The Churn Project

on 08/12/2016

The Churn Project is one of the smallest charities on my itinerary this year and this week I have learnt that size and impact are certainly not always correlative.

There are thousands of community charities like the Churn Project across the UK run by passionate individuals seeking to simply help other local people. Where larger charities do stellar work curing diseases or fighting the good fight for equality, community charities like the Churn Project are quietly meeting the complex needs of their residents on a social, health and vocational level. These guys don’t have hydro-pools or therapy rooms, they provide an altogether simpler medicine in the form of cups of tea, biscuits, support, guidance and most important of all, a friendly ear.

This week I have gatecrashed a knit and natter group, spoken with new and expectant mums, met some inspirational adult learners, cuddled some mega cute babies and had the pleasure of sitting down to Christmas lunch with the older residents of Cirencester. This last event was a real highlight for me, I love hanging out with elderly people, especially those with stories that transport you into an unfamiliar but magical era or those with a mischievous disregard for rules or convention!

Community charities are by their nature service led and staff at the Churn have a very close understanding of the needs of their neighbours. Nestled in a quaint stone building on the Waterloo in Cirencester, the welcoming and inclusive culture of the project was apparent as soon as I walked through the door. The humour and passion of the Churn’s staff and volunteers permeates its colourful Cotswold home and their impact and presence in this community is widely evident both within the project and around the town itself.

Where charities like the Churn often struggle is in resourcing their marketing function. Many community charities remain heavily grant funded and must work within the constraints such sources entail. That said, their relative size makes such charities inherently better placed than their larger sisters to transfigure themselves in a changing landscape. With the right leadership such freedom and creativity can even be game changing in marketing and service delivery.

Relevance is one of the values that CEO, Fran Embleton-Smith, promotes across the project. Fran recognises that the key to a community charity’s success is that it is always evolving alongside the people it serves. This week the Churn ladies and I have been having a lot of fun getting more familiar with tweets, hashtags, mentions and memes! It has been fantastic to feel like I am helping them move forward. This charity’s commitment to adapting itself in order to best serve its local people is #nofilter wonderful.

The Churn Project has grown significantly since Fran took the reigns some 15 years ago. It was established as a grassroots charity principally to help support deprived residents who would otherwise fall through the gaps in government services. Some of these gaps are now significantly wider, new ones have formed and others have become less significant. Today the Churn Project estimates that some 7,000 local people benefit from their services every year.

The future of grant funding remains uncertain, as local government spending is cut back and both Labour and Conservative MPs have hinted that the tap may be tightened even further. The needs of service users grow ever more complex and there has never been a more vital time to do good in your neighbourhood and support your local community charity. This is particularly important for towns like Cirencester, home to some incredibly affluent individuals but where for many, the struggle is very real. Places like the Churn are the lifeblood of the local community, bolstering spirits and playing a key role in improving the daily lives of the people living in it.

Even after just a month on the road, I feel like I am garnering so much knowledge and information to take forward and help other charities this year. Whilst it may be small there is no doubt that the worlds of those whom this charity has touched are a better place for the Churn Project. I leave the Churn with great memories and enduring admiration for the work of small charities.

Thank you to Fran, Ro, Ailsa, Louise, Amanda, Sarah, Rachel, Barbara and Sue for making me feel so welcome this week :-)

Best wishes

Alice x

PS If you would like to donate or volunteer at the Churn Project you can do so here!

Alice Biggar

Author: Alice Biggar

Alice is our National Philanthropy Manager & current holder of The Nicest Job in Britain.