A citywide community initiative, set up more than a decade ago, has been continuing to support residents, seven-days- a-week, throughout the pandemic.

Making phone calls, doing people’s shopping, and walking dogs are just some of the ways in which My Community Matters has continued to help some of the most vulnerable people and communities in Stoke-on-Trent, over the past year.

The service, who work with residents throughout Stoke-on-Trent in need of support, reassurance and connecting to services have continued to provide assistance and give residents the confidence to get on with their day to day lives.

Since 2009 the MCM team, a service commissioned by the Public Health Team within Stoke on Trent City Council and hosted by Changes Health &Wellbeing, have played an integral part in bringing community members together and empowering residents and public services to work collaboratively towards transformational change across the city.

Despite the impacts bought by COVID-19, MCM have continued their critical work with residents to support their already established network of local community groups: Meir Friendship Group, Moss Green Health Group, Normacot United, North Shelton Community Partnership, Bluebells Friendship Group, Open Door Stoke-on-Trent, Longton Matters, East Fenton Does Matter Partnership, Portland Inn Project, Middleport Matters Community Trust, Dresden Friendship Group, Burslem Photography Club, Goms Mill Residents’ Association and others.

(Top left Iona Jones, top right Lisa Tomkinson, Gill Jones (quoted) bottom left and Dan Lyttleton)

One person who has been involved with MCM since the beginning, and champions the work being done, is Community Development worker Gill Jones, (pictured bottom left) who said: “The service which MCM provides helps to support people who feel they don’t have a voice or who have lost confidence in their ability to engage with other services. Our priority is to build relationships based on trust, to listen to the needs of communities and the concerns they have and to be proactive in our community led responses. This has enabled us to develop strong relationships empowering them to make positive changes where they live. Relying on lived experience we aim to understand the unique issues facing each area and the many different needs of the residents within Stoke-on-Trent.

“During the pandemic we’ve been making ‘befriending calls to our communities and so far have made more than 1,500. We have done people’s shopping, walked dogs and helped older residents – (concerned about their gas and electric being cut off)-  set up bank accounts to pay bills – plus we’ve delivered food and supported them with their concerns whilst observing social distancing.”

It is service which is widely appreciated by its residents such as Susan Thorley from Meir Friendship Group: “I would like to say that My Community Matters is vital for helping communities to come together, whether it’s organising activities, shopping for the vulnerable or just to chat in general, they are always on hand to help in any way they possibly can any time of the day. They give lonely people something to look forward to each week. Without the team, where would the lonely people be? No one should ever be lonely.”

However, as many local are authorities having to find ways to save money in the face of the impacts of COVID-19, Stoke-on-Trent City Council has proposed cutting the My Community Matters service in its new budget and is currently holding a consultation on the proposal.

Highlighting the contribution MCM has had Pat Roberts, chair of Moss Green Village and Moss Green Friendship Group, said: “My Community Matters is a valuable part of our community. They have helped to improve the lives of others to overcome loneliness, mental illness, and isolation. If this service is no longer available, it will greatly affect people’s lives. It is vital that My Community Matters continue to support vulnerable people”.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council leader Abi Brown said: “The proposal is to provide an in-house service to help to ensure that the support offered to community groups is consistent across the city. Our community development team works with a large range of local groups and is well-established in the community. We recognise the importance of communities in supporting the city to recover and thrive following the pandemic and we are committed to continuing to support community and voluntary groups. Over the course of the pandemic we have provided over £560,000 in funding for voluntary and community groups, including funding for VAST to provide support to the sector. We are supporting community and voluntary groups again with our hugely popular Community Investment Fund, with projects set to receive £450,000 in the latest phase of the fund, and a further £1.5m in grants to be paid during the next year.

“We have also successfully bid for £288,000 from the government to develop our links with communities through community champions so that we can reach out to hard to reach groups with tailored support to meet their needs as we all continue to work through the challenges of the coronavirus.”

My Community Matters would appreciate the support of local people and is asking them to provide feedback to the Council’s consultation which runs until February 14th.

(Image: top left Iona Jones, top right Lisa Tomkinson, Gill Jones (quoted) bottom left and Dan Lyttleton.)

Article by Adam Gratton

Website: https://www.stoke.gov.uk/budget2021
Write a letter: Budget 2021, Civic Centre, Glebe Street, Stoke-on-Trent, ST4 1HH
Email: budgetconsultation@stoke.gov.uk
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sotcitycouncil
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SoTCityCouncil

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