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Guest Blog: My Dementia Awareness Week

By Carol Sweeting

17 July, 2017

My name is Carol Sweeting. I work for Alzheimer’s Society and with the support of Somerset Community Foundation I am able to carry out the amazing role of co-ordinating the Dementia Action Alliances in Somerset for one day per week. A Dementia Action Alliance is created when a group of people get together to try and make changes to their community to make it more supportive for people living with dementia. This means that people with dementia can feel valued and make a contribution to society whilst living well. May 14-21, 2017 was Dementia Awareness Week when a lot of the Action Alliances had planned a huge variety of events to reach out into their community. I wasn’t able to go to all the events, there were too many! Here's my blog for that week:

Monday 15 May, 2017: I attended the conference organised by Bridgwater Dementia Action Alliance. I was really impressed when I entered the large room at the Rugby Club with information stands around the edge with lots of help and advice. During the morning we heard from Dr Avril and Dr Michael Staunton. Avril has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. First we heard from Michael about his experience as Avril’s husband through the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
It was very interesting to hear from Avril about her experience of having Alzheimer’s and the effect that it is having on her life. While she talked very eloquently, she was conscious that she had muddled her notes and sometimes went off at a tangent or repeated herself, which gave us some insight into living with Alzheimer’s. During the day we got the opportunity to hear many interesting speakers and take part in different workshops. What was especially encouraging was seeing lots of young people taking part.

Tuesday 16 May, 2017: 'Singing for the Brain' in Taunton took place at the museum, supported by Taunton DAA. The singing was to have been in the museum courtyard but was moved inside due to inclement weather. Everyone was in good spirits and several guests and members of the public arrived. The singing was beautiful! We sang around the tree in the museum and showed everyone the beautiful sound we can make. It brought a lump to my throat. A great time was had by all and many people have contacted us since paying compliments.

Wednesday 17 May, 2017: The Minster Church, Ilminster. Ilminster has been working to become Dementia Friendly for several years and has a Memory Café set up by the church. As part of this, a day of celebration was held with Dr Jennifer Bute. Jennifer lives in a Dementia Village near Weston-super-Mare and has been diagnosed for twelve years. She gave a talk about living with dementia. She is a Christian and is particularly focused on maintaining relevant worship for people with dementia. The local DAA gave a talk and had a stand and hopefully recruited a few new members inspired by the day.

Thursday 18 May, 2017: I attended a tea dance run by Taunton DAA where I also ran an information stand during the afternoon, with lots of information provided by Alzheimer’s Society. This was well attended and a good time was had by all. Afterwards, a presentation was delivered by a solicitor and a financial adviser for people with dementia and their relatives.

Friday 19 May, 2017: As part of my other role as a Dementia Support Worker I did a home visit to a person with dementia living in the community. In talking to them I found out all the things they are still able to do and how important it is for communities to make it easy for them to continue to part of the community.

Saturday 20th May, 2017: On Saturday morning I went to a consultation for people with dementia and carers in Frome about where to go next with the Dementia Action Alliance. This was a very important meeting as consulting with people with dementia is at the heart of all the work that the dementia action alliances do.

It was a very busy but worthwhile week, both supporting people affected by dementia and raising awareness in the community about dementia and how it is possible to live well with dementia.

For more information about Dementia Action Alliances in Somerset, click here

To find out about local services and for information about dementia, click here.


Going from ‘Nice to Have’ to ‘Must Have’: a philanthropic revolution?

By Justin Sargent

27 April, 2017

The recent report from CAF on the ‘state of charities and social enterprises going into 2017’ highlighted many of the challenges – now very familiar - that the sector faces: falling incomes, rising demand. These themes run throughout the sector irrespective of size of organisation.

Separately, the Lloyds TSB Foundation has continued its series of reports highlighting issues affecting the small to medium charities in forming programmes commissioned by the public sector.

Over the past twenty-four months there has been an increasingly clear recognition of the valuable role small charities, voluntary organisations, community groups and social enterprises can play in addressing social and health priorities. It feels to me that this is moving beyond a genuinely held belief that a vibrant local third sector is ‘nice to have’ to one that is a ‘must have’.

However, I have an itch in my brain that I just can’t scratch and it’s this: where is the strategic vision for what we want to see more of, and where we want to see it?

There is, of course, an important role for projects and organisations to emerge organically, building on social capital and other assets within any particular community. Seeing and supporting that entrepreneurial spirit in action is one of the great joys I have in my job and I never cease to be amazed and, I admit, a little jealous of those community leaders’ passion.

We can and should do more to nuture and support those people who can develop such ideas, but is that enough in the face of such pressing needs in our communities? Is there a role for a more planned approach to scaling up and replicating community projects that work really, really well.

Think about this: if you are someone who would benefit greatly from, say, therapeutic gardening, why should it be left up to chance whether you have a suitable project nearby or not? I am sure that there are more communities that, given the right support and encouragement, could find a piece of land and start a new gardening project for their local community. After all, we’re not exactly short of open spaces in Somerset!

People who will benefit from the most effective initiatives live in every community and so we absolutely need more therapeutic gardens (and more Men Sheds, more mentoring schemes in schools, more carer support groups, more local community transport solutions to name but a few). However, we need to make sure that we do not lose the ingredients that makes these projects work – the local design and ownership, the passion and drive.

