Big Local – Community in charge

The Big Local Trust in conjunction with the Big Lottery fund is investing £200 million over ten years in 100-150 urban and rural neighbourhoods in England that have been overlooked for funding. The aim is that local schemes will enable people to make their communities better places to live by helping them to develop the skills and confidence they need to change the things that matter to them.

The first 50 areas have been chosen for investment and they include an area of Blackburn and Darwen.

Setting up local boards is the second phase of the process and in Shadsworth with Whitebirk. CBPartners will be working with others such as Blackburn with Darwen CVS (Council for Voluntary Services) and the Council to ensure that the board reflects the community and is set up to take things forward and make their money work hard for a better future for the area.

The emphasis is on sustainability and leaving a legacy of success for the community. Year on year the funding can go towards things like better play areas for children, coaches for football teams, improving community facilities, growing community vegetables and infrastructure to enable the lives of those living in some of the poorest communities better. The great thing about this is it is up to the community to decide where money is spent and what the priorities are for growing a more healthy vibrant area.

At the moment there is a drive in the 50 areas to recruit community stars for the boards who have Big Ideas and can resonate with the issues and challenges the community faces. Stars are often found in the unlikeliest of places so dont let this put you off applying or finding out more!

The board will decide on other things as well such as who to work with and which Key Stakeholders and partners to involve, what the arrangements are for funding, application processes and what decisions need to be taken for the project. Training will be given in areas like roles and responsibilities of boards, leadership and political awareness but for each area this will reflect the needs of the board. The skills the board will acquire will be useful not just for jobs but in order to gain confidence and experience.

This blog has tackled community engagement before and some of the fabulous things which the local community at Roman Road has taken on in the Energy Zone. There are fabulous examples of good practice such as growing fruit and vegetables, the Highercroft food co-op and gym and the brilliant work at SAMS in reducing waste and reusing rubbish all of this within striking distance of the Big Local project to be established at Shadsworth with Whitebirk.

The Big Local project will make a real difference to a local area in a challenging era which aims to be sustainable and leave a legacy for others getting long term projects off the ground; it will also be a way  to create alternative business models which share benefit and value for the community alongside creating more wealth in areas which were traditionally undervalued. The future is Big and the future is Local.

Supporting the unemployed

Here at CBPartners we have just finished supporting our mentors through a programme aimed at empowering the long term unemployed. It is something we are passionate about but as the figures show it is an increasing problem particularly amongst the young.

So what are the consequences for the country of having so many people unemployed? Firstly the amount of people able to buy products and contribute to taxes decreases whilst the people claiming benefits and in need of support increases. It also has an effect on the public sector which is already under pressure but needs to support those unemployed in a variety of ways including increased issues around mental and physical health.

To many economists and business people rising unemployment is a sign of failure and a waste of resources leading to a loss of potential output. In terms of growth in both manufacturing and productivity rising unemployment has a negative effect in both the short and long term. Redundancies waste resources which have been invested in training workers and the longer people remain unemployed the less attractive they become to potential employers. Skills are damaged by long term un employment too and when employers wish to hire skilled workers this can have an effect on the pool of talent available.

Rising unemployment is also linked to social deprivation which leads to further inequalities of wealth and income and more often than not higher crime rates.

On a more personal level people who are unemployed can suffer from loss of confidence, well being and self belief. After some time they can also become de motivated and depressed. The personal consequences of unemployment are a major social and political problem for the UK in a recession particularly when as now there are many young people unemployed.

So what can be done?

Support for the unemployed is available in the form of Apprenticeships and in Blackburn we are supported by excellent schemes run by Blackburn college where links between employers and the college support people wanting to gain experience and skills. At our employers forum days (supported by the college) the college has a regular slot where employers are told about schemes such as the knowledge transfer partnerships and apprenticeships. The next forum is on the 24th January and you can find more information on our linedkin page.

We also run support for people wanting to set up a new business with our drop in days where people can turn up without an appointment to spend time with a mentor going through any issues which they want to discuss and getting advice on how to set up their own business.

There are a number of schemes for the unemployed although as in other areas funding has been dwindling but there are some schemes still running which include coaching and programmes intended to give people sills at interview. The Directgov website also has information and support on applying for jobs, writing a CV and career planning.

