It’s now six weeks since Jo, Amanda and Claire, our three Community Facilitators started and the Community Centre has been a frenzy of activity as all the seed funded projects begin to take off. We now have 19 projects approved by our Steering Group for up to £500 seed funding each. There’s quite a lot of overlap between some of the projects, but they generally fall into three categories - ‘creative’ ones, ‘activity’ based ones and those providing ‘facilities / resources’.
Here’s some of our Steering Group:
Laura, Cathy & Joy Stephanie and Jo
And that’s me facilitating the Steering Group meeting:
Here’s an update from the Facilitators on what’s been happening this month with all the projects:
First off the ground was Playball - we had about 18 children coming to the first few sessions after school on Fridays. We ran two sessions each time for the different age groups and we encouraged the parents to bring food to share while they waited. This worked really well as it brought people together, often for the first time, and lots of connections were made. As a result the parents and children have suggested running a homework club at the same time and there has been a request for a TV screen so we can put on DVDs to keep the younger children amused. Our ideal is to be able to have a homework club running every day after school at the same time as other after school activities.
The teachers are on strike so let’s plant bulbs!
Our next emerging project is a gardening club – we have been really blessed by Selina Botham our award winning garden designer who inspired the young people when she came to talk to them about ideas for improving the area outside the Community Centre. We decided to make a start by planting some bulbs and, on the day of the teachers’ strike, we invited everyone to come and help. Lots of people turned up – young and old and we even roped in the local PC! Everyone worked hard clearing, digging and planting. Cups of tea, soup and bread kept us going. It was a great way to bring people together - a real example of ‘community in action’. The day ended with a rain storm followed by a rainbow – a promise of good things to come!
We had a morning where we ran taster sessions for three of the more creative projects – the Art group – led by Joy, a self-taught artist, who brought along several of her friends and neighbours; a book club with groups for both English and non-English speakers, co-ordinated by Jenny Smith, our ESOL teacher and our cookery group – run by local mum Stephanie. We also started a group called ‘Knit and Natter’ which came about when Jenny Smith discovered that a Polish lady in her ESOL class liked to knit. Jenny S suggested that she brought her knitting to the Community Centre so she had some company and now a group of them are knitting hats for the men at the local homeless hostel where Jenny S used to work. We also discovered someone who wants to teach sewing so we’re on the lookout for a sewing machine – maybe we’ll get some curtains made like The Mill - perhaps not denim though!
For the cooking group, Stephanie demonstrated making dough which people could take back to bake – the lack of a kitchen in the Community Centre is beginning to be a real drawback and is restricting what we can do so we are having to find ways round this at present. Stephanie, a native French speaker, has also offered to run some French classes for local people so some of the seed funding will be used to pay for her to take a basic PTTLS teaching course at the local college.
Then we have the food bank that we have started to establish, a necessary facility for some in the community. We are running it on a very informal basis at present but are planning a trip to an established food bank in the New Year to learn how to run one properly. There’s been lots of interest in this especially from some of the local churches who have already donated goods and funds to purchase some Christmas items for those facing hard times.
We had a successful trip with 14 of the young people to a community centre in nearby Walton where they ran a youth cafe. As a result three of them have signed up to take forward the idea of setting up a youth cafe themselves. They had a great time at the cafe and it made us realise that our own building is not well designed for running youth activities – it has six entrances / fire exits which people can come in and out of and the building is a bit of a rabbit warren, so keeping track of who’s coming and going is not easy.
We discovered this when we ran an event for the youth combining a taster session for our football project with a disco (who’s idea was that?!) Despite the rain most of the youth went out on the football pitch with Scott the coach. Two of the boys were keen to take the lead on this project which will provide some football coaching to develop skills and also to identify candidates for the FA Young Leaders and Level I coaching courses which they can take.
Highlight of the evening was the arrival of local Eastenders star, Charlie Brooks (aka Janine) – needless to say everyone wanted their photo taken with her! Here’s wannabe TV stars Jo and Selina with Charlie.
Also on the sporting theme, some people had come up with the idea of outdoor gym equipment on the recreation ground. A visit to an outdoor gym had been proposed but this has been put off until the spring. In the meantime we have purchased some gym equipment and have arranged for a gym instructor to come to show people how to use it. One of the pieces is a punch bag which has already proved popular so we’ll be expecting a reduction in stress levels from now on!
Other projects which are emerging from the ideas of some of the younger residents are for skateboarding instruction and an after school junior chess club. We’ve also discovered a Pilates instructor in our midst and she is running some taster sessions with a view to establishing an affordable class for people living in Lower Green. Likewise with Zumba – which several people were keen to do - a mum at the local primary school is an instructor and she is going to run some classes and mentor anyone who is keen to become an instructor themselves.
Finally there is the toy library idea which we hope will provide an opportunity to connect with parents who would not normally come to a parent & toddler group or to a Children’s Centre session.
Jenny: With all these projects beginning to happen the three facilitators have been working flat out co-ordinating everything and encouraging local people to become involved. It’s been a real advantage to have three people dealing with everything and we’re beginning to wonder how Lesley, our previous facilitator, would have managed all these different projects at the same time on her own in the timescale we have to work to.