I believe this is an important area for philanthropy. It’s the kind of vision Andrew Carnegie had when he funded the establishment of 2,500 libraries in the late 19th century. We need that vision in today’s philanthropy; an approach that is flexible and adaptable, able to take risk, that can take a ‘community ventures’ approach, and we need to think, and act, long-term.

Dare we be that bold?


Speaking Out on Mental Health

By Kirsty Campbell

29 March, 2017

During Eating Disorder Week earlier this month I attended an event at SWEDA for organisations that have funded the charity. The presentation they gave was very informative – for example I had not appreciated that Anorexia Nervosa has the highest mortality rate in mental health – but what had a significant impact for me were the talks by a young woman battling Anorexia, and a mother whose daughter is struggling with this mental health condition. They really brought home just how vital the help SWEDA has given them is: someone there to listen, help through counselling sessions, providing practical advice and information, and offering support groups so they can speak to and share experiences with others, not only for sufferers but also close family members who are supporting them. What also struck me was the courage these women had to speak out about something so personal and emotional, to try to benefit others.

Later this month I also attended a Bath Evening Lecture organised by Triumph Over Phobia (TOP UK), a charity which aims to help sufferers of phobias, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and other related anxiety to overcome their fears through self-help therapy groups. The lecture was entitled ‘Overcoming Anxiety’ and had informative talks from a psychologist and psychiatrist. Once again, I found the most impactful talk was that given by a man who has struggled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder all his life, finally making the decision to seek help on the brink of suicide. To outside onlookers he had a very successful life, a family, his own thriving business, having managed to keep his condition a secret until the effort became too great. He too had chosen to speak out to try to help others, and has established a charity called The Shaw Mind Foundation which is tackling the stigma that can accompany mental health issues and is campaigning to introduce compulsory mental health education in schools.

Often people in need of help don’t seek it, for many and varied reasons, and try to get by, keeping their difficulties hidden. TOP UK has recognised that people with anxiety often delay seeking help for years and is currently working with the University of Bath on research to try to learn more about the factors which can affect people’s decisions to seek support. Whilst progress has been made on raising awareness of mental health and in removing the stigma around this I think there is still a long way to go. No-one knows what is going on inside a person’s mind, and sufferers can go to great lengths to hide the difficulties they have. A more open and understanding society may perhaps make it easier for people to seek the support they need.  Charities like SWEDA and TOPS UK recognise that the earlier someone seeks help the better. Those with the courage to speak out (who in turn inspired me to write this, my first blog!), and the work that charities do, can only encourage those in need to seek help. Charities also offer vital support on the path to recovery, which is so often desperately needed.

Please take a look at The Shaw Mind Foundation’s campaign to introduce compulsory mental health education in schools and consider signing the petition - http://shawmindfoundation.org/



Philanthropy continues to transform the lives of people in Somerset

By Justin Sargent

26 January, 2016

For too many years I have looked enviously at the major cities in the UK, where great monuments to Victorian philanthropy inspire modern day equivalents. Museums, schools, park, libraries continue to fulfil vitally important functions in our communities, but also serve a reminder to those who generate wealth today they have a responsibility to give back to their communities.

You have to perhaps look a bit harder in Somerset, but we also have a philanthropic heritage to inspire us today.  

One the world’s most famous philanthropists, Andrew Carnegie, funded 2,509 libraries across the globe, including (to the best of my knowledge) two in Somerset.* His approach resonates strongly with the way we approach our support for communities. He funded the building of the libraries but only if the community could demonstrate the demand for a library, and was prepared to contribute as well. In his own words:

an endowed institution is liable to become the prey of a clique. The public ceases to take interest in it, or, rather, never acquires interest in it. The rule has been violated which requires the recipients to help themselves. Everything has been done for the community instead of its being only helped to help itself."

The fate of the two Carnegie Libraries tells us a lot. The Bridgwater library continues to serve as an important traditional community facility, while the Taunton one is now a wine bar.* However the modern Taunton library that replaced it has evolved into very different and dynamic vision of what a library can and should be. 

Kate James from Porter Dodson has been supporting the Huish’s Exhibition Foundation for many years. As we take over responsibility for the running of the trust, she handed me the ‘cash book’ that kept handwritten records from 1917 to 2009. It provides a tangible sense of continuity with the past, and it is a genuine privilege to be both entrusted with this heritage and to be creating a new chapter in Somerset’s philanthropic journey. 

Our Vital Signs report sets out why we need to sustain and grow philanthropy in Somerset today, but the Carnegie Libraries and the Huish’s Exhibition Foundation also remind me that we have a hidden heritage to learn from and build on. I would be delighted to hear from anyone who has a Somerset philanthropic story to share.

*Incidentally, a condition of Carnegie’s gift was that alcohol should not be consumed on the premises!

Volunteering for the Surviving Winter Campaign

By Angharad Jones

29 November, 2016

I have been a volunteer at Somerset Community Foundation for several years, helping out with various administrative and marketing activities. This year, the team asked me to get involved with the Surviving Winter Campaign. Having read the statistics on fuel  poverty in Somerset several times, I felt that I had to find out for myself what impact the campaign made on real people rather than just statistics.

My first port of call was to speak to the Community Council for Somerset’s Village Agents, who are among the ‘front liners’, who help elderly, vulnerable people living in their communities who are struggling to heat their homes adequately and maintain a reasonable quality of life during the winter.

