By Justin Sargent, Chief Executive
27 January, 2021
How the lessons from a dark and difficult year can help us build a brighter future
At Christmas I was given Rutger Bregman’s Humankind: A Hopeful History. It is a wonderful antidote to the day-to-day challenges of living in lockdown. I don’t want to underestimate or diminish the hardship that people face in their everyday lives, hardships that have been magnified by the pandemic, but perhaps the continuing success of the vaccine rollout means we can look forward to what comes next.
In this blog I’m going to talk about the charitable sector and the role that community plays in our lives and what this could mean for us at Somerset Community Foundation.
The role of community in our lives
I’ve written before of the pace at which communities responded to the first lockdown through semi-formal mutual aid groups, quickly followed by the local organisations that serve them. What I had overlooked was the very informal help of one person helping another - their family or a neighbour. In a recent survey conducted for The Law Family Commission on Civil Society, of the 40% of the adults who helped in some way during the first lockdown, the vast majority did so, not through an organised structure, but spontaneously and informally for a neighbour, friend or family member.
As we saw during the Somerset floods, people will go to extraordinary lengths to help others in need. This time we have seen many employers swiftly adopting flexible working practices and encouraging their staff to find a work-life balance, allowing them time to volunteer and look after their own mental well-being. Not only that, but we saw many use their assets to serve a greater cause. Just recently we have seen a small group of IT professionals in Taunton use their skills to convert redundant laptops into working equipment for children without access to IT equipment: not a registered charity, just another spontaneous, big-hearted community effort.
I’m not looking at our society and communities through rose-tinted glasses. Furlough, for example, undoubtedly helped many do more for their community and, in truth, Covid has viciously exposed, exploited and increased inequalities. Too many people have been suffering from the outset, and nurses, doctors, carers, frontline and charity workers are all exhausted.
Maybe, though, the pandemic has given us a sneak preview of how we can build back better and revealed the value of acts of kindness. Before last March, ‘community’ was a word more often than not bandied around without much thought, an abstract notion; now, I hope, ‘community’ will be given the respect, recognition and opportunity it deserves.
The role of local organisations
What does that mean for our local charities, voluntary groups and social enterprises? Again, the pandemic has brought into sharp focus how vitally important our local charities are in our lives, often through the absence of a service we had previously taken for granted. Suddenly, we could see what life could be like if the village hall didn’t exist, if our local pre-school wasn’t there, or if the people who look after one of our parents with dementia for half a day to give the other some respite were not there.
Sometimes, it’s because they were more visibly ‘there’ that we have understood their value in our lives: the village shop that managed to stay open because it is owned and run by the community; the charity that brought sports equipment to a family so that their disabled child could still enjoy physical activity; the community hall that converted its kitchens to allow hot meals to be prepared and served in the local community.
And above all, we saw clearly the adaptability and ingenuity of organisations to find ways to deliver their services to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities at a time when they most needed it. The rapid implementation of digital tools and transformation to deliver services and run local organisations – organisations that are often criticised for not being innovative enough or a bit stuck in their ways. This time last year who would have thought so many essential services run by small groups could go digital so quickly?
In the same survey from the Law Family Commission on Civil Society, there was an interesting (and surprising - to me, at least) insight into the public’s perception of charities. On whether there are too many charities and community groups, there was a fairly balanced view between ‘too many’ and ‘not too many’, while stronger majorities felt that charities are not wasteful nor working on the wrong priorities and that they are efficient, effective and - most notably - can be trusted.
After a number of years when trust in the sector has been relatively low and we have faced a tough time in the press, I do wonder whether this reflects the greater visibility charities have had in our lives, and in our communities, in this last 10 months. If so, it gives us a fantastic opportunity to build on that trust to make a bigger difference in the years to come.
I fear that we could slip back into old habits. When the first lockdown ended I had to firmly resist slipping back into the habit of commuting to the office and popping into the supermarket on the way home every day. Not good for me, not good for the environment and, ultimately, not good for SCF.