Although we miss Lesley, it’s been great to have Jo, Amanda and Claire on board and there’s a real buzz in the Community Centre when we’re all there. It’s a lot of fun working this way and we never quite know what each day will bring – it’s certainly never boring! Managing a three-way job share is not without its own challenges though and we have to be careful to make sure we don’t duplicate things and ensure we keep each other up to date with everything that is going on.
Having three people working at the same has also created a problem with space as we don’t have an office at the Community Centre. We have plans to convert our tiny kitchen into an office but we don’t have the funding yet to create a full size kitchen elsewhere in the building. Instead, Jo, Amanda and Claire set themselves up in the bar area with their laptops and mobile filing cabinets. We recently purchased a concertina style room divider for Jo, who is also our Administrator, to ‘hide’ behind so she can work without being interrupted. The screens also provide some much needed space for pinning all the notices, posters and sign up sheets for all the projects. We’re thinking of installing a bed behind the screen to save Jo from having to go home each night!
Our other challenge is the time and effort it takes to tell local people about all the things that are happening now at the Community Centre. We post things on Facebook a lot but we’ve found that the only really effective way is word of mouth together with a flier thrust into people’s hands. But this means getting out into the community and being where people are as the Community Centre is tucked awayout of sight. Some people don’t even know it’s there. Our chief ‘bumping places’ where people congregate are outside the local shop and at the bus stop. There are also a couple of places where we can stand when school’s out to catch all the people walking back from both the local High School and the primary school. This is difficult to organise though as we all have our own children to pick up at that time.
We’re all agreed that our New Year’s Resolution is going to be ‘we’ve got to get out more’! So come January you may find us, like the Darwen project, setting up a sofa outside the local shop or in the middle of the recreation ground – I hope our Facilitators get lots of warm hats and scarves for Christmas - it could be chilly! (Maybe we should ask our ‘Knit and Natter’ group to make us some.)
As well as all the projects starting, we had a visit from Tessy Britton with her fantastic Travelling Pantry. We made Lego models, discovered unknown community assets and were inspired by Tessy’s stories of innovative community projects elsewhere. We’ve now got our eyes on an empty warehouse for our very own Manshed! Thanks Tessy for a great day – our horizons were broadened and we learnt loads about new ways of doing community development. We even demonstrated the value of people getting together and connecting with each other – we linked up someone who could teach knitting with someone who wanted to learn and we had the offer of someone’s kitchen where we could to run the first cookery classes. We also discovered that we had a real shepherd and sheep on our doorstep (in the middle of Esher!) – but that’s another story.
You can read more about the Travelling Pantry in the December issue of ‘Essential Esher’ which is produced by local resident Alice Aird. Alice has been a great support and has introduced us to a professional photographer who came along to our youth group and also to Charlie Brooks.
There have been several opportunities this month to get out and about in the rest of Esher to tell people about our Neighbourhood Challenge project and to promote the Esher Neighbourhood Fund. I was invited to speak at the Esher Resident’s Association AGM and also spent a morning with a class of Yr 7s at Esher High School as part of their enrichment day. I told them about Asset Based Community Development having been inspired by Cormac Russell and Jim Diers at the Manchester ABCD workshop I had been to the previous week - the kids really got the concept. They produced some great posters for our youth football event and disco and then came up with their own ideas about what they would like in their community. They loved the idea of a Menshed and came up with lots of other off-the-wall ideas including a stress room full of punch bags! We could do with one of those at the Community Centre for when Neighbourhood Challenge gets too much for us!
On the fundraising side we haven’t found our secret millionaire (yet), but we have had two amazing concerts which together have raised about £4,500 including the 50% NESTA match funding. Gerry Cott, co-founder of the Boomtown Rats, captivated everyone with his virtuoso acoustic guitar performance in the Recital Room at Reeds School. Equally enthralling was VOCE (Voices of Cambridge Ensemble) who did a Christmas concert at All Saints, Weston Green. Dominic Raab, our local MP, spoke about the Fund and how it will support the local community, at both concerts. Dominic is a great supporter of the Lower Green Community Association and even mentioned us in his maiden speech last year!
We have also got the support of two of the local private schools both of whom have collected money for us at their Christmas concerts and the parish church is donating all of its December collections to the Fund. The children at one of the schools, Shrewsbury Lodge, brought toys to their carol service which were then distributed at our Christmas party. It’s been really encouraging to see how people are motivated to give by the fact that they can make a difference to their own local community.
Our final event before the Christmas break was the children’s party. We had no idea how many people would turn up. We catered for about 40 and had nearly 70 including all the parents! Fortunately there was enough food, craft and presents for all. Thanks to Aussie Fiona for doing a fantastic job with children making Christmas door hangers. It was great to see the building full to capacity with people enjoying themselves. We’ll need a bigger building before next Christmas if the numbers keep increasing like this!
So finally, we can wind down at the Community Centre and say hello to our own families again!
So Happy Christmas to everyone at NESTA, NCVO and Icarus and to all the other Neighbourhood Challenge projects. Have a good break and see you in the New Year!