Monday, 31 March 2014

L4GYouth's March Madness

It’s been a month of madness of L4GYouth.

Where better to begin with the events we have had. Last week saw the 3rd of the monthly drinks in Watford and for the 1st time we managed to get some new young people together. It was a great evening that was enlightening for everyone there. I felt at first both myself and the young people were nervous and unsure of what to expect. They were curious about it and were wondering why I not only started L4GYouth but also what I get out of it. I think the event went extremely well and from the feedback I have gotten, the young people I met there got a great deal out of the event and will look to come to the next one in April with them bringing more young people too. I believe they will be on the forum sooner rather than later.

Outside of Watford, great progress has been made with the expansion of L4GYouth. I am regularly getting emails and messages from +Chris Ogle with details of people I can be connecting with who want to set up their own L4GYouth events in their region or work with L4GYouth with what they do. In particular, I believe there will be finalising discussions up in Redcar about setting up a event up there and I believe that there is a real need for it so that is great news and I hope that next month more progress can be made on this with dates and times planned. 

Later this week, I am meeting a lady from Barnet who Chris introduced to me who as well as wanting help with Google+ she has set up a charity with clear overlaps with what we are doing in L4GYouth and it should be a very interesting meeting and hopefully progress can be made. It is great to see other people in different districts and communities thinking about the youth side of things and I am sure as time progresses, more will be done on this front.

A few other things to mention include the meeting that I have today alongside Chris at Stanmore College where we will discuss what L4G is doing can how it can help integrate it into the school’s program. This will be great as we will have a real chance to give young people the work experience and employability skills they need in order to get the future they deserve. I also have spoken to my local news magazine and they plan to feature L4GYouth in the next issue. This will be great as it will also the message to spread to an even wider audience and this may hopefully mean, more people attending the events in the future. It’s been a crazy month for L4GYouth and I am sure I have missed something out that is important but it has just been one of those months.

Until next time...

Monday, 24 March 2014

Interview with Home Start Watford & Three Rivers

As part of L4G’s commitment to helping remove the cloak of invisibility from charities, I am proud to present the 3rd indepth piece with March’s charities. This time, Home Start Watford & Three Rivers is the focus. They have an extremely valuable service they provide and i think all parents reading this can see how and why they are an honour for us to work with.

1)      Can you briefly summarise the charity’s history.
Home-Start Watford and Three Rivers was set up in 1993, we are part of a national organisation which is celebrating its 40th birthday this year. The founder of the national charity Home-Start UK, Margaret Harrison was originally from Watford and attended Watford Girls Grammar School. Home-Start Watford & Three Rivers is very close to her heart. Our scheme is 21 years old this year.

2)      Can you explain what you do as a charity, who you look to help and how?
Home-Start Watford & Three Rivers is a voluntary organisation committed to promoting the welfare of families who have at least one child under five years old. 

We aim to:
·         Safeguard, protect and preserve the good health, both mentally and physically, of children and their parents;
·         Prevent cruelty to, or maltreatment of children;
·         Relieve sickness, poverty and need amongst children and their parents;
·         Promote the education of the public in better standards of childcare.

Home-Start Watford & Three Rivers is also committed to training and supporting volunteers, who are parents themselves, to give regular support and practical help to families under stress, in their own homes, helping to prevent crisis and family breakdown. We are an exceptional organisation and provide unique service in the fact that we are the only agency to visit families in their own homes regularly. We also personalise the service to the needs of our families through a having the capacity to match volunteers sensitively to the areas of support a family indicates. Therefore, we are an early intervention service in its finest form!

3)      How does the charity raise money at the moment? Is it easy to compete against the charity ‘big boys’ with large marketing budgets?
As a charity over the last few years we have taken steps to make the way we fund the charity more sustainable. We opened a charity shop in Feb 2010 which is now bringing in a small steady income. We receive funding from Herts County Council to provide family support, this makes up around 50% of our annual funding needs. The other £70,000 + has to be raised! We apply to locality budgets, trusts and approach local businesses for support. 

We also have our own fundraising activities such as quiz nights, fashions shows and coming up this year ‘One night with Elvis’. (Tickets on sale now for 6th June 2014). We are no competition for the well-known local charities with big marketing budgets and find many companies and organisations donate and support these charities automatically because of their high media profile. However, Home-Start has a long standing excellent reputation and we are working on raising our profile in the local press. We have a strong ethos here at Home-Start about how our charity funding is used and budget carefully so money is constantly ploughed into our core service of supporting families.

