This is a post I should have published on 16th December 2016 as that was Local Charities Day, however the best of intentions always seem to end up getting slightly skewed and so here I am posting it two weeks later.  However, I am still posting it, it is still relevant, and with the New Year upon us it is perhaps even more relevant that I get it ‘out there’.

With all apologies for the tardiness set to one side, I would like to take the opportunity to tell you all about a local charity that I think is fabulous and to give you a few reasons for choosing to donate your time and/or money to Local Charities as well as, or instead of, the large nationals.

They say that charity begins at home but once your nearest and dearest are sorted where do you direct your philanthropic deeds? Cancer Research? Oxfam? British Heart Foundation? Chances are you have a favoured recipient for your charitable donations. The preferred charity shop at which to drop your unwanted or not needed Christmas Gifts. The charity you always quote as being the one to which you regularly give when you are stopped on the street by those REALLY annoying “Chuggers” (street charity workers). Chances are this charity is a National. A really BIG charity that conducts research into prevention and cure of innumerable diseases. A really BIG charity that operates throughout the UK and in some cases throughout the world. A really BIG charity that can afford to spend millions on marketing budgets, non-essential administration and monthly mail outs.

How many of us actually, regularly, support a local charity that does work which directly benefits the city, town or village in which we actually live? That actually impacts on our local community, making it a far more welcoming place to live.  This is what Local Charity Day is all about. Raising awareness of the hundreds of small, local charities that can’t afford to spend hundreds, let alone millions, of pounds on marketing, or even employ a handful of full-time staff, and yet it is these charities that make a direct impact to the lives of those it sets out to support.

I work, part-time and freelance, just one day per week (sometimes less) for an A-mazing Local Charity, SWALLOW. Indulge me and allow me to tell you all about SWALLOW.

swallow charity logoSWALLOW, South West Action for Learning and Living Our Way, is a charity that has been established for over 20 years having been founded in Midsomer Norton, Somerset, by a group of people with learning disabilities. These individuals were fed up living a life with limited opportunities, a lonely existence and one that put tremendous strain on their families. There was no where they could go to learn new skills or make friends. SWALLOW’s initial aim was to equip adults with learning disabilities (what a multitude of health conditions that term covers) with the skills necessary for independent living. Skills such as changing bed covers, vacuuming, chopping vegetables, skills that you and I might take for granted.

Since those early days SWALLOW has grown and now not only does it offer independent living skills training through its Base House, it also provides an array of courses, activities and clubs to challenge and enrich the lives of not only adults with learning disabilities but teenagers as well. The diversity of the courses and clubs on offer, which include arts and crafts, singing and cookery, zumba and football, shows just how vital Local Charities are not just individuals but to the local community too. All of these activities need people to run them, whether that is paid or unpaid, indeed SWALLOW has become a large employer within the local community contributing directly to the local economy as well as to the lives of its members. This Local Charity equips vulnerable, often overlooked, members of our community with skills to allow them to live independently or with limited additional support. SWALLOW even runs a Community Cafe in nearby Radstock which provides catering training for members and allows people who were told that they would never be able to work, to gain skills meaning that they ARE able to work and to earn their own money. Ultimately though the SWALLOW Community Cafe proves to these adults and teenagers with learning disabilities that they are valuable, and valued, members of the local community.

Local Charities are usually started by passionate people and people who have suffered a direct consequence of the cause they are now wanting to support or change. They are driven and often have absolutely no experience of running a business, a Local Charity is after all in the business of making money, just not for shareholders or to line the pockets of wealthy family founders. They are in the business of making things better. SWALLOW has been established for over 20 years, and this is no mean feat. It is not only driven by the demand for the services and support they provide but it is, in huge part, down to the incredible team of people that work within in. The majority of staff are part-time, the need for funding is a constant and draining search, the monitoring and inspections carried out by the Care Quality Commission keep everyone on their toes and yet the team at SWALLOW retain their humour, their warmth, their drive and their determination to continuously make life better for its wonderful members. It is an amazing place to work.

This particular Local Charity has a Trustee Board, who support in the charity’s overall direction and aims, it has a team of managers to oversee its day-to-day operations and a group of staff, mainly part-time, to serve the members. But where SWALLOW is different is that it is member-led meaning that it’s members are consulted continuously about what they want and need, what they liked or didn’t like about an event or activity, they are involved in the recruitment of staff, and the staff ultimately are answerable to the members. Of course this adds another layer to the reactivity of the charity but it is a layer that acts like a downy duvet, it helps to create that magical, caring, comforting, environment cocooning everyone within the elusive but essential, hug of human kindness.

Local Charities deserve huge amounts of respect they are often started in the face of adversity and with limited financial security. Local Charities need your support to survive. They know that your time is valuable and limited but if you spare half an hour to rattle a collection bucket at your local village fete or an evening running a quiz down the local to help raise awareness as well as money it will be appreciated. If you are time poor but cash rich, setting up a direct debit to donate a tenner a month to help buy crafting supplies, or getting the company you work for to enter a team to run the local half marathon to raise £1,000 to contribute to the costs of an over night stay at Base House.

Whatever way you are able to support a Local Charity, it won’t be turned away, and it won’t be forgotten. Please go and research your Local Charity and when you decide on this years New Year Resolutions why not make 2017 the year you help to make your local community just that little bit better. Whatever you do, do something, it WILL make a difference.