Achievements: April 2019 – March 2020

ACHIEVEMENTS AND PERFORMANCE: Achievements April 2019 – March 2020

Introductory comment regarding the Coronavirus Pandemic 2020:

At the time of compiling this report the whole of the UK is in a state of restricted operation due to the Coronavirus Pandemic which is also affecting many countries around the world. As a result there are government imposed restrictions in place aimed at controlling the spread of Coronavirus within the UK. Similar restrictions are in place in other countries right around the globe.

On 23rd March 2020 the UK went into a formal state of ‘Lockdown’ which required many businesses and organisations to close their activities completely, or to operate in new restricted formats. These restrictions affected the work of the Charity as of that date.

In practical terms this meant that the vast majority of our volunteer work-force went into immediate shielding, or self-isolation, because they, or close family members, had specific health conditions, or because they were in certain age groups considered to be ‘at-risk’.

We were also required to close all of our non-essential activities and social groups with immediate effect. Overnight we lost use of 60+ volunteers, however a few were able to continue volunteering and we were able to recruit some new ones, which left us with a small team of 11 plus our core staff of 6.

With this team we were able to continue operating some of our services, such as the Foodbank, Pantry, and Money Advice debt service, as these were considered to be ‘essential services’ for helping and supporting people affected by the immediate crisis.

We were able to do this by:
    a) redesigning the way each project operated and engaged with the public,
    b) by adding in new Covid-Safe ways of working, along with appropriate policies and procedures
    c) by reassigning some of our staff duties, and
    d) by recruiting some new volunteers who were not affected by the government health restrictions.

Charity Overview
Inspire Middleton is a community development charity, and our aims can be summarised by our desire to inspire people, places and organisations. To help people understand why our charity name is not emblazoned on everything that we do, we describe the way we work as ‘the plant pot’ model, because a plant pot is something that helps other things to grow, and the things that are grown are the focus of people’s attention more than the pot they are carried in, and so it is with us.

We run a number of community projects and activities through which the charity’s objectives are advanced: and these are names that the public will be more familiar with. They include, the Lighthouse Project, our drop-in style community centre/hub, Middleton Central Foodbank, Lighthouse Money Advice our FCA registered debt service, and the Lighthouse Pantry.

We operate out of leased premises on the second floor of Middleton Shopping Centre right in the heart of Middleton town centre. We moved into these premises in December 2016 on a 3-year short-term lease, and during the last year we have been able to renew our lease for a further ten years running between December 2019 – December 2029.

The building and location that we are in makes a significant contribution to the success of our work, it means we are centrally located, have ease of access in terms of transport and disabled facilities, and we also have good regular passing footfall. In addition, our footfall also contributes to the wellbeing of the Shopping centre as people visit local shops as well as attending our activities.

The Lighthouse Project is one of our specific charitable objectives, and as a community hub it is used as the main outlet for advancing many of our other charitable aims.

Middleton Central Foodbank is based and co-located within the Lighthouse Project, and it is run as part of the national Trussell Trust foodbank network, in collaboration with local churches, to help tackle individual crisis, poverty and hardship.

The Lighthouse Pantry is a membership food club that helps people and families who are struggling to cover their weekly/monthly household costs, by offering them access to supermarket surplus food to reduce their weekly food costs so that they have more money to spend on other household costs. The Pantry is part of an emerging national network operating under the banner of ‘Your Local Pantry’.

The Lighthouse Money Advice service is a FCA accredited debt advice service run as part of the Community Money Advice network. The service offers free advice and face-to-face support for people experiencing personal debt and financial crisis. Many of the clients are referrals from the Foodbank.

Project Activities

Lighthouse Project

The Lighthouse Project has been running for over 10 years, since it opened in June 2010, and it has become an established, well regarded, and highly successful community project within Middleton, with a reputation throughout the borough for good work, and the effective support of people in need.

The centre opens 5 days a week (9.30am – 4.30pm), with occasional evening and Saturday opening, and since we first opened in 2010 our overall footfall is in the order of 240,000 visits.

Generally speaking, we have been seeing the annual footfall progressively increase, year-on-year, as we have reached out to support more and more people in different ways. Our move into Middleton Shopping Centre has also helped this, and our average footfall is now just above 3000 visits per month which equates to approximately 37,000 visits per year. In the absence of the Coronavirus Pandemic we estimate that we were on target to see a footfall of approximately 40,000 this year, but even with the effect of the ‘lockdown’ measures in the last month we still achieved a footfall of 39,350, which is very encouraging.

During the year we reached 1,800 new people (first time visitors), which is typical of previous years and illustrates the increasing levels of need and demand for support services. Cumulatively this translates into many thousands of individual people that we have helped over the years that we have been running the Lighthouse Project.