If we are going to build back better we are going to have to plan and make an effort to sustain that change. In Lewin’s change management model, change starts with unfreezing the status quo; what is often overlooked is the effort required to refreeze in the new, better place.
Here are three things to look out for:
1. Digital – in this case sustaining and continuing the better use of digital within local charitable organisations, but also across society. As I mentioned previously, our sector proved just how nimble it was by the speed at which many charities adapted to delivering their services online. All done with a little funding, some support but most importantly the imperative to try, learn and adapt and carry on regardless, which it seems can carry us a long way. Crucially, we must be able to crack the digital divide. Of course, we look to the government to provide infrastructure, but community has a role too - from running training and support programmes to the provision of hardware for those in need. In the past couple of weeks I have come across two local IT firms volunteering to upgrade and recycle laptops for pupils, and I am sure there are more. Imagine, once we are past this emergency, if every Somerset ICT firm could refurbish just one donated laptop every week? We could deliver strong social, health and environmental benefits to people of all ages. But creating coherent and effective infrastructure for such initiatives is key; where will the leadership come from?
2. Financial pressure on the sector – we know Covid has significantly impacted on charities’ abilities to raise money from their normal fundraising activities; fun runs, charity dinners, coffee mornings and all the things that rely on people coming together for a good cause. In some cases this has been offset by new sources of income, but I am very concerned there has been massive hit to organisations’ unrestricted funds, which in most cases is their lifeblood.
No organisation has a right to exist, but our communities deserve the services they provide. We need to make sure that organisations that have taken the hit and stood by their communities are supported when they need it, when they need to adapt, collaborate, merge or – where necessary – close well.
For funders, like us, we have to re-consider to what extent we need to fund tangible ‘things’ – projects, equipment or buildings - and to what extent we should offer more flexible funding, trusting our brilliant organisations and the difference they make. For an interesting take on this, this podcast with MacKenzie Scott from CAF’s Giving Thought series is worth a listen.
3. Trust – this point about trust is pivotal. Above all else, we need to trust our communities and the organisations they create. The recovery of society and the economy may be long and arduous, but one silver lining from this crisis is that we can see the magic that happens when communities take more of a lead in creating their own destinies.
This is recognised in Danny Kruger MP’s report Levelling Up Our Communities: Proposals for a New Social Covenant which places as much emphasis on social cohesion, equality of opportunity and equity of outcome as it does on economic growth. This creates opportunities and challenges for all of us, including us at SCF, but it is possible to build back better if we want to.
Change happens at the speed of trust; trust is the currency of community.
“I relish the opportunity to support community groups that offer vital help.”
By Peter Stolze, Programmes Manager
01 October, 2020
Peter Stolze joined the Somerset Community Foundation team in January 2020 as Programmes Manager, looking after the Hinkley Point C (HPC) Community Fund Small Grants Programme. Here Peter shares with us some of his thoughts and observations from the last few months.
“Since 2017, the HPC Community Fund Small Grants Programme has supported a wide range of projects for communities that have been affected by the construction of Hinkley Point C, as well as those that are taking advantage of the opportunities it offers.
I joined Somerset Community Foundation just before the coronavirus outbreak and have been continually impressed by the innovative and varied projects that we have been able to help through the HPC Community Fund.
Through the Fund we have contributed to community events such as the Sedgemoor Playday, which is a fun, free day for children to enjoy and make friends and for people new to the area to meet their neighbours and make connections. I firmly believe that bringing communities closer together in a society where we are becoming a little more distant is critical to boost wellbeing.
Another cause close to my heart is improving mental health. We have funded the outreach work of the Samaritans of Taunton and Somerset at Foodbanks and Job Centres and this has made a huge difference to people’s lives when they were needed the most. In addition, the Fund has also supported peer support mental health projects such as Rusty Road to Recovery, who offer long-term support to build skills and confidence in life through training individuals to work on classic cars. The current pandemic has had a huge impact on many people’s mental health and I relish the opportunity to support community groups that offer vital help.
