Groups across the county are lifted by £96,000 grant boost

THE Wiltshire Community Foundation has handed out almost £96,000 to help groups in Swindon and Wiltshire make a difference in their communities.

Among them was a charity which has been dispensing healthy breakfasts to the homeless in Swindon for more than 25 years has been boosted by a £10,000 grant from the Wiltshire Community Foundation.

The Big Breakfast Plus, based at The Haven in Queens Drive, provides a warming start to the day seven days a week, thanks to a tiny staff  and an army of 55 volunteers.

The group cooks and serves 7,000 hearty plates of food a year to rough sleepers, people in poverty and the ‘hidden homeless’ – those sleeping on friends’ sofas and floors  –  but secretary Rosemary Curtis expects that number to rise.

“The need is increasing all the time because of the pressure on families and don’t even get me started on Universal Credit,” she said.

The grant will fund project co-ordinator Jo Heaven who keeps the operation running smoothly, deals with donations, ensures hygiene standards are maintained and even wields a frying pan herself at weekends.

Mrs Curtis said: “We are so grateful for the money because we have had great support from the Wiltshire Community Foundation in the past. It is very difficult to get funding for running costs because people like to fund a particular project.

“But without Jo being here we wouldn’t be able to operate at The Haven, so the money is vital.”

Another group to benefit from this year’s first round of foundation grants was Care Home Volunteers, which was awarded £10,000 over two years for its network of visitors in Swindon, Chippenham and Salisbury. The group now has 20 volunteers who spend time with people living in care homes, many of home will have lost a partner and will have had to move away from their friends.

The West Swindon and Lydiard Church Partnership was awarded £10,000 over two years towards the running costs of its weekly after school club for young people with special needs and disabilities aged ten to 16 at Shaw Village Centre.

The club gives the young people, many of whom suffer low confidence as a result of bullying, performing arts training and helps them to put on shows for family and friends as well as a regular singing session with the Sing and Smile group for the elderly.

Swindon Dance has been given £5,000 to help develop a three-year dance project for young people with learning difficulties aged seven to nine. It will work with groups including Swindon Down’s Syndrome to target youngsters who need help boosting their confidence and self-esteem.

A spokesman for the group said: “There is currently a very small range of sports activities for children and young people and no specialist dance provision of this kind in Swindon or Wiltshire. During a previous holiday project when asked about the impact one parent said ‘I’ll move heaven and earth to get my son there’.”

The Platform Project in Swindon has been given £5,000 to help it set up a Teen Market social enterprise project. After successful half-term projects where the group encouraged young people on the margins of education and employment to make craftwork, such as designer mugs and upcycled fashion.

The group wants to expand the craft days so the young people can produce work to be sold online and at events around the town.

Parkinson’s UK Swindon has been given £2,500 to provide free exercise classes, including walking football, Tai Chi and balance session for sufferers of the debilitating disease and their families.

A charity struggling to cope with an increase in demand for counselling has been aided by a £5,000 grant.

Olive Branch Counselling, in Flowers Yard, Chippenham, provides low cost counselling for people suffering mental health issues but its 14 counsellors, who all give their time for free, have 20 clients stuck on a waiting list of up to four months.

Chairman of trustees Adrian Foster said the grant will help towards the charity’s costs and pay for training of more counsellors. It is very helpful, and we are really grateful to the foundation for its help,” he said.

“There are many in the community we are serving who are suffering mental health or relationship problems who cannot access the NHS or are unable to afford private counselling and we have noticed a steady rise in demand over the past three or four years”

The charity recently moved to its new base and is gradually renovating it. Already there is a suite of counselling rooms that Mr Foster hopes to hire out to private counsellors to help bring in revenue.

“We could offer a discounted rate if they could give us one or two hours of counselling in return,” he said. “That would help us reduce our waiting list.”

Home-Start Kennet was given a £10,000 grant to help run its network of volunteers tackling isolation and loneliness among young mums.

The group provides one-to-one support for families who are very often struggling to care for children without support or who are dealing with mental health issues.