They spoke of an elderly gentleman that had recently lost his wife of 70 years and had struggled to find sufficient money to pay for her funeral.  He was left with only his pension as income and, not being aware of the grants that were available for the funeral, he had lowered his heating and was going without many of the staples of life, so as to save money. His GP was concerned that his health and demeanour were being affected and informed the village agent.  A Surviving Winter Grant was organised to help keep him warm which was the first step towards creating a better environment for him to live. He has just happily celebrated his 90th birthday in good health.

There was also a grandmother who looked after her grandchild at weekends.  The grandchild was in care, so the weekends were precious to them both. Living only on her pension, and to make sure that she could keep seeing her grandchild, she cut down on her heating and food during the week. It would not have been long before her health would suffer.  However a Surviving Winter grant helped her through the colder months and helped her to continue the special weekends they had together.

There were many more examples of people in our county who were being affected by fuel poverty, and this situation often resulted in further complications, such as poor nourishment, ill health and social isolation. It became obvious to me very quickly that the Surviving Winter Campaign was not only extremely important in keeping vulnerable and disadvantaged people warm, but it opened the door to helping them with further issues  that they were struggling with.  I am so grateful to help organise this campaign, and more importantly, to have the opportunity to donate my Winter Fuel Payment to such a worthy cause. 

Raising Aspirations

By Jenny Perez

24 October, 2016

I have worked on Raising Aspirations for about 18months now – my role is to recruit volunteer mentors from the community, interview and then train them. They are then ready to go into schools, in this case Taunton Academy and Court Fields in Wellington, to partner up with a student aged between 11 years and 13 years.

I wanted to share my experience of recruiting these mentors for whom I have a huge amount of admiration. In the first year I was tasked with finding 40 mentors for each school, so 80 in total and now in the second year a further 60 mentors, resulting in an overall total of 140 volunteer mentors from the Taunton and Wellington local community.

I wish I could share the magic formula, or bottle it to share with other organisations looking for volunteers on such a magnitude. The reality is that I have been struck by and fortunate to experience a positive response to my request of helping local students. There has also been a lot of hard work involved too of course! Never more has the phrase ‘if you want something done ask a busy person’ rung more true.

Having worked in the charity sector all my life and often scrabbled around to find one or two good quality volunteers I have now found in Somerset a huge array of willing people to give up an hour or so of their time each month to mentor a local student. In my mind the fact we ask only for one hour helps, it’s manageable and doable especially for professional people who have busy diaries.

Our mentors range in age from late 20’s to 70’s, an almost equal measure of male/female and between them a wealth of work experience, life experience and local, national and international knowledge. The one thing they all have in common no matter how busy they are, is a sense of willingness to give their time, once a month for up to 3 years to invest in a young person and help raise their aspirations.

The evidence we have collected proves that mentoring young people can and does have a positive impact on their lives, it improves confidence and self esteem for example. We also know that it has a positive impact on our mentor’s lives; they often share with me how much they learn from their mentee.

So why do our mentors come on board, what is driving that positive enthusiasm to help and support young people in Somerset?

When I meet mentors, some share stories of not doing well at school and then going on to gain academic qualifications later in life. For others there is a sense of wishing they had a positive mentor type role model in their life at a younger age. In addition a keenness to give something back to their local community.

I was struck by one mentor who put it so simply and eloquently when she said “Jenny, they just need time and space” - this silenced me momentarily, as I reflected on what had been said. She was absolutely right, in a busy world, full of screens the one gift we can give to student mentees is this valuable time and space. A quote I was introduced to at Taunton Academy has also stayed with me:

“Young people grow to fill the space we create for them” Chief Rabbi John Sacks, 2009

As they grow, their aspirations grow with them, this doesn’t happen instantly and nor would we expect it to, the mentors and mentees grow together – learn from one another and yet each at a different place in their lives. Students at Taunton Academy and Court Fields School who have mentors have been given a great opportunity. This opportunity to raise aspirations can only happen because there are inspirational people in Somerset who are willing to give their time and commit to their mentee over a considerable period of time. It has been a privilege to meet all the mentors and I thank them on behalf of everyone involved for their wonderful contribution to young people in Somerset. 


A new year, a new title and new challenges

By Mary Hancock, Somerset Community Foudation Operations Director

23rd September 2016

I’ve always loved the back-to-school season. Perhaps that’s because I associate it with buying new school supplies, refreshing my wardrobe and purchasing new shoes. Or maybe that’s because as a child I truly loved learning and facing all the new social and academic challenges that came with moving up a year. I feel a twinge of jealousy when the back-to-school ads appear on TV each August. So you can imagine that I felt positively giddy about returning to work after maternity leave on the same day that all the neighbourhood children started back to school, the buzz of anticipation and excitement all around us. Lucky them! Lucky me!*

A lot has happened during the months that I was out of the office. Two fantastic team members have come on board, and the Foundation’s portfolio of funds has grown. I expected changes, as we are constantly evolving and seeking to improve the way we deliver grant-making services to local groups and philanthropic services to local donors. To this end, I have taken on a new job title as Operations Director, which means that I am responsible for managing the delivery of our business plan and ensuring that we make the most of our technological and intellectual resources. Gearing up for the launch of the £13million Hinkley Point C Community Fund, I will be project managing the introduction of an SCF office in Bridgwater, from which our team will be working with local communities, local councils and other stakeholders to define the priorities for the fund. This is a new and exciting challenge of which I feel really honoured to be a part.

