Our Blog

Surviving Winter: So much more than just financial support 

By Justin Sargent, Chief Executive

14 January, 2020

“I don’t really need my Winter Fuel Payment, so if I donated the equivalent amount to you, could you use it to help someone in much greater need?”

From that simple and generous offer ten years ago, sprang an award-winning fundraising campaign, devised and led by Somerset Community Foundation: the Surviving Winter appeal. We have now raised £700,000 in Somerset, and millions of pounds across the UK. Endorsements have ranged from Somerset residents Michael Eavis and The Bishop of Bath and Wells through to national personalities such as Sir Terry Wogan, Joanna Lumley and Michael Parkinson.

Each year, hundreds of better-off recipients of the government’s Winter Fuel Payment living in Somerset, donate to our Surviving Winter appeal to help pensioners who face untold hardship during the winter months.

If you are fortunate enough to have a good income but have experienced your boiler go on the blink during the winter, you will know how miserable that can be. For some people, that is their reality throughout the whole winter.

We have estimated that in Somerset alone there are a staggering 6,500 households occupied by older people who are considered to be fuel poor – meaning they have to make the decision between paying for heating or buying food. On average, an additional £300 would be enough to heat their homes adequately for comfort and health.

Too many people have to choose between heating and eating. Too many people only heat one room to save costs, retreating to bed as soon as it falls dark. I remember meeting a lady who moved her bed into her kitchen during the winter to save costs and stay a little warmer at night.

The consequence of cold weather is a significant rise in the number of deaths every winter. In 2017/18 there were 542 ‘excess winter deaths’ in Somerset alone, most of whom were older people. For each one, hundreds of others will be experiencing hardship and suffering that is, quite frankly, avoidable.

The media are already reporting on the expected pressures that will be placed on the NHS this winter. In one of the richest countries in the world it is shameful that this additional burden is caused because people cannot afford to keep warm or that they become more isolated and lonely in the winter.

Here in the rural West Country many areas are dependent on expensive sources of energy such as oil or LPG, and many people live in old cottages that are expensive to insulate.

When we first launched the Surviving Winter appeal I was challenged on how we would reach those people in greatest need. As a Community Foundation, we fund hundreds of local charities each year. We’ve asked them to use their networks to reach those most in need. In so many cases it is not just the extra financial help to stay warm, it is about the human contact, the extra advice and support that goes with it that makes all the difference. Last year, a lady in her 90s with no close family was given a Surviving Winter grant; through the process she was then able to access additional financial support that she was entitled to from the state.

Surviving Winter is an incredibly simple and effective community-led response with a very neat symmetry. Over 500 people donate each year and, in turn, we are able to help just over 500 households stay warm and well. There is something really magical about the thought that your gift might help someone just down the road in your village or neighbourhood, especially in the colder months. So, if you can afford to, please donate today and spread some warmth this winter. Thank you.

If you would like to donate to Surviving Winter, click here. A donation form is available to download here.

For information on how to apply for a Surviving Winter grant, please contact Community Council for Somerset on 01823 331222.



Give the gift of friendship and help us reduce loneliness this Christmas

By Laura Blake, Development Director

18 November, 2019

I don’t know about you, but I love Christmas. I start to get excited in November and start making plans for how I’ll celebrate with friends and family. I start thinking about how I’ll decorate the house, what we’ll eat at Christmas dinner, the gifts we’ll give and the smiles on the faces of those we give them to.

But for many of our neighbours, Christmas – and the long, dark, cold winter – can be a particularly tough time. A time when feelings of loneliness can come to the surface. This can be amplified by the pressure for Christmas to be a magical time spent with loved ones.

One in six older people in Somerset often feel lonely. Many of our neighbours live alone, some without transport. For many people, winter has come to be a time of feeling isolated and experiencing poor mental health.

But loneliness affects everyone, whatever your age. It affects young people who may feel they have no one they can turn to in difficult times. It affects new parents, who may be struggling to cope with the demands of parenting or the effect that becoming a parent has on their identity. It affects those who live alone, and those who live with family. Extroverts and introverts alike.

For almost 10 years, Somerset Community Foundation’s Surviving Winter appeal has provided vital grants to older people living in fuel poverty. Supported by generous local donors, we make grants to over 500 households to keep older people safe, warm and well each winter.

But we want to do more to tackle the loneliness and isolation that makes winter such a tough time for so many people. We want to fund 40 community Christmas meals this year to bring people together, reduce loneliness and keep our communities strong.

Sharing a meal, laughter and a chat is one of the simplest ways we can feel connected to others. Bringing people together from across a community to share a meal is a powerful way to reduce loneliness and create new friendships that can last long beyond winter.

