Annual Report 2019
The ALT Group
The ALT Group Office, Blackhill Club Flat, Ridley Street, Consett, County Durham. DH8 8TT
Registered Name: THEALTGRP C.I.C. Registered Company: 9802318
2019 has been a year of integration for us, managing to put in place required changes and adapt to a new smaller team with a new way of working. This year director Terri Leighs has been running Blackhill Club Community Garden and our Transform projects, alongside taking a supporting role for Consett Community Fridge and Community Meals. We have had a successful year internally and strategically while being less involved with individuals and the general community. We have been strengthening bonds and creating new ones, we have been refining our cultural model as an organisation whilst trying to effectively create positive change for as many individuals as possible.
Throughout this year we have been experimenting and testing our offering and what the group is capable of delivering within our new boundaries. We have tried and tested some new public events this year plus we have worked well to manage our own on-going projects. At times we have felt stretched. In particular when supporting our design within other organisations to fully integrate our ethics and the core values of the project into the psyche of the new team. We have been finding and strengthening our boundaries, where they are a requirement and where they are a preference and refining our offering to the community. We have asked ourselves ‘What are our priorities as The ALT Group and what can we effectively deliver within our goals and ethics?’ This has been the direction of our exploration this year.
Through working closely with individuals and with other organisations with similar goals we have reached between 100-150 people every week in and around Consett, County Durham. Together we are helping to create safe spaces and free access to food and empowering people through skill sharing and giving opportunity for personal growth; growing, sharing and community caring; all based around a healthier local food system. We have offered training and consultation to these groups and our own team.
This year we left our office premises and relocated our office to Blackhill Club. A space became available with their offices in the old steward flat. We were able to agree an affordable deal for rent that benefits both parties and now we have access to a shared kitchen, bathroom and meeting space. This has proven very beneficial for our garden project and other outdoor events.
In July we started and completed stage one of Hamsterley Community Centre Transform, our largest Transform project to date. We have been engaging the local community and creating a link with the management committee here by improving the look of the site and encouraging the local community to use it more. Working with 25 members of the public who are mainly young people and local residents for twelve weeks.
Throughout this time we have improved the physical appearance of the centre. Adding planters, borders that will bloom all through the year. It has been important to us to ecologically diversify the site of Hamsterley Community Centre, from lawn to plant based design. All the plants are beneficial to local wildlife, in particular insect populations. We have incorporated Art and Signage after positive feedback from our Community Garden site which has been warmly received.
The project began with a public consultation with twelve people and the idea was well received. Many ideas were offered and it was decided to split the project into three phases. Phase 2 & 3 will be considered next year after more public consultation and engagement activities in the spring.
Looking at our previous transform projects, we considered the Barnardo’s space and any maintenance required. Some large and prolific weeds have taken over so we are considering the best action to take. Some weeds are fine in this space but to meet our goal of being beautiful and easy we wanted to improve the appearance and tidy the space again.
We engaged a group of four local young people aged 12&13. Megan who was initially involved with the project and three of her friends. It was difficult to engage them after school and with only one adult but we did what we could. Terri carried out some more work alone but another look at this space before spring next year, with a more experienced team could be beneficial.
Generally we have enjoyed and seen a benefit in engaging young people to take an interest in their local area and we would like to continue this angle of community engagement as part of our Transform projects.
Blackhill Club Community Garden
This year our core team for Blackhill Club Community Garden has consisted Terri Leighs and Shannon Berry. Terri has been in the garden since the beginning and Shannon joined this year as sessional staff.
We have offered regular weekly sessions for the public on Fridays, 1-4pm, doing Garden and Mindfulness, general maintenance tasks and Garden and Art. We host monthly Permaculture in Action sessions which we turned into a weekly ongoing teaching space with our team. We host monthly Gardening together doing general garden maintenance and offering a free meal.
The Garden design has continued to evolve and refine. Three main areas have been focused on development; Fruit Path Area (FP), Kids Area (K) and Acid Soil Area (AS) were designed during Permaculture in Action sessions throughout the season.