At the risk of sounding ambitious, I ended my maternity leave a month early so that I could return in time to support the team prior to the launch of our first Vital Signs report on the 4th October. It consists of a combination of existing research and community consultation, and it acts as a guide to local charitable giving by measuring social trends and issues. Somerset Vital Signs particularly highlights the way in which really small charities throughout the county are tackling some of the deepest and most significant social issues. Reading through the final draft of the report, some of the statistics about mental health, loneliness and  poverty in our county make for difficult reading, even for a hardened charity worker like me. In contrast though, the commitment of local people to establish and run these very small charities never ceases to inspire me.

Before I moved to the UK from Texas, I was a social worker supporting homeless single mothers and their children transition from shelters into permanent accommodation. I’ve met with clients in cars, under bridges, at fast food restaurants and, once, in what turned out to be a brothel. I felt their struggles and their pain and their fear. While I carried out my job as a professional, what motivated me to work for small, privately funded charities was actually very personal. And I know that what inspired many local philanthropists to fund our work was the feeling that they could make a very real difference to the lives of real people in Texas.

As Beth Breeze explains in Philanthropy and a Better Society, this level of personal giving is not about rich people supporting charity because they can or because they should, and especially not because a Whitehall committee expects them to. Major philanthropists often feel deeply motivated by certain social issues and take the time to become deeply connected to the organisations working to resolve those issues.

At Somerset Community Foundation we fund a wide range of organisations through our grant-making, and we add value to grant-making by supporting the people who run those organisations with a bit of advice about business planning and where to look for further funding. We also provide philanthropic services for local donors who have a wide variety of interests so that they too can make a very real difference to the lives of real people in Somerset.

This simple model of introducing local philanthropists to local causes is still incredibly exciting to me, and it is clear that I have returned during what is a very exciting time for SCF. I’m happy to be back for the new “school year”, with my new title, facing new challenges.

*My one year old son might not have felt so lucky to be dropped off at nursery that morning, but he settled in right away! 


Taking a little bit of Somerset Communnity Foundation to Northamptonshire

By Victoria Malcolm, Somerset Community Foudation Marketing & Events Executive

21st September 2016

When I arrived at Somerset Community Foundation for my very first day in November 2014 I had no idea how much I would learn, nor did I have any inkling as to how much working here would affect my way of thinking and my attitude to the area I live in.

I’m from an Royal Air Force family with parents who didn’t want to send their children to boarding school, so am lucky to have lived all over the world and had some fantastic adventures – but I wasn’t always sure where ‘home’ really was. I think I first realised I was missing out on something at college, when fellow students would head home for the holidays so excited to catch up with old school friends and planning to meet for Christmas Eve drinks in their local pub, while I beetled off to the train station or airport and travel home to my parents at yet another RAF or NATO base.

I appreciate now that all I was really envious of was the social life I considered myself to be lacking (I was a student at agricultural college, after all!), but my time here at SCF has opened my eyes to  what makes a community and how important it can be to people, perhaps now more than ever with an ageing population and the impact of loneliness on people’s heath better understood.

Before I started at SCF my experience of the third sector was largely as a consumer, exposed to fundraising campaigns on television or in print media, and encountering bucket shakers and ‘chuggers’ in town centres. I spent my first weeks at Somerset Community Foundation getting to grips with how the grant making and fund holding operations work, and quickly became astonished at the number of grassroots groups working in Somerset, and indeed across the UK, who work simply to make their local area a little bit better.

I now know small charities make up 97% of registered charities in the UK, and of course they get just a fraction of the media attention and public’s financial support of large organisations - indeed just 40 charities (and they are big ones, of course!) just 40 charities account for nearly 20% of all voluntary sector income.  However the difference they make to communities around them is truly extraordinary and I’ve been lucky to have had the chance to visit a good number of groups and charities during my time here, in order to be able to share their stories with you.  I never fail to be amazed or humbled by the work of volunteers and staff, and can honestly say my perception of what a society or community needs in order to function well and be a good place for people to live has been altered forever. I’ve even become involved in volunteering for the very first time myself, sitting on a village committee and raising money for a local good cause, and will make sure I continue to ‘give something back’ once I get my feet under the table in a new county, job and social circle.

So, at the end of this working day I am leaving Somerset Community Foundation after just shy of two years here, and sadly I will also be leaving the South West altogether. When I arrived in Somerset and we moved into our beautiful cottage, I thought we might stay forever, but alas we’re off to explore the Northamptonshire countryside next. Perhaps somewhere in that area will become the ‘home’ I really long for and I’ll be able to get to know a community, and, just maybe, help make it a better place to live! I’ve certainly been ‘converted’ by Somerset Community Foundation...

We’ve just sent the proofs of our very first Vital Impact report off to the printer. It will be uploaded onto the website this week and I would definitely recommend taking the time to read it. You might just be converted too. 


Those who live it, know it. An experiment in participatory grant making

By Andy Ridgewell, Somerset Community Foundation Programmes Manager

24th August 2016

Over the last few months I’ve been experimenting with a more open approach to philanthropy. Working closely with the Unstoppables, a group of young people with special educational needs and disabilities, we’re trying to put decision making into the hands of a group of people who often benefit from, but do not decide, our grants.

