The Small Funds project is designed to focus on reaching people who have historically been less likely to engage in traditional services: carers, men, people from BAME backgrounds, etc. With the help of small amounts of funding, community groups around Leeds have been able to build up evidence about what works and what doesn’t.
Care Connect, the local evaluation project for Time to Shine, reviewed many of the findings and has written a short report about the evidence coming out of the Small Funds projects. They reviewed participant surveys and conducted focus groups to hear from project workers and participants about the successful approaches.
Groups less likely to engage may prefer informal arrangements
Whether the activities were aimed at Carers, Men or people living with dementia, many of the Small Funds projects found that informal and less-structured activities were likely to appeal to these groups. Offering something that people can join as and when, rather than having to commit to a regular time and place every week (for instance) helped to accommodate people with multiple health concerns or those who might not want to be seen as receiving services from a charity.
Flexibility is key
A main strength of the Small Funds approach is providing time and flexibility to try out new things and change the approach as needed. For instance, the Your Warehouse Project started with a more formal model of volunteering, with people logging their hours and a great deal of emphasis being placed on the goal of reducing loneliness. This approach changed as staff discovered the men involved were more open to being asked to employ their skills to do St Luke’s a favour rather than an approach of “Come volunteer to reduce your loneliness!”
Space must be created for friendships to form naturally
This finding has been an important theme of many Time to Shine projects. A relaxed and flexible space must exist for people to be able to connect over some common experience (e.g. being a carer) or activity (e.g. gardening), but without too much heavy-handedness in getting people to interact. Individuals will naturally gravitate to the people they might have a good connection with, and if staff take a hands-off approach then these relationships can develop and build as they would in any other setting.
Care Connect’s research has revealed that many of the Small Funds projects have helped to increase participants’ confidence as well as help reduce their isolation. What people said:
“Just by coming to the group, sitting with others [who] are also carers, having a chat, felt so much better and a relief … I feel more confident as my role as a carer, I feel that I’m not alone.”
“I am talking and mixing with people more…it has built up my confidence, I used to be nervous but I have completely changed…I wouldn’t have been able to speak up [a focus group] before, but now I will.”
“I have…joined the gym recently due to the workshops we had, it made me realise how important exercise really is.”
You can read and share the full report here.