We’re looking for generous local companies who can donate £250 to sponsor a community Christmas meal.

Every company that donates £250 or more will receive a Somerset Community Foundation Christmas e-card to send in place of Christmas cards to their clients and colleagues to celebrate their support.

To find out more or donate to the campaign, please visit www.somersetcf.org.uk/Christmas or get in touch with me at laura.blake@somersetcf.org.uk or on 01749 344949.

Together, we can make Christmas merry and brighter for our communities.


Out and about in Somerset

By Kirsty Campbell, Programmes Manager

22 July, 2019

After saying a fond farewell to Jocelyn Blacker, who retired after 15 years at the Foundation, I stepped into her very large shoes in April of this year and started my new role as Programmes Manager. What I’m enjoying most about this new role is getting to know the community groups, charities and more generally the VCSE sector in Somerset, better. My new role has allowed me the opportunity to get out of the office and meet groups, and also attend some interesting collaboration meetings.

One of the first groups I had the opportunity to visit the Balsam Centre in Wincanton, finding out more about their work and at the same time speak to members of Guardian Adoptive Parental Support (GAPS), a recent grant recipient, who meet at the Centre. Hearing about the many difficulties and stresses that families face when raising adopted children or those of other family members such as grandchildren, was eye opening, and how families are very much in need of the support GAPS provides. I was also impressed with the work of the Balsam Centre, which is clearly a vital part of the local community. It is a hub of activities for all ages to promote health and wellbeing, a place to learn new skills and to connect with others.

I’ve also been able to meet several friendship groups for older people who provide social connection and activities to help people stay active and maintain their wellbeing. For group members getting out is always difficult and access to transport is often a problem. All of these groups, the majority of which are run by older people themselves, are doing a fantastic job reducing isolation and loneliness.

Most recently I had the pleasure of visiting the toddler group Little Saints in Williton. As with so many rural areas, there is very little support for isolated parents. The closure of Children’s Centres has increased this problem and Little Saints works with Home-start West Somerset and Health Visitors, to reach parents who are isolated. The toddler group provides not only a safe place for children to build social and other skills, but also for parents to be able to get out and socialise. It was great to meet parents and hear directly from them about how they benefit from the group, and it took me back to the days when I was an isolated parent living in a village with young children and no transport, remembering just how vital a toddler group can be. It was great to hear Little Saints is establishing a new group in Watchet in an area where there is currently little provision.

Hamdon Youth Club, which serves the villages of Stoke sub Hamdon and Norton sub Hamdon, wanted to thank their funders and I was delighted to represent SCF at an event arranged during one of their weekly sessions. It was fantastic to see these young people socialising and clearly enjoying themselves, while also learning key life skills and gaining knowledge to help them in the future. While talking with some of the young people, their recognition that the youth club tries hard to make sure they enjoy the sessions came across, commenting that “it’s nice they do that for us”, which clearly made them feel appreciated, an important thing that can often be forgotten.

Personal Achievements Creative Experiences (PACE) in Frome held an open day earlier in the year and I was very pleased to be able to take up the invitation to join them. PACE is a group for people with mobility difficulties who meet once a week to enjoy activities and lunch together. Again, the members of the group said how much they appreciated having somewhere to come to socialise, learn and try new things. In fact, many said this is the only time they get out each week and how important the club is to them; the friendships that have been established were clear to see.

One issue running through these visits is rural isolation, and this is the first topic to be looked at in our series of ‘Hidden Somerset’ reports. I would urge to you to read our Hidden Somerset – Rural Isolation report and let us know your thoughts, and any insights you may have.

What struck me most on my visits was hearing the personal stories of those that benefit from the excellent work happening in our communities. These stories really bring home the challenges people face but also how, with help, they are overcoming them – showing us what community is about.


Guest Blog: Could you inspire the next generation?

By Andrew Hanson, Somerset Education Business Partnership Manager

23 May, 2019

Developing the Somerset Education Business Partnership over the last year has been fascinating and rewarding. I’ve visited major employment sites such as Hinkley Point C and Numatic, and met with small business owners and not-for-profits firmly embedded in their communities.

The employment opportunities in Somerset are vast – yet so many of our young people aren’t aware of what is on their doorstep. Why would they be, when so often businesses are tucked away in business parks, industrial estates and farm units?

The good news is that schools are working hard to inform and prepare their students by providing a robust careers programme including regular ‘employer encounters’. There is good reason for this, as research shows that students who have four or more employer encounters are 86% less likely to leave school with no education, training or employment destination.