Prior to joining the community foundation I raised funds for a number of local charities, who I still support in one way or another. Looking in from the outside, my image of philanthropy was quite clear: a small group of people making decisions about large amounts of money. I felt sure that these people had a wide range of skills that they used to make good decisions. But I also felt that in most cases they would have lived very different lives to the people that I was fundraising on behalf of.

So what would happen if we collaborated to make these decisions, rather than asking people their opinions of something that has already been decided upon?

Participation in grant making 

These ideas are not new, but they remain uncommon among philanthropic foundations. Where they do exist they are often referred to as ‘participatory grantmaking’.

Among the various ways that grantmaking is becoming more participatory, there are two established examples of  collaborations between foundations and user-led groups, like the Unstoppables:

The Growing Futures Match Funding Challenge

All of which brings me back to my work with the Unstoppables. You may recall that earlier this year we asked for donors to contribute to a new match fund challenge that could grow their gifts by 80%. Our challenge was quickly met, resulting in a £36,000 fund to support children with disabilities in Somerset.

The Unstoppables will now decide where half of that money will go. The other half is being used to match funds raised by Rachel Goodfellow’s Epic Run, which will support the work of the Blandford, Dorchester, Taunton and Yeovil Opportunity Groups, and to match the fundraising of Francis Clark LLP, which will support the ESCAPE Support Group.

And the Unstoppables have some tough choices to make, with ten applications totalling over £29,000 and only £19,000 in their budget. To support their decision making we’ve tested different ways to make the information that applicants provide more accessible to the group, settling on an Easy Read grant summary. We’ve also decided to break the group’s decision into two parts: first, they will prioritise the applications and, secondly, they will allocate the funds.

There’s still lots to learn, but for the time being I’ll leave the last word to one of the Unstoppable’s young people’s champions:

“Many young people with disabilities learn to please people. They don’t learn to stand up for themselves and their ideas. Making decisions about this money may help them to feel like their voices are valued.”

What is life in Somerset really like? Community leaders share their thoughts

By Tessa Hibbert, Somerset Community Foundation Associate 

26th July 2016

Vital Signs is a unique guide to local philanthropy, produced by Community Foundations up and down the country. The reports pull together existing research and combine this with a community consultation to gain a full picture of the issues in each area.

We will publish our first Vital Signs report in October, and, in order to prepare, over the last two months we have been asking for views on what life here is like. We received 87 responses from community and voluntary sector leaders to our online survey which closed at the end of June. Congratulations to Sharon Spearing whose survey response was drawn at random from the 87 we received. Her nominated charity, South Somerset Mind, will receive a £100 donation.

The results stopped us and made us think. Whilst life in Somerset today is good for most, some in our society are struggling to cope.

The results

Community sector leaders told us that the biggest issue facing vulnerable people in Somerset today is poor transport. “Bus services are being reduced all the time, most taxi companies either don't want to come so far out of town or the cost is restrictive”. Poor or expensive transport means that people can’t access vital local services and end up feeling isolated, with knock on effects on their health and wellbeing.

There was concern expressed, too, about the rise in use of Food Banks in our County and the seeming disparity in life experiences and outcomes for rich and poor. “The facts speak for themselves, a huge increase in the use of food banks …But where there are strong volunteer bodies they supply a friendship network that is supportive and makes people feel positive about the place they live in”.

Respondents cited housing as a critical issue facing particularly younger people in today’s Somerset. One said there was “Not a lot of good quality housing for sale or rent”. A deeply rooted issue, the answers to the housing situation are complex and respondents talked about the need to “balance housing and countryside”.

Respondents told us that they believe priorities for community philanthropy should be strengthening communities through local voluntary sector projects; improving fairness in our society; and addressing transport issues.

We will continue to consider the responses over the coming months and the results will inform our Vital Signs report in the autumn.

For more information about Vital Signs or to contribute, please contact Tessa at tessa.hibbert@somersetcf.org.uk 


Are not-for-profit organisations making the most of scarce resources?

By Justin Sargent, Chief Executive

21st June 2016

Once a month for the past year I have been spending time with over 30 colleagues from across the charity world at Cass Business School in London. I have been learning with and from them, and it has been a real eye opener in many different ways.

Two things have struck me. First, there is an enormous wealth of talent in the charity sector and I am frequently humbled and inspired by my new-found friends. The other, though, is the frequency with which poor management is undermining people’s ability to use their talents to further the cause they are working for. Not only is that damaging on a personal level, it is also creating a much less effective sector overall.

Of course, just because you work for a charity it does not mean that everything is going to run smoothly, but I have really been taken aback by how many are working in teams and organisations that seem to lack the HR skills to not only look after their staff well, but get the most from them.

I wonder whether this is symptomatic of a culture that drives down any kind of overhead, including investment in staff and management skills, when common sense (or at least anyone with experience of the commercial world) will understand that there is a ‘sweet spot’ of investment in the underlying infrastructure of any successful organisation – not too much, certainly, but not too little either.

That includes investing in staff and HR processes. It is broadly accepted (see the NCVO report on Senior Executive pay) that people working in charities will be paid less well than colleagues in the commercial world.  It is perhaps also assumed too often that because it’s a vocational career, then less emphasis needs to be paid to getting the most out of people and giving them a rewarding and fulfilling career in other ways.

