Red-letter day as innovative projects receive funding boost

Supporting community led groups 1

Innovative projects designed to enhance daytime opportunities for adults have received a funding boost from Oxfordshire County Council.

Eight organisations were chosen to receive a share of £54,400 in the latest round of the council’s Daytime Support Innovation Fund.

The fund was created in 2017 after Oxfordshire County Council made changes to daytime support for people aged 18 and over.

Its aim is to provide one-off funding to support the development of self-sustaining projects, supporting the county council’s commitment to thriving communities.

As well as the Innovation Fund, groups can also apply for support from the council’s Sustainability Fund, designed to ensure a sustainable model of daytime support that helps people to live independent and fulfilling lives.

Kate Terroni, director of Adult Social Care, said: “The county council provides in-house daytime support for older people and people with learning disabilities but also awards grant funding support for a range of voluntary sector providers.

“Oxfordshire has a long tradition of successful voluntary sector daytime support providers – many of whom thrive without financial support from the county council.

“Daytime support facilities, whether council or voluntary sector based, provide a range of activities and services and help people to live healthy, independent lives and remain engaged.”

Here we look at some of the projects to benefit from county council funding.

Monday Club at Eynsham: Getting the week off to a great start

For many of those attending the Monday Club at Eynsham, it represents the highlight of the week.

About 25 people visit Eynsham Village Hall to enjoy a host of activities ranging from seated exercise, to board games, arts and crafts, knitting, reading and quizzes.

Members are also treated to a two-course meal before sitting down to an hour’s entertainment in the afternoon. Eynsham Morris Singers, the Wooden Tops, Little Village Band and Eynsham Ukulele are regulars on the bill.

The Monday Club received £3,262 from the county council’s Sustainability Fund for 2019/20 and also enjoys vital support from Eynsham Rotary Club, fundraisers and volunteers.

Basia Schofield started as co-ordinator in July last year and described it as her best-ever job.

“It’s so warm and welcoming and the people I work with are very caring and dedicated,” she said. “We’ve got 13 volunteers who are a real treasure. I know that if I couldn’t be here it would run just fine without me. They are such a committed and friendly team.

“The idea is to provide a friendly place where people aged 60 and above can socialise, make new friends, chat and have fun.”

Seated exercise classes led by health and wellness coach Lisa Hyatt help get the day off to an energetic start.

“We encourage members to take part because we know how important exercise is, but they are not forced to. The exercise is varied and lots of fun,” Basia said.

Members then engage in activities before sitting down to a two-course meal.

On the day I visited, they were about to tuck into a lunch of gammon with parsley sauce, dauphinoise potatoes, cauliflower and beetroot, followed by trifle for dessert.

Basia said: “It’s always a lovely meal and something the members look forward to. We really do believe the Monday Club is thriving. We get lots of good feedback from members and it’s a vital service for the community.”

Grace Brown, who celebrated her 80th birthday on April 10, has been attending the Monday Club for the past nine years. She said: “It’s the thing I look forward to every week. If ever I can’t make it you know I’m really poorly. Coming here on a Monday gives you momentum for the rest of the week.

“There’s such a friendly crowd here and the meals are wonderful. It’s a great set-up and the village wouldn’t be the same without it.”

Gill Malcolm-Davies, 83, has attended for the past three years and enjoys socialising and playing Scrabble.

“I’ve been unwell for a couple of weeks but I made up my mind I was going to come along today because I’ve missed it so much,” she said.

“Normally I’ll join in the seated exercise and I also enjoy the afternoon entertainment. Eynsham Morris Singers and the Wooden Tops are very good.”

Deputy co-ordinator Eileen Mace was busy leading a knitting project to create blankets for premature babies.

“We do get brilliant support from the whole community. I put on Facebook that I needed some wool for the knitting project and the next morning I woke to find bags left on my doorstep,” she said.

“Eynsham Rotary Club have also been fantastic in their support and we’re so happy with the way the Monday Club continues to serve the community.”

Silver Robin: Linking older people and school children through letter writing

A great-grandmother wants to spread the word about her pioneering project and see it take off across the globe.

Avril Lethbridge set up the Silver Robin website in 2015, encouraging people to share their life stories as a way of combatting loneliness.

Since then it has evolved as an inter-generational project between secondary school pupils and older people, exchanging letters and building friendships.

Now 87-year-old Avril wants to expand it further, encouraging all schools to get involved and see Silver Robin take flight abroad.

She was overjoyed the ‘Where Yesterday Meets Tomorrow’ project had received £4,566 from the county council’s Innovation Fund.

“It’s a great joy because up until now I’ve had to finance it all myself,” she said.

