Out and about in Somerset
By Kirsty Campbell, Programmes Manager
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.