There is, of course, always a trade-off facing trustees about how they use their funds and what they invest in, especially in this era of austerity (covered very well by the Coalition for Efficiency in the ‘Trustee Dilemma’), but I am convinced that relatively small investments in creating more effective organisations can pay back many times over in terms of increased impact and sustainability.

Charities need to get better at understanding and then explaining their impact to donors and funders, but donors and funders need to also think in terms of impact instead of cost too.  At Somerset Community Foundation we are increasingly looking at whether our funding should be as heavily weighted towards project costs as it is, or whether we can actually get more impact by investing in organisation’s core capacity to run more efficiently, smarter and become more effective.

None of this is easy so, whether you are working in a charity, you are a trustee, or a donor, I would be very interested to hear your thoughts!

(If you want to hear a radical view on ‘overheads’, take time out to listen to watch this TED talk from  Dan Pollata: “The way we think about charity is dead wrong.”

Retirement isn’t the end – it’s just the beginning!

By Jocelyn Blacker, Programmes Manger

25th May 2016

Volunteering and the transition from paid work to retirement 

As I begin to approach the next major step in my life (I hope to retire fully in 2 years time) I have started to think about what life will be like after I no longer have to get up in the morning for work. Although I already look after my two gorgeous grandchildren (aged 4 and 11 months) one day a week,  my feeling is that life will be much more rewarding if I can also find a positive challenge outside the home environment. The key is having a balance of activities. You can volunteer for as much time as you want. That’s the great thing about being retired and volunteering – you make your own rules.

A lot of people are defined by their jobs and when this stops they have to re-visit who they are and what they represent. I have started to think about this now so I will be well prepared when retirement catches up with me.

But why volunteer?  I guess the grander thoughts would say it is time to give something back, but in truth I will also do it because I know there are many benefits to both mental and physical health. 

Research carried out by Dr. Suzanne Richards and colleagues at the University of Exeter Medical School reviewed 40 studies from the past 20 years on the link between volunteering and health and found that volunteering is associated with lower depression, increased wellbeing, and a staggering 22 percent reduction in the risk of dying early. What's more, research on brain health tells us that adults who problem solve and learn new skills are engaging in behaviours shown to protect against dementia and memory loss.  If you have read my blog  ‘Supporting people affected by dementia in Somerset’ (please scroll down to read it) you will understand that this is a subject very close to my heart.

The contribution of older volunteers to the sector is critical—both in supporting and delivering services and in governance as trustees.   Age UK reports that two-fifths of older people are engaging in voluntary work, and a poll by the Royal Voluntary Service found that one in five - around 2.2 million - people over the age of 60 help out with at least two different charities​

As retirement ages have continued to rise, the body of volunteers—for so long reliant on older people— has diminished as this group either needs or wants to remain in paid work for longer. 

With people routinely working past 65 for the first time, volunteers and charities alike are especially worried about any available time being spent to help cash-strapped relatives with childcare.  With childcare costs now at £212 a week on average many older people find themselves caring for their grandchildren -  as indeed I am currently doing, one day a week.  And alongside helping to care for their grandchildren, many will also find themselves caring for other older relatives or neighbours.  Either way, these pressing demands are likely to affect the availability of a voluntary workforce and given the sheer number of older people giving time to charities, even a small percentage drop in the volunteer hours they give could dramatically affect charities’ resources.

Over the next 20 years society will change dramatically and the voluntary sector will need to change with it.  The big demographic shifts implicit in an ageing population will affect all charities, whatever their mission. The voluntary sector and many small organisations will need additional skills more than ever to meet the challenges of the tough economic climate. A recent CSV (Community Service Volunteers) survey revealed that nearly half of organisations questioned had a need for skilled volunteers, particularly in the fields of business development, marketing, accounting and finance.  Many retirees possess knowledge and experience in these areas.

If organisations are serious about involving older volunteers, they should think about whether they can be more flexible about the activities and time commitment they require, to enable retired people to fit volunteering into their increasingly busy lives.  I feel they need to offer interesting work where volunteers can make a real contribution and not feel they are ‘cheap labour’.  And they should not make assumptions about the wishes and interests of older people and should take time to show that their contribution is valued and not taken for granted.

Sometimes people feel a bit overwhelmed once they retire; after all, if you've stuck to a schedule every day for years, suddenly having total freedom can be a bit much. Others can feel a bit negative, as though they've been put out to pasture after working hard for so long.  But retirement doesn’t have to be like that – it should be looked at as a new opportunity.  There are dozens of opportunities everywhere – all you need to do is look around for the causes you care most about and identify where your help is needed.  

Helping good causes share great work

By Victoria Malcolm, Marketing & Events Executive

28th April 2016

I have been sitting at a desk in the corner of Somerset Community Foundation’s office three days a week for just over 18 months, sharing our funding opportunities, donor services and general good news stories with Somerset. Having previously worked in a busy private-sector PR & marketing agency I am still astonished every single day at the number of people who put so much energy and time into the voluntary sector here in Somerset. I was certainly unaware of the size and reach of the voluntary sector, and find it rather humbling. I’ve been inspired to volunteer some of my spare time to help a committee in my village put on a fundraising event, and when I became involved last June was dismayed to find that they had prepared a brilliant music festival but their PR and marketing was so dismal that they were selling no tickets at all.

In this blog I wanted share some of the knowledge I have developed during my career to date, with the aim of steering very small charities and community groups towards making the very best out of their non-existent marketing budgets and precious time. A quick ‘Google’ can certainly help you with the basics of communications and marketing, but there is advice out there that I think is a poor fit for small businesses and charities.