Blackhill Club Community Garden shares some of the land with The Pigeon Club. Whereas all members have been of the utmost respect for us and our volunteers we had one confrontation by a member of their group towards a number of our group members. This event shook the group. This has been addressed and boundaries have been re-established to keep within our ethics of fair shares and people care and to protect our members.
We had a successful plant and product sales. In spring, due to our abundance of successfully germinated seeds, many plants were exchanged on donation basis - mainly tomatoes and cabbages. Autumn chutney test created a use for the green tomatoes from our polytunnel based tomato plants. Feedback was mainly positive with repeat custom from many of the buyers.
Throughout this year we successfully managed to save and organise many seeds starting our own seed bank. It has been a year of learning and exploring different methods of collection and storage and we have implemented our own system and will hopefully propagate many plants from our own seeds next year for planting onsite, at other sites or to sell.
As part of our Fair Share ethic we decided to offer a time exchange education programme for twelve weeks of the year teaching basics of Permaculutre and creating a Maintenance plan for the garden in 2020 as part of the programme. This was completed successfully by two individuals and it is something we hope to offer in future years as part of the garden project.
The project here has become a sanctuary for people struggling to understand and connect with the world around them. For people who feel they don't fit into societal norms nor wish to fulfill prescribed social agendas we provide a safe space to explore different ways of living and learn new skills. Our team has a mix of people from different ages and genders but most of the people involved this year, who have benefited the most have been young women (under 30) who have mental health issues or struggle with communication, socialising and anxiety. We have given them space and support to explore their struggles, challenge their existing through patterns and make healthier life choices. Many of the regular attendees this year also are socially isolated so we provide a safe and regular space to meet with other people and make friends.
In total we had 16 registered members this year, around 10 casual, unregistered members and between 3-12 people per session. Our average session hosted 5 people. When asked, every person said they felt better after attending a session and felt more connected to their environment and other people as a result. We were asked to improve on our introduction and giving clear instructions which we adapted to throughout the year. People appreciated learning from us, the company and the food we offered and would prefer less weeding as part of the programme.
Kate a 20 year old female from Consett (with diagnosed ASD) gave us the following feedback:
This year we tried our first On the Deck event. These take place at the Blackhill Club Community Garden, (on the deck we built) for two hours on an evening.
This year we hosted “Healing the Healers”. A heart centred intimate event with focus on members of the local community gathering to honour our local healers and pay respect to the skill of care and the miracle of healing. Our team held a safe space using our Nonviolent Community and Art of Hosting training, allowing people to feel connected and able to share their experiences.
The event was attended by 10 people and was sucessful all things considered. We hve a good idea of the type of frmat required for this type of event and are developing ideas how to reach the target audience better. We would like to explore more themes that are around celebrating, mourning and honouring as a community.
We also hosted a free Teddy Bear Picnic even for children and their carers. We provided interactive activities that were fun and educational, encouraging outdoor play and a connection to the natural world. We actively encouraged thought around the life cycle of plants and the benefits of nature. From planting seeds, to a big hunt around the mature plants of the polytunnel to explaining the benefits of creating our own compost. We noticed the interaction from adults when it came to wanting to increase their knowledge around creation of compost and feeds, while the enthusiasm of the children carried the activities fluidly into one another.
We originally offered this as a charged event which had to be cancelled due to lack of confirmation. Once we changed it to a free event we had more participants. Six families attended with nine children. Three families who booked spaces didn’t turn up, one waited at the main club entrance and didn’t look to the garden so missed her space. For future events of this nature we would like more input from adults and a more balanced meal on offer (less refined sugar).
For the past year we have been supporting other organisations (Blackhill Club and Umbrella C.I.C) to host Community Meals. We worked with Umbrella and Blackhill Club to design a regular community meal system in Consett that could run without our hands on hosting. It was agreed, starting in April we would trial both for a test run of six months. The meals would be offered free of charge (on a donation basis) and are catered using edible food waste and local volunteers.
