We are excited to introduce to you the Friends of Little Orchard, a community group focussed on supporting the family members of people we support in Little Orchard service. The Friends of Little Orchard have formally organised themselves into a committee that enhances Little Orchard with community-funded projects and more.
We sat down (virtually) with the committee and found out a bit more about their story.
How did they start?
Jill is the secretary of the group and her son has lived at Little Orchard for over 24 years. One day the service manager at Little Orchard suggested a home cinema be installed for the residents. So Jill sent an email out to other family members to raise some funds to buy the kit needed and used a local business to install the cinema.
Later in 2015, then CMG, held a gardening competition and the service manager at the time was interested in entering the competition. Jill, a keen gardener, rolled up her sleeves and got the garden in much better shape with the help of local volunteers. Little Orchard got joint first place!
At this point the family members decided to communicate more between themselves to enhance the service in every way they could. When they saw advertising in the paper from Redrow, a local building company, for a £2000 project to be won, they decided to formalise themselves, open a bank account and write a constitution. They got advice on how to set this up from a local group called Community First which helps community, non-profit groups form and seek funding.
And thus, the Friends of Little Orchard was born!
The Friends of Little Orchard wanted to ensure that their goals and aims were always upheld in everything they do. Their main point is: The aims of the Group shall be ‘to benefit all the residents of Little Orchard, with additional help and facilities and therefore to enhance their wellbeing and quality of life’. You can see their constitution here.
One of their other goals is to get the community more involved with Little Orchard. Having local people help enhance the lives of the residents so they can live more normal, enriching lives. Their aims are always to aid the Little Orchard service team and management with the ‘icing on the cake’ as Chairperson Di puts it.
Since they’ve started, they’ve made some amazing improvements!
As three of the residents in Little Orchard have Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD), the families were very keen to upgrade the home’s sensory equipment. From the Redrow builders grant, Friends of Little Orchard were able to purchase bubble tubes in a mirrored corner unit with fibre optics, wireless controller, floor mat, a foot spa, wheelchair rocker, foot shaker and sound ball for the residents’ enjoyment.
The garden at Little Orchard, since becoming a care home, had become very overgrown with the trees and bushes and didn’t meet the needs of the current residents for wheelchair accessibility. The garden has so much potential as a wonderful outdoor space for the residents, staff, family members and visitors to enjoy.
Jill advertised for local volunteers to come in once a month to weed, plant, harvest and maintain the garden. They put their heart and souls into reshaping the garden including planting three new fruit trees to match the name ‘Little Orchard’.
Tesco Bags of Help
In 2019 Friends of Little Orchard applied for a Local Tesco ‘Bags of Help’ community grant. They received an amazing £4000 grant!
At last they have made the garden wheelchair accessible with footpaths to meander through the garden and all the way down to the bottom. The local voluntary ‘Men’s Shed’ group designed and built a new sturdy pergola covered with coloured Perspex to bathe the passer by with coloured lights. Wheelchair height raised beds were installed and planted up.
Just before lockdown, the final spend was erecting a sturdy wooden gazebo, shelter for the residents and staff to look out at the garden, and for family members to meet their loved ones at this time. The gazebo is at the end of the garden where there is a nice outlook with fields and farm animals to admire.
With COVID-19 it’s harder for Friends of Little Orchard to take up improvement projects within the service and get as involved in the community as they would like.
However, the members are still able to offer mutual support, which is very important now because of limited visitation to the service. Even now, being part of the group is so rewarding and provides lots of self-fulfilment.
David, the Treasurer, commented that ‘Little Orchard are like a big family.’ They are a fairly small unit but they do things together and work together as a family. Everything they do is for the benefit of the residents of Little Orchard living in the community.
They would also like to encourage family members in other areas to consider organising themselves into a community group.
What about your own community group?
I asked the group what tips they have for anyone who wishes to do something similar:
- Formalise yourself. Appoint a treasurer, open a bank account and write a constitution to keep your aims in focus.
- Ensure the enhancement and wellbeing of the people we support is at the centre of everything you do. Make it clear that you are a non-profit community group.
- Get involved with local community support groups like Community First for advice and local companies like Tesco Bags of Help, Co-op and Waitrose who have community funds. This can help you seek funding.
- Make sure the team at the service are involved. Projects are led by requests from the manager and require cooperation between family members and the service team.
- Don’t give up! Securing funding and planning projects takes time and effort.
All of this is summed up well by Jill: ‘What we do is for everyone, it’s about the people supported being people and living ordinary lives’.