We have also been able to award grants from the HPC Community Fund to support local community infrastructure to increase safety. Repairing the Axbridge-Cheddar Cycle Walkway has meant residents and school children can now enjoy a safe route between the villages, away from the busy main road. During lockdown, this path has been used regularly as fewer people commuted by road, choosing instead to walk or use their bicycle.
In my experience, community groups know what is most needed in their community and just require a little bit of help. I take great satisfaction in assisting people with their applications, especially when they haven’t applied for grants before, and we know the process can sometimes be rather intimidating. If you’re interested in applying to the HPC Community Fund Small Grants Programme, or have an idea that you’d like to talk through, please get in touch with me. I can offer advice and support via email, ‘phone or a socially distanced tea or coffee.”
The Small Grants Programme can fund projects up to the value of £5,000 for groups with an annual turnover up to £100,000. There are regular application deadlines and decisions are made every 6-8 weeks. If you feel that the HPC Community Fund could be suitable for your group or project, please contact Peter Stolze on 01749 344949 or email: email@example.com for advice and support throughout the whole application process.
When does ‘nice to have’ become essential?
By Justin Sargent, Chief Executive
28 May, 2020
A couple of weeks ago Sir Stephen Bubb, Director of the Oxford Institute of Charities, wrote an article in The Times outlining how the coronavirus crisis had “exposed the weaknesses of too many charities”.
I have to say, that doesn’t reflect what we are seeing here at Somerset Community Foundation, but perhaps it is an understandable perception, given the nature of the national press coverage charities have received during the past few weeks. All we seem to have heard is either how much money is being lost by charities, as fundraising has largely collapsed or been diverted to the NHS, or how the largest charities have furloughed thousands of staff and withdrawn services.
What has been absent in the press – at least nationally – has been decent coverage of the response by the vast majority of smaller, local charities. These are not organisations that are immune to the loss of fundraising, but, by and large, we’ve seen them step up to meet the rising demand for their services. Their reserves of hope and commitment for their communities are not always matched by their financial reserves and I know many are concerned about the impacts of coronavirus on their long-term futures.
Some may feel that there are too many charities, that there is too much duplication and inefficiency. The sector, like others, can be a bit messy and untidy. I can tell you, as a funder, it can sometimes be frustrating, and to some extent I would agree there is an issue to be addressed, but the issue is far more complex than it first appears. For example, as NPC reported earlier in the year perhaps we should focus on where those charities are and which communities they serve; contrary to what we might expect there are fewer registered charities in the most deprived communities than in the most affluent areas.
However, on the whole – and this is the bit you tend not to hear about – local charities are run by passionate, compassionate, big-hearted, committed, collaborative, generous and thoughtful people. What they do is little short of a miracle, sometimes.
Like a lot of small businesses, small charities see their role as being local – they don’t want to or need to scale up, or merge, and if they did they would risk losing the essence of what they are and how they do it. The current crisis has shown that vulnerability and disadvantage is not solely found in inner city estates. People in every community need a helping hand, and there are people in every community who are happy to lend a hand.
It is worth reflecting on the wide range of services provided by our local charities and community organisations that has prevented thousands of people becoming more vulnerable in the past eight weeks. So here is a list of people that our Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund has supported:
• children and adults with mental health illnesses
• children and young people living in poverty
• children and young people with autism
• ‘detached’ young people
• families with new-born children
• former service personnel affected by trauma
• fostered children and their adoptive families
• people in financial hardship and food poverty
• people in need of end-of-life care
• people who are hungry
• people who are lonely or isolated
• people with long term health issues and disabilities
• women affected by, or at risk of, domestic abuse and violence
• young farmers with mental health needs
By and large these services are always there, quietly going on in the background of our communities. We couldn’t have lived without them – or the many thousands of staff and volunteers - in the past eight weeks, without increasing the level of suffering in our communities and the burden on our public services. But the same is true every day of every year.
