Workcrafts Community-based Volunteering Project, Northallerton, North Yorkshire
The Workscraft company
Ecominds promotes better mental health through green activity. This is a scheme managed by Mind, and funded by the Big Lottery Fund (BIG) funding and part of the Changing Spaces Programme.
About the project
The Workcrafts community-based volunteering project enables service users to participate in community volunteering with other not for profit organisations. This includes weekly volunteering at the Wensleydale Railway and regular sessions in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park helping with footpath repairs, tree planting and right of way clearing. Volunteers are also placed with the North Yorkshire County Council Countryside Volunteers, working on local footpaths and clearing non-native vegetation.
All service users are referred by staff from the Community Mental Health Team and must have a care plan. Workcrafts' approach is to enable service users to do something they would not have tried without support. They aim to help service users to mix with the wider community, further developing their social and working skills and boosting their confidence. Such activities are intended to support people through the recovery process.
The big idea
People with mental health problems from the Bedale area wanted to get together and support one other. This was combined with research which points to improved chance of recovery when people have a meaningful activity to participate in.
The project was user led from the start and is funded by Mind and BIG.
Setting up the project
The project started in 1996. People with mental health problems set up the project and continue to be involved in directing the charity as members of the committee that oversee the running of Workcrafts. Participants undertake a diverse set of activities including woodwork, painting and sewing.
Volunteers have had an important role in running the project. Participants regularly volunteer in the community. Recently, participants have volunteered at a local arboretum, a restoration project on a railway and working on the north Yorkshire moors to maintain footpaths (more info on the website for this).
The project is open to everyone. People are referred by mental health services in the area or self-refer to the project.
A small number of staff run the programme. Sourcing funds to employ staff is difficult and the project cannot rely on free time of volunteers alone. The main sources of funding are now through direct payments. The project received funding from the PCT in the past. The sale of products produced by Workcrafts has been a less significant aspect of revenue generation than they would have liked. This is in part because the volunteers can be inconsistent and fail to turn up to sessions.
In addition, publicising the services that Workcraft volunteers provide can be difficult, and finding the right outlet for the work createf is difficult.
Fifteen people attend twice a week and in the past the group has had 20 to 30 participants a week. There is a strong social element to using the project, providing a support network. A number of the participants are single and without family and therefore benefit from the relationships that have developed through Workcrafts.
Participants remain involved with the project after they have recovered.
Impact on the wider community has mainly been seen in the volunteering work individuals from Workcraft have undertaken. There has been a large amount of positive feedback from the volunteers on their experiences in volunteering in the wider community. A number of organisations were initially suspicious because volunteers offered to work for free and there was stigma attached to people with mental health stigmas.
Top tips to replicate this project in your locality
- Apply to the national Big Lottery Fund (BIG) for funding as it was one of the most accessible sources of funding
- It is important keep track of finances, make sure there are checks and monitoring processes within the financial structure of the organisation
- Adapt the project so the opportunities fit the interests of people in the local community
The biggest challenge is funding. The project went from receiving a block grant for running services to funding that follows each participant. This has led to less inconsistency and instability, makingplanning for the future difficult.
The project aims to attract more people to volunteer to help market products and services better, the aim is to broaden the number of outlets for the services that Workcrafts provides.