The ALT Group Annual Report 2017
2017 has been a year of great change, learning and achievement for The ALT Group, this year has brought some large hurdles to be overcome and our group has grown and become stronger because of it. This year we changed our Mission Statement to more accurately reflect what we do, and what we hope to achieve in Consett.
The ALT Group is a Community Interest Company and currently helps around 50 people each week to make friends and socialise in their communities. Our current services include our Community Meal at Blackhill Club, Community Garden at Blackhill Club and Quiet Time. This year we were also able to complete our first Transforming Project with Transforming Barnardo's Blackhill and we are preparing to launch our next project a Community Fridge & Veg Shed.
Over the past 12 months our volunteers have received training and support in order to develop their skills and understand better practices for businesses and catalyzing change in today's world. As a fast growing organisation we have learned, through experience the needs in our local community and the resources required to make our plans a reality. Our Directors have spent time developing a Business Plan to create a sustainable model to fund our projects. This year we have also conducted market research in the local area for business projection purposes as well as collecting feedback for our services and collect face to face information from local residents about the social and environmental issues they face.
We have continued to collaborate with Blackhill Club, Growing Durham, Groundworks and Fairshare and have maintained helpful relationships with other local organisations such as PACT House and Food 4U. In 2016/2017 we were able to make collaborator links with Leadgate Task Force, Sustrans and Barnardos charity shop in Blackhill. Throughout the year we have continued to work with donors and supporters who help us provide our Community Meal and have had great support with our Community Garden project. We have received financial support to fund our projects from Seedbed Foundation, and Greggs Environment Fund as well as on going support from Tesco Bags of Help (& Groundworks).
We began our year in October 2016, celebrating with the community at reaching our first birthday. Blackhill Club, one of our collaborating partners offered to host our event which was open to all our supporters and donors, volunteers and service users, free of charge. We welcomed over 100 guests; our volunteers prepared a feast of hot and cold food from rescued edible food waste and we welcomed local talent Counterfeit Youth to perform. The event included face painting for the children, and Sponge Bob even managed to pay a visit. As part of the entertainment we provided some group games and activities suitable for all ages to help everyone mingle and get to know each other. The evening was a great success and a brilliant way to thank all the people involved with The ALT Group.
December saw the passing of our second Christmas season as an organisation and we provided a Christmas Community Meal at Blackhill Club on 22nd December. The meal was a full three course Christmas Fayre cooked by our volunteers from food donations. We welcomed 70 guests to dine with us and included some small gifts for everyone to take home. Over the Christmas period we also arranged a food give away of fresh and frozen food to help support those in need over the festive season.
In July The ALT Group funded a day trip to Scotswood Community Garden to allow our Community Garden Volunteers the opportunity to attend the North-East Permaculture Convergence. Five of our volunteers attend and the day was filled with workshops and networking. The trip proved to be a great social and bonding experience for the volunteers, it was great to uplift and re-motivate the team and very informative and educational for the group as a whole.
Our Community Meal project has moved from strength to strength this year welcoming between 35-55 diners every week. We have managed to develop our system to create an efficient but friendly meal service, providing a variety of meals that are hot and nutritiously balanced. This year we were able to include more home grown vegetables and herbs from the Community Garden and also have a trained chef volunteer to cook for us.
In February after discussion with our volunteers, Blackhill Club and some of our diners we decided to d a trial move from the Concert hall to the Lounge to serve the Community Meal. The concert hall is large, can host up to 200 guests, has a large dance floor, it also has close access to the kitchen for serving. The Lounge is smaller with a cosy feel and can host up to 70 guests. The tables are smaller and it is further from the kitchen. We considered the move as an experiment to see if a small room and less space would encourage more socialising and decided to prioritise this for 5 weeks.
There was some hesitation from some people before the move and a few complaints during the transition period. It was, however agreed the move was a great success after the five weeks; diners we socialising more the atmosphere was friendlier, our serving system became more efficient. It was agreed to remain using the Lounge for service and we have had many happy months to date serving from there.
