Blog on-hold

As many of you know, CAPs and WfCAP have undergone some changes in recent months, having lost core-funding.  Consequently I will be leaving WfCAP next week and so will no longer be posting on this blog.  We have decided to leave the site open incase future funding enables the organisation to have capacity to start using this platform again and all previous posts will remain as an archive.  If you have further interest in CAPs/WfCAP then please contact my colleague Dawn Wilson direct on


A day in the Life

I’m taking advantage of one of the extra perks of my RSA Fellowship and drying out from a hailstorm in a warm room at their house on John Adam’s Street.  I’ve spent the day on a work-exchange, just up the road in Smith Square, and having somewhere (which isn’t a major coffee shop chain) to warm up in and collect my thoughts, is pretty useful.  Whilst it’s fresh in my mind I thought I’d draft a blog about my experience today.

So last June I saw an item on an NCVO e-bulletin advertising their A Day in the Life Scheme.   In their own words: “it’s a free work shadowing initiative that provides a unique opportunity for staff in government and voluntary organisations to step into each other’s shoes for a day and learn about how the other sector operates.”  This interested me for career development and I was given a placement at DEFRA .  For me, as manager of WfCAP, it was the chance to see an organisation on another scale, and, in fact about as extreme another scale as you can get!

David Rowe, who I swapped with, is a Project Manager within DEFRA’s Information Services.  They are one section of a government department which has over 10,000 staff at 120 bases across the UK.  They comprise of 35 agencies and public bodies such as Natural England and the Environment Agency, and have a remit covering food, environment, farming and rural issues resulting in anything from snow to volcanic ash, from zoonotics to fishing quotas.  The head office is Nobel House, a late twenties’ building in SW1, boasting wood panelling, art deco tiles and a stunning atrium café.  So as you can imagine it’s a little different to Dawn and I hot-desking from someone else’s office, somewhere on a ‘90s business park on the edge of a market town in rural Wiltshire!  And more to the point David’s job is vastly different also.  Obviously his specialism is IT, but also in terms of operations, it’s a completely different way of working.  As a project manager he is currently in charge of 16 projects, whilst also overseeing a number of colleagues’ work.  His work is directed, whilst not having to account for every hour time-slot like some of his colleagues, it’s still a formal structure with detailed procedures for working through any piece of work from start to finish.  And that’s what I was interested to have an insight into.  It’s such a contrast to my role and the often ad hoc nature of the work we do.  And of course the other major difference is the financial side.  It’s basically like adding 4 zeros onto anything we have regular conversations about!  Although what is similar is the year-on-year budgeting and the same current ‘unknown’ of what April will bring.

The long term project David is working on is a major change in DEFRA’s outsourcing of their IT systems, so that rather than IBM having a monopoly, they will use a number of smaller contracts, with the target of commissioning a minimum 25% SMEs.  Good news for the IT industry, smaller business and the economy at large, plus the change will result in efficiencies from working directly with the providers, rather than forming a chain of profit on profit.

During the day I got to talk to various employees there and heard about their own roles.  One of the most interesting was David’s co-worker who leads the Emergency Operations Centre – a room equipped with wall-mounted televisions displaying various 24-hour news channels, over-size printers for detailed mapping across the UK and the ability to ‘lock-down’ for crisis/high-security issues.  He talked through the procedures, especially with severe flooding highlighting the other end of the emergency process from what is happening on the ground in communities in Wiltshire and how it links up.  DEFRA have also been working with Google last year, by making their data public, Google held a Hackathon in London enabling tech industries to create Apps to aid in flood prevention.

Equally as fascinating, was to learn just a little about DEFRA’s role in the 2012 Olympics and ultimately the scale of planning behind the scenes for the whole event, issues included:  horse passports and movement of livestock, algae levels in lakes used for water sports, potential flooding, smog and right back to sustainable procurement in the construction of the stadia.

We have the return visit next week and I hope David finds a day with WfCAP as useful and enjoyable a day as I found my experience.  I’d definitely recommend anyone within the sector to take advantage of the scheme when it reopens for application this year.