As a community hub the Lighthouse Project is a place of activity and support for local people, and we provide a varied menu of activities during the year, such as the ones listed below. We regularly review our programmes, and we are always willing to develop new activities in response to visitor and beneficiary feedback to ensure that we continue filling gaps in services and are meeting the expressed needs of beneficiaries and the community.

Our activities include:

Daily –

  • Free internet access
  • Computer and internet skills courses,
  • Online basics, Online plus & learn my way,
  • Support for job hunting and personal development.
  • Refreshment area and soft seating
  • Social groups and activities
  • Access to general advice enquiries, and appointments.
  • Meeting spaces, social interaction, networking, listening, support & encouragement.

Weekly – Learning, advice, social groups and activities:

  • Job hunting support,
  • Appointments for CV creation and updates
  • ‘Find a Job’ training and how to find work online,
  • Beyond basics (Word & Excel) courses.
  • Other ad hoc training courses we run ourselves, or with other organisations.
  • Middleton Central Foodbank
  • Lighthouse Money advice – appointments for personal debt advice
  • Lighthouse Pantry a membership food club
  • Talk English – pre-ESOL classes
  • Card making classes and craft,
  • Knit and natter group,
  • Art group and painting sessions,
  • Men’s Shed & Ladies Workshop
  • Best Foot Forward walking group
  • Social groups, quizzes, scrabble, chess and board games,
  • Middleton DIAL disability aids,
  • Middleton Photography group,
  • Meet Up social and activity group,
  • Middleton Carer’s group,
  • Music Matters – learning to play musical instruments
  • Learn Conversational Spanish classes,

Regular/weekly drop-in/advice sessions and programmed health training including;

  • Positive Steps careers advice for young people,
  • Mind social group and activities
  • Living Well taking control – sessions
  • Manchester Credit union services
  • RMBC revenue & benefits advice
  • Veterans in the Community weekly drop-in sessions
  • Bi-annual fundraising craft fairs
  • Bi-annual ‘Health &Community Services’ exhibition
  • Middleton Community Voice/Better Health 4 Middleton – community representatives and groups

How we categorise our work

Because we help and support people in many different ways we group our work into four broad categories covering;

  1. Employment and Skills
  2. Social interests and activities
  3. Health, mental health and wellbeing
  4. Food, Families and Finance

Employment and Skills

The Lighthouse Project is a registered UK online centre which is part of a national network of over 400 centres, run by the Good Things Foundation, set up to tackle digital exclusion by providing free internet access and training for beginners to learn about computers, online skills, health, financial tools, and improved communication.

Our UK online centre activities are aimed at improving digital skills and tackling digital exclusion. The provision of basic online and computing skills remains a significant part of our work in helping tackle the digital exclusion experienced by over 24% of people in the UK (8 million+).

This work is always in high demand. During the year we have helped over 179 people to start a Learn My Way Online Basics course, set up email accounts or start using the internet.

During the year the learners collectively completed a total of 949 online courses, 596 of these were Basic Online Skills courses, and 353 were additional skills or interest modules. This is a lot of new digital learning.

Typically, around 48% of respondents to our visitor surveys indicate we help them to improve their computer skills.

Our Employability work is complemented by our UK online centre work, i.e. providing people with core internet and computer skills which directly helps and supports unemployed people in Middleton move closer to the workplace. Many of those looking for work also have little or no computer skills, which significantly reduces their ability to find work especially when recent research indicates that over 50% of all jobs are now only advertised online.

We helped over 150 people with advice, to create a new CV or to update an existing one, which are now essential for applying for jobs. This type of support and demand for employability support has remained buoyant.

During the year we are also aware that we played a key role in helping over 80 people get back into work by improving their skills and opportunities and creating new CVs for them. The real figure is likely to be much higher than this as not everyone comes back to tell us of their successes.

We estimate that about 60% of our visitors also use our computers to look for work or apply for jobs (which equates to approx. 23,500 visits last year) so this is a key resource in helping people improve their chances of getting back into employment. Many of our visitors are signposted from Middleton Job centre so they can receive digital and employability skills support Typically 65% of respondents to previous surveys have reported they had gained at least one new skill from their visits to the Lighthouse.

We maintained our relationship with several Rochdale MBC’s teams including the economic affairs Skills & Work team through our work club activities, and membership of the Skills & Work Forum, which help support the councils’ objective of improving the skills of the Borough’s residents.