At Somerset Education Business Partnership we connect employers with schools and colleges so that businesses can create a talent pipeline and young people can prepare for work. Why? Because having good skills leads to better personal outcomes and having high quality jobs strengthens our communities. We know this intuitively and the statistics confirm it - but feedback from our partners and local young people is the best evidence…

Corinna attended a mock interview at Haygrove School and told me: "It gives you the confidence to go into a real interview." Cora, from a major employer that is supporting our work, emailed us to say: "It was so lovely to be recognised for something that has made a difference to young people and their family’s lives."

We always welcome new partners to inspire our young people - and whatever your background you will have something to contribute. To find out more contact me on andrew.hanson@somerset-ebp.co.uk or sign up to our newsletter to see the latest opportunities. I look forward to hearing from you.

Giving through your company? Why giving small can make a big difference

By Laura Blake, Development Director

18 March, 2019

Earlier this month, staff in companies from Lands End to John O’Groats went to work in fancy dress and baked millions of cakes of all shapes and sizes – all helping to raise more than £63m for Comic Relief. One supermarket in Newcastle has even started an annual staff tradition of creating their own version of famous music videos in the aisles (this year it was The Greatest Showman - what else?!).

It’s clear that for many employees, getting involved with giving back to charity is a fun and rewarding aspect of their jobs. Not only that, but doing good is good for business; research from the Journal of Business Ethics shows that workers in offices that do more for charity are more likely to agree with statements like ‘I would say this is a great place to work’ and ‘I rarely think about looking for a new job’.

It’s the time of year when many companies are reviewing their plans for charitable giving for the year ahead. For many, their first port of call is larger, national charities. These are household names, familiar and important to many of us and often have ready-made opportunities to engage staff in volunteering, fundraising events or fun runs.

But this means that small, local charities – who lack budget for advertising and marketing - are missing out on much needed funding. Data shows that just one in five corporate donations are given to a local charity.

Small charities are the lifeblood of our communities; the glue that holds our villages, towns and cities together. They work tirelessly to support people to fulfil their potential and tackle disadvantage, usually supported by dedicated volunteers who give their time to change lives.

Charities like The Open Door Project in Taunton, a homeless day centre which – with support from 30 volunteers – provides rough sleepers with hot meals, someone to talk to, and washing facilities. Our recent grant of just over £3,000 means that a new project worker can provide additional support, such as help to move into employment, get medical care and access housing services. I know from chatting to some of those using the centre, who have experienced huge hardship, just how important it is for them to have a place they can come to escape the cold and get a decent meal.

Small charities receive just 16% of their income from government funding, so donations are crucial – particularly at a time when demand for their services are increasing.  But, for companies who want to give locally, it can often be difficult to know where to start. How do you find a small charity that might not have a website? How do you know your money will be well spent? How can your team get involved?

At Somerset Community Foundation, we’ve just launched a new initiative to empower businesses to make a difference in their communities through small, local charities. The Somerset Fund offers an easy and rewarding way to donate funds, time and expertise. Even better, donations will receive matched funding of 50% meaning they make an even bigger difference.

All donations to The Somerset Fund will be awarded in small grants to local, grassroots charities, supporting everything from youth groups, to mental health, community centres to activities for older people.

Giving time and expertise is a really rewarding way develop your own skills and strengthen local charities. For companies looking to upskill their staff and boost employee engagement, we can offer opportunities for your employees to run expert skills workshops for local charities on topics like marketing or HR.

We can also help to connect your senior staff to local Trustee opportunities; a great way for aspiring leaders to get experience at board level. I’ve personally learned a huge amount from being a Trustee and have been able to bring a fresh perspective and specialist skills to the charity that they were lacking.

So, as you’re thinking about the difference your company wants to make through charitable giving in the year ahead, I’d wholeheartedly encourage you to think small and local. Even a small gift can make a really big difference.

For more information on The Somerset Fund, visit www.somersetcf.org.uk/tsf call Laura Blake on 01749 344949. I can also offer support to create a corporate giving programme, including a corporate ‘named fund’ which acts much like a charitable trust.


With a Little Help from my Friends

By Laura Blake, Development Director

24 January, 2019

Last week, while I was driving home, the song ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’ came on the radio and I found myself grinning. Not just because Sgt. Peppers is one of my favourite albums, but because it was one of those moments where my car radio provided the perfect soundtrack for what I was feeling. In my case, because I’d just spent a day visiting some of the projects we have supported that showed me that community spirit was truly alive and well.