Who do you want to talk to? Is that different to who you are talking to now?

Even the smallest community group would be investing their time well by spending just an hour thinking about their audiences, if they want to be sustainable and effective. Who do you want to hear about what you are doing? If you are already reaching them, how can you find more people just like them to share your story? Thinking about where and how you connect with people should shape and drive your marketing, so bear that in mind as you read on.

Social media – can you make it work for you?

While carrying out agency work I was forever responding to my client’s desires to become digital, everyone wanted a Facebook page, a Twitter profile – the ‘party line’ was that you had to be seen to be have a presence on social media, and the consequences of getting left behind would be catastrophic (think of Kodak missing the digital photography boat and sinking without a trace). I held reservations then, and still do, about the need for small to medium-sized businesses to spend heaps of time on social media. A Facebook page can act as a very basic webpage if your budget or expertise don’t allow for a full website and along with Twitter can allow you to post news and events for free, so don’t write it off as pointless. But spending hours a week immersed in posting, particularly if you see limited responses from the same small pool of people or groups, can be timewasting and there are other tools where your time may be better spent.   

In addition, and while I have been getting to grips with marketing in the third sector, we have also witnessed significant changes to the way that information is delivered on many popular social media sites that limits the true reach of posts. Put simply, the business of turning social networks into effective advertising platforms has rendered it a far less effective free marketing tool for groups, charities and businesses – plummeting reach and engagement levels force people into using the advertising options on Facebook if they want to maintain the effectiveness of the page.

 Please don’t think you should delete your Facebook page and no longer Tweet – it is still worth posting good news and opportunities on there if you are reaching clients, beneficiaries and possible sources of funding. At SCF I ensure we post grant funding streams, case studies, details of events and application deadlines – there is reasonable interaction with our posts, but not a chance that we are reaching everyone we need to or can.  

Fall back in love with emailing people

Email is still a vitally important way to communicate with anyone connected to and interested in your organisation. The average person checks their email 15 times a day (I know I check mine far more!), and not many companies can say that about their websites or social media feeds, can they? The dependency people have on their emails should not be underestimated, particularly now that so many aspects of life are online - even applying for a grant from SCF!

Building up a mailing list doesn’t have to be labour intensive and can be an on-going process – just make sure you capture that data when you collect personal information from supporters and beneficiaries. Use email to share your messages, whether it is just from your regular email account or from free mass-email platforms such as Mailchimp. Think about creating a newsletter, perhaps re-using content from social media- and send out a concise monthly update that can reach so many more people than a Tweet.  

Explore every avenue and play to your strengths!

Print press may have a limited life, but people are more likely to read their local press than national newspapers, so it is worth building a relationship with yours. Writing a press release isn’t hard – just make sure you are clear and put the newsworthy information in the title and the first sentence. Cut the waffle and a time-starved journalist will be far more likely to understand what you have done and why it’s important to local readers. A clear, strong and high res image never hurts either! 

Forums and digital message boards have lost out to social media in terms of profile and numbers, but they are still there and can provide a great way to spread the word about what you are doing. They could be invaluable to share event information and find  

Finally, very small local charities do have an advantage over larger charities – they are often run by people embedded in the local communities they are trying to serve. This ‘on the ground’ intelligence is something that larger charities cannot hope to nurture, and can be used to your advantage. Use local networking to reach your target audience – meetings, forums and community discussion groups are all fantastic ways to share your message and reach more people. This level of marketing is far more personal and credible than a mass mailout dropped through a person’s letterbox could ever be and you cannot fail to convey your passion and commitment to your audience.   


Growing Well

By Andy Ridgewell, Programmes Manager

21st March 2016

Many of us retreat to the garden to find peace and quiet amongst the flowerbeds. But as well as being an activity that you can enjoy on your own, gardening is now seen as having a much wider range of health benefits.

Since I joined the Community Foundation at the beginning of the year I’ve been impressed with the range of applications we have received for innovative mental health projects. And it’s been particularly interesting to see the ways that local organisations are turning to gardening to achieve positive changes in their communities.

This approach is often referred to as ‘social and therapeutic horticulture’:

Social and therapeutic horticulture is the process of using plants and gardens to improve physical and mental health, as well as communication and thinking skills. It also uses the garden as a safe and secure place to develop someone's ability to mix socially, make friends and learn practical skills that will help them to be more independentThis can be understood as part of a broader approach to connect people with nature more generally, which has recently received Government interest.

Closer to home, we were pleased to support two such projects earlier this month.

The long term aim of both of these projects is to support adults suffering from mental ill-health into volunteering, training or employment at their own pace.

Somerset Community Foundation is currently accepting applications to its Foundation Grants programme that support people who are living with, or recovering from, mental ill-health. The next deadline is 13 June 2016, and you can find out more about applying here

Inspirational Peer Support

By Justin Sargent, Chief Executive

25th February 2016

You will have seen or heard me in recent months refer to ‘Inspiring Philanthropy’ as the core mission of Somerset Community Foundation. At the heart of our thinking on what ‘inspiring philanthropy’ looks like is tangible and strategic support achieved by bringing people together to make a difference in Somerset.