In March we launched ALT Kidz as part of the Community Meal service. Children are invited to do arts and crafts after their meal with our volunteers. We theme the activities around the garden, food or community. The children love having a chance to be creative and express themselves and we make the sessions as fun and informal as we can. All the volunteers who supervise the activities are DBS checked.
This Summer we incorporated two Community Meal “Specials” which were incredibly popular and helped us raise substantially more funds. In June we did an Italian special with Sale Pepe food donations, including pizzas and pasta and we welcomed over 60 diners. July we deiced to try something new and hosted Christmas in July offering a full Christmas Fayre. Over 80 people turned up, we ran completely out of food and raised £100.
Blackhill Club Community Garden continued work this year, with a core team tackling large and small garden projects. We welcomed volunteers from through out the community to help on the project.
The main groundwork to dig up the through road between the land at Blackhill Club and the Community Garden started in October and has been in progress for most of the year. There were some issues regarding time and budget so after the initial dig was done work was halted over winter to allow the ground to settle and plan the next stages.
It was may when we restarted the groundworks, using the same company and again ran into issues. Although the work was being done, it was not being completed within the agreed time (and therefore budget) causing a disruption to our plans. Work was once again halted and the team tried to carry on as best we could.
After discovering issues with the levels of the groundworks and the amount of rubble that was at an unsuitable size, an emergency meeting was called with Durham Community Action and Groundworks to see if they could help. Grace from Groundworks helped to negotiate with Brambledown in order to complete the work, using the remainder of our budget. The groundwork of the main path was completed in September, leaving the team to complete the inner paths through the garden over the Autumn/Winter season.
Going back through the year, other than the groundwork disruption, we had a particularly productive year. In February we received a “Caring for your Environment” award from Durham County Council, for having vision and planting herbs and flowers. This was a great boost for the team and saw us gain some publicity for the project.
In March the group designed and built a herb spiral using reclaimed bricks from the road dig. Laurraine took charge of planting, Matthew took charge of the brick laying and all seemed to go well. Part of the spiral was damaged during the groundworks but a small repair will fix it and our herb seat design will be completed before the garden opening.
Deerness Fencing and Karbon Homes offered support in April by teaching our team how to fence the area and providing our materials at cost price. This has allowed us to save valuable time and money and also was great skill building exercise for the team.
We were able to open our Community Garden to a local Nursery School and we welcomed a class from Shotley Bridge Nursery school to plant some vegetables in our newly prepared beds. They planted Pumpkins, Corn and Carrots. The session was very successful and the nursery have agreed to do further sessions in the future.
Generally the Community Garden has had a successful year. We would like to increase our volunteers numbers as this generally hinders our progress and can look to the promotion side of the project to try and bring in further interest as well as working with more organisations to try and promote community gardening in general through the area. We would also like to expand the garden to groups next year and have had inquires from Well-being for Life and Learning for Life abut involving other groups from the community.
In July & August we launched our first Transforming project in Blackhill, Consett. Transforming projects will take small areas of unused land and transform them with our volunteers to benefit the community, wildlife and the environment. The projects are planned by our group but guided by the local need and community involved, they are executed by our volunteers and members of the community. Each transformation project must:
The transformation cost The ALT Group £200 with 10 hours spent on planning and 80 implementing the transformation all on a voluntary basis. A maximum of 4 hours per year is calculated for maintenance. A future project of this size would have a cost of £1200 in materials and time spent if the volunteers had been paid staff.
Quiet Time sessions have generally been attended by 3-5 members of our volunteer team to help relax between preparing and serving the Community Meal. We have welcomed one member of the public for three weeks. More needs to be discussed regarding Quiet Time and it's priority for the group and more promotion will be needed to keep this service running if this is agreed.
Training & Development
In our first year we supported two of our directors to become certified in Permaculture Design. This year we also supported another volunteer Matthew Sanford to complete his Permaculture Design Certification. We now have three Permaculutre designers on our team.