Social Interests & Activities

We continued to develop and expand the number and type of social interest groups and activities that we offer at the Lighthouse Project. Our focus over recent years has shifted slightly away from just skills impartation and training, and leaning more towards helping people with building relationships and connections through social interests, hobbies and activity sessions. We recognise that social interaction plays a significant part in helping people to grow, develop, or recover, and that they are essential in reducing isolation, and are therefore important to the visitors that we support.

This is one thing that has clearly been noticeable during the ‘Lockdown’ period, where people are regularly telling us that they are missing social connections and social interaction the most.

During the year we ran or hosted the following range of regular weekly and ad hoc social and leisure activities, some of which have grown into regular groups; Craft and card making classes, a Knit and natter group, additional art and watercolour painting classes, Men’s Shed and Ladies workshop, digital photography group, cooking taster sessions, IT & social media taster sessions, children’s play activities, a walking group, table tennis drop-in, and our meet-up social group, to name a selection.

We recorded over 740 people attending at least one of our social/interest activity groups during the year, and collectively they visited over 6980 times.

It is widely understood that there are many isolated people in our communities and we are always seeking to reach out to new people in order to reduce their isolation and to build up their social connections. Making new friends and social contacts is regularly one of the most common outcomes for our visitors. Typically, 85+% of respondents said they have made new friends or contacts from coming to the Lighthouse when we ask them about their experiences.

Health, Mental Health and Wellbeing

We offered a variety of activities that support the improvement of individual health, mental health and wellbeing. Some of this was through our own programmes of training and developmental activities; and also by hosting other groups who offered health and wellbeing related activities within the Lighthouse Project Centre.

During the year we recorded over 400 people attending at least one health/wellbeing related event or activity, not counting our community exhibitions, and collectively they visited 2549 times.

Family, Food, & Finances

Food – Middleton Central Foodbank

Middleton Central Foodbank has now been running for just under six years since it opened to the public in July 2014. It is registered with the Trussell Trust, which is a Christian based national foodbank network.

This project was started through collaboration between Inspire Middleton and several local churches who wanted to set up and run a ‘Trussell Trust foodbank franchise’ in order to meet the needs of people experiencing food poverty in Middleton and the surrounding areas. We still retain links with the churches and many of our volunteers, although not all, come from church connections. The foodbank is co-located within the Lighthouse Project and it runs as an additional service to our wider work.

During the year up to the end of March 2020 the foodbank provided emergency food parcels for 2783 adults and 1509 children (4292 people) from 513 different families, which is yet again an increase over the previous year. The level of demand has grown every year since the foodbank opened in 2014.  The main causes of crisis being reported to the foodbank are, benefit delays or changes, debt and low income. We are also in an area where Universal Credit has been rolled out, and this probably contributes to the increase in people needing support.

During the year we received donations of 29.1 tonnes of food, and gave away 29.9 tonnes (the equivalent of 71,820 meals) to support needy families and individuals in the area who were experiencing food poverty or food crisis.

In addition to this we continued to support some local school breakfast clubs by providing cereals and other items to help them provide breakfast to needy children. We typically find we have about 2-3 tonnes of food in stock at any one time to ensure that we have enough variety and quantity to support several foodbank sessions. During the year that have been times when food stocks get low and we have had to buy-in certain food items to ensure we can provide complete food parcels.

We are grateful to the people of Middleton who are always very generous to us, and especially to those who choose to donate via our Tesco collection point where we have received over 10 tonnes of food in the last year, which is significant proportion of all the food donations we received.

In addition to the permanent collection point in Tesco we also arrange three-days of food collections in the town centre store twice a year, one is arranged as part of a national campaign of foodbank collections (November/December) and the other is arranged locally with the store (June/July). The Tesco staff are always supportive of our work and we want to commend their efforts in doing so.

The foodbank works in conjunction with over 60 other local organisations who act as referral agencies and hold vouchers for distribution to people in need. These organisations are the ‘eyes and ears’ of the foodbank within the community, and they help us to reach the people who most need support. Referral agencies include schools, churches, council support services, and community support organisations.

At the start of the ‘lockdown’ in March our food stocks were quite low as we were just coming up to the time when we would normally start receiving easter donations. At the same time there were also some perceived food shortages and panic buying which significantly impacted the donations we were receiving. Thankfully a number of national supermarket chains stepped forwards to offer support to Trussell Foodbanks and we began to benefit from a few months of palletised donations from both Tesco and Morrisions, which helped us to replenish our food stocks.

Food/Families – Lighthouse Pantry – Membership Food club

The Pantry first opened in December 2018 offering a membership based food club to support families and individuals who were struggling with their weekly household costs. The premise is that for a weekly membership fee of £3.50 members can use the Pantry to obtain a selection of food items, and free fruit and veg, typically worth £20-25 in retail value.