You would be forgiven for thinking that ‘Inspiring Philanthropy’ is this just another abstract marketing ploy that doesn’t have any substance and I am all too aware that we have to ‘walk the walk’ or lose credibility. I would be the first to admit that we are just beginning to explore what this means, but along with our donors, it is an aspiration we are constantly striving towards.

Let me give you an example. We have been working with Lucy Nelson, this year’s High Sheriff, to hold a fund that she has raised to support mental health charities. We could have decided to run a traditional grants process, supported a few groups to deliver projects and that would have been very worthwhile. But Lucy had a great vision to encourage more cooperation between like-minded charities.

With over 165,000 charities in the UK, the temptation is to say there are too many and there should be some kind of rationalisation through mergers and more cooperative working. Easy to say, very difficult to do. 80% of these charities operate on less than £100,000 a year – even to employ a small handful of people  - and are mostly very locally based. Each fits into its local environment, operating in gaps between others and making the most of assets available. These charities may look similar, but they are, in fact, very different.

However, that is not to say that more cooperation would not go amiss and we are interested to see how are inspiring approach to philanthropy could enable this to happen at a local level. Working with Lucy we identified four locally based mental health charities operating across South Somerset and into the Mendips that we felt might benefit from working together, and we have brought them together.

The most tangible aspect of what we will do is help them raise funds for themselves more effectively, probably by working together and sharing a resource to develop a shared programme of work built around a peer-support model for helping people with mental health illnesses recover and reach a better quality of life. In doing so, however, we have already seen that while the groups are all different, they do have much to share and learn from each other, and in effect, will form their own peer support network.

It is early days, but for me personally, working with Lucy and the four charities is in itself an inspirational experience, and I can’t wait to see how this unfolds.  

People Power! 

By Tessa Hibbert, Senior Programmes Manager

20th January 2016

One of the best things about my job is seeing communities respond to challenges faced by their members. It is amazing how much can be achieved by a small group of people who have a genuine passion and concern for others. Community action of this sort often brings to mind for me the inspirational quote by environmentalist Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has”.

The more I work with small community groups, the more I see the truth of this. Bottom up community development has the authenticity and community support needed to make a long lasting difference.

A fantastic example of this sort of community action is shown by local Dementia Action Alliances. Spearheaded by the Alzheimer’s Society, following the Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge in 2012, Dementia Action Alliances brings together local people to improve the lives of people with dementia in their area.

Groups are made up of individuals who are carers, people who work in health and social care, public services, businesses, charities and individuals who really want to make a difference to the lives of local people affected by dementia in their local community. They start with the views of people with dementia and their carers and decide what would make the biggest difference in their area. Members create an action plan to take forward local projects that will make a difference. In Somerset, Alliances are established in many parts of the county, from Watchet to Frome and many in between.

At a recent meeting of the Alliances, I was struck by the creative ways these groups were responding to people’s needs – often with projects that had little or no cost. Innovative projects range from visiting every shop in the High Street to discuss with retailers what would make a difference to people with dementia when shopping; negotiating access to loos in commercial and retail properties in town centres for people who can’t wait; negotiating designated swimming sessions in the local baths; and developing educational projects with local Scout groups. The Avon and Somerset police force – a local member – has purchased a number of GPS devices for those with memory loss to wear if they’re outside the home. This gives them and their carer peace of mind about what would happen if they get lost.

With the fantastic support of the Alzheimer’s Society, the changes these groups are bringing about are happening organically and campaigns have local ownership. In many areas they have high local profiles, thanks to partnerships with local media such as the Wells Journal.

At Somerset Community Foundation we are working alongside the High Sheriff of Somerset, Lucy Nelson, and other funders to identify the ways that local philanthropy can make an impact. This speaks to Somerset Community Foundation’s mission to increase the impact of local philanthropy by helping hundreds of groups every year make a lasting difference where it matters most.


The story of our county: what do updated deprivation figures tell us about the reality of life in Somerset?

 By Tessa Hibbert, Senior Programmes Manager

23rd November 2015

If you’re reading this blog you perhaps already know – or can imagine -  the story of the ‘real’ Somerset, behind the image of a rural idyll populated by historic, picture perfect cottages.

One of the first things I learned when I started working in Somerset six years ago is that there is a significant proportion of our population that is experiencing significant disadvantage and whose lives don’t fit with this rosy picture.

Even I was shocked when, last month, the government brought out updated index of multiple deprivation figures which revealed the truth about the reality of poverty and deprivation in our county.

The figures show that aspects of deprivation have undoubtedly improved for some parts of Somerset, but overall the number of neighbourhoods in our county that are in the most 20% deprived in England has increased from 14 in 2010 to 25 today. Around 38,000 Somerset residents now live in a neighbourhood identified as one of the 20% most deprived in England.

Five areas of Somerset were in the top 10% nationally for deprivation in 2010, but today this has increased to nine areas. The highest levels of deprivation are found within the county’s larger urban areas: Taunton, Bridgwater and Highbridge.

At the same time, Somerset has plenty of advantaged areas and the number of these (in the 1% least deprived nationally) has actually increased from 14 to 18.

So what is going on? Why have some areas seen an increase in levels of deprivation whilst others are becoming more advantaged?

The Government’s measure of deprivation is assessed across eight domains, or issues[1]. Against most of these domains, Somerset neighbourhoods have stayed relatively constant, and in fact in some domains, such as adult skill levels, there has been an improvement since 2010. In one notable area, however, there has been a significant and marked decline: the quality of housing[2]. The

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