Skip to content

A garden to remember a little flower

21 April 2015

There can be nothing more painful than losing a child, but Kerry and Ivan Mornington were determined to channel their grief into creating a lasting memorial to their daughter Violet, and helping other bereaved parents in the process. This is their story…

We were just a normal family; life was busy, but good. My husband Ivan and I had teenage twins, Molly and Caitlin, and Violet who was coming up to her 5th birthday. She was the baby of the family and the centre of everything.


But just seven weeks after her 5th birthday my beautiful, funny, clever and strong-willed little girl took her last breath in our arms. We spent four weeks in hospital while they tried to find out what was wrong with her. Just one week before she died, they told us Violet had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and HLH (Hemophagocytic Lymphohystiocytosis). I remember us all holding hands vowing to fight this together but a week later we were given the devastating news that Violet wasn’t going to recover. We had to make the heart-breaking decision to turn off the machines that were keeping her alive, and let her go.

No-one can imagine the pain losing a child brings. It was like the light had gone out of our lives forever and I had no idea how I was going to get through the next hour, let alone the rest of my life without her. I felt isolated and alone; Ivan and I lost each other for a while because we were grieving so differently.

A few months later we found some strength to start thinking about a memorial for Violet. We wanted to find a garden that was dedicated to children who have passed away and thought other bereaved parents must feel the same. I remember saying to Ivan: “It looks like we’ll have to build one ourselves doesn’t it?”, and that’s when the idea was born. We approached the manager of Lichfield and District Crematorium to see if we could build something there and were overwhelmed when he wholeheartedly supported the idea.


Violet with her dad Ivan.

Now for the hard work; we had to raise the money for the garden so our charity, Violets in Bloom, was set up on 8th April 2014. Any doubts about whether the garden would be welcomed by the community were soon quashed. We put on some amazing events and introduced our very own merchandise, including a superhero doll called Ultra Vi. Ivan has written a charity song and Violet’s uncle has written a children’s book called ‘Be Brave’.

We applied to the Big Lottery Fund and were overjoyed when it was approved. We have now reached our target and are just waiting for the final garden design to arrive so we can get the work started. It’s due to open in August 2015 and I can only imagine how I’m going to feel on the day we cut the ribbon to open ‘Violet’s Garden’.

Once the garden is open we want to keep moving forward. When Violet was in hospital we were surrounded by support 24 hours a day, but when she died we were suddenly flung out into the real world and it was so frightening. We want to bridge that gap and open a centre to provide a wide range of support services to bereaved parents, children and families, with rooms for drop in sessions, counselling, alternative therapies and creative sessions to help people express their grief. It’s an ambitious project I know, but we have come so far in just 12 months and I truly believe we can do this.

To find out more about Violet’s Garden, visit

BBC Countryfile saddles up to film farm project

20 April 2015

Their project has only been up and running since January 2015, but Lane End Farm Trust, based in Abney in Derbyshire’s Hope Valley, is already attracting a lot of media attention. And this Sunday (26 April) they’ll be making their Countryfile debut…

Countryfile-Hannah-Carer-and-EllieNo strangers to local news reporters (one recently turned up to film project staff herding piglets through the snow), the Lane End team has now welcomed BBC One’s Countryfile crew, including presenter Ellie Harrison.

Lane End Farm Trust is a working hill farm in the Peak District National Park and in late 2014 was awarded £275,000 through Reaching Communities for its three-year Riding High project.

The organisation enables disabled and disadvantaged young people to have access to the countryside, providing activities and mentoring programmes to aid their personal development.

Riding High uses rare-breed Eriskay ponies to help young people take part in breath-taking treks over Abney Moor, as well as learning to care for and communicate with the horses. Part of the grant has paid for a wheelchair-accessible carriage, allowing young disabled people to join in with their peers.

Countryfile’s Ellie Harrison went out on a trek with the project’s young participants, and also met youngsters from another charity, based in Chesterfield, who are raring to get involved.

Volunteer Vivienne Howson said: “We can’t wait for this to happen. We have explained it will take time, but thanks to the Big Lottery Fund they will, one day, all be ‘riding high’.”