During the year the membership of the Pantry has grown steadily, to a point where we have supported over 133 different families who have collectively attended over 1650 times. Some members come regularly each week, and others come for a season of time to suit their needs. A recent review of the project has shown that the estimated retail value of a typical weekly visit is much higher than originally anticipated and is now in the order of £25 – £35, which makes a tremendous difference to families struggling to pay for their weekly household costs.

The project is proving to be popular with families who could save up to £1400 a year on their annual food costs, with the added benefit that this money can then be used to pay other household bills that they would normally struggle to meet. For every £1 spent there is a return of around £9.

Take up of memberships has grown quickly and as such we have to operating a waiting list in order to regulate demand because we are limited by the amount of surplus food we can source.

The Pantry has many facets to it, firstly it is intended to help stop struggling families from moving into crisis and needing the support of other services, such as the foodbank. For those who are already in crisis the Pantry acts as a stepping stone out of crisis and back towards self-management. As the Pantry makes use of supermarket surplus food it is also helping to reduce food waste and put usable food into the hands of those who most need it.

Families – Who let the dads out

During the last year we saw a gradual winding down of the Who Let the Dads Out project due to declining attendance and a lack of volunteer support. At this point in time the project is ‘on hold’ and we will review it once we come out from the current Coronavirus restrictions.

Family/Finances – Lighthouse Money Advice debt service

Many people in our community experience high levels of personal debt, or financial problems due to low income, or other personal circumstances which are not necessarily due to poor budgeting or money management. Through our work with the Foodbank and Pantry we were aware of a real shortage of local, and accessible, debt advice services in our area. 

According to Government research, in our locality there is a massive under-provision of face-to-face debt services in the order of 6000%, this means that from demand of just under 2000 requests for support there was only capacity for 32, according to research carried out by the government Money Advice Service. This was one of the driving factors for us setting up our service and our aspiration is to see it grow and expand even more in order to help alleviate some of this significant need.

Our response was to set up a ‘free-to-use’ debt advice service called Lighthouse Money Advice which is part of the national ‘Community Money Advice’ network. The project started in October 2018.

During the last year Lighthouse Money Advice has supported 64 clients who are collectively facing total debts of over £580,000. From these people we have managed to secure debt relief orders (DRO’s) to the tune of over £305,000, with £21,000 being written-off, and £69,000 being tackled through agreed debt management plans.

The majority of clients come to the service via referral from the Foodbank, or because they have been referred by someone who has already been helped.

Each person, or family, that we help feels so much relief once they get support and start making progress with their debts, and they find greater peace and freedom because of the support they receive.

Volunteers

Volunteers are essential to our work and without them we would not be able to provide the levels of service and support that we have achieved over the last 10 years.

We continued to support and work with a bank of 60+ regular volunteers who help us to run all of our activities and projects on a daily basis. We have a wide mix of volunteers, of different ages, backgrounds, and experience. Some come for short periods of time to gain experience, or because their circumstances allow, whilst others have more time to give and they have been with us for longer periods as they believe in, and support, our cause.

During the last year our volunteer visits have been over 2,600, and we are very grateful for their invaluable contribution. We have estimated that the value of ‘in-kind’ work that our volunteers provide during the year is in the order over £75,000 if valued at an average cost of £11.20/hr.

Volunteer Awards

In September 2019 we held our second Bi-Annual Volunteer Awards event to give recognition to the input that our volunteers provide, and to celebrate their achievements and development. The event is in the form of a sit-down dinner in a local venue and we invite a special guest to come along to present the awards. The two times we have run this event the special guest has been our patron, Steve Coogan, who was brought up in Middleton, and he shares some of his thoughts about our work, as well as offering personal encouragement to the volunteers.

The event was attended by over 60 guests and there were Awards in 7 different categories as well as two special categories for Long Service, and Special Recognition Awards. The event was well received and a great boost for volunteer morale, and socialising amongst the team. Interestingly this is one of the few times that all of our volunteers are together in one place and one time, so it is a big boost for them, and for us, to see all of the team together.

Working Relationships with other organisations

Here is a selection of the organisations we have worked with during the year, or who have used the Lighthouse to provide services / activities for visitors.

