To celebrate 15 years of inspiring philanthropy here at Somerset Community Foundation, we're looking at 15 people, groups and organisations with whom we have had a long-standing relationship and who have changed Somerset for the better, over a number of years.
8. The Rise and Rise of Social Enterprise in Somerset
One of the major changes that we have seen in the past fifteen years has been the growth of social enterprises in Somerset.
Broadly speaking social enterprises are organisations that deliberately set out to make positive impacts on society and/or our environment through some form of trading. They may be charities, but they may also be co-operatives, industrial and provident societies, or even a regular company. Typically, they have some form of restriction on how the organisation’s assets may be used, balancing private benefit with societal benefits: this is usually referred to as an asset lock.
Most commonly, social enterprises take the form of Community Interest Companies (CIC), a form of company that was created in 2005 for companies that had an express social or environmental purpose underpinned by an asset lock. Unlike charities, they do not have an independent Board of trustees, and the Directors can be paid directly or receive dividends.
Arguably, the financial crash in 2008 accelerated interest in social enterprise models. Following a decade of rising Government support for charities, this sharply declined and combined with the broader impacts of austerity policies and rising inequality in our communities, new ways of delivering social change needed to develop.
We funded our first CIC – ‘Skills Quest’ – in early 2006. Since then we have seen an increasing number of CICs register in Somerset and then apply to us for funding. To date, we have received 158 applications from Community Interest Companies.
This, in turn, has created challenges for our grant-making policy. In particular many local CICs are little more than charities by any other name, dependent on grants rather than traded income, but without the governance of an independent Board of trustees. Many of the early CICs we supported no longer exist and while they were set up for the very best of reasons, we have questioned whether we should treat them the same way we treat conventional charities and voluntary groups.
This, in turn, led us to develop a specific policy for awarding grants to CICs that was aimed at supporting them to develop successful trading models rather than rely solely on traditional charity finance (although we recognise that grants may have a role to play in subsidising a social enterprise in return for social benefits).
It also led us to consider how we could really help grow social enterprises in Somerset, which led to a terrific partnership with Somerset County Council, and then latterly with the Access Foundation, to create the first dedicated ‘social investment’ fund for Somerset.
This fund is built around a loan programme, blended with grants. As we tend to target smaller and less experienced social entrepreneurs, our funders also enable us to provide all of the necessary support needed to help these organisations succeed in their goals.
It took us some time to build momentum around this programme, with just three loans in the first 24 months! However, in the past twelve months we have agreed six more social investments and an increasing number of enquiries and proposals are coming through. Overall our social investment programme has invested over £330,000 to date.
We remain one of only a handful of UK Community Foundations delivering local social investment finance at a grassroots level. We firmly believe that social enterprises have more of a role to play in our communities and, when the business model is strong enough and the social impact is significant enough, investing in their future for the good of our communities is absolutely the right thing to do.
7. Neroche Woodlanders
Neroche Woodlanders is a small social enterprise based south of Taunton, near the village of Staple Fitzpaine. Established in 2012, we first funded them a year later, in 2013. Based broadly on the Forest Schools ethos, Woodlanders works alongside nature to fire spirits, kindle community and foster wellbeing. Within the setting of 100 acres of the public forest estate, they work with local disadvantaged groups and families, running programmes, practical courses, team development sessions, wellbeing days and camps. They also run a regular group, the Neroche Conservation Volunteers, where they help others to take care of the woodland.
We recently awarded a grant that went towards their staffing costs, resources and transport for disadvantaged Taunton families. Director, Jenny Archard said: “Many families in North and East Taunton are on very low incomes and have little access to facilitated outdoor play and learning opportunities. This can lead to lack of social contact and valuable developmental experiences for both parents and children.
“By facilitating time spent with nature, well away from the stresses of everyday life, we have found that both parents and children become more relaxed, and their mood and behaviour can improve. In sharing the experiences of nature and talking with others, it enables both parents and children to become more confident, make new friendships and support networks, see people in different ways, and build lasting change for themselves and their communities.”
For more information about the fantastic work that Neroche Woodlanders does, click here.
6. St. Francis Youth Club
St. Francis Youth Club was established in 2004 to provide a safe and affordable summer holiday club for 5-12 year olds living on the large Sydenham and Bower council estates in Bridgwater, including activities in St Francis Community Hall, family days out and outreach work in the area. They received their first grant from us three years later in 2007, and have, to date, been successful in applying for grants from us eleven times.
Diane Wilson, Volunteer Fundraiser at St. Francis Youth Club said: “The holiday club has become so popular, with families approaching us long before the school holiday starts. Our numbers are continuing to grow, with new families joining us every year. Some of the young people who have grown up with us over the last decade are now part of the planning committee, and volunteer for us as junior leaders, which is just fantastic! We’re so grateful to the funding from Somerset Community Foundation as it makes such a vital difference to the families and young people from the estate, and we also know how important the group is to our young people - because they tell us so, year after year!”