4)      Are there any challenges that you as a charity suffer from?
Our biggest challenge is the fact the ‘need’ within the community continues to outweigh our capacity to provide family support. We receive referrals form Health Visitors, Children’s Services and children centres. We also accept referrals for families themselves. This year (from 31st March 2013) so far we have received 136 referrals for family support. We have also seen a rise in the complexity of family needs, more families citing parental mental health as an issue and domestic abuse. As a voluntary home-visiting service this means we are asking a lot of our volunteers in managing the complex needs of families. Due to the economic climate we also having to work harder to recruit volunteers, people who would have ordinarily volunteered for Home-Start are now having to return to work or look after grandchildren.

As for all charities funding for the future is always a concern. The Herts County Council funding has been insecure for the last two years with reviews of services for under-fives and the gradual implementation of tender and procurement. We lost funding from Watford Borough Council last year as their community priority’s changed and no longer included family support. We are not daunted by this though and know we need to seek funding in other ways such as corporate funding and active community fundraising.

5)      How can people help you as a charity in ways that may not require money? Volunteering or providing a service for example.
We have a range of volunteering opportunities at Home-Start, our primary one being family support. Family support volunteers all attend an eight week training course that builds on the skills that they already have as parents to provide support to other families when they need it the most. We also have the charity shop which apart from the shop manager, who is part of our staff team, is run by volunteers. The shop is a warm and friendly environment which is not just about making money for the scheme but also provides a service to the community. The shop provides the opportunity for families who maybe struggling financially to buy affordable clothing and items for their home that they may not otherwise been able to afford.

Home-Start is always looking for trustees who are able to bring a skill mix to the board that can provide challenge and progression to the charity whilst ensuring good governance. The board are currently looking for trustees with skills in financial management, fundraising and HR.

Any ‘in kind’ support is always beneficial to the charity we are a small, but passionate staff team of seven (soon to be eight) so we welcome any support with events and fundraising. In the past companies have volunteered to paint our shop / offices and support our fundraising events.

6)      What are the future plans for the charity? Where do you want to be in 2-3 years time?
We have clear plans for the future, the main one being to maintain our current level of service. To do this we need to continue to explore sustainable funding and that may mean the acquisition of further charity shops. Maintaining the current service also will require us to continually evaluate what we are doing and change with the ever changing needs of the community. We are currently seeking funding to employ a ‘Community coordinator’ who would be able to provide a targeted package of care before we match a volunteer to a family. This would enable us as an organisation to begin to address the rising complexity needs within family life. This year we started our own family group which is a safe and inviting place for families to come together. 

We would over the course of the next year or two like to be able to bring this service to other families in the community by opening more family groups.
The recruitment of new volunteers also remains a priority to continue to provide and maintain the level of service. We currently have 104 active volunteers carrying out a number of roles within our organisation!

This is an interesting piece and I think a lot can be taken from it. Firstly, the economics of running a local charity can be seen here. Time are tough and when 50% of the funding come from a budget looking to be cut by Herts CC, it means that Home Start need our help more than ever. Therefore, it is good to see that they have a variety of different events planned and I’m sure some of you reading this will look to attend one/two of them. Secondly, I think it is good to see that there is a charity looking to target family life in general and help give parents the support they need. Time are tough these days and it is good to see that there are people out in our community that are trying to help others. This is the ethos of Link for Growth and I am delighted to be working alongside them.

I hope to be able to use events such as the CSR Luncheon to allow both business-charity interaction and also charity-charity interaction as I feel there is overlap between Home Start and the other charities that we are working with. Rather than looking to competition, co-operation is going to be a major part of how we rebuild the SW Herts community and I hope to help facilitate this. I hope this article makes you more aware of what Home Start does in our community and allows you to possible see how you could help them achieve their plans for the future.

Until next time...

Monday, 17 March 2014

Introducing Michael Green Foundation

As part of L4G’s commitment to helping remove the cloak of invisibility from charities, I am proud to present the 2nd indepth piece with March’s charities. This time, The Michael Green Foundation is the focus and the work they do is vital to help fight type 2 Diabetes.

The Michael Green Foundation
The Michael Green Foundation was founded by Joanne Green in June 2013, after her husband, Michael died suddenly in December 2012. Michael was only 53, but he was overweight and unfit – he had Type 2 diabetes and developed complications. The doctors at Watford General Hospital concluded that he had suffered a ‘silent heart attack’ – a complication of Type 2 diabetes which is little known about.

