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Village SOS – A Beginner’s Guide

3 February 2015

Chris Cowcher, the new Community Manager for Village SOS (VSOS),‘How-to-create-a-sustainable-community-enterprise-book’ discusses the campaign’s new focus and how your project can get involved. 

Let me introduce myself. My name is Chris and I’ve just started as the new Community Manager for Village SOS (VSOS) working for Action with Communities in Rural England.

We are relaunching the VSOS campaign and this time round the sole focus is on promoting and linking up like-minded projects so they can learn from each other’s experiences.

I’m really excited about being involved with the campaign as I’ve had the pleasure of working with community projects in the past, through my roles at Gloucestershire Rural Community Council and South Gloucestershire Council and it never fails to amaze me how much is achieved by volunteer community activists.

Are you involved with an innovative or enterprising project in your community? Or have you got an idea for a project you’d like to start? It would be great to have you on board because VSOS is a campaign that focuses on you and is a resource for you to use however you see fit.

We know every community project is different and the idea is that VSOS will guide you through a process of deciding on the next steps that are right for you. You’ll also get support to make progress because it’s about action not just about writing plans. Although not an exhaustive list, through VSOS you may get support related to;

  • Promoting your project better – Have you got a website? How good is it?
  • Raising the money needed to complete an action – What investment opportunities/funds are out there?
  • Community consultation – You’ve got to get people on board locally
  • Becoming more professional – Do you need to refresh or develop a business plan?
  • Considering new activities for your project – It’s always beneficial to get more people involved

At the heart of what we’re doing with VSOS is ‘community-to-community learning’ – it may very well be that one project is put in touch with – or will visit – another to learn how they are doing things. We’ve also got a network of VSOS Mentors, with skills and expertise that could be used as a resource in your action plan.

Go on, get involved – sign up as a member here. You will hear about events and campaign updates, receive a fortnightly e-news feed straight to your email and be sent the Monthly VSOS Campaign Newsletter. All members will also get a copy of the ‘How to Create a Sustainable Community Enterprise’ (pictured).

The Big Music Project Competition

2 February 2015

The Big Music Project is an initiative funded by the Big Lottery Fund, harnessing the power of music to engage 14-24 year olds and help them take their first steps towards a career in the music industry. Tens of thousands of young people have been involved over the past year and The Big Music Project Competition is just one part of it.

The competition final is taking place at The Big Music Project Celebration Event at the Indigo at the O2 on Thursday 19th February. We chatted with Gemma Bradley, one of the finalists, who is in with a chance of winning the opportunity to record at the infamous Abbey Road Studios, along with some other amazing prizes.

Gemma-Bradley-2Gemma, 18 from Draperstown in Northern Ireland, started learning to play the guitar at primary school and says she first realised she wanted to be a musician when she was just nine years old. She soon combined that with her passion for singing and along with support from local organisations she has become the talented artist she is today.

“I have had great backing from Glasgowbury at the Cornstore Creative Hub in my hometown of Draperstown, as well as other brilliant opportunities with the Nerve Centre and Youth Action”, explained Gemma. “I have played at local festivals and entered various competitions, but this is the biggest opportunity I have had so far.”

Speaking about her challenges, she said: “I’d say my biggest challenge in pursuing my music is the lack of performing opportunities in my local area, which is very rural.  I’ve had to really push the boundaries and travel to the cities, and these performances have really built my confidence.”

The Big Music Project is delighted to give Gemma the opportunity to perform at an iconic London venue alongside 12 other talented young performers, in front of a panel of music industry judges. You can find out more about all of the finalists and the competition here.

Improving the future for families with domestic abuse

29 January 2015

In the fourth of our series of Improving Futures blogs, David Taylor, Knowledge Manager at the Big Lottery Fund, discusses the impact on domestic abuse victims in the programme, which recently published its year two evaluation.

Domestic abuse is an issue that has recently affected 17% of Improving Futures participants, with another 7.9% affected within the previous 12 months – making it nearly four times as prevalent as the British Crime Survey’s estimate for the UK.

David-TaylorDomestic abuse damages victims’ long term physical and mental health and appears to be as harmful for children witnessing it as it is for the victims, placing them at increased risk of behavioural problems, emotional trauma and mental health difficulties in adult life.

The Improving Futures projects adopted a whole family, early intervention approach to tackle the issue from multiple angles which also aims to raise each family member’s awareness of how their own circumstances affect other family members.