Umbrella agreed to do events twice per month (1st & 3rd Tuesday) which is currently serving 20-30 people each week and is continuing after their trial.
Blackhill Club were doing a monthly event which was stopped after is trial due to attendance dropping to between 12-20 diners. The club felt the effort taken wasn’t meeting the needs they hoped to in the area. They struggled with marketing and delivering a personal experience during the meal. We are hoping to work with them to deliver four seasonal special events next year.
We are in discussion with Hamsterley and Low Westwood Community centre about supporting them to design and deliver a monthly Community Meal in their Community Centre.
Consett Community Fridge
Our Community Fridge project was relocated in January to Umbrella Community Centre. We secured funding from Karbon Homes to help integrate this system into their centre from April 2019 to April 2020. We are supporting the project to integrate into their community centre and promote the offering to the public.
Our role has involved transferring and adapting the existing design, training the team and supporting with marketing and promoting the fridge, meeting the funding criteria and troubleshooting. We have worked closely with Umbrella to create community links with our existing contacts and transferred communication wherever possible.
We have created a dedicated Facebook group to manage the day to day questions from the public. This has been a big support for the project and has helped the community take more ownership over it’s running. We have provided posters and flyers to support the project. We will be looking at more ways to promote the project and the centre over the next six months when we will step away. Our hope is to help the centre meet their goals and be an integral part of the community here in Consett.
We successfully gained funding support from Karbon Homes to run the Community Fridge for a year. The fund is managed by us by most of the funds are spent on coordinating this project and on costs at the centre.
We introduced Umbrella to Karbon Homes where they did a successful pop-up promotion event together and they have successfully managed three bag pack events this year to support their funds. The project has two coordinators now and has attracted more than six offers of help from local people. We have helped with the recruitment and training of these volunteers.
Training & Development
As part of Blackhill Club Community Garden project we hosted our own training for Permaculture Design by introducing a Permaculture In Action, short-course within the garden. We offered this on a work-exchange basis although we would like to make that more clear for 2020. This was successful trial and will be carried on next year.
In order to support our Community Fridge design we have offered our own training at Umbrella Community Centre. The topics have been food management, waste management and people care. These were the most requested topics from the volunteers and those we felt were most important. We have had discussions with Umbrella about hosting their own food safety and safeguarding training.
We worked with Blackhill Club, Umbrella C.I.C. and Fane to provide funded Emergency First Aid Training for several of our volunteers.
Rachel and Terri from our community garden project attended a seed saving course which was funded by us. It was an afternoon session which has been very beneficial.
Terri and Shannon from our garden team have been actively practicing Ongo (Nonviolent Communication - NVC) which has filtered into the culture of the group. We have both really enjoyed this opportunity to deepen our practice and wonder if it could be offered as part of our group and team building.
This year we engaged Victoria Clark to work with us for a few strategy planning sessions considering the potential growth and the business form of The ALT Group. We explored different ways of creating a structure that is balanced and non-hierarchical. We looked at how we may be able to branch out in more consultancy work.
Through this connection we found a passion for working with young people and have had discussions and made a plan to begin ALT Teens group as part of the community garden. We did create a programme and applied to the Paul Hamlyn trust for funding which was unsuccessful. The programme is still there and we are considering if this can be added as part of our offering in the garden to engage school aged teenagers in NVC, Earth wisdom and personal development skills.
We have noticed a need in the area for this type of teaching, particularly for young people but also for parents. There seems to be ashift and rift between these generations who are struggling to find a way to communicate in the ever changing world we like in. Social media and technology have caused a disconnect (at times) for parents and children and we hope to be able to offer an option that doesn't require social service or extended mental health care (and medication). Young people seem to suffer more with depression and anxiety and we have the skills and methods that are natural and free that could help and hope to find an effective way of communicating these skills with teens.
Finance & Accounting
2018-2019 Financial Round-Up
Our finances this year have covered our project costs and allowed us a small amount of free reserves to help with other ongoing and core costs. We received support from the following funding sources:
We managed to supplement our funds with the sale of cooked food by our volunteers offered to local residents on a donation basis. This has raised around £700 throughout the year and has been used to offset our rent costs.
