Janice Suffolk – a decade as a selfless community champion
“I saw a problem and decided to do something about it.” This simple explanation lies behind Janice Suffolk’s ten years of dedication to building a long-lasting heart in South Gloucestershire’s Cadbury Heath community.
Living in this part of South Gloucestershire with her husband and two children in the early 2000s, Janice noticed how little support there was for the local community and that any local initiative came and went far too quickly, so she wanted to create a long-lasting way for residents to come together and support each other.
Her belief in self-help was ingrained in Janice from an early age, as her mother was the ‘go-to’ person that anyone in the Lincolnshire community where she grew up would seek out when they wanted help or advice. When Janice became a mum, she found herself doing the same thing.
“When my children were young I realised there was no holiday play-scheme here”, says Janice, “so I thought we should set one up for ourselves.” That was back in 2007, and ten years on the Juice Community Project not only runs play-schemes in the school holidays but does so much more – including running a parent and toddler group, after-school sports activities, homework clubs, provides information and advice, a thriving community choir, a credit union and a food store.
Many people do a little bit for their community, only to stop and leave it for someone else to take the reins. Janice has not only kept up the momentum, she has also put herself out take on challenges that no-one else was willing – or able – to do.
“When we first started Juice”, says Janice, “I always said I would never work with young people – and now we’re doing so much with them!”
And it was needed. Problems with the area’s young people hit the headlines a few years ago; during the long summer school holidays large groups of youngsters would gather in the neighbourhood with nothing to do. Local residents felt intimidated, and complaints about vandalism and anti-social behaviour became a major problem for the police.
Janice, with support from Quartet, got funding for StreetGames, a project using sport to give young people constructive ways to channel their energy in the holidays.
“StreetGames made a really big difference. It had a big impact on the community, making this a better place for everyone living here,” says Janice.
“In the first year it was hard work to build up a rapport with the young people… sometimes they just wanted to mess us about.” Finding that they didn’t always want to be organised by sports coaches, the Juice team learned to take a more flexible approach. “In the second year we had large numbers: 80 to 100 young people – but we found a way and it worked well.
“It has a big impact because we could go where the issues were and adapt the programme to really engage with the young people. Now this year we’re finding that young people we worked with last year actually want to help by working with younger children in their holiday play-schemes. One of my ‘trouble-makers’ last year is now desperately keen to become a sports coach so I’m looking for an Apprenticeship in sport for him.”
Over the years Quartet Community Foundation has helped in many ways. Janice recalls their earliest grant. “We had money from Quartet to get the building up and running. It was great having the building and being seen to be at the heart of the community, but we needed the money to get started properly, and that help from Quartet had a big impact.
“Often over the years, because we’ve had money from Quartet, other funders have had the confidence to put money in too. Very few other funders come and see us, but Quartet does and that’s great for us.”
Looking to the future Janice sees new challenges and more community-building work needing to be done.
“The population here is ageing; we’re not getting younger families moving in. And we’re seeing a lot of people with mental health issues – people off work with anxiety, stress, which could be sort-term or long-term. We’re also seeing a lot more mental health issues with teenagers, more than ever before, leading to them walking out of lessons or even walking out of school as a reaction to stress and pressure.
“One family we work with has a boy who is struggling to stay in school and a daughter who is self-harming. Where do parents in that situation start looking for help? We’re here to help them find the right support.”
“Quartet is special because the money goes directly into the community, to the grassroots projects on the ground, working with local people. That small amount makes a massive difference to a community like this.”
We asked Janice what keeps her going, and it’s clear that her enthusiasm and care for the people she supports is key to her work. “I love the people here. It’s taken a long time to build up trust, and people will now stop me in the street and chat about problems and that’s great.”