Making a Difference

So this blog is more of a – summarised – round up of last year’s achievements in the world of Community Area Partnerships (CAPs).  Despite one of my previous blogs denouncing the increasing pressures put on small organisations to carry out endless impact measuring to ascertain their worth … needs must!  Autumn 2014 therefore, saw WfCAP collating reams of data (kindly supplied by the CAP workers and volunteers) as well as searching through our own work records, in order to compile a comprehensive presentation demonstrating the value that this model of working brings to Wiltshire’s communities.

The following statistics and examples will hopefully give you a snapshot of how CAPs connect, inform and engage communities; address local needs and ultimately make the place we live that much better.

Twelve of Wiltshire’s eighteen Community Areas have active, high-achieving CAPs or Networks, all of which are supported by WfCAP.  The CAPs manage to connect these wide and diverse community areas, by bringing together over 80% of the local parishes.  In addition to this the CAPs each average a network of 25 partners, including statutory & voluntary sector, businesses & clubs.

During last year alone the CAPs were having regular communication with over 5000 residents & organisations locally, plus a direct link to a further 15,000 people online.  For community groups, with a small number of volunteers coordinating their work and very limited capacity, this is phenomenal reach and secures a basis for enabling the CAPs to achieve such wide-ranging success on the ground.

WfCAP itself has in excess of 75 partners within our network and communicate to over 500 people through our email database. My colleague Dawn’s e-bulletin is read by 175 people every month, whilst our website attracted 3000 visitors last year.  We have over 1300 followers on Twitter and 500+ Linkedin connections.  This kind of social media reach enables us to promote the successes of CAPs, inform of local news and events and engage on various levels.  For instance in the past we’ve run a community writing competition and photomarathon which attracted 110 participants from across the county.  And last year we used this virtual presence to hold a fun Hallowe’en pumpkin-carving contest and also piggy-backed onto World Cup fever to create a project bank of 128 community project ideas from across the globe.  If you go onto Twitter and search under the hashtag #wfcapworldcup you’ll get links to all these amazing examples of community initiative which we’ve used to help inspire local action.  I have an aversion to the over-used phrase, but as they say, there’s no point reinventing the wheel.

So what does all this engagement mean?  Well, it enables communities to do more for themselves (an apparently ever-increasing demand).  422 volunteers are actively engaged with the twelve CAPs, contributing a massive 22,558 volunteer hours during 2014.  Every £1 invested in a CAP gives a value for money return of over 600% in volunteer effort & value (VIVA)

The CAPs also increase influence & participation at a local level.  In Wiltshire, much of the work prioritised is based on needs divulged from the Community Area JSAs and subsequent public consultation.  Since the latest publication last spring there are already 142 of these JSA priorities currently being addressed through CAP projects (or in many cases already successfully tackled).  Recent projects include everything from Devizes Means Business, to a Directory for Migrant Workers, a street art event for the Tour of Britain and a Great War Legacy project to name but a few.

As I said, this was merely a summary, we’ll publish the full presentation in pdf (and possibly video!) format soon but for now this should enforce that, 15 years on from the Community-Led Planning initiative for market towns, there is ever-increasing need for the outcomes that this way of working brings to our local communities.


Engagement, Empowerment and Empathy.

Tomorrow is #GivingTuesday, a new addition to the UK calendar; an antidote to the other recent adoption of its nemesis Black Friday.  Giving Tuesday has a simple message: at this festive time of year remember the ethos is to give, to think of others, basically: to be nice.  I love this new RSA animated short from the excellent John Lloyd, it’s entitled ‘What Do We Need to Know?’ but after flirting with the ‘big’ questions of life surprises the viewer with just the beautiful and simple message that “In any circumstance, kindness is better than almost anything.”

Giving Tuesday is just one of numerous major campaigns of late that unite people through a combination of gimmick, humour and social media; tapping into that part of the human psyche that craves to join in. Whether it’s wearing Christmas jumpers, growing facial hair or being soaked in iced water it’s the new way of raising awareness for a cause.   This weekend also sees Small Business Saturday, in a similar vein it’s another national awareness movement that aims to make people think, and to react i.e. to do their Christmas shopping through local producers & crafters; to support their local community.  So that’s my plan at the local artisan market this Sunday, it is I should confess, across the county border, but it’s still a local community and I’ve never been an advocate of the ‘charity starts at home’ theory, to me that’s a bit incongruous.  I don’t really think it matters why something strikes a chord with you as long as it does, its empathy, and without empathy we wouldn’t have that aforementioned absolute: kindness.  And actually, without empathy I don’t think we’d have engagement either.