My final stop of the day was St. Peter’s Church and Church Hall on the Westfield Estate in Yeovil, an area that is identified as the most disadvantaged in South Somerset. The Church Hall has provided a vital meeting place for the 5,000 local residents since the 1960s, originally hosting everything from pantomimes to community bingo. But in 2012 the hall was recommended for demolition. I can see why. The former farm outbuilding is cold, difficult to access and lacks modern facilities.

Reverend David Keen walked me around the site and shared the vision that he and the local community association had for a new Westfield Community Centre. A true community hub for everyone to use, that would bring much needed services to local people. The new hall will host everything from Citizens Advice to IT classes; parent and toddler groups to Girl Guides; and a mobile library service.

It is a truly ambitious project with a £1m fundraising target; scary for even a large charity, let alone a group of local volunteers. And yet, at the time of writing, the group have secured almost all of the funding they need, raising more than £200,000 in the last few months alone.

Much of the funding from the centre came from charitable trusts and local companies. But what inspired me the most was the incredible support of people from the Westfield community itself. Hundreds of people have made a donation to ‘buy a brick’ for the new hall or gone along to fundraising events. Thanks to their determination, community spirit - and a little help from some friends - in October 2019 the Westfield Community Centre will open. The 5,000 local residents will have a wonderful new space that will provide fun, friendship, support and advice for generations to come.

St. Peter’s is just one of many inspiring projects I’ve had the pleasure of visiting during my first month at SCF. The others include a homeless day centre, a nursery for children with additional needs, a support group for people with mental health problems, and a thriving community centre. I plan to visit many more in the months ahead.

The staff and volunteers working in communities across Somerset are delivering vital and specialist services. But as an outsider looking in, the golden thread I can see that runs through all of these amazing organisations is friendship. Taking the time to have a cup of tea and a chat with a lonely older person who may not have seen another person for a week; helping a parent navigate the complexities of getting support they need for a child with additional needs; volunteering to cook a hot meal for someone who has spent the night sleeping on the street.

As an organisation, we're delighted to play a small part in supporting groups like these to help their communities to thrive. But we can only do so with a little help from our friends; from families, companies and trusts who are passionate about supporting good causes in Somerset.

If you’d like to know more about giving through Somerset Community Foundation, please get in touch and I’d be delighted to help.


Mental Health in the Workplace

By Kirsty Campbell, Administrator

22 October, 2018

It was World Mental Health Day recently which made me think about the Employers Symposium for Better Mental Health that I attended in September. The Symposium was organised by local Mind charites in Bristol, Bath and South Somerset to increase awareness of the issue of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

I initially started writing a summary of each talk, but realised that was far too lengthy, so here are the things I took away from the Symposium:

The voluntary sector relies on funding to operate and needs to ensure its charitable aims are being met in the most cost-effective way possible, but this can mean staff needs are further down the priority list and organisational stress is an issue.  In addition, salaries are often low, annual leave the bear minimum, and training and development needs go unmet due to lack of finances. I have experienced first-hand extreme long-term stress in a previous job and faced the difficult choice of taking sick leave, which I knew would put more pressure on my colleagues, or leaving the job I loved (I chose the latter). 

Mind is leading the way in workplace wellbeing.  If we all increased the priority of staff wellbeing then many more of the dedicated, hard-working staff who make a real difference in the voluntary sector would feel more valued, appreciated and enjoy better mental health and wellbeing.  Surely they deserve that recognition and reward.


Could YOU be a Social Entrepreneur?

By Steve McLauchlan, Social Investment Manager

For the past 25 years or so, I’ve been woken by a radio alarm at 6am and listened to the first half an hour or so of the Today programme, which incorporates one of the very best business sections of any media I’ve ever paid attention to.

Over recent weeks, there has been focus on the fallout of the Lehman Brothers collapse back in 2008 that precipitated the financial crash, subsequent bailouts of banks and large corporations, quantitative easing, super-low interest rates and led into a long, slow recovery that has been so painful in so many ways for so many people.

For me, this is a reminder of the context and purpose of work I do with social enterprises helping secure funding and providing advice, guidance and support to individuals and organisations seeking to address challenges that, at least partially, result from the 2008/9 crash.

It has opened my eyes to the potential that is ‘out there’ for addressing many of the challenges we face around meeting the needs of people who are adversely affected or disadvantaged by life circumstances, injury, illness, accident and the inevitable process of getting older.

Social enterprises may not be THE solution, but they are definitely part of the solution and it has also been encouraging to see the – gradual – success of efforts to channel much needed funding and commercial management support in the direction of ‘social entrepreneurs’.