2017-2018 Account Summary
by Secretary Ruth Oxley-Hastings
In the 12-month period to the 30th September 2018, the company sustained the same level of funding and donations that they had received in the previous year, raising just under £22,000. This money was fully invested into the local community, with 5% of funds used to buy ingredients for the community meals, 11% invested directly into materials for the community garden projects and a further 11% used to launch and grow the community fridge. The funding was also used to pay facilitators who worked across all of the projects, along with other overheads such as rent and utilities for the community fridge, stationery and the running of the company van. All funding was used during the 12-month period, resulting in a small deficit of £1,500 which was funded by unused income carried forward from the previous year.
The Community Fridge project launched in 2018 outcome are:
As an organisation we have achieved the following outcomes:
In order to better understand the personal impact our project has had, we asked for case study feedback from Julie, a 28 year old female who is currently unemployed due to her mental health and social anxiety. Julie has helped us as part of our Community Garden from April to November this year.
1. How has being involved with The ALT Group impacted your life?
Difficult question to answer as its been a huge impact. It’s been an escape from the
drudgery of everyday life to come and be with such a nice, chilled group of people
every Friday and get out hands a bit muddy and have a laugh. I’ve met people I
otherwise wouldn’t come across, and we all have different ways of doing things and
ideas to share. It has grown my interest in gardening into being a potential career
option and made me feel so much more confident in my abilities, not just gardening
related, by being able to try things and experiment in a judgement free atmosphere.
Being involved with the ALT group has shown me that it is very possible and not
intimidating at all to take steps towards being more self-sufficient with food. I feel
amazing that I have been able to have access to so much local, organically grown
food which not only helps the environment but has benefited my health enormously.
It makes me happy to be part of a community that cares about the environment we
live in and actively working to make it better. I’m really looking forward to the garden
being home to more and more wild plants and insects as it matures and our different
areas all take shape.
2. What have you enjoyed most?
Learning about new things like permaculture and meeting people with similar
interests. Being in a non-judgmental “safe” space to experiment with trying new ways
of doing things.
3. What have you enjoyed least?
Consett weather, feeling disorganised at times
4. What can we improve on?
Maybe clearer goals for what we need to do at the start of each session.
Finding ways to connect with more people who might be interested in getting
5. What should we do more of?
Sharing what we do with other people, like making blog posts of videos showing what
we’ve been up to in the garden, methods we’ve tried and tested or issues we think are
important like on the climate strike day.
More making things with the produce, like herbs and preserves etc
We will be adapting to feedback like this when planning our project for next year.
Goals & Aims
As every year we are happy to continue to adapt to work towards our exisiting organisation goals and aims. In additon to these and with further consideration for specifically 2020-2021 we have identified these additional goals and aims.
We are hoping to secure funding to cover our core operational and development costs, to be able to offer more events and enterprise based sessions from our Community Garden, to help us to create a more self-sustaining organisation moving forward. For 2020-2022 we are looking to maintain our existing offering as well as diversifying our income streams by expanding what we do. Looking at how to do this includes paid team members, those working from our base and toward the development of Blackhill Club Community Garden and our Transform projects. Developing our work at the garden alongside inviting professionals to give talks and workshops.
As we have been refining the last few ‘area’ designs our hard work creating the space is complete for Blackhill Club Community garden. We are now obtaining main yields and would like to develop ideas to see a profit model forming. We have an abundance of herbs, vegetables, fruits, seeds and flowers. Informing our product designs and potentially increasing the need for time to be devoted to selling, branding and marketing our produce outside of our usual offerings.
In order to make sure as many people know about our service as possible, we would like someone dedicated to promoting our service. Through building relations face to face, via phone and email, utilising digital media to its full potential. We would like to promote our organisation with more feeling and creativity by directing traffic more directly to our website via our blog, creating interactive media and populating our instagram on social media and producing a conversational podcast.
