With just £5 in her back pocket, a borrowed computer and an office in a housing association’s building, Deborah Clark set up Community Solutions North West. That was in November 2010 – 11 years on and the charity that has people at its heart is a fantastic success story helping residents all over Hyndburn. Community Solutions is now based in historic Elmfield Hall, in the grounds of beautiful Gatty Park. The once semi-derelict Hyndburn Council-owned building will hopefully begin the final stage of its renovation later this year.
Chief Executive Officer Deborah said: “I worked for a long time in health and social care and I just thought there has to be a better way to make a difference to the people who need help. People were coming with lots of problems that needed addressing but organisations could only work on specific issues. Sometimes when people come here for our help they just have the clothes they stand up in, maybe they are escaping domestic abuse and have no family to turn to, so we become the family they need. We have a lot of people come to us in need of bereavement counselling and struggling with employment issues; we support people through whatever life changes they are facing. All the staff and volunteers are local so we know the area and know the problems and can relate to the people who need our help.”
The charity has more than 150 volunteers, who receive support and training and many become mentors themselves so giving back to their community. It works with more than 200 partnership referral agencies and has helped thousands of residents in their time of need. Last year, at the fifth Hyndburn Business Awards, Community Solutions won the Large Business and Workforce Development titles and Deborah also won the Enterprising Woman award.
Deborah said: “We were surprised to do so well. When we set up in 2010 not that much was known about food poverty, but we were delivering to homes and doing a lot of social isolation work. We have always seemed to be one step ahead of issues that the community is facing.”
A chance conversation with an NHS official, led Community Solutions to run a pilot project in 2019 called Digital Pioneers; that experience proved vital when normal face-to-face services had to be suspended. They could swiftly switch befriending and drop-in services, along with vital support for lonely and vulnerable residents of Hyndburn, to an online service. Bereavement and counselling was offered by telephone. Some small group work has returned to the building and, as restrictions ease, the organisation is looking forward to welcoming back more visitors.
Deborah said: “Mr Gatty’s Tearoom will reopen in April and we will be setting up gazebos and serving food outside in the park. The afternoon teas are particularly popular.”
The not-for-profit business employs 21 people and will be looking to take on an extra four next month. Lessons will be learnt from the pandemic and some meetings will stay online rather than returning face-to-face, Deborah said forum meetings used to attract 10 participants but 30 have interacted over the video calls. As well as the tearoom and offices, Elmfield Hall also has community facilities, a training kitchen and rooms suitable for businesses to rent. All the income supports the charitable work to ensure that the model is sustainable.
Nominations for this year’s business awards, organised by Enterprising People, are open until April 27 and to nominate a business, charity or enterprising person visit www.hyndburnbusinessawards.co.uk
Story by Catherine Smyth Media