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who called themselves a ‘social entrepreneur’ but I’ve met loads of people that fit the description. They have ideas; aspirations for themselves and others; energy and skill in abundance and, perhaps most importantly, they have the determination and tenacity to succeed in the face of trying circumstances.

What they need and value is support for dealing with what is broadly termed ‘business planning’ and guidance around securing affordable, flexible funding and, believe it or not, in the words of Baloo the Bear in Jungle Book: “We’re loaded with both!”

Examples that illustrate the benefit of working together to magnify the impact of social enterprise include:

I could name many more and I meet new ones every day informing my optimism that this is a movement that is gaining momentum and will continue to build for a long time to come.

That’s why I chuckled this morning when a commentator on the Today programme observed drily that, “a pessimist is merely an informed optimist”.

I’m proud that, through my work with Somerset Community Foundation – managing the Somerset Social Enterprise Fund and delivering support through the Enhance Social Enterprise Programme - I’m able to add my skills, knowledge and experience into the mix and build relationships with remarkable and inspirational people.

I’d welcome your help in doing more and, if you’d like to do that too, then please follow the links below:




Guest Blog: Fundholders Attend The Royal Wedding

By Donna Stevens, Elliot’s Touch

Elliot’s Touch is a fund that was set up by Donna and Paul Stevens in memory of their son Elliot, who tragically died of cardiomyopathy in March 2015 at just 13 months. Their aim is to raise awareness of mitochondria disease and cardiomyopathy, and the fund supports organisations that are working on new cures.

Elliot’s Touch has raised almost £90,000 since the charity was set up.


We have had some incredible experiences since we set up Elliot’s Touch three years ago, but attending the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle has to be one of the highlights.

It all started when we were introduced to Mrs Annie Maw, Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Somerset at the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Services ceremony, which we attended with WatchetLive CIC. She was absolutely lovely, and said to us: “I’m going to do something nice for you.”

Then, in April this year, we received a very official looking letter. It was an invite to the Royal Wedding, honouring our dedication and all our fundraising efforts. I had to sit down, and it took a while for the reality of it to sink in. I was going to a Royal Wedding!

The night before the wedding we stayed in a hotel in Reading, about 20 miles outside Windsor. It meant we had a really early start but there were no hotels any closer. So the big day started with the alarm going off in the hotel room at 5.40am, although I didn’t sleep a wink that night – I guess it was the adrenaline caused by the fear of the unknown. I was so full of nervous energy because I didn’t know what to expect. Half an hour later we were in our taxi, on the way to the train station. When we arrived, the train station was so quiet that we were concerned we’d already missed the train – but then we turned the corner to be greeted by a HUGE zig-zagging queue!

Ahead of the event we’d been issued with special ‘Windsor Castle Wedding’ badges, and as we joined the end of the queue for the train, Palace staff escorted us to the front, telling us that our badges allowed us priority boarding! However, just before we got on the train a television journalist spotted our badges and picked us out from the crowd for an interview, live on the telly! 

Then it was time to jump on the train. We were up so early that I had to put my make-up on during the journey!

When the train pulled into the station at Windsor we were once again escorted by Palace staff, this time to St. George’s Chapel, where they informed us: “You’ve got a VIP badge – you’re special.” We were given a goodie bag containing Royal chocolate coins, a commemorative fridge magnet, shortbread and an order of service. We sat on the grass verge on a picnic blanket, opposite the entrance to the chapel. I had imagined we would need binoculars to see, but we had the most brilliant view. While we watched all the guests filing into the chapel we met some lovely people. Everyone had been categorised and had different coloured wristbands depending on where they were from and what they did – but they had all done something good, something charitable and had made a difference.

We saw so many celebs that day and they were all so friendly, waving to us in the crowd: Idris Elba, David Beckham, George Clooney, Serena Williams, James Blunt, Oprah Winfrey, Jonnie Wilkinson, to name but a few, and then…. Princes Harry and William! It was quite evident that Harry was nervous, but he waved and smiled at the crowd. It was just so lovely to be part of the occasion. We also saw Her Majesty the Queen, Kate Middleton, Prince Charles and Camilla, Prince Andrew, Fergie…

When Meghan Markle went past in the car I had a lump in my throat. She’s so stunningly beautiful and I thought: “There she goes, she’s off to marry her Prince.” The whole atmosphere was so emotional it made me want to cry, it really was all quite surreal.

During the ceremony there were no screens, but we could hear it through the loud-speakers. When it got to the point where the couple were pronounced husband and wife there were cheers from the crowd and the sound of lots of champagne corks popping!

When the guests started to leave the chapel, Fergie came over to us and said: “Hello guys, you alright?”