Big Lottery Fund Funding Officer, Holly Hudson, said: “The Countryfile team was ‘bowled over’ by Lane End and is already making plans to go back to the farm to make a longer film. This is a fantastic project and I’m looking forward to paying them a visit in the summer, as my family and I will be staying nearby.”

Don’t forget to set a reminder to tune into Countryfile this Sunday on BBC One at 7pm. 

A brain injury is ‘life-changing, not life ending’

14 April 2015

Jan Rock is the founder of Matrix Neurological – a new charity that provides holistic neuro-rehabilitation services and practical support to children, young people and their families who are living with the effects of an acquired brain injury.

Isn’t it strange how unpredictable life can be? Just when you think it’s running to plan along comes a curve ball that knocks you down again.

Jan Rock

Jan Rock

Saturday 28th August 2010 was a sunny bank holiday weekend and my husband and my 16 year old son had gone on a climbing trip to Highcliff Nab in Guisborough, a popular visitor spot.  However within half an hour of arriving, my son had fallen 70 feet from the top of the cliff. Doctors described his injuries as ‘the worst they had ever seen’ and considered the complexity and severity of his injuries to be ‘un-survivable’. We were told to expect the worst; if Callum did survive the injuries to his brain were so significant he would have ‘no quality of life’. Either way, his life – and ours – would never be the same again.

Well miraculously Callum did survive and has gone on to make an astonishing recovery. He survived because of his incredible inner strength and determination and the amazing talents of the 10 different consultants who managed his care during the time he spent in the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit.

Neuro-rehabilitation is the next stage. Across the UK the NHS priority for in-patient rehabilitation, whether for children or adults, is: “to improve basic self-care skills; including bathing, dressing and feeding.” Once this is achieved and the child or young person is considered ‘medically stable’, they are discharged and occasionally provided with limited access to some very disjointed community services.

However, research shows that with the right help and support, people can make significant neurological improvements in their ongoing recovery, and this can continue for many years post-injury.

Sadly what many families don’t know at this point is that across the whole of the UK:

  1. There is very little help and support to assist their ongoing recovery
  2. Acquired brain injury isn’t widely understood across the general population
Callum proudly carrying the Olympic Torch

Callum carrying the Olympic torch.

In 2012 the NHS ‘estimated’ approximately 40,000 children and young people across the UK sustain a brain injury each year. Yet in 21st century Great Britain, these children aren’t actively supported to recover from a life changing event or to regain any pre-accident abilities, which are the foundations of their future health and economic wellbeing.

With Callum as our inspiration, Matrix Neurological has been created based on personal experience and out of a clearly identified need.  We are a new charity that aims to provide the practical help and support children and young people need to recover and succeed, and pro-actively support their families so they don’t face the enormous challenges ahead on their own.

We received a £10,000 grant last month from the Big Lottery Fund, which is enabling us to establish an office base from which to manage the charity, and start developing and delivering some innovative neuro-rehabilitation services.  We’re aiming higher because we believe an acquired brain injury is life-changing, not life ending.

If you would like to find out more about Matrix Neurological, check out their twitter page

My work experience week with Team Big Music

13 April 2015

Big Music Project champion Dean Joseph recently spent a week with Team Big Music at Global HQ in London’s Leicester Square. Here’s what he got up to…

My BackgroundDean-Joseph---Big-Music-Blog

My Big Music Project Hub at Windsor and Maidenhead has been involved with The Big Music Project from the very beginning. We’ve created some great projects for local young people, including open mic shows to let them showcase their talent. Our champions also came up with an idea of young people working with war veterans to learn about their experiences and then turn them into songs. This led to another project that saw champions helping young people, who are in care or experiencing personal issues, to express themselves through music and learn songwriting, producing, recording, and mixing.

All these opportunities have given young people in my area some amazing experiences, including myself – from winning an award at the Positive For Youth Awards to representing Global Radio to gain further funding for The Big Music Project. It was this that lead me to do work experience at Global Radio.

