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.”
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.
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.