We went into the chapel after the service, which looked - and smelt - absolutely amazing. There were so many flowers, and they decorated the entire place!

After we’d had a wander around the chapel we went to the gift shop and bought Harry and Meghan coasters. Whenever we go anywhere of note we always buy Elliot a little something and place it on his head stone, so we bought him a small wooden church mouse. It helps to feel like he’s shared the experience with us in some way.

We then spent some time just taking it all in: the castle grounds, the reporters, the celebs. There were so many people: they were playing music by Queen, they’d dressed up in Royal fancy dress, and there was lots of dancing and singing. The whole place had a festival atmosphere. At 3pm we finally had some lunch and relaxed, watching the ferrys gradually take the guests away, down the River Thames.

The day was drawing to a close and we made our way back to the train and once again our badges got us to the front of the queue – just as French television crew stopped us for an interview which took 20 minutes! I have to admit I was starting to flag by this stage.

Back at the hotel we climbed into our PJs and ordered chips, but I was so tired I fell asleep before I even finished them. All in all it was the most perfect day and one we’ll never, ever forget.


If you would like to know more about upcoming fundraising events or would like to donate to Elliot’s Touch, please visit www.elliotstouch.org

High Functioning Autism – a female perspective

By Kirsty Campbell, Administrator

23 May, 2018

I have had an interest in high functioning autism since the psychotherapist working with my daughter to help her with anxiety advised that the cause was Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC). To be honest, I was sceptical at first, having my own stereotypical view of ASC: my uncle would talk for hours about his favourite topic, in a slow, monotone voice and no facial expression, looking anywhere but at the person he was talking to. I then started reading as much as I could on ASC in girls. The literature talked about camouflaging and masking. Girls in particular are more likely to want to be part of social groups, and will try and do whatever they can to fit in, observing other girls and trying to copy what they do - but it doesn’t come naturally or easily. Their difficulty often only becomes apparent at secondary school as they struggle with the more complex social requirements.

I recently attended the first day of a conference at Autism Oxford, led by Professor Tony Attwood, one of the world’s leading experts on high functioning autism (or Asperger’s Syndrome). The day focused on how this condition presents itself in girls and women in particular.

Professor Attwood started the day undertaking a diagnostic interview with a female member of Autism Oxford who had been diagnosed with ASC two years ago while in her 50s. Professor Attwood stressed the importance of asking the right questions to see behind the camouflaging. He also pointed out the benefits of gaining a diagnosis: not only does it help someone understand themselves, but it is also important in relation to treatments for anxiety and depression. Professor Attwood added that girls and women are too often diagnosed with anxiety, depression or bipolar, rather than ASC, due to the male-based diagnostic criteria and less understanding of ASC in females. 

If we don’t challenge the system, change won’t happen and girls will continue to be let down and not receive the help they need and deserve. There are those speaking out to raise awareness of women with ASC, such as The Curly Hair Project, a social enterprise founded by Alis Rowe which aims to help people on the spectrum, provide training and raise awareness, and FIGS (Fighting Inequality for Girls on the Spectrum), a campaign set up by Mandy Louise Chivers in December 2017 to achieve recognition of the issue of underdiagnosis in girls from professionals and encourage them to address it, raise the profile of female autism and provide a signpost to support networks. The National Autistic Society provides information, support, services and campaigns for a better world for autistic people.  Their latest training module, 'Women and Girls on the Autistic Spectrum', aims to support diagnosticians to better understand autistic female characteristics and increase confidence to diagnose those individuals successfully, but can also help to inform anyone who would like to know more.

During my research I came across a quote from Dr Stephen Shore: "When you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism," reflecting the importance of letting go of stereotypes and not judging. I think it is also important to talk about the positives of ASC, such as the ability to focus, attention to detail, recognising patterns and classifying, persistence, and a different way of thinking, to name a few.

ASC is not a ‘disorder' but a difference, and differences enrich our communities.

Somerset Social Enterprise Fund

By Steve McLauchlan, Social Investment Manager

19 February, 2018

Looking back on three years of working with Somerset Community Foundation and helping develop a social investment programme, I am pleased with what we have achieved, however I'm dissatisfied with where we are.

After a moderate start, momentum has now picked up and our Somerset Social Enterprise Fund has now made seven investments, comprising loans and grants totalling some £280,000. As an indicator of momentum, four investments totalling £160,000 were agreed in 2017 and, judging by the current pipeline, we are set to exceed that in 2018.

At the same time, we have learned and developed our approach to social investment and evaluation of both financial and social returns. We have made numerous connections with colleagues in other agencies and there is a real sense of a developing movement.