Our Transform projects have been successful so far in the Consett area, engaging different pockets of the local community and supporting existing organisations who are run by small challenged teams. We would like the opportunity to transform a larger space to create a hub for our ideas on a larger scale and are open to smaller spaces that have a lasting impact. We want to make sure our transform projects are utilised once we leave so having effective maintenance plans in place would help this and keeping relations open.
This year has had some challenges regarding ownership of our admin and finances. Work around this area seems to be difficult to delegate but is not within the strength of our main director. Our volunteer book-keeper is looking to be replaced this year and we need to consider a paid role for this.
We are looking forward to successfully passing on our Community Fridge project and hope to help integrate this into the local community centre. Once our funding runs out by April 2020 we hope to be able to fully step away after transitioning this project to the new team and building.
The ALT Group future for 2020 is looking at our sustainability. Now we have more experience, we are producing many yields and have created a strategy we will be concentrating on creating our own income and diversifying our offering within the Community here in Consett. Our goal is to become more self-sufficient and 2020-2022 and beyond our future is looking towards our main goal whilst staying true to our ethics and values and putting into practice the lessons we have learned over the past two years.
We are interested in utilising ALT Shop or Durham Loves a local selling forum to sell goods to our target audience.
Our future is always working with the community here in Consett and County Durham and the local organisation that serve this area. Our links range wider to include the North-East England and we would like our reach and network to expand into these areas. We are considering branching out into consultancy work as it is offered to us and are considering if a link could be made with this for profit activity with our prevous Time Banking idea.
An exploration into larger spaces to occupy, utilise and transform would be a long-term dream of ours and incorporating a range of projects and small business systems within one larger interconnected organisational system. Our hopes move into the far reaching aspects of food (growing and sharing) into the realms of personal and community health and well-being.
By Ann Lee-Shield
A less busy year has allowed us time to develop and enrich our company culture, helping us to understand who we are, how we do things and where our strengths lie. Slow and steady solutions have actually helped us gain strength and traction as an organisation and allowed the individuals involved to adapt and grow personally to fill their roles better. By becoming much more solid in our boundaries and ethics we seem to fill our space in the community much better and meet the niche needed here for individuals looking for an organisation like ours and support other organisations looking for support to adapt to a changing world.
Our Hamsterley Community Centre Transform project was a great success for us and we started and completed stage one of and made a good link with the local community there. We are looking forward to considering continuing the project to complete stage two and three and potentially helping them develop a community meal. We will also be on the lookout for further projects to transform.
Now our landscaping is mainly complete we had a huge task trying to look at ways to reduce the rapid growth of weeds around our community garden, as we were spending too much time during sessions keeping them under control, however we have hopefully found an organic solution that will keep them under-control. I was very pleased to be approached by a volunteer’s grandad thanking the group for the improvement in their granddaughter and the confidence she gained by working in the garden. We hope to encourage more volunteers and interest through promotion which in turn will help with future events we would like to run. Our future for the garden is looking promising and becoming more active producers excites us. More exploration needs to be considered for where our produce can best support people locally.
The community fridge is continuing to support many families and individuals struggling in the area. We now do collections from Tesco, Co-op and Greggs and the need for food is continuing to grow. Our designs and adaptations have helped this project to be integrated into a local centre and run as part of their usual offering making it more manageable and meeting more needs in the area.
Blackhill club would like to continue their community meal and offer something different that we can all enjoy and socialise more with people as well as providing a nutritious meal. We have been somewhat involved in the evolution of Umbrella’s meal and would like to encourage Hamsterley to try a free meal. It is potential for us to investigate this path further on a consultancy basis.
Throughout the year we have been able to try different ideas and discuss with the group which ideas we would be able to use and implement moving forward. We are looking forward to building on these in the future. All things considered, it has been a year of growth and adaptation, crafting our skills and we look forward to what 2020 may bring.
Written by Director Terri Leighs for time period 1st October 2018 - 30th September 2019
Hi, I'm Terri, Director of The ALT Group.