Engagement seems to be the key on the agenda to everything at present.  The Wiltshire Compact is currently being rewritten because, as a board, we feel it needs to raise its engagement with the myriad of tiny voluntary/community groups and the Legacy Board continues to build on the relationships made in 2012 with a new working group looking ahead to engage communities in the 2015 repeats of Cycle Wiltshire and The Big Walk.

But how do we ensure success in engagement, and what does engagement actually mean?  Ironically, the word itself is so ambiguous it immediately risks disengaging!  A google search on ‘engagement’ just brought up an array of jeweller’s adverts and columnists’ articles on Andy Murray – It isn’t until the 10th page of hits I finally discover some links related to communities.  The first I find is this really inviting website from the Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.  Clear links and well-designed pages illustrate how a resident acts on their chosen inclination:

  • I have an idea
  • I have news to share
  • I want to volunteer locally
  • I want to have a say
  • I want to hear more

It’s engaging.  Literally.

I also picked up this excellent set of case studies and toolkits from the Eden Project and discovered Involve, a Think Tank working with government to increase transparency, engagement and accountability.  There’s also the excellent consultation software Myenvolve, piloted in Melksham and now spreading across Wiltshire and the UK.

But what makes us want to engage or be engaged with?  Why support a particular cause and what defines a person’s own community.  These things are all intertwined and often dependent on the individual’s interests, but in wider society there is an issue with noticeable gaps in who is engaged and how and empathy is one of the factors.  In a recent blog Matthew Taylor discusses “High Inequality, Low Integration”  :the Social Integration Commissions’ latest report, aptly entitled ‘A Wake-up Call,’ has highlighted a concerning gap in integration, noticeably between people of different social class: “Our willingness to tolerate poverty and the diminished life chances of poorer citizens is surely not unrelated to the lack of interaction and friendship between our social elite and the disadvantaged.” And its issues like this that undoubtedly are the basis for the rise in extremist groups within politics.

The report provides “powerful evidence of the negative consequences and financial cost of poor integration for individuals and society.”  The rise of food banks seem like a barometer to this issue.  How did the UK become a country where food banks are a norm?  Despite such good intentions to engage and to empower, the equality gap is widening – these statistics from the Trussell Trust make for alarming reading.  Even within a seemingly affluent county like ours the JSA proves that health & wellbeing can vary considerably depending on where in Wiltshire you live.

The big idea behind #GivingTuesday is that everyone can take part on any cause and.  There is a wealth of useful resources on their website.  And it just shows how influential good marketing like this can be – the scribbled prep notes I made yesterday were on an entirely separate subject.  Maybe next time.


Despite all the data, it’s still the story the counts.

So this last week, the work diary which on first appearance consisted of a conference, an Area Board meeting and a crowdfunding event, actually resulted in me eating chocolate whilst sat in an indoor tent; watching a ukulele band perform Elvis numbers; writing a letter to my 75-year old self and having a cholesterol test.  Not simultaneously I might add, but bizarre as it may seem there was a consistent thread: arts as an aid in health & wellbeing.

And just as prominent, at the same events, has been the thread of stories: people’s personal stories, and crucially, the importance of the listener.  We have the Joint Strategic Assessments, we have the Census data and excitingly now, we have a whole wealth of methodology to aid in evaluating the impact of the arts on people’s lives.  But we still need to hear people’s stories.

Last Friday evening I attended an ‘optimistic supper’; the culmination of the Pass It On project which has explored walking and mapping with the Corsham community around the new Springfield Campus. The supper itself centered on a crowdfunding activity that saw a new walking group receive seed funds to develop its governance and marketing, ensuring it can continue benefiting current and new users.  In the Open is aimed at people with dementia, and as the name suggests, focuses on the outdoors, as well as fitness and socialising, to improve wellbeing.  For the couple I shared a table with it, has made an invaluable difference to their lives.  Pat’s state of mind is markedly improved on days she attends walks, and consequently it improves how they cope together, living with her illness.  I think everyone in the room welled up on hearing Mike describe the importance of those walks to him and his wife.