One example is the symposium arranged and facilitated by the Onion Collective and bringing together community business leaders from all over the country with Somerset-based individuals and organisations.

The principal purpose was to plan how to support and grow community business across the county and the event was run in Minehead at that shining example of a community-focused business – The Beach Hotel.

A ‘Big Plan’ is being developed and I’ll share more of that in future posts, although I expect it will include strengthening of the infrastructure available to support community businesses and social enterprises in Somerset. That infrastructure currently includes the Reach Fund

Some successful applicants to the Somerset Social Enterprise Fund have been supported by Reach Fund to help meet the cost of specialist support to become 'investment ready’. However, the Reach Fund is scheduled to close in July 2018 and Somerset Community Foundation is being consulted on what should happen next.

Then, the Enhance Social Enterprise Programme was established last year. Through the programme, prospective and existing social entrepreneurs can receive a minimum of 12 hrs of free business support which includes a dedicated delivery partner plus access to events and opportunity to engage with the vibrant and diverse Heart of the South West social enterprise community.

Somerset Community Foundation is one of the Enhance delivery partners and we are actively supporting individuals and organisations to develop their ideas for setting up, developing and growing financially sustainable enterprises that meet social need in a variety of ways.

So, I look forward to reducing my levels of dissatisfaction as we develop further through 2018 and beyond. If you would like to talk about your ideas, please call Somerset Community Foundation office on 01749 344949 or email me on: steve.mclauchlan@somersetcf.org.uk


VCSE Strategic Forum: The Inaugural Trustee Gathering

By Liz Simmons, VCSE Strategic Project coordinator, in partnership with Somerset County Council.

28 November, 2017

Every year in Somerset thousands of people volunteer as trustees of local charities and provide vital strategic leadership for the approx. 2,800 charities which are registered in Somerset.

As part of National Trustee Week this November the Somerset Voluntary, Community & Social Enterprise (VCSE) Strategic Forum held a celebration Trustee Gathering at Victoria Park Community Centre in Bridgwater on Tuesday 14th November, 2017.

Thirty-four Somerset trustees and prospective trustees attended to event, which delivered a mix of short training sessions on the key duties, regulatory responsibilities and liabilities of being a trustee and the new Charity Code of Governance.

Justin Sargent (CEO of SCF) gave a funders perspective on the vital role of trustees and Marsha Miles (Spark) and Peter Lennard (We Hear You) gave some personal reflections of the highs and lows of being a trustee. There was also an opportunity for networking and to receive information about national and local support services for trustees.

Feedback from the session stongly suggests that trustees in Somerset would welcome more opportunities to meet, network and receive training. There is also a recognition that more needs to be done to attract new people to become trustees and in particular nationally and locally the challenge will be to recruit more women as trustees and Chairs of charities (70% of charity Chairs are men) and younger people (average age of a charity trustee is 59).

The VCSE Strategic Forum and partners would like to make the Trustee Gathering an annual Somerset event and The Forum and partners will continue to raise awareness of the role of trustees with diffrent communities and plan to develop a new programme of support for Somerset trustees in 2018.


Leading for Local Good: Reporting Back from the 2017 UKCF Conference

By Mary Hancock, Operations Director

27 September, 2017

Earlier this month our team had the pleasure of attending the biennial UK Community Foundations conference, which took place at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. We were joined by our Chairman, Jane Barrie OBE DL, for an inspiring three days of workshops, networking and presentations delivered by thought leaders from around the world.

Workshops held over two days were varied in topic, ranging from ‘Selling Your Brand’ to ‘Collecting Data for Impact Measurement’ to ‘Driving Charitable Mission through Investment.’ Our very own Justin Sargent co-facilitated a workshop with Jan Garrill from Two Ridings Community Foundation on Theory of Change. Implementing our Theory of Change over two years ago, has given us a clearer focus on our mission, purpose and role in the community. Look out for a unique feature of our Theory of Change in the Annual Report that we are publishing next month.

I attended a practical and inspirational session on ‘Digital Innovation’ co-presented by Scott Walker from Devon Community Foundation, who spoke about the digital audit that he and his team have recently completed. His presentation was accompanied by a fascinating talk by Anni Rowland-Campbell of Intersticia Foundation, who gave us a glimpse into the future of technology and its impact on humans, our relationships with technology and how rapid technological “advances” will start to disrupt every facet of civilisation as we know it. If our world will look very different in 2025, the question is: What are community foundations doing to prepare?

