Chief executive's blog: August

Rosemary Macdonald on the importance of research, sharing skills and the joy of hedgehogs

AUGUST IS a month of researching and writing at the Wiltshire Community Foundation. We are analysing our impact as a funder and producing pour annual accounts and impact report, it's a great time time to learn and plan for the future. 

An article caught my attention this month in the Guardian (which you can read here) which tells us  more than 4 million people in the UK are in deep poverty with an income 50 per cent below the breadline. There are also 7 million people in persistent poverty,  including 2.3 million children, meaning they have been in poverty for at least two of the last three years.  These figures are shocking for a first world country. Because the numbers are so big, it is easy to dismiss them as being about “other people” and fail to acknowledge we have our fair share of destitute people in our lovely county. 

In my recent travels, I have met a number of people who are living very difficult lives.  Some fell into their situation through bad choices, many more had never known anything other than hardship, especially the children.

The thing that struck me was their need of some sort of hope.  I have met those who are helping where they can.  Community groups, local churches and dedicated workers who are providing one on one support are offering practical care, friendship and a sense of community. We fund many of the community groups who need our support to continue their work.

 

OUT OF further research we are doing will come  important reports that we hope will help shape the county’s thinking when it comes to community funding. Thanks to funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport we have completed our research on loneliness and look forward to publishing our findings.

We will also be updating Wiltshire Uncovered, a situational analysis of Wiltshire and Swindon and their ‘state of health’. These reports will be a vital resource for anyone seeking to understand Wiltshire and Swindon. The reports will draw on a myriad of statistics driven by a wide range of separate research into poverty, health, wellbeing, educational achievement and employment (to name but a few) and by drawing them together and collating them, we will be able to paint a picture that gives  a clear understanding of what is happening locally.

This will be a vital tool, not just to us but to anyone wanting a real sense of what Wiltshire and Swindon is really like. No one else does this and we know that the first Uncovered was incredibly useful to groups applying for funding. It is an asset for the whole county, and I am proud that we are producing it.

 

OUR ONE Degree More panel met last month and once again the funding we have so generously received will help change the course of young peoples’ lives through our university bursaries. The panel awarded £251,000 to 54 young people who will now be anxiously awaiting their results before embarking on a journey that will take them who knows where? Many of our previous recipients are now working all over the world in science, engineering, the law, the arts and health.

Their disciplines may be very different, but they have in common backgrounds that may have prevented them fulfilling their potential. Like our current cohort, some of them will have had caring responsibilities and challenging family situations. Many will be from families where university is not a well-trodden path.

It is important that we do this because we are backing up the schools who can identify young people who, regardless of their circumstances, show great potential. We are providing vital funding that in many cases is the missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to these young people trying to build themselves a brighter future.

 

ON THE subject of young people, I had an enjoyable visit to Wiltshire College’s Trowbridge Campus and spent time with principal Amanda Burnside and assistant-principal Jo Grenfell. It had certainly changed a bit since I studied for an A-level there!

The visit was an opportunity to see how the college supports students, particularly those in Trowbridge where we have been taking a particular interest. It was illuminating to hear that of all its campuses, Trowbridge has the highest number of young people on free school meals.

The college works hard with all its students, but it was heartening to hear how much focus is put into keeping young people on courses, especially during the difficult transition from school in the first 42 days. The college measures its success not just in terms of academic success but also their journey towards a ‘positive destination’ – either going into further education, work or even just living independently. The college is quietly working away to improve the future of the town by increasing the employability, confidence and wellbeing of its young people.

The college holds a grant from us to provide support for students facing hardship and I am pleased that we are working with them to make sure the most is made of it.

 

OUR NEIGHBOURING community foundation in Gloucestershire has been busy with developing a new strategic plan and recruiting a new chief executive and I am pleased to have been able to help with that.

Being part of a network of community foundations means sharing expertise and experience and by pooling our strengths and working together we ensure that each foundation is better equipped to help its county. Wiltshire has benefitted from that network in the past and I was delighted to be able to pay forward to Gloucestershire.

It was a rewarding experience working with the board and at the end of a two-day interview process a terrific appointment was made. I’m looking forward to working with new chief executive Talitha Nelson and seeing her at the national conference in Glasgow in September.

 

WHOEVER SAID summer is a quiet time can’t have seen my diary these last few months. In addition to planning our annual celebration in September, at which I, my staff and our trustees are looking forward to meeting supporters, partners and beneficiaries at the Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradford on Avon, we are developing a new web site.

A web site is an important shop window and for some time we have been conscious that ours needs a little polishing, to say the least. We conducted a rigorous briefing and tendering process and I was very interested to sit in on the pitches made by three companies

 It’s an exciting time for us as we completely rebuild the site and populate with new content to make it more user-friendly and relevant.

 

ONE OF the things that has most pleased me this month is to be found in my garden. I and my husband Fraser have become fascinated with a family of hedgehogs who seem to have taken up residence under our holly bush.

Each evening around 9.15, mum goes out foraging before bringing three babies out to eat the food we have left. Our first job every morning is to race to the plate we have left to see how much has been eaten. Judging from the size the little trio of hoglets have now grown to, they are packing away quite a lot.

They all seem entirely happy to share our garden and even untroubled by our dog Ellie. As author George Eliot, who once stayed in the building the community foundation calls home in Devizes, wrote: “Animals are such agreeable friends, they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.”

Pictured below: Mother hedgehog and one of her hoglets stepping up to the plate, as it were