SupportNet is a community network that describes itself as a “Nottingham community caring for itself”. One of its elements is a weekly ‘drop-in’ session in the Billborough community centre in Nottingham, where local people, many of them older people or people with disabilities, can drop in for a cup of tea and a chat.
The group’s ethos
The team met Angela and Carolyn who set up SupportNet and continue to volunteer. Amid the buzz of people chatting and raffle numbers being called, they described the background to the project and the wish of the community to do something together to reduce loneliness and isolation, which led to the start of the drop-in.
The ethos of SupportNet is that anyone can “come and be yourself”. Regular meetings are held to discuss future sessions, and activities are based on what emerges from these informal conversations.
Activities regularly include singing, an open mic session, quizzes, arts and crafts activities, chess, dominoes – plus parties and trips to the seaside. What’s more important, though, is the friendship, connecting with others, being noticed, the sense of belonging to and contributing to a community – so that people in the street say hello and you are missed if you don’t come one Tuesday morning.
How does SupportNet get its funding?
Five years ago when the project started, there was some funding for staff and resources through the Social Care Reform Grant, and SupportNet hosted a series of community conversations to start to find the strengths and gifts of local people and some of the things they would like to work on together (e.g. isolation; transport; information about what’s on locally).
After two years the funding stopped, but the drop-in group wanted to continue to meet. Angela told us that this created a dilemma: should they charge admittance? Most people wanted to keep the session free, to make sure that it stayed accessible to everyone who wanted to come.
Then, one week, a couple of the drop in’s regulars brought in some household items from the loft and announced that there would be a raffle. This has now become an intrinsic part of the weekly session – two people organise tickets, group members bring in unwanted books, bric-a-brac, jewellery etc, and ticket sales raise enough to keep the group running.
They don’t need much week by week, just enough to cover the room hire, tea and coffee, birthday cakes (nearly every week is someone’s birthday!) and then anything leftover goes towards subsiding day-trips and parties.
Angela mentioned that at SupportNet they try not to rely too strongly on grants – “if you are able to find a place to connect with others, you can discover the things you like to do, create your own entertainment – often you don’t actually need a great deal of funding. People in this community have loads of talents and they all contribute in their own way, such as making tea, organising concerts, doing the raffle, making cards or weeding the garden.”
They have received a pot of funding from Community First – their largest grant – which is supporting them to create a community garden from a neglected courtyard and patch of land in the grounds of the community centre. The grant is ‘match-funded’ where the matching can be in volunteer hours and donated gifts as well as in cash raised. People in the SupportNet community have given plants, seeds, garden furniture, tools – and importantly their time.
And the courtyard has a big wall where a community artist working with local primary schools is now creating, with children and parents, a stunning mural of ceramic tiles that the children have made.
Creative activities for older people
It was really great to see how much creativity and vitality there was at the SupportNet drop in. We were told about how, a few months previously, they had screened the documentary ‘Ping Pong’ which follows the story of the Over 80s World Table Tennis Championships.
The film is a moving story of older people who travel the world and compete, and was so inspiring that it led to SupportNet to have a go too, and they started their own ping pong group. A small grant from local Councillors paid for the initial venue costs, some kit and a coach for ten weeks. And luckily, the coach also worked in a Nottingham school who were about to throw away two ping pong tables – and a ‘can you help?’ e-mail to the community resulted in a local housing association transporting the tables to the community centre.
The visit to SupportNet was extremely warm and welcoming; coincidentally the team dropped by on one of the members’ 91st birthday. It was really touching to see how the group brought members of the community together, and wonderful to see how the members whole-heartedly and openly welcomed us to the group. SupportNet is the perfect place to go to bond over tea and cake and join in with a rousing chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’.
Interested in finding out more about Support Net? You can read more about them on their website.
Are you considering starting a community project for older people? Just Act has a whole category of resources in the Knowledge Bank with activities and ideas for setting up a group working with older people.
Or if you already run a project, why not share your story? Drop us an email if you’d like to be our Featured Project or write a guest blog.