Jamie’s Farm in Box was awarded £5,000 to help with its running costs. Founded by Jamie Feildon and his mum Tish in 2010, the farm charity takes teenagers from urban environments in Wiltshire and all around the south of the country and gives them a week working and playing on a working farm surrounded by stunning scenery, eating nourishing food and sampling a way of life far removed from their own.

A thriving  air cadet squadron has been given more than £3,000 to help it extend its reach to lower income families.

When Greg McKay became commanding officer of the 2385 Melksham Squadron it had just 16 members but in the three years since it has grown to 46 and he believes it can still attract more youngsters to its twice weekly parades.

“The money we’ve been given is very welcome because we’ll use it to provide branded T-shirts to give the new recruits a sense of identity and belonging. They cost around £8 and in other squadrons the cadets themselves pay for that. For many families in Melksham that just isn’t a feasible option,” he said.

The regular activities, which include adventure training, sport, music, shooting, flying and gliding, provide fun but also discipline and camaraderie. “There’s a lot of talk about knife crime in Britain and although that isn’t a huge concern in Melksham it is still great when you begin to see young people looking out for one another,” said OC McKay.

“For some of the young people we have here we are the only continuity that have at that time of their lives and we play an important role.”

The grant will also fund up-to-date workbooks to help the youngsters learn about the history of the RAF and flying. “It will make a huge difference because the learning materials we have are very old,” said OC McKay.

Another group to benefit from this year’s first round of foundation grants was Dorothy House Hospice in Winsley, which has been given £5,000 towards the cost of running its Hospice At Home Advancement service, which cares for patients nearing the end of their lives at home day and night.

A £5,000 grant given to St Michael’s Community Centre in Salisbury will help kick start a range of activities in Bemerton Heath.

St Michael’s manager Ineta Zeile has been in post for a year and has been charged with bringing more activity into the hall. She said the community foundation grant will trigger clubs and activities designed to meet the needs of the area.

A community fridge will distribute fresh produce donated by Tesco and Asda in association with The Trussell Trust, which already has a foodbank running alongside the hall’s community cafe.

“We will have fresh fruit, vegetables eggs, milk and other food, we hope those who can afford to will leave a donation but if they can’t it will be free,” said Ms Ziele.

She is also organising a weekly Cooking On A Budget course, similar to one run by Trussell, to teach families healthy recipes, budgeting for food shopping and nutrition. Later Ms Ziele will launch a children’s group, a life skills course, a back to work group and art therapy.

She is hoping the activities will bring more people into the hall, which she feels is under-used. “I have been here a year and it has been much, much tougher to get people involved than I thought,” she said. “I don’t know whether it is because of the Novichok but people don’t seem to want to get involved.”

But she is encouraged by the number of people who have expressed interest in the new groups. “Judging by the signups for the pilot projects run to date there is evidence that the activities organised by the centre provide a good match to the constantly changing needs and problems of the local community,” she said.

Headway Salisbury and South Wiltshire has been given £5,000 towards the cost of running its Health and Wellbeing project, which uses a co-ordinator to work with brain injury victims to help them get back into work.

Manager Sarah Allen said: “A brain injury often leads to loss of employment for both the survivor and family members who may become unprepared carers overnight. This can affect the survivor’s financial and emotional well-being. Many brain injury survivors (and often their families) struggle to remain part of the community.”

Community First was awarded £7,000 to help provide youth activities across Swindon and Wiltshire in the wake of council cuts. Through Youth Action Wilshire, it will support 65 existing clubs by providing training and guidance and assistance with fundraising.

Wiltshire Community Foundation chief executive Rosemary Macdonald said: “I am delighted that this money will support such a wide range of groups who provide vital services for their communities, addressing major issues such as homelessness, loneliness, youth aspiration and mental health.

“This is what we do best, identify where the need is and then provide the funding to help tackle it.”

Pictured: Big Breakfast Plus volunteers Diane Lane, left, and Robbie Fenton and cook Sue Gasiorek, who has been at the charity for 19 years