By Mark Gale
Chief Executive, Gloucestershire Gateway Trust
Last summer we couldn’t do this because of the pandemic, so instead we trialled taking part of the process online, running Future Creating Workshops remotely using a programme called Padlet. We wanted to find out if we could make this work online and also what communities were feeling in the summer of 2020.
The good news is that the Future Creating Workshops did work online. We have learnt some tips and tricks from the process but most importantly we know it works and that we could run it again this way. We also realised that the best way to improve future results from doing our workshops online is that we must improve our digital connection with residents.
However from another perspective it is evidentially true that the virus has had a worse impact on some groups compared to others - for example Black and Minority Ethnic communities, neighbourhoods with lower than average incomes and higher unemployment and people living in residential care.
One of the visions for the future coming from the workshops was that ‘good, reliable and fast internet is available in every home and community’. The report highlights that the likelihood of having access to the internet increases along with income with only 51% of households earning £6,000 - £10,0000 having home internet access compared with 99% of households with an income of over £40,001.
This digital divide creates structural disadvantage with some households having no internet access and others trying to access lessons for several children on a single pay as you go phone – an impossible task financially and practically. For adults they have less access to on line learning and as most micro businesses start from home the digital divide stifles enterprise.
Our analysis of economic life in the neighbourhoods we are focused on clearly demonstrates that following the banking crash of 2008/9 they were much more adversely impacted for the following 10 years than the rest of Gloucestershire and comparable neighbourhoods across England. We must not let our neighbourhoods be abandoned economically again for the next 10 years.
But our local economy was not the only concern of the workshops. Good mental health and well being were also a major issue. The legacy of ‘Social distancing’, shielding, discouraging social interaction as a methods of disease control are already leading to mental ill health and declining well being for many households. Again we know our communities suffered dramatic declines in health over the last 10 years after the banking crash in 2008/9 so the pandemic its layering its impact on top of the impact of the last decade’s less than effective investments in local health by statutory bodies.
The workshop outcomes will guide our future investments in our neighbourhoods. We will continue to work together with all our partners and encourage residents to lead the change they want. Alongside this in the coming decade we want to help our colleagues in the public sector locally and nationally make a better job of investing in our neighbourhoods than they did in the previous one."
You can download this year's report, as well as all previous reports from our Publications section.
One of the local farms that supplies Gloucester Services with cheese is Godsell's at Church Farm in Leonard Stanley. Clare from GGT recently set up a visit to the farm for us to meet the team at Godsell’s Cheese and I was lucky enough to be part of that visit. This contact has now started a strong connection with APT and we are very happy to have a donation of cheese each week - a very generous 1kg - from Liz Godsell which is used in cooking weekly meals for the community. It makes such a big difference to the food we are able to provide, as much of the other food we receive is the tinned or dried variety like pasta.
The meals we cook each week amount to approximately 80, and an average number of families that we make up food bags for on a Monday is 32 adults and 27 children, including boxes that we deliver to people that are shielding or can't get to us. But we had our busiest Monday ever on 30th November, when we helped to feed 58 adults and 43 children.
Demand is rising because we are getting near to Christmas and families do not have the money to cover bills and all the food they need. The numbers above are the highest we have ever done. The people we are feeding range from single elderly people to young families, single Mums, right across the range of ages. We are seeing more families with the main earner having reduced hours or made redundant. This wasn’t something we saw before the pandemic or at least very rarely.
Along with the very generous cheese donation, Liz at Godsells has now offered us bottled milk as well which is amazing. We can also use that in the cooking and give some to people that we know are really struggling.
All Pulling Together (APT) has been established in Stonehouse for nearly 10 years but we still have people in the community that don’t know we exist. We were originally set up to support the people living on the Park Estate in Stonehouse but now we cover the whole of the GL10 area and beyond.
Although times have been difficult throughout the lockdowns, there is so much going on in the background to support our communities and our volunteers have been amazing doing everything they can to help. Thank you to everyone to their help and support."
Unemployment figures in the news recently do not make happy reading. There are various ways to measure the number of people out of work but by whichever metric you choose, it is increasing. In March this year there were 7,890 people registered as unemployed in Gloucestershire. In October this number had more than doubled to 17,890, curiously an increase of exactly 10,000 people. There are many more people furloughed, underemployed, ineligible for benefits, or facing redundancy not yet counted in the stats.
What this means is that it is likely that a family member, a friend, or someone from your neighbourhood is facing unemployment. At Gloucestershire Gateway Trust we are calling on everyone to #supporteachother during these challenging months ahead. One of the ways you can do that is to share information about the range of support on offer to those unemployed or facing redundancy.