Specific approaches have included:

  • Tackling Domestic Violence, Belfast, is bringing multiple agencies together by having Women’s Aid workers with Health and Social Care Trust professionals as a Gateway Support Team at a range of locations.
  • Brighter Futures, Wandsworth, runs a 12-week course supporting mothers and their children in separate groups run in parallel. The course is about healing from abuse and safety planning. Outreach workers support people before and after the course as a family.

The projects have also learnt a lot about the most effective approaches for tackling domestic abuse. At a learning event in February 2014, Improving Futures projects identified the following pieces of learning:

►  Use of language can be important, e.g. using ‘application’ rather than ‘referral’, to make families more likely to seek the support services on offer

►  Flexibility of funding is key, e.g. one service offered driving lessons to some women which helped boost their confidence and offered them greater freedom

►  Giving families a sense of empowerment, i.e. supporting them to help themselves once the service is no longer supporting them

►  Power of learning – benefit to families when offered courses that boost confidence, skills, employability and gets them out in the community

►  Safeguarding– social workers were an important element within projects, specifically supporting families experiencing domestic abuse

Across the 26 projects, the Year 2 evaluation report has identified clear improvements for families with domestic abuse. Despite not being a specific aim for most projects, the whole family approach has reduced child harm by domestic violence by 43.4% and adult harm by 29.5%. The Belfast project, with its focus on domestic violence, reduced adult harm from 83% at entry to 43% at exit.

The evaluation shows that the programme has been particularly successful in reducing domestic abuse in lone parent families. The most effective domestic abuse interventions are those that have worked with families for more than 12 months. The evaluation will continue to look at common factors in the most effective approaches for reducing domestic abuse as the programme continues.

More information about this and other aspects of the Improving Futures programme can be found in the year two evaluation report and the executive summary.

You can also visit for the latest information about the programme and findings or contact


Sobar – A Bar without the Booze

26 January 2015

Sobar-Nottingham-2As we enter the last week of January, many of us are struggling to maintain our healthy New Year’s Resolutions. Luckily as this Lottery funded project shows, being healthy doesn’t have to be boring. 

Sobar, in Nottingham, opened last year and is an alternative cafe-bar venue right in the city centre. Run by local drug and alcohol recovery charity Double Impact, it offers great local food and non-alcoholic drinks in a vibrant and welcoming environment. In doing so it also provides employment experience and opportunities to people in recovery to help them find work, a stepping stone back into society.

“We’re trying to ensure we’re using local produce and fresh ingredients,” says James McGregor, the general manager at Sobar. “We do all of our own baking. The freshness of ingredients goes hand in hand with the quality of what we’re trying to achieve.

“The challenge in being alcohol-free is that customers tell us they don’t like Coke or Diet Coke – the standard drinks you get everywhere. So we’ve been exploring other options, even our cordials are quite premium flavours, things like rhubarb and rosehip or blood orange. As soon as you say that it gets people’s interest. It’s about trying to get people to try new things and offer alternatives – most people are pleasantly surprised by that.”

For anyone not passing by Sobar, James has given us a recipe for your own ‘mocktail’. Here’s the Nottingham Punch:

50ml passion fruit juice
50ml guava juice
50ml mango juice
1 teaspoon brown sugar
15ml orgeat (almond syrup)
15ml lime juice

Crushed ice to fill the glass


Put all the ingredients in your cocktail shaker with ice and shake for 10 seconds. Strain over ice into a glass. Garnish with slice or orange, lime or a cherry.


Sobar funding facts:

Double Impact received just over £340,000 from Reaching Communities in 2013 to set up and run Sobar as a social enterprise.

Sobar, Friar Lane, Nottingham, NG1 6DQ



‘Community enterprise saved our bacon!’

23 January 2015

Phil Knibb, Chief Executive at Alt Valley Enterprising Communities, tells us how Croxteth Home Farm was saved from closure.

Youngsters tending the farm

Youngsters tending the farm

As well as being a working farm, Croxteth Home Farm is home to over two hundred animals including Irish Moil and Highland cattle, Tamworth and Gloucester Old Spot Pigs, various endangered breeds of sheep and goats, horses, ponies, donkeys and other small animals.

The farm was once part of the historic Earl of Sefton’s Estate and sits next to the grade 2* listed Croxteth Hall in the scenic Croxteth Park.

Despite being one of Liverpool’s most popular visitor attractions, it was under threat of closure due to funding pressures on the council. When we heard about the problem we worked with a leading Liverpool social business, the Neighbourhood Services Company (NSC), to take over the farm.