Avril, who has three children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, was inspired to launch Silver Robin after a visit to her doctor.

“She encouraged me to go away and do something about loneliness,” said Avril. “I met somebody who hadn’t spoken to anyone for 10 days and I decided something had to be done.

“Some of the stories would break your heart. Loneliness is very damaging to people’s health. What saddens me is it’s not just older people; it affects young people too.

“The main idea is to encourage good old-fashioned letter writing so they’ve got something dropping on the doorstep which then helps to build up relationships.

“Linking older people with school children is great because they have got so much to offer each other.

“In lots of ways it’s better that they are complete strangers because it gives them lots to discuss about their lives. It’s the fact we’re introducing these people and sometimes they become best buddies.”

Avril worked in theatre for more than 60 years, helping to produce Son et lumière at venues like Hampton Court, Windsor Castle and Chatsworth House and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Dame Judi Dench.

She says she has enjoyed a ‘great life’ and has enjoyed seeing her Silver Robin project take off at schools including St Edward’s School, Oxford; The Oxford Academy in Littlemore; and London’s Holland Park School.

“Now I need help getting this out there further and getting even more schools involved, which is what the funding will be used for,” she said.

Syrian Community: Making plans for the summer

A host of summer activities are planned as members of Oxfordshire’s Syrian community seek to engage with other groups in the county.

Syrian Community in Oxford & Oxfordshire (SYRCOX) is organising a trip to the seaside, family fun days and a three-day summer camp.

It has received £5,100 from the county council’s Innovation Fund to put towards the activities.

Over the past few years more than 45 refugee families have arrived in Oxfordshire as part of a Government resettlement programme but several hundred more reached the county under their own steam.

SYRCOX founder Hadi Al Nuri said about 150 people enjoyed the first Syrian family fun day held in Oxford three years ago, but last year’s event attracted more than 500.

He explained: “What they have in common is a sense of loss and isolation, nervousness about their future and the pain of witnessing the continuing situation in Syria.

“This is about giving them opportunities to get to know each other and helping them to settle in. It’s about trying to help them engage with other communities and working together to promote ourselves in a positive way.”

A family fun day was held at the King’s Centre in Oxford in February and the next is planned for June 8 at South Oxford Adventure Playground, off Abingdon Road.

Hadi said: “It’s very important we keep improving our events and increasing the number of activities to engage further with other communities.

“It’s very important we organise opportunities for people to get out of the house and talk to one another, to keep children entertained, pool knowledge and skills and develop optimism.

“All of that will encourage our community to forget about the past, be active in society and participate in the development process. That’s why this money from the county council is very, very helpful.”

As well as the fun day, a three-day camp for 100 people in Boars Hill, Oxford, is planned, along with an outing to West Wittering Beach in West Sussex.

Oxfordshire Association for the Blind: Visually Impaired Coffee Clubs

Oxfordshire Association for the Blind is aiming to enrich the lives of visually impaired people with the creation of monthly coffee clubs.

People will be able to enjoy a cuppa in Didcot from the end of May, with further clubs planned for Banbury and Bicester shortly after.

The coffee project has been stimulated by an £8,580 grant from the county council’s Innovation Fund.

Clare Pearce, chief executive at Oxfordshire Association for the Blind, said: “Clearly, we are thrilled to have received funding from Oxfordshire County Council which will go some way to help us set up monthly Visually Impaired Coffee Clubs within the county.

“This project will focus on three areas outside of the city centre – Bicester, Banbury and Didcot – where visually impaired people have little or no opportunity to network in a relaxed, friendly and social environment with peers.

“These social support activities make a huge difference to the wellbeing of people within the community and enable them to maintain and build their confidence and independence.”

Each monthly coffee club will initially be available for 10 visually impaired people and the same number of family members and careers.

The social clubs will take place in existing local coffee shops and run from 10am until midday. Visitors will purchase their own refreshments and travel there and back under their own steam.

Clare said in addition to networking and enjoying the refreshments, OAB also plans to incorporate additional elements such as equipment demonstrations or run short sessions on technology.

“Once the clubs are fully established, if there is appetite from the coffee club members, we may also add in additional elements such as craft activities, short walks or museum trips,” she said.

Initially each coffee club will be run by a member of OAB staff with two volunteers. Once the clubs are up and running, they will be supervised by volunteers.

The scheme will be supported by the county council’s sensory impairment team, which will run orientation and mobility training assessments.

Clare said: “This project will mark a step change in how we work. We anticipate it leading to more bespoke support, increased financial sustainability, and a stronger presence in the community.

“Most crucially, we anticipate it having a hugely positive impact on many people’s lives.”