Gloucestershire Gateway Trust is proud to work alongside Gloucestershire County Council and nearly 50 community partners to deliver the Going the Extra Mile (GEM) Project across the county. GEM has been providing individual tailored support to #supportlocalpeople overcome barriers to employment and get into or closer to work for over four years. Prior to lockdown, we had supported someone into work every three days.
GEM is open to any adult who is unemployed, or someone aged 16 or 17 who is not accessing any education or training. Anyone interested in learning more can contact us via our website, Facebook or Twitter pages.
If you’re not quite ready to sign up formally to GEM, then why not take a look at our #GEMonline timetable. We have opened this up to all of the community so you are welcome to register on any session that would interest you, from tips on how to job search efficiently through to advice from a recruitment expert on acing your next interview.
There is other support out there including: careers advice from the National Careers Service and training opportunities from Adult Education in Gloucestershire. Not to mention the imminent arrival of Kickstart vacancies, some with our community partners, which will provide paid jobs to young unemployed people, already disproportionately affected by this recession. The list is too long for this blog but luckily GFirst LEP have recently launched the Gloucestershire Skills Portal which is a fantastic resource to bookmark or add to your favourites.
Please also check out the GEM Christmas Craft Fair which will also be live on Facebook. This will showcase some of our GEM participants’ products as they move forward on their journey to self-employment. We’re supporting GFirst LEP’s Think Gloucestershire campaign and encourage everyone to #supportlocalbusiness. So please avoid buying Christmas gifts on any websites named after a rainforest and come and see what our creative and aspirational GEMs have to offer!
The community response during 2020 has been incredible. Now let’s keep it going and ensure everyone who needs a helping hand to find employment learns about the support that is available.
Charlie Marsh, Play Ranger for Play Gloucestershire
One lady who was shielding and needed someone to do her shopping for her opened up to me that the reason her shopping list was so bare was that she just didn’t have the money for everything she really needed. Another gentleman told me he couldn’t have any perishable food because he didn’t have a fridge.
The more I heard the more I was shocked with how some people are really struggling and how much of it is just hidden away. None of these people, incidentally, asked me for help with those matters, but when our volunteers turned up with food they gratefully accepted. One of the first people we helped told me it was the first hot meal he’s had in three weeks. Countless times I heard someone say “I’ve never had to ask for help before…” I feel privileged that they accepted ours.
The real strength of the work is that our volunteers know all this intrinsically. They are sensitive, understanding and incredibly caring. Many have their own complicated backgrounds and can relate to others who are struggling. One of our volunteers told me how she is taking particular care with looking after a couple of families in a shelter because that’s the shelter she was once at with her daughter. Another one of our volunteers suffers from anxiety and depression but being able to cheer someone else up is giving her a sense of value. They are not just delivering food – they are spending time talking to those people who may not see anyone else all day. They are the ones who come back to me and say “I ended up talking to their neighbour and they could really do with some food too” I’m really proud that everyone is doing this work from a point of generosity – we have a lot to give. Let’s just share it. Let’s just get it out wherever it’s needed."
"What I’m most encouraged by is the number of people who after receiving some help have said to me “I didn’t know you existed… I would love to volunteer and give something back when all this is over”. That to me is the real legacy of the work and that is exactly what we need for our communities to thrive."
This made me think that holding garden parties at our own home for small numbers, might be the only way forward for ‘Footlights’ during the pandemic. I had wanted to do this to ‘bridge the gap’ across the Summer holiday anyway, but now it seems like the solution and ‘new normal’.
The risk of transmission is lower outdoors, as long as social distancing is observed, so it would perhaps be possible, when restrictions are lifted, to have some open-air sessions, for up to 10 people at a time. We could provide entertainment, a quiz, chat, safely served refreshments, a mooch around the plants, and much fun along the way in true ‘Footlights’ style! ‘The Friendship and Nostalgia Garden’ in Fox Elms Road, might be extremely popular.
We are also thinking of ways to initiate ‘Radio Footlights’, a mix of songs, humour and news to be recorded onto CDs and sent out by post.
This Lockdown could prove to be a very fruitful time, until we can all safely meet again , ‘some sunny day’..."
Martin Simon, GGT Trustee and Community Author
We are automatically turning to each other for emotional support, we are kinder and more encouraging, we care for and comfort each other. We are re-activating our common decency. Often, without us even realising it, three rudimentary prescriptions for successful communal living are back in vogue – 1) ‘live and let live’, 2) ‘give and take’ and 3) ‘speaking out' (against unfairness.)