5. Cornwall Glass
'Tis the season to celebrate, it seems. While we're celebrating our 15th year here at SCF, Cornwall Glass are celebrating their 40th anniversary and together we're celebrating five years of corporate philanthropy! It was exactly five years ago that Cornwall Glass made a pledge to support Somerset Community Foundation, having already developed a relationship with our colleagues at Cornwall Community Foundation. The South West firm has local branches in Bristol, Highbridge and Yeovil, and we have enjoyed getting to know their local staff over the years.
In a recent discussion with Cornwall Glass Director, Paul Garrard, he said:
“Since opening our Somerset branches in Highbridge and Yeovil, Cornwall Glass has been privileged to support the work of Somerset Community Foundation. As a company we have donated in excess of £50,000 to organisations and community groups throughout the South West. Supporting grants awarded through the Somerset Youth Fund we aim to provide support for young people in Somerset.
This year, as part of our 40th Anniversary celebrations, we are embracing our core philanthropic values, hoping to become even more involved in supporting those around us in need.
Our positive relationships with the Cornwall, Devon and Somerset Community Foundations have continued over many years, reaching out to local communities to try and make a meaningful difference."
Here at SCF we're grateful for the long-standing support of Cornwall Glass for the Somerset Youth Fund, which has most recently funded mentoring for vulnerable young people, horse riding lessons for children with learning difficulties and a local toy library. We look forward to working with this fantastic local company for many more years to come.
4. Sing for Somerset
For our fourth story in this series we thought we'd look at Sing for Somerset. Our annual carol service, which is held in Wells Cathedral, has been running for over ten years now and is one of the few events that we put on across the year. The retiring collection from this fabulously festive carol service benefits the work that Somerset Community Foundation delivers here in our county.
Following Sing for Somerset 2017, we caught up with Laurence Blyth, Musical Director and conductor of the service since 2015.
What makes Sing for Somerset so special for you, Laurence?
Sing for Somerset is, for me, the start of Christmas. It’s so rare to have a carol service (as opposed to a concert) that is led by an orchestra, a choir and an organ - that certainly makes the music so rewarding to conduct. Bringing it all together in the ancient Wells Cathedral, listening to the Christmas story, and hearing of the vital work done by Somerset’s unsung heroes makes it a really lovely occasion.
How long have you been a conductor?
My first experience of conducting came whilst I was still at Norwich School, but I didn’t have the opportunity to work with a group on a regular basis until I arrived in Exeter as an undergraduate. I directed the University Singers for two years, and took up my first professional appointment in 2008. I now have a portfolio of work around the South West, including Somerset Voices.
How long have you been involved in SCF's Sing for Somerset carol service?
I conducted my first Sing for Somerset service in 2015.
Somerset Community Foundation has been involved in Sing for Somerset for over 10 years. Do the volunteers in the Mid-Somerset Orchestra and Somerset Voices come back year on year?
The make-up of the choir does change from year to year, but there is a core of stalwarts who have been involved for some time. One of our tenors was saying recently, during rehearsal, that 2017 was his ninth appearance!
How much preparation goes into making sure this carol service sounds so wonderfully festive?
A lot! It’s become a bit of a tradition to start the planning for the next Sing for Somerset the day after the service has taken place. I usually grab a coffee and read through the order of service from the night before, thinking about things that went well or pieces that might be worth doing again the following year. Sometimes a carol needs resting for a year or so, or the links between the readings and music might need a tweak.
All the singers and players are naturally very busy around Christmas time, so it’s also the time to get the date in everyone’s diaries, and then plan chorus rehearsals around other singing commitments. A lot of the members of Somerset Voices also sing with Wellington Choral Society or Taunton Choral Society, so we also try to find the best times to rehearse that won’t get in the way of other plans.
By the autumn we’ve ordered choir and orchestra music for each carol, booked rehearsal venues and fixed up accompanists. Then it’s just the small matter of teaching the music (usually the choir has four rehearsals before the service), and putting it together during rehearsal in Wells Cathedral during the day of the Sing for Somerset service.
How do you choose which carols to feature in the service?
I like to start by thinking about the readings, and how a carol might reflect the words that will be read before or after the music. I then start searching through all sorts of carol books and other pieces that I pick up, and thinking about what will work well at that point of the service, and whether it’s suited to the choir and orchestra that we’ll have on the day.
If people want to get involved next year, how should they get in touch?