That was back in September, and our newly opened farm now employs some of the former Council staff. We’ve also drafted in workers from a nearby agricultural enterprise, Larkin’s Farm, also run by the NSC. Larkin’s farm is set in 200 acres of land, was established in Victorian times, and, like Croxteth Home Farm, was formerly part of Sefton Estate.

We are going to link the two farms to develop the Larkin’s Farm Produce business brand, with the aim of selling produce from the farm throughout Liverpool.

There are also plans to link up the Environmental Education Centre, and the two farming areas, to create and maximize the potential for education and employment opportunities for surrounding communities.

The farm is just one of a range of different community businesses we’ve been involved in at Alt Valley that are making a difference to the lives of local people. We’re very excited about the launch of the Power to Change –  it’s really great news for community enterprises – old and new.

The Big Lottery Fund has awarded an endowment of £150 million to the Power to Change Trust to provide funding, support and inspiration to existing and new community businesses in England. Find out more about the Power to Change.

Communities given the Power to Change

22 January 2015

The Power to Change is a new, independent charitable trust, set up to support community businesses across England. As the trust officially opens today, Chief Executive, Vidhya Alakeson, tells us what this means for communities up and down the country.

Vidhya Alakeson

Vidhya Alakeson

As the country slowly emerges from a long period of economic decline, many communities have yet to recover. Shuttered up shops, a boom in high street lenders, a lack of quality jobs and cut backs in local services have made life more difficult and reduced the opportunities to get on. Although growth has now returned and unemployment continues to fall, the turnaround has yet to be felt by many areas of the country.

Against this rather bleak background some communities have refused to sit back and watch their local areas decline. They have joined forces locally to set up their own community businesses to address the challenges they face. Whether the problem is lack of access to fresh food, an absence of places where the community can meet or a once a day only bus service to the nearest town, community-led businesses are providing the solution. And with it they are transforming local places by creating jobs, reinvesting local wealth and making communities stronger.

The Power to Change has been inspired by the impact of these community businesses already operating all over the country. From the community shop and pub to community broadband, energy and transport, this growing economy bridges the traditional public and private sectors to offer a new approach that is needed now more than ever.

Lyvennet Community Pub - Butchers Arms celebration

Lyvennet Community Pub

Officially established today, the Power to Change aims to support existing community businesses to grow; encourage new community businesses to start up; and enable leading community businesses to take their expertise to new sectors and new places. We will invest £150 million of Lottery funding over the next 10 to 15 years in unlocking more of this economic and social potential, combining the strengths of enterprise with the passion and drive of local people.

As a new organisation, we want to learn from existing best practice and to work closely with local people to understand what they need and how we can best support them. We will combine financial support with access to the best quality expertise. We want to act as a catalyst in this emerging market and multiply our impact tenfold by working with others who share our passion for community business. We will learn as we go and collect evidence of the impact that those we support are making.

Over the lifetime of the Power to Change, we want to achieve a transformation that makes community business ‘business as usual’. Much as people shop today for organic or fair trade products, we want consumers in the future to positively choose community business products that support their local area. The growth of community shares and crowd funding shows the public appetite is there for this approach. We want our investment to take these trends to scale and leave a lasting legacy. We are committed to working with communities of all kinds across England to make this change happen.

The Power to Change has been set up with a £150 million endowment from the Big Lottery Fund. If you’re a community business and would like to find out about the support available, please visit

It is World Leprosy Day on 25 January.

21 January 2015

25 January marks World Leprosy Day. In this blog we look at two of the real life stories behind the work of the charity Lepra, which has just received funding from the Big Lottery Fund. 

Leprosy is an infectious disease of the skin and nerves which if left untreated can cause disability and blindness. It is one of the world’s oldest diseases however last year 126,913 new cases were diagnosed in India, the highest in the world according to the World Health Organisation.

The Big Lottery Fund is awarding £485,645 to UK charity Lepra to help around 120,000 people suffering from leprosy and elephantiasis in Bihar, India. Elephantiasis, or lymphatic filariasis, is an extremely painful disfiguring disease transmitted though bites of infected mosquitoes, causing the swelling of parts of the body. Lepra’s project will benefit poverty-stricken people through raising community awareness of causes, symptoms and treatment along with improving sanitation and hygiene in 465 villages.

Lepra’s work will help treat people like Kalpana and Sita Devi below:

Kalpana’s story:


Kalpana and her daughter in her shop.

Kalpana was only 17 when she was married to Nayan Yadav, a soldier in the Indian Army. Due to poverty and tradition, 69 percent of girls in Bihar are still forced to marry against their wishes and before the legal age of 18 years.