My time at Global

I got to sit in on Capital XTRA’s Toni Phillips’ daytime show and watch her in her element. I showed her my YouTube page and played her my latest song ‘Showtime’. She ended up giving me a shout out on-air saying she ‘had the next Big Sean in the studio’, which was amazing.

During my time at Global I got a great insight to the music industry, seeing what the individual projects and teams do. I wrote interview questions for Rizzle Kicks for The Big Music Project Final, scheduled tweets for Big Music’s Twitter account, provided vests for London Marathon participants as part of Global’s Make Some Noise charity, helped Capital XTRA research features about Dr Dre and Amber Rose, and even managed the VIP guest list for The Big Music Project Competition Final.

On my last day I met with Mark Findlay, the Group Head of Live Music for Global (who basically picks all the music Capital FM, Heart and loads more radio stations play).

We talked about how brilliant The Big Music Project Final was and how there was such an amazing variety of young people in the competition. I showed him some of my music and he gave me great feedback, telling me to go out and start gigging. Mark also told me he would try and organise meetings with Ministry of Sound and other record companies so they could give me feedback on my music.

All in all, my week of work experience with The Big Music Project team was amazing and insightful. They really are doing something fantastic for young people who love music.

To find out more about The Big Music Project, visit

From the boot of my car…

7 April 2015

From care to the Strangeways riot, from the boot of my car to an entrepreneur helping young people! This is my story.

Coming from a single parent background from a tough council estate with very little stability in my life, I was rejected by my step father at the age of 13. I spent all of my teenage years and much of my adult life, in the care of the local authority sleeping rough on the streets and spending time in a number of youth offender institutions across the UK.Sam Smith selfie in his office

I had little, if any, kind of education I often ran away from care, spending my time on the streets, getting involved with the wrong crowd, easily led and getting into trouble with the local police, committing petty crime to make ends meet. I lost many friends through heroin addiction. I found my brother lying dead in his flat, as a result of a heroin overdose.

I spent a little time on the Youth Training Scheme on £25 per week but I couldn’t even hold a YTS job down. At 18 I was arrested for shoplifting a Sony Walkman and was subsequently remanded to HMP Strangeways.

On 1st April 1990, I was caught up in the worst prison riots that England has ever seen. The riot was an event I will always remember. I thought I was going to burn alive as fires that had been started by other inmates raged throughout the building. Its the 25th Anniversary of the UK’s worse prison riot, and I remember it as if it was yesterday.

These are just a few life experiences that I had to fight through.

So how did it all change?

What ultimately changed my life was when I met my partner. She was to give me the love and care that I desperately needed. On being released from prison I found a place to live in a homeless hostel, but still with no job, I found myself just hanging around the streets, whilst my partner was working part-time in a local sandwich shop. I often nipped in to the Butty shop, where she worked, to make me my lunch.

After spending almost 18 months in the hostel where I did my cleaning duties, for which I was awarded points, the more points scored the more help I could get finding a place to live. From this I developed and learned independent living skills which led me to get my first flat. My partner and I moved into our first one bed room flat together.

My partner became pregnant and we had a son. This was a life changing event. During the pregnancy I often spoke about getting away from the environment we were living in, there were very little opportunities for work, due to my low self esteem and no confidence nor experience. I no longer had any confidence in the social care system because I felt let down and disowned by the lack of support I was given.

My son was born in the year 1994, which was the most remarkable experience for me and my partner. Together we decided we needed to move away to get a fresh start, so we made our way to Blackpool.

Determined to provide love and care for my family

Newspaper article on Sam's Stoey

The press pick up on Sam’s story!

Growing up as a teenager I felt let down by the system labelled a failure, a no hoper.
I was determined that I would provide love care and strong family values for my son – I knew I had to act given these new responsibilities.

One day I decided enough was enough and that I had to better my life the only way I knew how. I decided I would go and buy a bucket and sponges and go out into the local community washing cars from the boot of my car.