Interested singers can get in touch via my website www.laurenceblyth.com or on Twitter @LaurenceBlyth
3. ESCAPE Support Group
ESCAPE Support Group aim to extend opportunities and support to families of children who have additional needs within Somerset. They have been organising relaxed and motivating days out for local families since their inception 17 years ago, and Somerset Community Foundation (SCF) have been supporting ESCAPE for a decade now.
Some families find that having a child with a disability can be isolating and stressful. Not only are families coping with the day-to-day (sometimes 24/7) care of their children, they are often worrying about financial pressures. According to Contact a Family, it costs up to three times as much to raise a disabled child as it does to raise a child without disabilities. ESCAPE aim to fund at least 50% of their activities through fundraising and applying for grants, subsidising the cost of their activities so that they are more accessible to families in all financial circumstances.
By joining ESCAPE, members are surrounded by other families who know what it is like to have a child with specific needs, and can feel relaxed in company where they don’t feel they have to justify themselves or their children. They can just be themselves and have fun, which promotes emotional wellbeing for all.
SCF supported ESCAPE with an initial grant from the Local Network Fund ten years ago. Our funding has helped sustain the groups running costs, activities and, most recently, a Christmas lunch.
Over the years ESCAPE has grown its membership base to over 150 local families who take part in their regular activities that include swimming sessions, coffee mornings, lunches and a Hub Club. The group also organises one-off events such as weekends away and trips to the theatre.
You can read more about ESCAPE Support Group and their amazing work in Somerset here on their website.
2.Tauntfield and Summerfield Developments
In 2002, just after Somerset Community Foundation had been launched, we were on the cusp of securing the contract to deliver the Government’s Local Network Fund. Our only problem was that we had no track record in delivering grants!
This was when Tauntfield stepped in, making their first donation to SCF. From that donation we were able to make our first grants, including one to the newly formed Escape Support Group, a charity that works with families with disabled children in Taunton.
Tauntfield and Summerfield Developments are a brilliant example of a successful local business, owned and run by local people with a genuine passion for Somerset. They have continued to support us over the past fifteen years, gradually building a significant endowment fund worth over £120,000.
An endowment fund appealed to them because it demonstrates a simple way of making a longterm commitment to communities in Somerset.
Many local charities have now benefitted from grants funded through the Tauntfield and Summerfield Developments Fund, including the Trident Youth and Community Centre, Outdoor Challenge, Ten Communities Youth, On Your Bike, North Taunton Partnership and the Conquest Centre.
Elizabeth Williams, who is to this day a Director of Tauntfield and was one of our founding trustees, has told us: "I am delighted that, through Somerset Community Foundation, we have been able to help some of the people of Somerset and know that our contribution is being managed and awarded to those in genuine need."
Our connection with the firm continues to this day. Richard Lloyd, Executive Chairman of Summerfield Developments, is currently a trustee of SCF, and Tauntfield has agreed to sponsor our Sing for Somerset Christmas carol service this year. More importantly, though, their fund will continue to make a lasting difference in local communities for generations to come.
1. Back on Track
Back on Track is a local, volunteer-led charity that has transformed the lives of young people ever since they started, with a ‘Local Network Fund’ grant from us, just over ten years ago.
Back on Track works with local schools and agencies to help young people with complex needs and sometimes chaotic lives to develop skills through contact with horses, hosted by local commercial stables - a really great example of what can be achieved when you make the most of the assets Somerset has to offer. You can read more about Back on Track's work in a case study, here.
One of the things that has impressed us most about Back on Track, and enabled us to continue supporting them, has been the data they have collected through their partner schools that participate in their eight week programmes. This data has provided us with good evidence of the impact they are making, in a very simple format. Each young person is ranked on a number of measures, both at the start of a programme and again at the end, on a simple scale of 1-10.
The first grant we awarded to them – which was also the first grant they had ever received – was just over ten years ago, when Back on Track was a pilot project launched by the British Horse Society. It has since grown to become an independent charity, led by Sally Whittaker and her small team of dedicated volunteers, supported with just £25,000 in grants from Somerset Community Foundation.
Sally said: “ We could not have achieved all that we have done for the children of Somerset, without the help, generosity and advice, which was freely given by the trustees and staff at Somerset Community Foundation. I'd like to thank them very much.”
That funding from Somerset Community Foundation will have supported around fourteen Back on Track sessions and benefited over 100 young people from Somerset.
Recently, Florence Rice, a sixth form student at Kings of Wessex Academy in Cheddar spent some time with us here at Somerset Community Foundation, on a work experience placement. For one of her tasks, we asked her to analyse some raw data from a sample of the monitoring forms, to give us, and Back on Track, a clearer picture of the change they are achieving. The resulting graphs illustrate the significant progress made by the young people who took part.
What we found is that overall the programme increases young people’s self-esteem, their ability to work with others and even the simple pleasure that comes from having fun with others.