A soldier of the Infantry Regiment, Nayan was frequently posted on India’s borders, seeing his family only twice a year. On one such visit he discovered patches on Kalpana’s body and suspected she had leprosy. He was angry that Kalpana’s family kept this from him at the time of their wedding. Her in-laws suspected Kalpana might have inherited the disease from her family. Behind closed doors, Nayan started to beat Kalpana. Other family members ignored her cries. This violence continued for five years.

Kalpana dreaded Nayan’s home-coming. In one such episode, Nayan broke her leg with relentless beating. She was taken to the hospital by her neighbours. After the treatment when Kalpana returned home, she found all her belongings thrown out. Her husband and in-laws asked her to leave their home immediately. With her four-year-old daughter, Anshu Priya, Kalpana returned to the cramped conditions of her parents’ home and has been living there for three years.

Kalpna first came into contact with Lepra in 2011 and received treatment for multi-bacillary leprosy. She has completed the entire course of multi-drug therapy which usually lasts between six months to a year. The patches on her body have completely disappeared and Kalpana, for the first time looks healthy and happy. However, her emotional scars of rejection by her husband and his family continue to torment her.

According to the last Family Health Survey of India, 59% of women in Bihar face domestic violence. A woman is twice as likely to face domestic violence if she has contracted a disease like leprosy or HIV.

With Lepra’s help Kalpana has now filed for divorce, demanding alimony and child maintenance for her daughter, now seven.

Meanwhile, with Lepra’s financial support of Rupees 30,000 (£300), Kalpana has started a small groceries shop attached to her parents’ home. She earns around Rs250-300 (£2.50 – £3) per day and feels proud to contribute to her parents’ household instead of being a burden on them. Anshu Priya is now attending a local primary school and seems to be thriving in her grandparent’s home. This year, Lepra Bihar plans to employ Kalpana as a community ambassador.

Sita Devi’s story:

Sita Devi

Sita Devi

Sita Devi’s husband is a daily wage labourer, earning roughly 100 rupees a day or less. (£1).
About 10 years ago, Sita Devi’s leg started swelling and became very painful. Her husband took her to see many doctors which resulted in a spending of Rs.5,000 (£500). The doctors didn’t tell them what her condition or disease was and prescribed very expensive injections which the couple couldn’t afford.

Sita Devi was worried about her condition and was deeply unhappy and depressed because she couldn’t leave the house or carry out any household work like cooking, washing or even bathing. She felt isolated and shunned. Her leg continued to swell, her fevers persisted and acute attacks worsened. It was around that time an elderly neighbour who also had the same condition. She approached Sita Devi and mentioned Lepra’s treatment regime. This lady had been on Lepra’s treatment for a while and as a result, the swelling in her leg had substantially reduced.

Accompanied by her husband, Sita Devi went to Lepra in early 2013 where she was diagnosed with lymphatic filariasis and given medication for the fevers. Lepra’s physiotherapist demonstrated self-care techniques that included a set of practices like washing, massaging, exercising and elevation which had to be carried out on a daily basis. Lepra also prescribed her a pair of shoes that were exclusively made for her.

Sita Devi is a much happier person today as she is able to carry out all her household chores and attend social gatherings like weddings or just meeting her friends in the neighbourhood. She said she feels like doing more with her life and is considering buying a cow so she can sell the milk and make some additional money for her household.

She said: “Anyone can get this disease but if we can have the courage to face it we will overcome it and help others too”.

Our biggest blogs of 2014

16 January 2015

2014 was another busy and varied year for the Big Lottery Fund, which can be clearly seen from the broad mix of stories we featured on the big blog.

In case you missed them, here are our top five most popular blogs from last year.

1. Top tips for newcomers to England Big Advice Two men working at a desk

2. Our Environment Our Future

3. Extra money for Reaching Communities applicants

4. Supporting people with multiple needs: A project’s view

5. New faces to the England Committee

Darren making speech at a lectern

Darren Murinas.


A personal favourite of the team is a blog from Darren Murinas. In Through my eyes, who am I?, Darren speaks passionately about living with multiple and complex needs, and how he is now using his experiences to support others with similar challenges.

Some interesting 2014 blog stats:

Number of blogs – 78
Busiest month for blogs – June (Big Lottery Fund, 10 years anniversary)
Busiest month for views – October – 2,051 visitors and 3,697 views!


Do you have a favourite blog from last year? Is there anything you’d like us to write about in 2015? Please feel free to leave a comment below.


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