Knocking on doors, touting for business, I soon grew a loyal customer base. So much so, that I needed to fund my rapidly growing business. I was directed to the Prince’s Trust where I undertook business management courses and ultimately secured the funding to buy my first van, and better equipment. I won numerous awards and was nominated for the Princess Trust Business of the year in 2000 becoming a North West Winner.

Through my customers, I discovered new services I could offer, in addition to the car washing and valeting. This included window, carpet, driveway and patio cleaning amongst a range of other services.

Supporting a business… and supporting young people

Sam and  four of his apprentices

Sam Smith, owner of Excellent Car Wash on Common Edge Road, has taken on several apprentices. He is pictured centre with apprentices L-R Kane Power, Richard Bassett, Phillip Pearson and Nicholas Davies.

Securing larger cleaning projects, I was finally able to move into business premises, a disused petrol station forecourt! I then began expanding my services throughout the NW. The centre soon began to thrive cleaning in excess of 50,000 cars a year.

During a 14 year period I was able to offer single handed support to over 320 young people, in my time at the cleaning centre. Young people from local schools who needed work experience. I was able to give time to young people who came off the street asking for work. Job Centre referrals. I gave everyone a chance, a stepping stone to develop work ethics.

I can now see clearly the challenges that all young people face. It is from this passion and desire to help support the young people that the Support the Youth project was born. No longer in the cleaning business, I can now devote my full time attention to helping the next generation.

With the support from the Big Lottery Fund’s small grant Awards for All programme, I have now set up Support the Youth to help young people from difficult social backgrounds – like mine, with the purpose of creating employment and stability in their lives. With the North West suffering record numbers of unemployment, Support the Youth are the solution to a social and economic problem. We’re  committed to improving the development of current and future generations of young people, creating options and pathways to enable them to become socially responsible citizens in a civil society.

So that now I’m on the next stage of my journey, I’d like to say thank you to the Big Lottery fund and others who have helped give me the inspiration to bring my story to life.

Listen to Sam share his story as part of a storytelling workshop run by the Big Lottery Fund

Reducing reoffending… what we’ve learnt from you

30 March 2015
Abigail Ryan

Abigail Ryan

Just before Christmas, Carolyn Sawers shared some of her reflections about reducing reoffending in her blog and asked you to share your ideas and experiences with us. In this blog Abigail Ryan takes a look at those findings…

First of all, thank you to everyone who has shared thoughts and views with us. I’ve had a good look at these and we are using your responses to help build up our knowledge here at the Fund. We also want to make sure that the information is accessible to everybody too, so here goes…

Here’s a quick overview of some of the main themes:


I’ve also put together a summary of what you told us here. There are lots of insightful thoughts in there, so well worth a read.

You can take a look at the other sources for further information that people shared with us too.

Finally, in line with our commitment to opening up more of our data, you can see an anonymised copy of the full responses we received and also a list of grants that we have made in this field on our website. Some projects listed will be more relevant than others – we have simply searched the term ‘offend’ to capture as much potentially relevant data as possible from our grant management system. We hope this allows you to explore the data as you wish.

What do you think of all of this? What bits are useful to you?

Please let us know what information you like receiving, how you use it or anything else you’d like to share by continuing the conversation on the Offending and Rehabilitation discussion forum on our new Digital Community.

Putting people in the lead

24 March 2015

Dawn Austwick, Chief Executive, Big Lottery Fund

No bells or whistles. No dancing horses. No fanfare of trumpets. The Big Lottery Fund’s new strategic framework is a rather modest two pages and will quietly gather pace over the next few months. It’s more of a statement of intent than a detailed set of directions, a jumping off point for future choices.

Dawn AustwickWe can boil it down even further – in a nutshell it’s: ‘People in the Lead’. From this everything else flows: we want to start with what people bring to the table, not what they don’t have; and from the belief that people and communities are best placed to solve their problems, take advantage of opportunities, and rise to challenges. Our job is to support them in doing so. Much of what we do already points us this way: working with service users on Multiple and Complex needs, the Our Place programme in Scotland. And there are myriad Awards for All and Reaching Communities funded projects that do just this. Now we want to look at how we can push ourselves further, and faster.