So how do we make sure this continues after the pandemic passes? At Gloucestershire Gateway Trust much of what we do is based on the idea of “come together to make life better” and experience has taught us to stay as flexible as we can and use a combination of approaches when it comes to trying to stimulate social action.
Local organisations, groups and individuals, with their vast reservoirs of talent and ingenuity in every neighbourhood, are all different and all quite unique. Therefore, we invest in them to do it for themselves. This April we invested £100,000 in our nine partner organisations and we regularly supply the grease for the wheels of individuals and groups wanting to make something happen for the common good.
Our hope is that new possibilities will emerge to amplify and supplement the common decency quotient in Gloucestershire and so inspire people to stay connected far into the future. We have repeatedly observed that when people feel safe and well connected they become more open to new experiences and are more aware of the ways in which we are all interdependent.
We have a small a team of Neighbourhood Connectors who positively re-enforce collective acts of caring wherever they are to be found. They live locally and ARE – Available, Responsive and Engaged (albeit at the time of writing in lockdown, socially distanced and often on the telephone or online).
What does that mean and why is it important?
Our neighbourhood connectors develop a thorough understanding of each neighbourhood and explore new ways to meet up with and motivate people. They work in the public spaces where local people naturally gather. They walk the streets and knock on doors (when not in lockdown). They aim to be accessible, recognised, respected and tuned-in. They look out for “Local Hosts” to act as contact points - to spread news, talk about issues and organise social events - and listen. Overall neighbourhood connectors want people to feel good about themselves and their neighbourhoods and to know that if they should feel insecure or uncertain there are people around who care and can be reached easily.
Our neighbourhood connectors do not come up with solutions for local people, they ask questions and listen carefully and non-judgementally to their answers. They help people become more aware, spontaneous and close. Then they take a step back by creating space and time for people to make their own decisions and take whatever action they think is appropriate. (If they need additional resources or new contacts GGT will help them find them.) Neighbourhood connectors are positive and passionate about home-made social change. In the real world no-one is infallible, so if things do go wrong they are responsive and comforting but do not take on the responsibility for fixing the situation for people. They ask questions and see what can be learned from their mistakes and then shift the focus onto what is working well and on how to make it even better.
Neighbourhood connectors form relationships that are life-affirming and mutually supportive. They believe that everyone has the capacity to think for themselves, have fun and can contribute to the wellbeing of others. They are open, straight talking and honest. They approach their work with energy and candour and view every new connection as a potential friend. Being emotionally present means that they can form quality relationships that endure. When they find an isolated resident they make sure that he or she stays found. Only when they share a sense of common purpose and experience the solidarity needed for them to be courageous will neighbourhood connectors and residents really find out what is possible for them to achieve together.
Gloucestershire Gateway Trust is here for the long haul and when we emerge from this pandemic our experience and new learning about community development will contribute in no small way to common decency and interdependent, human connections being valued for generations to come.
Find out more about our LOOP team.
I’m already getting excited for the next phase, which will be our reopening plan. Imagine, we get to open sites up once again, just like I did back in 2015, but this time we will be bigger, better and stronger as we have so much more experience! I’m personally trying to focus on the positives, relish the break from the norm as best as I can, and ensure that I’m ready to hit the ground running as soon as we’re able to reopen. I can’t wait to see all my work family again soon. Stay safe."
Clare Skivington, GGT Community Support Manager
Mark Gale, CEO Gloucestershire Gateway Trust
The study also found that for more than half a million older people, Christmas isn’t something to look forward to because it brings back too many memories of people who have passed away and happier times.
This got me to thinking about a Facebook campaign I saw by a local woman; she wanted to invite someone lonely to Sunday dinner. Now we have all seen the adverts where this happens and everything is all amazing and happy families are seen smiling across lovely hot dinners and the old person is settled in and even the dog is there…but is that what life is really like?
I know if they came to mine I’d burn something and the beautiful crispy roast potatoes would be cooked by Aunt Bessie!! What if the person didn’t like meat or had an allergy to something I’d lovingly cooked. What if we run out of things to talk about, or they were cold or too hot, or the dog took a dislike to them; then I got really worried what about if they choked on my food…..Oh no.
Seriously, there really is a lot to think about, inviting someone into your home, but what is the alternative. I’d hate to think of someone alone and sad and I had the power to change that but panic made me stop. Would they even care if my desert didn’t look or taste like Mary Berry’s and that the husband fell asleep after dinner with the odd sound emitting from his body? There is only one way to find out, let’s do it... let’s share the gravy love."