This year was about setting solid foundations for us and we invested in our team by supporting director Terri Lee-Shield to attend training beneficial to the group. In January she completed Marketing and Public Relations Training with Media Trust, this was a funded course place and we agreed to reimburse travel expenses. We also supported Terri to complete training on this basis for a Money Awakening course in April exploring alternative economies and understanding how people relate to money.
In addition Catalysing Critical Citizenship & Work that Reconnects helped us understand better how to work with and reconnect groups with themselves, each other and the environment, it also helped us be aware of and understand power dynamics and oppression within groups and society as a whole, and how to engage on an equal basis in groups. The course was run by LABO a training organisation from The Netherlands at Ecodharma a permaculture and focused learning environment. The course was offered free of charge and travel expenses were covered.
Terri also completed a Foundation Level Non-Violent Communication Course which explores ways of verbally communicating and actively listening to help understand and engage with people and create safe environments for free expression.
These trainings are at the core of what we do and are part of the change we hope to see in our communities. We hope to be able to offer more training such as these to our volunteers and consider the possibility of becoming trainers ourselves.
2017 has saw an increase in our donations and grant awards, which has allowed us to run our projects for the year. We have also experimented with other revenue streams as an income source.
We were able to set up with easyfundraising.org at the beginning of the year. This allows online shoppers to ask for a donation to be made on their behalf by the retailer they buy from. Although our organisation prefers to encourage local shopping it was agreed to try this as an additional source of funds. We received around £90 through the year from this method and although helpful, should not be considered a long-term reliable resource of money.
This year some of our volunteers also donate their time making products for us to sell. Decorations at Christmas time and marmalade and jam in the summer. Although these products sold well they sold for a fairly small amount in comparison to the time put it. This type of fundraising is useful to build morale and connection between volunteers but a better understanding of making time and selling avenues might turn out a more favorable financial response. Having more of this type of donation available could allow us to run a market stall or the like to boost funds through the year.
At Christmas 2016 we were offered support from local trust Seedbed, requiring no publicity or long application process. We were offered £5,000 towards the running costs of our meal and garden project which has been invaluable. In May we were also offered additional unrestricted funding from Seedbed, who were impressed with the commitment we had made and the changes we had brought to the area. This unrestricted funding of an additional £10,000 has been a lifeline for us allowing us to purchase our own vehicle, provide a monetary contribution for some of our volunteers time and allowed us to explore the best avenues for change in Consett.
The ALT Group also raised some of it's own funds of around £300 through raffles and other small fundraising activities which are helpful to top up our weekly income. Although again the effort involved rarely out costs the reward but as long as this is able to be done by a volunteers is always a help to the funds available and is also restricted.
August saw our most unexpected contribution yet, Gregg's Environment Fund contributed £1000 towards the completion of our garden, including paint and lighting to finish the area in style.
Our final figures will be completed in June but an estimated figure is around £20,000 income for the year.
We wanted to know, directly from the people benefiting from the services The ALT Group offer, how we help people and why they want to be involved with what we do. We asked people:
We got some wonderful responses which have helped us understand the breadth of support our services can offer people. Lots of people responded it encourages them to leave the house, and meet new people. Many mentioned it helped to keep them “positive” and helped their mental health. These are some of the responses we received:
“It's a great community project which has helped me and my family, bringing our family together. It's nice to meet new people in a likewise situation”
“I got involved with The ALT Group to help people and talk to people more. The ALT Group has helped me with my communication skills, without them, I would not know where I would be.” - Volunteer
Many children also commented about our meal being time away from their phone or computer, they also enjoyed trying new foods (although I'm not sure all our kids are so keen to!) and many enjoyed being able to play and make friends.
“I think this place is great. I have food I wouldn't normally have and it's time out from my X-Box”
Ryan Martin has been an ALT Group Volunteer for over 18 months. Ryan was keen to use his skills in society but has health limitations.