The voluntary ethos that runs through these organisations often means it is very tempting to see them as ‘nice to have’ compared to statutory services. I think what we are seeing is how, in the words used by a Government minister recently, they are the lifeblood of our communities.
‘Nice to have’ does not come close. They are essential. If you don’t believe me, just think about how life would have been for all of us in Somerset if the community support provided by our local groups had not been available in the past few weeks.
And that is why we should all be concerned about the impact of coronavirus on our local voluntary sector. We must work together as funders, donors and statutory bodies to support and fund the sector if we want it to survive.
As we all slowly move towards something that resembles a normal, albeit different, way of living, at Somerset Community Foundation we are looking at the task in front of us. Our local charities, community organisations and social enterprises have stood by us when our communities needed them; now we must stand by them.
The voluntary sector: Holding together our social fabric
By Justin Sargent, Chief Executive
9 April, 2020
As I sat down to write this, I was listening to Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, announce the Government package of measures to support charities. I recognised many of my feelings in the way he spoke about our sector.
So, to quote the Chancellor, I wish to throw a spotlight on “…those small charities in our villages, our market towns, in pockets of our cities…the unsung heroes looking after the vulnerable and holding together our social fabric.”
Before I get to that, though, I want to go back to 2014 and the Somerset floods. You will remember the dramatic scenes on the Somerset Levels. Then, like now, there was an astounding and immediate response from the wider community. It drew on the very best of humanity, helping those who felt lost and bereft while their homes and businesses sat under water. Inevitably, at times, it was fragmented, chaotic and disruptive, but it was also life-affirming.
As we are seeing now, these community responses happen first because they move at the speed of emotion. It is an instinctive human response which creates so much positive energy; the joy of giving back on one side and the relief of feeling supported on the other has an immeasurable benefit. It goes beyond the tangible benefits of fetching shopping and prescriptions for people who can’t leave their homes to give us a more intangible sense of togetherness that will sustain us through some difficult times. A thousand acts of kindness add up to more than the sum of their parts.
So, if this is the case, we might be left wondering: why do we need registered charities and formal community organisations which are weighed down by their legal obligations, governance and accountability, when tens of thousands of volunteers can be recruited overnight?
Here in Somerset, our rural setting means we are particularly dependent on smaller organisations – the type Rishi Sunak was referring to in his speech in the quote above. These are the organisations that reach out and support the most vulnerable people in our communities every single day throughout the year. They touch all of our lives, often in ways we do not see. They have the knowledge, skills, and expertise to make sure the most vulnerable in our communities receive the right support at the right time and in the right way.
They also have an unbreakable commitment to their communities because their communities run through their DNA, and that means they are amongst the ‘first responders’ when crisis hits. They can be unbelievably creative, flexible and entrepreneurial when they need to be.
At Somerset Community Foundation, ourselves a small organisation, we have been able to draw on our experience of running the major Somerset Flood appeal in 2014, to respond to the impact of coronavirus today. Within two days of closing our office and moving to home-working we had launched an appeal and set up a new grants programme underpinned by new governance processes that enable us to turn funding around swiftly, often within 24 hours. Within ten days we have supported over 70 organisations with over £165,000.
The organisations we are funding have had their own disruption to contend with and yet have shown tremendous resilience to adapt and extend their reach in many different ways, including:
•coordinating relief efforts in their communities and supporting volunteers
•organising the distribution of food parcels and providing hot meals for the most vulnerable
•setting up new mental health support services
•making sure that people with disabilities have the resources they need
•providing advice and support to families with young children and virtual support sessions to disadvantaged young people
•providing support to people experiencing domestic abuse
These organisations are in an unenviable position. At the same time as the usual fundraising events like dinners, sky dives and fun runs have been cancelled and a huge source of income has been lost, the demand for their services has grown substantially. I spoke to one Somerset charity that had received 4,500 calls for assistance two weeks ago, rising to 6,000 last week, and a local foodbank we funded had three times more demand for food parcels than usual.