One of the best ways to improve someone’s chances at getting a job is to volunteer and there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer and learn new skills or improve the number of references on your CV if you are unemployed. The great thing about volunteering is that it prevents someone feeling unwanted or that they are not capable and most organisations provide great support and structure for volunteers.

How to make an Angel – SAMS

At SAMS the Christmas theme is well underway. It is a fabulous Aladdin’s cave of craft materials giving you the ability to be green, support your neighbourhood recycling and save money all at the same time.

Joanne from SAMS has sent me this great idea for a Christmas Angel made entirely from recycled material and more importantly from things which you can find at SAMS.

To make an Angel

You will need:
 A Cone
Rosette Ribbon 
Filter or Wadding
Some old tights
And some card to make wings, arms hands and a song book
What to do:
Cover the cone with the filter / wadding, using a piece tomake the arms.
Make a head from the tights and any bits of leftover filteror wadding.  
Use the wool to makehair.  
Draw a face with felt pens
Fix the head to the body with glue
Wrap a piece of rosette ribbon around the neck to make acollar
Cut some wings out of a piece of card and fix to the back ofyour angel
Cut some hand shapes out of card and a song book and stickthem on
So come along to SAMS this Christmas and make your own decorations, keeping the kids occupied during the holidays in bad weather, whilst also helping the community and recycling waste! To allow us to pursue other activities SAMS will close to members on Thursday 15th December at 4.30pm and open again on Tuesday 3rd January 2012 at 10am 

Grow Your Own – Gro Zone

Growing your own fruit and vegetables has taken off in a massive way in the UK particularly in recent years. I remember the Good Life as a child and lived on a self sufficient farm in the early 80’s for a year where hard work and early rising took the place of teenage angst and partying.

The Royal Horticultural Society has a whole section on growing your own with blogs, videos and advice but most of this is aimed at families and individuals who grow their own for their own table rather than at community gardens and schemes.

In Blackburn as part of the Energy Zone there is a Gro Zone where different community groups are encouraged to take part in gardening and growing their own fruit and vegetables. The Young Gardeners Group,  which ran this year had 5 weekly sessions aimed at learning new skills, educating and raising young peoples knowledge of growing vegatables and the benefits of doing so. Activities included potting, planting, sowing seeds, thinning and digging up vegatables, planting a herb wheel and growing sun flowers. The group had young people from  3 – 14 years. It was very popular and over the course of 5 weeks saw 39 different children take part.

As I have blogged before about the Energy Zone and SAMs in particular I thought I would mainly use pictures to tell the story of this wonderful community resource which educates and enables people to be involved in the growing of their own food. 

As you can see this resource is based in a very urban setting in an area which has often been seen as rough and volatile in Blackburn.  The kids in these pictures were part of the gardening group and really enjoyed getting their hands dirty and learning new skills. 

There are of course similar schemes across the UK. The Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens is a National Charity which supports, represents and promotes community-managed farms, gardens, allotments and other green spaces which create opportunities for local communities to grow. 

The benefit to local communities of supporting and volunteering in these green spaces and truly engaging with the process of growing their own food are countless not just in terms of physical well being but mental well being too. There is often a lack of access to green spaces in urban areas and a sense of dislocation from the community so projects like the Gro Zone in Blackburn help to create links and provide productive, creative and safe spaces where people can learn new skills and add to the development of the community. 

Taking off in business

Yesterday at our business forum we heard an inspirational talk from Caroline Hampson on how to take off in business. Caroline has written a book called Tickover or Takeoff  which has great reviews on Amazon and is based on interviews with successful entrepreneurs which formed the cornerstone of her advice.

Caroline has a formula which is that Growth = experience x learning + challenge. One of the things she asked us was whether or not we had challenged ourselves to the point of discomfort over the last four weeks.

Starting a business takes guts and often a move away from security into uncharted waters but it can also be the most fun you have ever had and prove to be liberating in more ways than you could have imagined. Most of us start a business because we are passionate about something or have experience which suggests there is some challenge for our customers which we alone can solve.

One of the people who once gave me advice in business said we should take as our starting point the most major challenge or biggest headache for our customer and then solve it and we will have a viable business. It was good advice, seeing things through the eyes of our customers is crucial to business growth and understanding what it is they want.

