Connecting Communities 2019

On the 20th June 2019 Hunts Forum and Support Cambridgeshire (as part of their Think Different Approach) ran their annual Connecting Communities Conference, the topic this year being unwanted Loneliness and Social Isolation.

Subtitled Tackling Loneliness, A Community Response, the conference looked at how volunteering can help reduce loneliness.

Interest in the conference was high with nearly 90 people attending on the day ( a 98% increase on Conference levels from last year) and many unfortunately unable to get a ticket.

The event was far removed from the usual presentational format and emphasised the conversational. Partners wanted to stay true to an ethos in that working and talking together in co-operation and good faith we can achieve more than just the sum of our parts. Through dialogue and openness we hoped that the exchange of information, ideas, comments, observations from the collective experience and knowledge would create the platform for mutual support, and would help organisations to develop, connect and obtain the guidance they needed.

The Key-Note:

The conference began with a passionate and inspiring talk from the keynote speaker, Kate Gordon, from Men’s Sheds UK. Kate explained the origin of the Shed movement in Australia as a way of encouraging men to socialise and discuss their feelings and their well-being. Since the idea first travelled across the world to the UK 500 sheds have opened with 8 active sheds in Cambridgeshire. Cambridgeshire County Council welcome applications to the Innovate & Cultivate Fund to set up Men’s Sheds in communities across Cambridgeshire.

You can apply for a £2000 start-up grant to cover the first two years of your Shed development.

See here: https://data.cambridgeshireinsight.org.uk/sites/default/files/Mens%20Shed%20Cultivate%20Model.pdf for more details.

The Slogan for men’s sheds is Shoulder to Shoulder,  simply shortened from Men don’t talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder.

Kate’s Keynote slides can be viewed here:

The Work-shops:

Later, the main hall buzzed with small groups discussing different aspects of loneliness and how volunteering can help reduce loneliness and social isolation. Different workshops looked at ways to find potentially lonely people and reach out to them  (run by Age UK Cambridgeshire and Peterborough),  ways to communicate with and engage people (run by Care Network’s Open Arms Project), supporting and nurturing volunteers (run by Cambridge Community Arts) while The Wildlife Trust, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire ran a workshop on ways and ideas for demonstrating impact, something that helps us as organisations and is very important to funding bodies.

We were lucky to have four funding bodies at the conference talking to people about the various funds that they have available to support volunteering and help tackle Loneliness and Social Isolation. Alibhe Kirwan from the People’s Postcode lottery had travelled from Edinburgh to be with us and provided a great deal of information to help people ensure their funding applications are relevant. Alibhe’s attendance at the conference was part of a wider tour of the area visiting projects funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery.

Ailbhe was joined by Fiona Brice from The National Lottery Community Fund, Michael Ruddy from Cambridgeshire Community Foundation and Lianne Parrett from Cambridgeshire County Council’s Innovate and Cultivate Fund.

Thank you to everyone who came to the conference and particularly to Kate Gordon, Andy Morris from Age UK C&P, Adam Fraser from Care Network’s Open Arms Project, Beth McCabe and Jane Rich from Cambridge Community Arts and Louise Rackham from The WildLife Trust Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire for running such excellent and engaging workshops, and for taking time out of their busy daily schedules.

Evaluation:

Over 45 evaluation forms were completed on the day, and feed-back was generally positive, although there are always lessons to be learned.

Here are some quotes:

This was a well organised event, run smoothly and was useful to me for networking. Please continue to do what you do best.

speaking about volunteering with other people from different organisations whose experiences are very different is very useful.

This event is so helpful in the way it supports us to find different organisations and groups who can support us moving forward.

Knowing there is so much ‘out there’ for the lonely is rewarding.

Its always useful sharing experiences with people from other organisations.

Its always helpful to realise how many others are out there that could help reduce isolation for our families.

People’s experiences are a really useful way to learn.

A really enjoyable and informative day.

Great conference, excellent programme, and a strong energy in the room. If this is VCSE power, then the future is bright.

Overall:

Most delegates scored the Conference high in terms of overall satisfaction, with most scoring 3 or 4 (4 being the highest score).

Most delegates said they felt more able to identify loneliness in their communities as a direct result of attending the conference, and the majority of delegates felt they could put some plans into immediate action.

Next Steps:

To work through how we can build on the conference for next year, a small random sample of evaluations will be sent in two months time, asking for delegates to look back and see what could have been done differently, and what they might like to see in 2020/2021.  In addition, the Support Cambridgeshire State of the Sector Survey for 2019 (which will be published in July) may provide further clues on topics, issues and challenges around volunteering – so watch out for that.

Photograph: 

Kate in action at Connecting Communities 2019.

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