And if that wasn’t enough of a tear-jerker I got sent this film clip on Twitter the following day, it’s a beautifully animated music video, again about Dementia, this time from the perspective of a son as his father’s illness advances.

Across Wiltshire, communities are aiming to become Dementia Friendly.  Many CAPs are supporting this initiative, linking it to the Safe Places project which they’re already leading on in many town centres.  The current round of Area Boards, combine a Health Fair with the usual public meeting.   We helped out at the Amesbury event yesterday which was packed with information stalls, free fruit for kids, healthy eating quizzes and a dance demo.  Local groups got the attendees involved in a sing-a-long (at which point I opted to take the Health MOT as the marginally preferable option!)

And this week was also the inaugural Arts & Health in Wiltshire Conference.  180 people filled the Corn Exchange that hosted a packed agenda that illustrated inspiring initiatives happening across the county’s creative sector as well as plans that the Council have to embrace arts as an aid to Health & Wellbeing.  Some of the projects being piloted, or in early stages of development, are an Arts on Prescription scheme, Nuture– an exhibition promoting breastfeeding, Healthy Schools and bursaries for artists working in hospitals, surgeries and care homes.

One of the catalysts for increased engagement in this field has been the scientific evidence behind the arts as therapeutic help, and refined methodology for proving its impact.  Dr Simon Opher from Gloucestershire, who has employed an artist in residence in his surgery for 15 years, explained how the transfer from left to right brain activity when engaging in the creative process, works the dopamine pathway, having the same effect as anti-depressants.  His own data proved a huge financial saving on medication for his surgery.

Theresa Hegarty (Head of Patient Experience at the RUH) talked about the See It My Way project which is a series of eight-minute films hearing the stories of different people (carers, patients, people facing end-of-life decisions) to gain empathy.  Empathy is key to change.  An earlier project giving patients disposable cameras drew attention to how, whether in their own house, in hospital or at a care home, patients will spend hours looking at the clock, at the ceiling or at their own feet. This kind of understanding of the basic issues and what people are missing from their lives when ill creates empathy which can improve services longer term.  And in a different way, a the Elevate project at Salisbury Hospital, evidenced more respect and dignity shown to patients from staff, due to empathy and engagement following regular music sessions in the wards.

There was also much focus on ’play’, with artist Becky Churchill explaining her role leading a multisensory arts project at Larkrise School and how she creates installations in a tent within the school hall that reflect art exhibitions at Roche Court.  And as Grayson Perry noted in the Reith Lectures this year: “Art is serious play…a chance for children to glimpse their own creative power.”

So arts, play and of course stories.  Everything looped around to listening to those stories and 2 Destination Language collaborative artists focusing on community, identity and memory, performed a piece of work, reading moving accounts of their grandparents and their memories.  And we watched a beautiful film ‘Finding Feedom’ created by Sue Austin, where she challenges the perception of the wheelchair through her own life experiences, of it being a vehicle of empowerment.  Do watch this, it’s stunning.

It’s interesting in a time when everyone is discussing data, statistics and impact measurement that capturing people’s own stories is still the key  that makes those things real to people.

Re-inventing wheels for social progress.

So tomorrow morning Bradley Wiggins, et al, will be speeding through Trowbridge (est. 7 minutes, max – it’ll make the torch relay look positively languid), pedalling on kit that would put you back somewhere in the region of £10K.  But, if you’re not requiring an elite-spec vehicle, then just a few streets away from the gold-bike lined-route of the Tour of Britain is a newly opened business, where, for a fraction of that cost, you could bag yourself a lovingly restored bicycle, whilst also contributing to a worthy and innovative project that tackles half the county’s JSA priorities in one hit!

Yesterday afternoon, following a meeting at Selwood Housing to look into opportunities for collaboration, I was taken on a visit across town to an amazing new social enterprise called The Trowbridge Bike Workshop.  This is one of those perfect projects that, on the surface, appears to perform one very useful task (i.e. sell second-hand bikes), but underneath, there is layer upon layer of additional angles that address issues as complex as addiction, unemployment and waste management, to a name but a few.  And such a multi-faceted project, can’t fail to start your own mind racing and immediately considering another dozen possibilities that could link up with it!  It really is inspirational.

