Chief Executive's blog: April

Rosemary Macdonald on showcasing the work of brilliant Wiltshire charities.

I LIKE to think that one of my roles here is making sure that the work being done by the groups we fund doesn’t go unnoticed, so I was really pleased to make two visits out to a collection of them with some important people this month.

I spent a morning with the Bishop of Swindon Rt Rev Dr Lee Rayfield and the new Archdeacon of Malmesbury Rev Christopher Bryan visiting two inspirational projects, the Lakeside Care Farm run by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and the Harbour Project in Swindon.

Lakeside, near Malmesbury, provides education and specialised support for children with special needs and really impressed both visitors. Funding from the Wiltshire Community Foundation provided equipment and improved access for the young people who visit the farm.

It provides a vital service because there are very few special school places and for children who don’t fit into mainstream education it provides a place of tranquillity and beauty for them to focus and be supervised while experiencing the outdoor life.

Manager Dean Sherwin and his team do a fantastic job, not only in maintaining the wildlife and the landscape but also providing a safe place to learn.

The marvellous Harbour Project is always a source of extraordinarily uplifting stories. We spoke to a young man from Iraq who was a Christian Kurd, he and his brother decided to escape the persecution there, but they were split up along the way when they were forced to board separate lorries.

One of them ended up in Swindon and spent a year worrying whether his brother was even still alive. But recently he contacted him on Facebook to say he had made it to Switzerland and was safe and well. Most of us have no concept of the horrors these people endure or the fear that still haunts them but the wonderful volunteers who work with them and give support and encouragement so freely do understand and are working so hard to help them build a new, safer life.

Afterwards Bishop Lee wrote to thank me for the “horizon-expanding and deepening experiences”, which is a testament not to me but the brilliant and life-changing work being undertaken by these groups.

I also spent an afternoon taking Wiltshire Chief Constable Kier Pritchard to four groups, Kennet Furniture Recycling, Arts Together and the Amber Foundation in Trowbridge and Exeter House School in Salisbury, where we witnessed a lively and high energy after school drama session.

The power of local charities and their ability to tackle issues in their communities was underlined to me by a discussion with the chief constable about knife crime during our visit

He is firmly of the opinion that the answer to tackling this growing problem, which may not be as severe as in London but is still very much an issue in towns like Trowbridge and Swindon, can be dealt with most effectively by groups working within those communities.

It can’t be solved by the national government trying to impose a solution, it has got to come from local diversions for young people, so they are not lost to gangs or peer pressure. Our communities have suffered cuts to youth services that have resulted in the loss of an awful lot of places where young people used to go and have a different experience.

One of the things I am going to be talking to donors about in the future is investing in these youth projects in Wiltshire that provide role models, aspiration and inspiration.

The visits we made underlined to me the sheer passion so many people have in this county for helping others. I was so happy to champion their work to my guests and for them I know it opened their eyes and gave them a much broader view of what is happening in the county.

It was an opportunity for me to say thank you to the groups because we give them funding and they appreciate the chance to show off what they do. The more we can talk about the wonderful stuff going on in Wiltshire, the better.

THREE things have pleased me this month. One was the memorable launch of Deepest Wiltshire, the fascinating book featuring many Wiltshire tales and facts I’d not come across before written by the equally memorable Fanny Charles and Gay Pirrie-Weir.

The book would make a fantastic present or companion to a Wiltshire visit and its proceeds will go to us, SSAFA and Wiltshire Air Ambulance. You can find out where to buy a copy at www.deepestbooks.co.uk.

The other delight was sponsoring the Community Service Volunteer award at the Wiltshire Life awards. The winner was the very deserving Mike Ridgway of Alzheimer's Support in Chippenham. It was a pleasure to represent the foundation and it is always useful bumping into people and sewing a few seeds for cultivation further down the line!

Finally, we have had some good news that the government is once again going to entrust the UK network of community foundations to distribute the lion’s share of its Tampon Tax revenue. Last year the network distributed £3.4 million to 400 groups across the country.

The latest award is a massive vote of confidence in community foundations’ ability to know where the money will be used to make the most difference. Women’s projects tend to be local and small as well as incredibly effective, so it is very important that, wherever they are, they apply to their community foundations for funding. We know they make a huge difference and we want to help them.

Pictured: Rosemary with Wiltshire Chief Constable Kier Pritchard with Dan Thompson of Kennet Furniture Recycling