The ALT Group supports Ryan and he has the opportunity to contribute, learn new skills and meet new people. Here is his full response to these questions:
“I went to Blackhill Club for the Community Meal, which a few of my friends told me about, I really enjoyed the meals and talking with the diners and the volunteers. I thought it would be something to get me out more. It did. I thought it would be a good place to work at. I got a volunteer job there with the help from a couple of friends who also volunteer there.
It has helped me make new friends, get more involved with things, get out more and it allows me to help out more making things easier and better for others.”
Each week we collect Feedback from our Community Meal diners this system is currently voluntary and although we do ask for a form, we tend to get less than 25% of our diners completing feedback forms. This can prove difficult for us analysing why people attend and monitoring any issues with the meal. We also realise we have no way of collecting feedback from those who choose not to come back or from people who didn’t enjoy the experience, for whatever reason. This is something that should be addressed looking ahead and can a new feedback system be implemented. This year we collected 368 legible feedback form and collected the following data:
Community Fridge & Veg Shed
We have agreed to collaborate with Durham County Council, Food Durham, Sainsburys & Hubbub alongside two other food sharing organisations, Refuse and Shildon Alive, to launch Durham's very first Community Fridges. Community Fridges allow for edible food that would normally be wasted be shared and used or recycled between local people. The fridges are open to everyone and are not means tested. Each fridge is different and hundreds are being launched across the UK this year in a nationwide campaign, Save More, Waste Less.
We had been looking at starting to design a new system to deal with the excess of food waste we see and when approached by Food Durham to becoming part of this funded campaign we decided to go ahead. The scheme fits well with our goals and principles and meets our aims to produce no waste and encourage sharing.
One of our volunteers, who works closely with local allotment holders had noticed a high amount of produce being composted by growers when they didn't have anyone to pass it on to. She had an idea to create a Veg Shed where locally grown food can be shared amongst the community. As each Community Fridge is unique we have decided to work the two projects together and have a single place sharing fresh, prepared and frozen edible food waste.
Our Community Fridge & Veg Shed is due to launch by 2018.
Leadgate – Anthony Goldsworthy Maze
The ALT Group has set it's sights high and are in discussions to begin a large collaborative project, which was our very first environmental project dream. We are delighted that it now may become a reality. Collaborating with Sustrans and Leadgate Task Force we hope to bring new life and engage a new generation by replanting and designing Andy Goldsworthy Maze design in Leadgate on the Coast to Coast (C2C) cycle route. We will offer our design and management skills to create an interactive and beautiful that works for local residents, visitors to the area and local wildlife.
In 2017 we started plans to implement our Time Bank system in Consett. We would like to create a skill sharing system to allow people to both connect with the community, build skills and top up their monetary income. We have been working with Timebanking.org to test software to help us manage this system as a broker. We have been recording volunteer time and building connections with individuals interested in joining the project. Due to delays with our garden project and the unexpected launch of our Community fridge project the Time bank has been delayed but will be a priority to implement in 2018.
In order to make all our plans sustainable in the long term The ALT Group must generate it's own income from a reliable source. Our thoughts have been turning towards our ALT Shop and how best to generate funds through this revenue stream. We are currently unable to manage a shop with the current availability and number of our volunteers, but the Time Bank would be a great tool to help this system come to fruition. There is also the financial cost of this project and the space required. Initially the consideration of starting online and working with existing local businesses is appealing for our current situation but ideally some sort of income from this avenue would be a great leap froward for s in 2018.
Goals & Aims
To summarize The ALT Group has had a busy and productive year. We have developed our experience, knowledge and understanding of the community. We have managed to overcome hurdles and sustain our local projects.
Financially we have seen steady growth and have been able to continue or projects with thanks to grant funding and our own fundraising, looking ahead focus will be on becoming self sustainable financially.
We have managed to keep existing links and build new links in the community and with other local organisations. These connections have helped to make us stronger and allowed us to extend our project offering in 2017. We will be looking to add further projects in 2018.
Hi, I'm Terri Lee-Shield, Director of The ALT Group.