Sound straightforward? Maybe – in theory! But there will be challenges
for us on the way. Two obvious ones are how this approach meshes with outcomes and with needs-led diagnosis. Should we as the funder always prescribe outcomes? How might we co-curate outcomes? And in tackling disadvantage, how do we move ourselves from inviting applicants to paint the worst picture of their circumstances to celebrate and build on the best of what they have to offer? Not quite so straightforward then?

We certainly don’t have all the answers; as I said, this is a jumping off point. This will be a journey shared with fellow travellers. We have to be great listeners and collaborators and I hope that we shamelessly beg, steal and borrow from others who are ahead and alongside us on the road!

To support our ambition of People in the Lead we’ve developed a set of principles to guide us. You will see in them our desire to be proportionate in how we work with others, horses for courses, you might say… One of our first actions is piloting a boiled down Awards for All application process which is going live right now. We’ll see how it goes and what applicants make of it, and then think about whether to roll it out or how to adapt it further. The bones of this were formed at a roundtable we held in Newcastle last autumn as part of the Strategic Framework consultation; heartfelt thanks to those who came and for that ten minutes of break through thinking – and I hope you recognise those bare bones from our discussion in the new application form.

We also want to be more of a catalyst and a facilitator – recognising the feedback we got about our place in the funding ecology and civil society more broadly. It’s not our job to prescribe but it can be our job to link, to share, and to encourage. To be a network, or a central nervous system that people navigate around, finding fellow travellers, being surprised and intrigued by the work of others, sharing evaluation and impact stories, and so much more.

To achieve this we are going to have to be out and about more, to invest in digital and other technology, to spot where we can add value, or indeed when we need to get out of the way (!) and let others get on with it. We’re developing the infrastructure for a digital community right now to support this.

Getting to this point has been a combined effort of partners, stakeholders, staff, Board, applicants, and many, many more. We are grateful for their contributions but we will only get to the next stages with the continued involvement and engagement of all those people and others who we haven’t yet met.

Here’s the link to the Strategic Framework and let me know what you think below as a comment, @DawnJAustwick or by email:

Focusing on what works, not just on what’s new

5 March 2015

In this blog, Tim Hobbs and Cassandra Ohlson of the Social Research Unit, look at how organisations can successfully replicate the services that work for them.


Cassandra Ohlson

Innovation in public services has long been fashionable. It assumes services could be better and achieve a greater impact — and who could argue with this? The problem is that services with strong evidence to show the difference they make can be overlooked in the search for the latest innovation.

What if we looked for the things that worked, and tried to replicate them instead? This is the aim of Realising Ambition, a £25m Big Lottery Fund programme testing replication as a way of improving outcomes for children and young people.

Our recent Realising Ambition mid-programme report highlights five characteristics that help organisations to successfully replicate.

The first is to have a well defined intervention, with a clear focus on what outcomes it is seeking to achieve, for whom, and how it will do so. A logic model can help communicate this and this kind of clarity really helps in replicating.

Yet these logic models aren’t set in stone; some are still evolving as organisations reflect on their practice and refine what they do. So a second important characteristic is to use evidence to inform this process of improvement and adaptation.

Evidence may take the form of ensuring faithful delivery to the core components of the service, which is the third characteristic of effective replication. This may be supported by the use of eligibility criteria and implementation manuals.

Being really clear about the intervention also helps to get to more accurate start-up and unit cost estimates. This in turn will inform a solid and realistic business plan, the fourth characteristic, so you can replicate again and again.


Tim Hobbs

Lastly, a commitment to learning from delivery requires putting all of these pieces together: knowing what is being replicated, how well it is being delivered and the impact this has on outcomes. This supports organisations to further improve delivery.

One of the most exciting things about replication is that it paves the way for innovation by allowing us to test things that have worked in other places and ask what we might try to do differently to improve a programme.


Tim Hobbs PhD is Head of Analytics and Cassandra Ohlson is a Researcher at The Social Research Unit.

The Realising Ambition programme is led by Catch22 in partnership with the Social Research Unit, Substance and The Young Foundation.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 650 other followers