  • Action Together – voluntary sector support
  • Alkrington & Junction GP surgeries,
  • All Saints & Martyrs C of E Church Langley,
  • Ashdown Phillips – MSC management
  • Better Health 4 Middleton – community activist group
  • BOC Healthcare – Health events
  • Church Action on Poverty – Lighthouse Pantry
  • Community Connectors – RMBC advisers
  • Community Money Advice – Lighthouse Money Advice
  • Dance 4 You – Dance/Exercise workshops
  • Drs Stockton & Thompson – Boarshaw Clough surgery
  • EnergyWorks – Drop-in support group
  • ESP Training – Employability Training
  • Fareshare – Food recycling – Lighthouse Pantry
  • FareshareGO – supermarket surplus
  • Groundworks – Tesco Bags of Help
  • Job Centre Plus – Middleton,
  • Livingwell (Big Life Group) – Health trainers
  • Living Well Taking Control
  • Long Street Methodist Church,
  • Manchester Credit Union
  • Many local schools and community groups through the Foodbank referral agency network
  • Middleton DIAL, – disability charity
  • Middleton Photography Group,
  • Middleton Shopping Centre – promotions and support
  • Middleton Township – Grant funding
  • Mills Hill Baptist Church,
  • Oldham College – learner placements
  • Pennine Care NHS Trust – Health activities
  • Positive Steps – careers service for young people,
  • RBH – Rochdale Boroughwide Housing,
  • Riverside Housing
  • Rochdale and District Mind – mental health support and training
  • Rochdale MBC – Employment & Skills, Community Champions, Economic affairs – Talk English
  • RMBC Housing Benefits team,
  • Royal British Legion – Middleton
  • Santander Middleton Branch – Community Funding
  • Tesco Extra Middleton branch
  • UK Online Centres (Good Things Foundation),
  • Upper Room Christian Fellowship,
  • Veterans in Community
  • Virgin Money – volunteers
  • Xvarian College – work placements

Plans for the Future

In the light of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, and all it’s associated restrictions, our immediate plans will be to maintain the safe operation of our ‘essential services’, those projects which provide significant benefit to the community, i.e:- Middleton Central Foodbank, Lighthouse Pantry, and Lighthouse Money Advice service, and to keep these activities ‘Covid-Safe’.

At the time of writing (Oct 2020) the UK has entered a new period of ‘Tier-3’ lockdown which means that all of our computer services, and social and leisure activities must remain closed until a t least December 2020, and possibly beyond into the new year.

Our core funding remains secure, and our main funder, the National Lottery Community Fund have assured us of ongoing support and flexibility during the season of the pandemic. These are unprecedented times, and these assurances have been appreciated.

Where possible our future plans are to consolidate our work, to strengthen our support for people experiencing crisis and poverty, and to plan and prepare for the time when the restrictions of Coronavirus are over and activities return to some form of normality. By doing so we believe that, we can continue to increase our visitor numbers, recruit more volunteers, help more people to advance in their lives, and to improve our impact.

The pandemic has changed the landscape of communities across the country and there is likely to be significant economic and social impact as a result. Part of our future planning will be to prepare for, and be responsive to, those changing needs; to offer renewed and increased support for people changing jobs, or having to look for work, and providing ways to support the isolated, and those struggling emotionally, financially and physically as a result of the pandemic restrictions. This will become the ‘new normal’.

We remain in touch with our volunteers, many of whom are keen to return once circumstances allow. It has been important to maintain those links, each person is valuable, and as much as we have missed them being around they too have told us how much they have missed being at the Lighthouse.

Looking to the future it is becoming more important that we consider and explore different ways of raising funds and finances for the charity to help improve our long-term sustainability alongside our ongoing grant funding applications. Particularly as the full impact of the pandemic is not yet known, and because of our desire to build a secure foundation for the Charity’s work. We also want to explore ways of building up a regular supporter base that will strengthen us and help us to encourage new donor relationships through a Lighthouse partnership scheme.

Ongoing Systems and Facilities Development

There are a number of other areas that we have been working on to develop our systems and facilities in the background, which help us to be more robust, these include:

  1. Updating HR Policies and Employee Handbook, and new HR Software for staff management.
  2. New software for managing Pantry membership and payments, including online and contactless.
  3. New stocktaking software for improved Pantry stock management and to more accurately inform us of the financial benefit that Pantry membership offers.
  4. Development of our Visitor database for improved attendance recording and analysis.
  5. New Visitor and Activity database (Lamplight) to record information about individual attendance, progression and engagement, as well as activity recording and summary analysis. This is already proving to be a valuable tool.
  6. The upgrading of our visitor PC’s for newer models to improve speed of access and upgrade capacity, and to provide additional PC’s and handheld tablets for visitors to use.
  7. Construction of a new 120 seat capacity conference, training and events room, to allow us to run new social and leisure activities for larger groups and more events that need more space, e.g. tea-dances, armchair exercises, table tennis competitions, exhibitions, and larger group meetings.
  8. Updated and refreshed our Inspire Middleton website