Vanessa Worrall, Project Manager, Together in Matson
During the festive season, these problems can be intensified. Social isolation also affects children and not just the elderly. To alleviate loneliness, we can raise awareness and provide information and encourage groups and organisations to reach out to lonely individuals. There are ways to combat loneliness, but most of them start with you. By reaching out, someone else can reach you. However, no one organisation or person can tackle all social isolation. It is everyone’s business and we must look at how we can work collectively to tackle it.
Social isolation is not an issue specific to the festive season, but it can be harder for those people who have few people to connect with. So, over the coming weeks, as life becomes busier in the lead up to Christmas, it might be a good time to reflect on our own lives and think about how we can create more connected and inclusive communities.
It might be as simple as saying ‘hello’ to someone and starting a conversation, talking to a neighbour or smiling at someone when you are out shopping or walking in your local area. Think about offering someone a lift, offer to do some shopping or invite someone without family or friends to join you for a Christmas meal.
Here at GL Communities through the Phoenix Community Centre in Matson we've been hosting a number of events including a ‘Christmas Treats’ Workshop, Christmas Coffee Morning and through CCP (Caring for Communities & People) we are hoping to provide a number of Christmas Hampers and presents for individuals and families who are struggling to afford food and heating alongside the expectations of the festive season.
Here’s wishing you all a Happy Christmas.”
Steve Long, Health & Wellbeing Project Co-ordinator, GL Communities
Gloucester Services has made the news again in the last few days as the business was given planning approval for a 74 bedroom hotel on its southbound side by Stroud District Council. Gloucester Services sits just inside Stroud district, with the Gloucester border literally running up the side of the site. The approved proposals have been reduced in size by about 25% following recent consultation with local residents and stakeholders.
Like most significant capital projects the new hotel may take some time to come to fruition. However one thing is certain, that when it does, this new development will make another significant contribution to nearby communities and the wider local economy by generating more jobs for local people, as well as income for our community partners.
The hotel designs have been created by Glenn Howells Architects, the same architects who helped create our fantastic Gloucester Services buildings. Designed in the spirit of local agricultural buildings, the new hotel will blend in with the local landscape providing a special place for motorway travellers to rest and recuperate whilst getting an opportunity to sample the great tastes of Gloucestershire and find out what the county has to offer to visitors.
So we are looking forward to helping you have even ‘Happier Travels’ on the M5, whilst also making even more of a contribution to our neighbouring communities.
Chief Executive, Gloucestershire Gateway Trust
To celebrate Communities Week 2019, we spoke to GGT's Community Support Manager Clare Skivington about what community means to her and bringing people together at Gloucester Services.
I also get to work with our community partners to bring fun activities to Gloucester Services to show what they do, spend time in local schools talking about careers and meet new and existing local producers. GGT also support some amazing local events I'm able to go along to in our communities, including bake-offs, school competitions and wicker sheep making!
What would be your advice to anyone reading this about how they can get involved in their community, and why should they?
Think about what you enjoy, if it’s woodwork, sport, cooking, gardening, music or just talking to people. Everyone has a hidden talent – really, and you will be surprised how sharing your skills can really help people connect and you too will learn from others, join in to help and celebrate what we have. Keep an eye out at your local community centre, schools or libraries, or contact GGT we can put you in touch with our community partners.
What are your hidden talents?
I asked my husband and he said dancing when sober! I'm also a trained Forest School leader, I make a good hummus and I like running, I've run the London Marathon before.
What’s the best example of community building you have seen or been part of?
I would have to say Gloucester Services, the story of how it came about, people talking to each other in the local Community Café in Matson (the Matson Gateway), talking about their futures, their needs and a vision. With the help of the community, local people and Westmorland, we have a unique model and a way where business and the community can work alongside each other, it’s fascinating, it’s not all plain sailing but we are creating a circular economy for our colleagues, suppliers and the company, we know with all our assets we can do more, so watch this space!
Gloucester Services is proud to support over 130 local producers within 30 miles, all of which have great stories to tell. We spoke to Deborah of Cinderhill Farm about the good life, sausage rolls and supporting the local job market.
The beautiful dark soil here (cinder coloured from the arrow heads that used to be made here at St Briavels Castle - hence the ancient name of Cinderhill Farm) produced large crops of both. More than we could cope with in fact!
From that first lot of pork, our now famous sausage rolls were born - from a proliferation of our pork and insufficient funds at the time to buy more than a little pastry! That ratio has remained as from the outset people responded so warmly to what they often termed '....the best sausage roll I have ever tasted!'.