Experience comes in many shapes and forms and can be from our past employment but also from our life. The White Company is a success because its creator Chrissie Rucker went shopping and couldn’t find what it was she was looking for. She wanted white items and could only find cheap ones or those of poor designs and decided that if the only ones she loved were in the designer section of the store and were priced out of most people’s range she would specialise in supplying stylish white designer quality items which were affordable. One of the other things she noticed was the snotty attitude of staff in the department stores when she asked for the white goods so she set out to create a great customer experience making them feel welcome and happy.She started the company with £20,000 and it now turns over in excess of £50 million. Chrissie started off packing boxes from a rented attic room and finally moved into a warehouse when the boxes overflowed into everything else starting with mail order and now a hugely successful retail business as well.

Sometimes we start a business with very little learning but I have found running businesses that constant learning is one of the fundamentals to success. Sometimes we have to change direction because customers appear to want something other than our original offer and sometimes we have to learn new skills in order to expand our business.

Sahar Hashemi founded coffee republic from her kitchen table and knew very little about the business. She had to learn and learn fast. Her second business Skinny Candy was also started because of spotting a gap in the market for guilt free sweets but again she was entering unchartered territory. Here she is in a youtube interview talking about learning to innovate.

Starting a business is challenging and Sahar talks about the challenges which you will face but also the challenges you need to make yourself face. Some of this is about ensuring you are constantly setting yourself new challenges and making sure you are persistent.

Our next forum is on the 24th January at Northbridge House and we will be hearing about managing marketing priorities from Jean Atkinson and Lee Hezzlewood talking the common security pitfalls of online business. Please contact our business team to book a place on 01254 505050

Healthy Living in Blackburn with Darwen

The health of people in Blackburn with Darwen is generally worse than the average in England. Men from the most deprived areas have over 8 years shorter life expectancy than men from the least deprived areas and women live less than six years as long in least deprived areas. Male life expectancy is the fifth worst in England.

There is real hope though in some of the excellent community schemes and although I have blogged before on SAMS and on the community at the Energy Zone  I really wanted to focus on the Healthy Living aspect of the work for the community today.

The Energy Zone has a food co-op which is open Monday 8am – 1pm and Thursday 8am – 1 pm it sells fresh fruit and vegetables at cost price and fresh free range eggs. It is run by volunteers and ensures that the community at Roman Road has fresh fruit and veg on its doorstep at a reasonable price twice a week. The facebook page is full of information and interesting food advice including recipes.

Community food co-ops are a great idea where buying power is pooled and by ordering food in bulk direct from suppliers and asking for donations a group of people can buy good food at more affordable prices. They are run by the community for the community and on a not for profit basis, relying on the support of volunteers. Every food co-op is unique because it reflects the community it serves.

Having a food co-op can mean increased access to a supply of local fresh fruit and vegetables in areas where previously there was limited access unless transport was used. Food has less packaging and therefore generates less waste and the co-op helps to raise awareness of healthy eating and healthy living. Volunteers get increased self esteem from any type of work but with food co-ops they also get confidence and a sense of purpose clearly linked to their local community.

This is a sure sign of community engagement and is a sociable focal point for communities which may feel disenfranchised and isolated. You can find out more about food co-ops here and also where your nearest one is if you are not near the one at the Energy Zone.

Alongside the food co-op the energy zone also has a community gym. This is run on a not for profit basis and is open to everybody in the community who is over 16. Gyms can be expensive so this one is very low cost in order to help people to maintain fitness and health even on low incomes. There are classes such as spin and zumba which can also help to ensure that the community can get together and have fun socialising whilst exercising.

Again the gym is run by volunteers and is not for profit. Both of these facilities are part of the Blackburn with Darwen Healthy Living scheme which has its own website.

There can be a tendency to think that health improvements are all about healthcare but what this really highlights is that improving the health of communities is about so much more. Involving communities in their own local schemes and making sure they are what the community wants are central to improving both physical and mental  health particularly in communities which are struggling to survive whilst the economy worsens.

With schemes like those at the Energy Zone and the links to recycling and waste reduction there is real hope in communities and incredible energy going into supporting and volunteering to help them improve.