbours and experience a real sense of community with immediate effect.”
In fact, the uniform swap was such a success that next year John and Rav hope local groups such as Women of Willenhall (WoW) will take the helm, working with the community’s four primary schools and one another to keep it going.
“The hub had previously been seen as a ‘provider of needs’,” says John.
“But Ignite is showing how public services can partner with communities in new ways and as a result, people become more open to receiving help when they need it.”
Recently, that help has also included the aforementioned hub grub club to combat some of the ‘holiday hunger’ experienced by low income families feeding children all day during school holidays. This can often mean a choice between buying food and paying rent.
Some funding for the club came via the city council from national food poverty charity Feeding Britain and more came from direct food donations from the community.
The work complements existing help for families coming from St. John the Divine Church in Robin Hood Road and Midland Langer Service which provides basic food for communal settings in three Coventry temples.
Midland Langer Service has been bringing food to the Family Hub each week – creating a ‘takeaway’ style feel to Wednesday evenings where local people can socialise and enjoy a hot meal together.
Many children in Willenhall don’t have holidays away from home either, putting added pressure on parents to keep them entertained out of school. The Family Hub offers an outlet for this with an outdoor play area plus parties and workshops designed and delivered by groups such as Friends of Wood Side which was started up spontaneously by some local Mums.
During term time there’s a homework club on a Monday run by a local teenager.
These activities are just the tip of iceberg for the Ignite experiment, which has another two years left to run – with the hope of leaving a lasting legacy in Willenhall where public services act earlier, build community strength and release their capacity to solve many of their own problems as they arise.
The Ignite Partnership has its own dedicated website at www.cnccoventry.org.uk
Follow their activities and updates on Twitter @CoventryIgnite
Find out more about Coventry’s family hubs here.