Where we live in the far reaches of the Forest of Dean, on the edge of the River Wye, there are not many jobs. Where there are jobs, there was a tendency for zero hour contracts, seasonal work, and with almost no public transport, the prospects for young people in the area were limited. In the Forest of Dean there is no facility for studying to A'Level - something that is only just changing thanks to statutory and voluntary services and business working together to change that for the future.
The reliability of custom from Gloucester Services has enabled Cinderhill Farm to offer permanent full time contracts for staff, to invest in training and to help to provide for 10 households in the area. Our business's trade has in turn helped provide stability of trade for other businesses on whom we depend - such as our butcher, the (licensed) hunter who shoots our wild boar, and other farmers producing not only meat but also eggs. All this in an area with such an emphasis on tourism for trade. It has a really sustainable impact on life and the community.
But above all? It is the relationships with the people who work at and who are both Gloucester Services, Westmorland and GGT who have created this innovative and highly effective visionary partnership. I think we will always be thankful for it!"
"Our best seller is the Original Sausage Roll, though the Sheriff (named by Gloucester Services in fact!) is catching it up fast! We have now made so many rolls in our tiny high tech professional kitchen on our farm (in a double garage) that, if laid end to end, would leave Gloucester Southbound Forecourt and arrive somewhere close to Bristol Airport!"
As a Neighbourhood Connector I try to identify Local Hosts. The Local Hosts build relationships with neighbours that live around them and look for common interests and social gatherings. It’s about people starting to talk to each other, building relationships and just being there for each other. So often people are isolated and don’t have the confidence to be involved in their community.
My role is to try and build confidence in people, support them through their journey to becoming a host. It’s important to identify what people like doing. Building on positives and trying new things. A huge part of the role is listening to what people would like to do but also supporting their capacity and making them, themselves, realise their own potential.
There are so many ideas from dog walking, accessing local arts and culture, barbecues, day trips and even fishing. Anything goes! It’s not about the Neighbourhood Connector doing things for people but connecting neighbours and building relationships. It’s about having fun too, trying something new or introducing your neighbours to interests that you have and can share. It’s getting back to basics and talking, sharing experiences and improving the quality of life for our community.
It’s simple – talk to me and stay in the LOOP!! Get involved and have some fun!"
You can contact Debbie for more information by emailing email@example.com.
Debbie Christie, LOOP Neighbourhood Connector
"This is a great project with a holistic and pragmatic approach that benefits and works with the whole community," said Wanda Wyporska, executive director at the Equality Trust. "It is an outstanding piece of well thought-out work with huge potential to be replicated elsewhere."
"In many ways this was an unexpected award for our partnership because there was such a strong group of larger corporate partnerships competing including Shelter and Nationwide Building Society, Innocent and Age Concern, Matalan and NSPCC, InvestTec and the Bromley By Bow Centre and several others. However I’m certain that two key aspects of what we do together in Gloucestershire marked us out as genuinely unique.
Firstly , it was the vision of local residents that led to the creation of the award winning Gloucester Services business. So the beneficiaries of the business charity partnership are the people and their communities who helped create it.
Secondly we are strong believers in Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) and we know that every community has untapped assets within them. So the Gloucester Services project is one good example of what a community can achieve when it identifies its own assets and brings them into play. Most importantly this is something almost every community could do, so as the judges most important comment was that this ‘outstanding well thought out piece of work has huge potential to be replicated elsewhere’. We hope our experience will stimulate new projects all around the UK where communities can develop their own visions and turn them into their own local reality and we are happy to share our experiences anywhere where they can be helpful."
Mark Gale, CEO of Gloucestershire Gateway Trust
"Gloucester Services has a bit of a ‘Robin Hood’ ethos to the takings where, up to 3p in every £ of non-fuel sales at Gloucester Services supports local communities through Gloucestershire Gateway Trust (GGT). We saw for ourselves the difference this is making. Our visit took us to four projects supported by GGT:
Driving around the social housing estates of Matson, Robinswood and White City, you can feel and see the sense of pride and ownership in these communities. The streets are clean, there is no fly tipping, shops aren’t boarded up and the only thing hanging around on street corners are sheep!
So, what makes these communities continue to thrive both socially and economically (with very little additional investment)?
Each community is different, as are local circumstances and environments. There are however, several approaches which have been tried and tested here in Gloucester, that could be replicated elsewhere, and that have made asset-based community development a success:
Shimul Haider, Relationship Manager at Sport England