This is not a sustainable situation for the sector and it is quite likely we will lose many valuable organisations in the coming months. While Karl Wilding, the CEO of the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, was correct when he told MPs last week that no charity has the right to exist, he was also right that people have a right to the services charities provide.
At a time when we are naturally focusing on the crisis in front of us, we must not lose sight of the thousands of people in our communities facing profound hardship, disadvantage and crisis every day. Like the welfare state, charities sustain us from cradle to grave; without them the society we belong to would feel very different and the burden on the state would be far greater.
Our Somerset Coronavirus Appeal stands at just under £390,000 today, thanks to the generosity of individuals, companies, local authorities and funders who are coming together to stand shoulder to shoulder with our voluntary sector, just as the voluntary sector stands shoulder to shoulder with all of us throughout the year.
The long-term future of many of the organisations we are supporting now cannot be taken for granted. It is unlikely that the voluntary sector will spring back to where it was just a month ago, and maybe it should not try to. We need to capture and keep hold of the growth of the community spirit that has emerged, but we also need to recognise that our established charities and community organisations are an essential fabric of everybody’s everyday existence.
For that reason, Somerset Community Foundation will continue to advocate for them and raise as much as we can to help them continue changing lives every day, now and once the outbreak has subsided. We will need them then, more than ever, as they continue to be an essential part of our social fabric.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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:
- 300,000 people leave their job every year due to mental ill-health.
- The cost to employers of mental ill-health is £32-34 billion nationally.
- A Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development study found 37% of sufferers are more likely to get into conflict with colleagues, 57% find it harder to juggle tasks, 80% find it difficult to concentrate and 62% take longer to do tasks.
- Taking care of staff and volunteer mental health is not only duty, but brings the benefits of better performance and morale, increased productivity and innovation, and reduced staff turnover.
- Resilience and mindfulness training are proving very beneficial for the Army and these are now included in the continuous training throughout a soldier’s career.
- Organisational stress in the workplace can lead to long-term health problems for staff. This type of everyday stress includes unmanageable workloads, tight deadlines, insufficient resources, lack of control and poor support from management and peers. A pro-active approach is needed and a commitment to listen to and address staff concerns.
- Mental health difficulties can have intangible symptoms, taking many forms, and can be mistaken for ‘difficult’ or ‘obstructive’ behaviour. It can also manifest in poor performance, poor time-keeping, excessive sick leave, self-medication, aggressive behaviour, attempted suicide and self-harm. The ‘silent sufferer’ is a key symptom of mental health problems, and it is often the most diligent of staff who are at the greatest risk of stress. Don’t ignore, trivialise, avoid/exclude or perceive as weakness – this is a health problem. Talk about mental health, assess the mental health needs of individuals and prioritise mental health in the workplace.
- A Somerset County Council employee gave an insight into his mental wellbeing journey and the positive message that having mental health difficulties doesn’t mean you can’t succeed and progress, you just need the right support, and recommend the use of ‘wellness plans’ to help staff.
- Healthy food and exercise can help with mental health wellbeing. Work place initiatives include fruit bowls, office yoga and meditation, herb and vegetable growing, lunchtime walking clubs and nutritional therapy consultations.
- The new ‘Mental Health at Work’ gateway is an online portal developed by Mind in collaboration with Heads Together, to help organisations and individuals to find resources, and also includes case studies of good practice, a blog sections and glossary. Take a look at this website for more information: www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk
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:
- Wood recycling, bicycle maintenance and horticultural organisations that help volunteers transform their lives whilst generating revenue through their services
- Arts organisations, traditionally reliant on grants and donations now actively seeking opportunities to ‘market’ their capacity to provide income through ‘paid for’ services
- Furniture upcycling, gardening and other ‘workshop’ activities being used to generate revenue and provide therapeutic support around loneliness, physical and mental health issues which are testament to how, working together, we can make a difference and then grow.
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 Attwo