Voluntary Sector Focus: Lisa Storey, Hope Community Project - Wolverhampton Voluntary Sector Council

by James Clarke
2 years ago

Tell us about your organisation, how you started and what you do?

Hope Community began in 1985 when Sisters of the Infant Jesus moved onto the Heath Town Estate in Wolverhampton. They started knocking on doors and discovered that people were living in fear in their own homes and frightened to come out. The Sisters spent their time listening to the stories of the people, to the nuances of their lives and to the injustices they faced every day. By listening to the people, the very desperate needs of families living in the area where highlighted. They were joined over the years by many willing volunteers from all over the world.

Thirty-six years on in 2021, we are still situated in the heart of Heath Town and continue to have those conversations with local people to ascertain the most current and pressing issues faced by the community. We still offer a truly independent source of support enabling us to reach people that statutory services struggle to or cannot find. We continue to work towards building an integrated and cohesive community, reducing social isolation, raising aspirations, strengthening family relationships, and helping people feel they are valued members of society. Our project will work with, and improves the lives of, vulnerable individuals and families by providing a substantial level of support to clients at every stage of their journey.

Our aim is to integrate and help build a successful multi-cultural community where the talents of each individual are recognised, valued and appreciated. We seek out, reach and support the most isolated, vulnerable and disadvantaged people in the community, particularly those on the margins who struggle with day to day living and to be accepted by society as a whole. We achieve this by delivering the following:

To reduce social isolation and loneliness:

  • Telephone befriending
  • Community café
  • Place of Welcome
  • Women’s empowerment group
  • Men’s group
  • Stay and play

To engage in positive activities and informal education:

  • Time to talk (conversation group)
  • Sewing and cooking classes
  • Parenting workshops
  • After school club
  • Youth club

To develop learning and employability skills:

  • Digital skills/ Internet Café
  • ESOL
  • Volunteering programme
  • Job club

To relieve food poverty and financial difficulties:

  • Community café
  • Food club
  • Food pantry
  • Financial literacy workshops
  • Access to grants for individuals

We engage local people by reaching out to them in the community. Our staff and volunteers spend upwards of ten hours per week walking around the estates, knocking doors and talking to people (this way of working has recently been reinstated following the easing of Covid restrictions).

We have adopted the following three principles in all that we do: 

  • Reach – engage everybody and anyone, with respect and dignity ensuring inclusivity, diversity and equality.
  • Listen – develop relationships, identify issues, interests, passions, potential leaders and volunteers
  • Connect – build bridges between different groups of people, celebrate diversity and culture

What has been your greatest achievement?

Our greatest achievement has been our longevity and our commitment to evolve and adapt to the needs of the community. We achieve this by continually talking with and listening to our community and the people who live there. We continuously reflect on our practices and monitor and review our work allowing others to feed into this process including beneficiaries and we are not afraid to put our hands up when something is not going right and will change our way of working so that we can achieve the best for our beneficiaries and the community.

Heath Town is one of the most diverse communities in the country with a large and growing number of refugees and migrants. 56 languages are spoken locally. We have found that some communities bring with them issues of trust and mistrust in those that are seen as in ‘authority’. Our project is based in the heart of the estate – we are visible and have and will continue to forge relationships with many of the people that live there, including newcomers, tailoring services and activities to suit their needs and aspirations.

What is your experience of support received from WVSC?

WVSC are our ‘go to’ people on a range of advice and support including our own organisational development needs. WVSC provides Hope Community with the platform(s) for us to access other groups and organisations within Wolverhampton so that we can work more innovatively and collectively so that we can help more people who need help and support.
Our Volunteer Coordinator has attended the quarterly Volunteer Involving Organisation meetings (VIO) for the past 5 years, which has helped them to share and learn from best practice and keep abreast of volunteering issues and work across the sector.

We are also a delivery partner having delivered projects and initiatives including Comic Relief’s Girls Allowed Project working together to make a difference in our communities.

We value our relationship with WVSC highly.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learnt about working with people in Wolverhampton?

The most valuable lesson we have learnt about working with people in Wolverhampton is that one size does not fit all and that we need to continue to talk and listen to people.

What are some of the challenges you face and how can WVSC help to support your organisation in the future?

Due to Covid, the demand for additional services for all aspects of family and community life are rising more than ever before. We have never been in the situation where there have been so many in crisis and poverty which is having an effect on people’s mental health and wellbeing. Prior to Covid, there were already issues faced by the community regarding isolation, finances and access to services. Over the past 18 months the impact of these issues has worsened and therefore demand for our support has grown. This increased demand for Hope Community is a result of cuts to local services as a result of regeneration; loss of jobs which is causing financial hardship, loss of opportunities which is causing anxiety for the future and a lack of understanding of statutory services which is having an impact on the support people are accessing.

Heath Town houses a large number of migrant and refugee families. Language barriers have caused feelings of alienation from society and developed a lack of understanding and trust in services. Hope Community want to improve engagement with these communities to be able to break down existing barriers and enable social inclusion.  Many local people were already vulnerable prior to the pandemic hitting. Covid saw a number of statutory services move their services to online platforms; this impacted a vast majority of people because of the language barriers and which left many people unable to translate the information to understand the changes in accessing services. In addition to the language barriers many residents experienced digital poverty (and continue to do so) and did not have the digital skills or the financial means to buy the required electronic devices or to pay for internet services.

Where can we find out more?

Hope Community Project
40 Ling House, Long Ley, Heath Town
Wolverhampton. WV10 0HH
Tel: 01902 556645
Email: lisa.storey@hope-cp.org.uk
Website: www.hopecommunityproject.org.uk
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hopeheathtown
Twitter:  @Hope_Nicolas

Would you like to be featured in our Voluntary Sector Focus? Contact Sharon Nanan-Sen on snanan-sen@wolverhamptonvsc.org.uk for more info!