Joanne, along with her 16 year old daughter, Natalia decided that she did not want anyone else to go through the trauma of losing a loved one through ignorance, and so began their campaign to change lives. Michael Green was a much-loved husband and father; he was also loved amongst friends and colleagues – he was known for his charisma, humour and his willingness to help others.

The charity has a mission to raise awareness of Type 2 diabetes and its symptoms as well as to raise funds for The Michael Clements Diabetes Centre at Watford General Hospital.

We are targeting current patients in helping them to manage and, in some cases, reverse the condition. We are also looking to spread the message that the condition can be prevented through lifestyle changes in diet and exercise.
At present the charity raises money through a variety of different fundraising events ranging from sponsored runs, sponsored haircuts, supper quizzes, tennis tournaments, cake sales, bucket collections at football grounds and shopping centres etc.  We are constantly thinking up new and exciting money making ventures to increase our fundraising. The photo below shows Kiri Baldwin (Natalia's friend and helper on the night), Natalia Green, Joanne Green, Dr Michael Clements & Jeremy Bard (MGF accounts adviser) with a cheque for £10,000 which was used to pay for the kitchen which will aim to help patients control their condition though diet. 

We are currently endeavoring to enter the world of CSR as a new way forward to both assist with fundraising and ways to get our profile out there.  As a charity we have forged links with John Lewis and been their Community Matters Project in Little Waitrose and are the sponsored charity for the year for St Margaret’s School, Bushey. We are putting together a dedicated CSR presentation (and delving into the use of Prezi for our visuals), to be used at corporate breakfast club meetings such as BNI et al. Prezi was recommended to us but we have not used it before, so any advice from an expert on that would be useful too.

It is not easy to compete with the “big boys” as to be successful one needs the connections that they have eg: Diabetes UK are sponsored by Tescos, etc.  We also need to have contacts everywhere to get you on the ladder of success and it takes time for these to be forged.

The things that we suffer from as a charity are:
-      limited time
-      limited resources
-      retaining structure to our activities
-    knowledge of forward-planning skills in terms of putting together a strategy for the future.

People can help by donating their time or skill to help us improve our marketability out there.  We always need people to run races like The British 10K for us or to help out at shopping centres when we bucket collect etc. 

We are also very keen to put together a celebrity chef recipe book of healthy recipes from around the globe (Europe, Asia, America) with the real emphasis on healthy eating with low GI recipes.  We would love to have the assistance of people to help us to make contact with agents, chefs, etc; to collate these recipes and commence putting the book together.  We would like this book to be interspersed with true life tales from people who have this condition and have self corrected it by following healthy lifestyles and diets.

The plans for the charity:

·         To raise awareness of this condition by getting specialist testing units in public places such as outside football grounds, shopping centres, etc so that the ordinary man in the street can get tested for the early signs of high sugar levels as a pre-emption to the onset of diabetes. 

·         We want to be the biggest Type 2 Diabetes Charity out there and in years to come to be up there with Diabetes UK but with a specialist slant on Type 2 and its dangers. 

·         To raise as money as we can for Watford General’s Michael Clements Diabetes Centre and to set up specialist dietetic kitchens with dietitians across the whole NW Herts Trust would be amazing.  This is the first kitchen of its nature in Hertfordshire and is making a real difference therefore, to implement this across the whole area would be ground breaking and really go a long way to helping patients control their condition.

The photo above shows Dr Michael Clements, who the centre is named after, Dr Arla Ogilvile, Mayor of St Albans Councillor Annie Brewster, Joanne Green, Dr Samantha Jones CEO of West Herts Honspitals NHS Trust and Natalia Green at the launch of the kitchen in December 2013. 

·         We are determined to produce the recipe book we have mentioned above with the hope of it being sold in mainstream bookshops so that people with diabetes can buy this book, follow some of the recipes and change their lives.

 ·         One of the ultimate aims for the charity is to open a charity shop because the one gap out there currently in the market today is such a shop aimed purely at diabetes. This is the third biggest killer out there and more awareness and funding of this will mean that people will sit up and listen and hopefully, avoid the problem.

This piece, for me has opened up a few interesting points and I hope that it allows you to do the same. Firstly, it is amazing to see that the charity which is less than a year old has already forged great links with parts of the community. In particular, having St Margaret’s School and John Lewis as partners will no doubt allow more people to find out about the foundation and the great work it does. It is also good to see that the charity has established long term goals for it to aim for and I am sure, with the help of Link for Growth and the rest of the SW Herts community, it won’t be very long before we see some progress on these aims.

I hope you have been enlightened by this piece and look to provide as much support as possible whether you are an individual or a local business.