The Trowbridge Bike Workshop is the sister branch to the well-established cycle enterprise in Bath, both of which are initiatives of the city’s homeless charity: Julian House  Focusing on people who sleep rough, or are vulnerably housed, the charity aims to provide a long term support structure that empowers users to reach their potential and build sustainable living conditions for their own future.  A safe place to sleep is a basic human right and unquestionably important, but Julian House gives far more than just that initial, emergency help.  In essence, it gives the essential First Aid, but it also provides the after care and rehabilitation.

Opening in July this year, the new Trowbridge workshop gives homeless people an initiation into (or back into) the world of work.  Third-party funding allows for 6-week courses in Meaningful Occupation.  The clients get given a bike, which they strip down, and learn how to rebuild and restore.  At the end of the course they have a new skill, and they have a new bike.  So they have gained both a form of transport and an item of leisure equipment that aids in their own recuperation and wellbeing.  But in addition, they have also gained fundamental life skills.  For 6 weeks they have kept to a routine, shown commitment, been punctual, taken responsibilities and importantly, dealt with both professional and social interaction.  For many of them, they have been forced into a chaotic life for years and so this is very much a baby-step, with volunteer positions still some way off consideration and paid employment a much longer-term goal.  But they are vital baby-steps and in Bath it’s proved to have made a real difference to lives.

On top of all of that, the social enterprise is also:

  • Providing employment (3 paid workers). 3% of the population currently claim Job Seekers’ Allowance.
  • Improving the town centre (occupation and renovation of a disused garage). Trowbridge has 16% vacancy rates.
  • Upskilling local people (through training and volunteer opportunities). The What Matter’s To You? this year made ‘Developing a skilled and competitive workforce’ a top priority.
  • Helping the economy (essentially, it’s still a shop). The town is set on improving its retail health with the weekly street market having been a real catalyst.
  • Enabling alternative transport (i.e. bicycling). Plans are underway to improve the cycle network through the town.
  • Reducing landfill (see photo – this is just the current stock of donations at one branch!). Trowbridge sends more to landfill per household than all but one other area in the county.
  • Encouraging healthier lifestyles (affordable fitness offer). Whilst there’s been some improvement, Trowbridge is still one of the worst in the county for obesity and heart disease.
  • Improving wellbeing (fresh air, exercise, mental health). And you will just get a warm glow from simply visiting this place!)

And of course the tourism potential is huge with a number of Sustrans’ routes throughout Wiltshire including the beautiful National Route 4, crossing the width of the county along the towpath of the Kennet & Avon Canal, en route from London to St Davids.

Apologies for a slightly Trowbridge-centric blog, I do live here so it’s inevitable at times, but let me also highlight the wider Wiltshire cycling appetite.  I bought a bike last year at the excellent community venture: Spindles & Sprockets of Corsham, highly recommended.  With an emphasis on reducing carbon emissions Cycle Devizes – in partnership with Devizes CAP – has run a number of events & campaigns resulting in the creation of new cycle paths around the town and area.  Calne has an annual Bike & Hike, plus a couple years ago supported an excellent project sending bikes to Africa.  And in May this year British Cycling & Wiltshire Council brought an elite road race to Wilton.  The Cycle Wiltshire event also involved a sportive that attracted 500 participants (riding between 20 & 100 miles) and thousands of spectators.

And of course Friday 12th September will see Stage 6 of the Tour of Britain going West to East across Wiltshire.  The riders will enter the county at Bradford on Avon – where a whole weekend of activity has been planned including film showings, stunt riders and a living bike sculpture – and leave via Pewsey where they’ll actually cycle across a road art project instigated by my colleague Dawn.

And back to the cycle-re-cycling, well Trowbridge Bike Workshop opened in good timing for tomorrow’s event – there were a stack of sprayed bikes there yesterday, ready to be shipped out along the rest of the route: a gold-plated celebration of the national event, of Wiltshire, of cycling and, of course, of social enterprise.