Most community foundations are small organisations that don’t have the expertise or manpower to implement a full-blown digital strategy, but Anni challenged us to partner with organisations who could help us make the most of technology and then continue doing what community foundations do best - delivering change in the community by brokering relationships. I came away from the workshop emboldened about the digital innovations that we here at SCF have already implemented in the last year, which includes moving into the cloud for our file storage and introducing an online HR system. We have also adopted the 360 Giving platform to publish our grants data in an open, standardised way and which we plan to launch by the end of the year.

One of the most outstanding presentations was made by Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, CEO of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo in Western New York, USA. She spoke about the strategy that her foundation adopted just over 10 years ago, which started with a listening tour of stakeholders from various sectors to understand the issues the community cared most about. This information was used to set just four impact targets, which would be met using their discretionary assets. By recognising staff time as the most valuable asset, followed by networks and then funding, their entire team structure and operational plan was reset to achieve their funding targets. The outcome of this strategic rethink has been that impact has driven asset growth, instead of the other way around. Listening to Clothilde speak about her experience of bringing together community groups, school governors, civic leaders and donors, her ability to act as a convener and manager of relationships is undeniably a fourth most important asset of the community foundation as well.

Overarching themes of the conference such as trust, impact, sustainability and innovation sit nicely alongside our strategy and are reflected in our mission to be the catalyst for inspirational philanthropy, providing a simpler and more effective way for donors to make a lasting difference in Somerset through community investment and thought leadership. But the theme that resonated most deeply with me was the need to focus our important asset of time on building lasting and meaningful relationships – with donors, with grant applicants, and with members of the community who can help us realise our vision of Somerset as a county of vibrant, inclusive communities where voluntary organisations and social enterprises thrive, transforming and enhancing the lives of the most disadvantaged people.


Interview with Fundholders: Elliot's Touch

Interview with Donna Stevens

30 August, 2017

Elliot’s Touch was a fund set up by Donna and Paul Stevens in memory of their young son Elliot, who tragically died of cardiomyopathy in March 2015. Their aim is to raise awareness of mitochondria disease and cardiomyopathy, and the fund supports organisations that are working on new cures.


SCF: You recently won the Inspiration Award as part of the British Heart Foundation Heart Heroes Award scheme. Can you tell us what it means to you to have won this award?

Donna: We were completely overwhelmed - we felt every emotion, really. To be recognised for Elliot's Touch and all the hard work everyone has put in... That award is for everyone: whether they bought the Elliot's Touch t-shirt; put some pennies in the collection tin; or bought the new 2018 calendar... they've all helped so much.

SCF: Elliot’s Touch has raised over £77,000 in the last two years. How have you done it?

Donna: We've done anything to everything! From tombolas and charity collection tins; to the Three Peaks Challenge and marathons; to cream teas and bake offs. And this year we've launched our 2018 'Elliot's Touch Does The Calendar Girls' calender, which has been amazing so far this year - we've almost sold out of the first delivery already - I need to order more! 

SCF: Tell us about the friends, family and people from local companies who have helped with fundraising events.

Donna: It's been so humbling, the support we've received has been incredible and there are too many to mention really, but The Bell Inn, Watchet, Flowers International in Bridgwater, CRS, Pebbles Tavern, Goldilocks Hair Salon, WatchetLive and EDF have all been tremendous help. The people of Watchet are like a family to us, it's so wonderful to have the whole community's love - it's like a big blanket of support. Everyone's really helped us through.

SCF: Somerset Community Foundation has granted £56,000 from Elliot’s Touch so far to the Great Ormand Street and Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals Charities. Can you tell us how this money will help?

Donna: At Royal Brompton the cardiomyopathy department are putting £36,000 into creating simple pinprick blood tests which can identify heart defects; this will save the NHS millions of pounds! We've been invited to the hospital to see how the money is making a difference. At Great Ormand Street we've teamed up with the Lily Foundation and £20,000 is being spent at the mitochondria unit looking at why these defects happen in the first place.

SCF: What’s next for Elliot’s Touch? Are there any events on the horizon?

Donna: In December we have our 'Chat and Snacks with Santa' which is being held in The Bell, Watchet. It was really popular last year so we've put on an extra session this year. Further details and tickets will be available soon - watch this space - or our website, I should say!

SCF: You set up your fund, Elliot’s Touch, with Somerset Community Foundation just over two years ago. What would you say to someone thinking about using our philanthropy services?

Donna: I can honestly say it's the best thing we could have done. It really takes the pressure off and knowing that Somerset Community Foundation are looking after things means that we can concentrate on raising the money safe in the knowledge that the administration side of things is being run by professionals. 


If you would like to know more about upcoming fundraising events or would like to donate to Elliot’s Touch, please visit www.elliotstouch.org



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, CEO

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

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