Until next time… 

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Interview with Watford Mencap

As part of L4G SW Herts’ commitment to helping charities remove the ‘cloak of invisibility’, I have undertaken an interview with Watford Mencap and I hope that the information provided helps enlightens you about the work they do.

   1)  Can you briefly summarise the charity’s history.

Watford Mencap was started in 1951 by a group of local parents of children with learning disabilities. During the sixties we were at the forefront of actively campaigning for services nationally, while also developing services of their own. The “Stepping Stones Club” was opened in September 1956 for children aged 10 upwards and was followed by the Tuesday Club in 1960 for those aged 16 plus. In 1962 Watford Round Table agreed to raise money for the purchase of St Matthew's Church Hall (Table Hall) which enabled the organisation to use the facility for nursery groups, meetings and fundraising activities.
By the end of the 1970s the Society had purchased 2 properties with a view to providing supported accommodation for people with learning disabilities. The first play scheme for special needs children had run, along with a weekly club for older children.
The organisation grew again during the 1990’s with a small office opening in Rickmansworth, 3 more properties for supported living as well as other community services being started including the Community Support Service, Advice & Advocacy Service, Children’s Services and Leisure Together.
Change continued to be part of Watford Mencap, with another move for the Head Office to the Old Town Hall in 2009 where it continues to run from. The organisation is still at the forefront of innovation, supporting people to access Individual Budgets and personalisation.

2) Can you explain what you do as a charity, who you look to help and how?

At Watford Mencap we believe that people with learning disabilities have the right to enjoy equal opportunities and be valued as members of society, enabling them to lead the kind of life they want for themselves.  Our services support both children and adults and over the last 5 years we have developed a range of creative and innovative new services. We offer more personalised support to local people, ensuring all services are client focused and promote independence and choice for people, while balancing risk. The organisation is always open to new ideas and strives to seek out best practice, with the aim of achieving high standards in everything we do.

3)   How does the charity raise money at the moment? Is it easy to compete against the charity ‘big boys’ with large marketing budgets?

We organise a number of fundraising initiatives such as the recent Ricky Pancake Race and the Watford 10km which is being held in Cassiobury Park on 5 May.  This year we are organising some challenges such as a Snowdon Walk and two bike challenges, the London Nightrider and LondonAmsterdam.  We also run charity shops in Bushey and Watford as well as selling goods on eBay.

We are affiliated to National Mencap but we are an independent charity and are not financed by them. Each year we need to raise money to both maintain and develop our services.  As a very local charity, this can be a real challenge especially as people sometimes think we are part of the national charity and that we get funds from them.  However, because we are smaller, we can offer a more personalised service than some of the larger organisations, especially for local companies that want to support us.

4)    Are there any challenges that you as a charity suffer from?

Learning disabilities are not always the first choice of people to donate to and we are much smaller than some other local charities such as the hospices.  This makes it a challenging environment for us.  However, since I have worked for Watford Mencap, I have seen the real difference our support can make to the lives of people in the local community. If we can clearly demonstrate the value and quality of our services, I am sure we can continue to raise funds to enable us to develop our services.

5)    How can people help you as a charity in ways that may not require money? Volunteering or providing a service for example.
We are always interested to hear from people that would like to support us – we have a large number of volunteer opportunities which are posted on our website  or else you might think about donating goods to our charity shops or eBay enterprise.  If you are sporty, why not take part in one of our challenges?  If anybody would like more details on any of these opportunities, please contact Carol on 01923 713622 or at

6)    What are the future plans for the charity? Where do you want to be in 2-3 years time?
We have plenty of ideas for new creative ways of supporting people with learning disabilities and their families.  We just need to raise the funds to pay for them!  In particular, we would like to develop our support services for parents of children with learning disabilities.

What have we learnt from this interview? It is great to see that the charity is looking at all possible ways of raising the money they need to fund their projects. Ideas such as bike rides, Snowdon climb and the 10km run are great way for people to work on their fitness, keep healthy and also raise money for a charity that needs all the help from local people. With no funding coming from the national Mencap organisation, it is up to local people in Watford and SW Herts to help the charity that solely works in our area. 

I also believe that volunteering with Mencap in any of their roles can provide them with a service that needs to be done to ensure the success of the charity.  I also feel that when it comes to gaining work experience for younger people or as a way to enjoy your free time, working for a charity in any role is very rewarding and can offer you a chance to give something back to the local community.
I hope you have enjoyed this week’s charity segment and I hope to bring you one every week from one of our four remaining charities from March.

Until next time....