Supporting groups to engage people in practical activities

Riverside House was supported by our small groups officer to make connections, fundraise, link with volunteers, and form a CIC to help young unemployed people to participate in practical activities and learn traditional crafts, gardening and hospitality through involvement of the restoration of the former early 19th Century ironworks.

The space includes woodland, a grade II listed house and workshops, a walled garden, a dry dock and narrow boat basin. Lloyd Stacey and his team are working to expose the heritage features through clearing the overgrowth, cleaning graffiti and restoring brickwork.

Over the next few years, Riverside House will be renovated and transformed into a heritage centre with gardens, restaurant, crafts shop, woodland and workshops. The idea is to create a place where people can learn and develop skills by transforming the site, in a social environment.

The project aims to help young unemployed adults and young people to participate in practical activities and learn traditional crafts, gardening and hospitality through their involvement of the conservation, preservation and restoration of Riverside House. The joy of learning practical skills have proven to provide outcomes such as improvements in well-being, confidence, self-esteem, social inclusivity, relationship building and physical health. As the project develops there will be more and more opportunities, the idea is to get the whole community using this space, take part in creative art projects and bring back traditional skills such as blacksmithing.

“When Callum left college, we were looking for things he was interested in doing. One thing that seemed to emerge over time is Callum’s interest in local history and horticulture, so when I got to hear about Lloyd and what he was doing down at Riverside House it just seemed ideal. He now goes 3 days a week and he absolutely loves it, he is so enthusiastic and never misses a day. They have a really tight group.

With autism, social interaction has always been difficult for Callum. Now, he’s having good conversations and feels relaxed with everyone, all of these social things I wasn’t expecting to come out of it has really benefited him. He now feels like he is part of a little community. He has taken ownership, Riverside House to him… well, he feels part of it, and it isn’t just a place that he goes to, he feels like it’s ‘his’ place.” 

A retired teacher from Stourbridge College has lived in the area most of his life, walked past the site quite often and didn’t even know it existed until he was alerted to the Riverside project by a friend. He now volunteers 3 days a week and is interested to learn more about the historical importance of the site from the Dudley archives, and share his findings with others.

Riverside House has also adopted the towpath from Canal & River Trust and will be renovating this historically significant section of the canal which includes the entrances to the dry dock, canal basins and crane base.

Building confidence and reducing isolation of parent carers

We supported and inspired parent carers to access a small pot of funding to kickstart Action Art, an art group offering time out from caring responsibilities, where people can exchange creative skills.

Three parent carers were talking about doing things creative in their spare time that would be a time out from their caring responsibilities. The issue they faced was that sometimes if they joined an organised class it was expensive, especially if they couldn’t attend because of their caring responsibilities.

Our Children, Young People and Families Officer was aware of a new LA funding pot that was available for small un-constituted groups and suggested that these women start their own group.

At first the carers asked how they would employ someone to run sessions; we asked them why they would need to employ someone when they had such amazing skills to share. One lady was incredible at cross-stitch and crochet, one was an amazing artist and painter and the other could make jewellery. After a few moments considering this, they realised that they could do it themselves, and exchange their own skills.

We helped them to prepare their application and presentation. We connected them to a venue that they could utilise for free so the only funding they needed was around £300 for some start up materials. They presented their idea called Action Art to a room full of people.

Action Art meets once a month and has grown in members, they collaboratively decide what they will make in the next session and contribute materials, resources or money to ensure the group stays sustainable.

The group developed a friendship with an Asian women’s group from Halesowen, who really lacked confidence and didn’t see the skills that they had. By them hearing the story of the women from Action Art, they began to realise that they were not so different and they also had gifts to share. The two groups meet up and exchange skills, action art show them how to decorate candles and make art bags and the Asian women’s group show them how to cook and do Henna.

Action Art told us that they have had conversations and developed friendships that they wouldn’t have had if it wasn’t for starting this project. The Asian women are asking and learning about disability, and the Action Art ladies are learning about the Asian community.

The group has built in confidence and they don’t feel so isolated learning and sharing new skills and making new friendships.

“It helped us to see our potential to achieve things we didn’t know we could.”

“We have been able to set up and maintain a group supporting others, utilising our own

skills to create a great community.”

“Donna gave me the confidence to start our own group called Action art. Without

the suggestion and support we wouldn’t of achieved this. She pointed us in the right

direction for funding too.”

Action Arts journey has lead them to encourage other groups to realise and share their skills, bringing together different communities together.