Julie Close – building a hub at the heart of the community
Nestling between the dynamically expanding site of The Mall at Cribbs Causeway, the prosperous business parks around Aztec West and the enormous new developments planned for the Filton airfield site are the communities of Patchway and Bradley Stoke.
With such affluent neighbours you might be surprised to learn that one in five children in Patchway are living in poverty and that the local community cafe is regularly called on to give out what food they can spare to people who have not eaten for days.
Julie Close is the Director of Southern Brooks Community Partnerships which helps people across Patchway, Bradley Stoke and beyond to help themselves and build strong communities. Through her 18 years with the organisation Julie has seen good times and bad. But throughout it all, she says that Quartet Community Foundation has been the reliable source of funding to help kick-start new initiatives and support well-proven projects too.
“Quartet is really good at getting the money out to where it needs to be”, says Julie, who feels Quartet understands its local communities because “it’s a local investor”.
The impact of Quartet funding has a profound effect on people’s lives, all the more so when it focuses on prevention and early intervention.
Our grants enabled Southern Brooks to try out a scheme working with families where younger siblings were supported to avoid repeating their older brothers’ and sisters’ antisocial behaviour. In the pilot, a family support worker got to know the parents and younger children aged 8-12 to flag up any problems early, and then helped to guide the young children away from antisocial behaviour.
“The scheme worked really well”, says Julie. “Because the pilot proved the concept, we were able secure over £110,000 of funding to expand it to more families. The police here say that they can still see the impact of that project, now that the children are in their late teens – they’re not following in the footsteps of their older brothers and sisters.”
Southern Brooks started 26 years ago as a way to bring the local community together to solve its own problems. A community development ethos – not doing things to residents but working with them – is still the foundation of the way they work. From just one member of staff all those years ago they’ve grown to 54 members of staff, an army of volunteers and an annual income of around £1 million.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do any of that without Quartet’s early support.”
Julie’s passion for the power of volunteering stems from personal experience. She was a Girl Guide and moved into leadership roles, starting her own Brownie pack in Newport where she grew up. She became a member of Newport Youth Council and remembers taking children from the local children’s home on their annual trip to the beach. No wonder then that Southern Brooks is so passionate about helping children, and has been running projects that support secondary school children with strategies on all sorts of things, from avoiding bullying to challenging hate crime. The children’s’ knowledge then trickles down to younger kids in the same community, and all the age groups then run community events together.
Julie says surprising things happen when you listen to what local people are saying. “A few years ago,” Julie recalls, “Patchway was recorded as having the lowest diagnosis of dementia in the South West – but we knew that was a false picture. We realised that a lot of people were going undiagnosed because they were cared for at home by their families. So we set up a Memory Cafe, with funding through the CCG and South Gloucestershire Council as part of the government Dementia Action Challenge (which is very successful), and now this area has the second highest recorded dementia rates in South Gloucestershire. We’ve managed to uncover a hidden problem and help make things better for families who were suffering in silence.”
Julie is also very creative about helping community groups find the best way to run themselves. As well as the Memory Cafe, there’s also a ‘Men in Sheds’ group and a ‘Surfers’ (internet) group – neither of which wanted to set themselves up as a full-blown organisation, so they all came together as one constituted organisation and now have their own bank account. “It wasn’t easy bringing them together, but it is so worth it to see people now able to move on and be more self-sufficient.”
But, Julie says, there’s still so much more to do.
“We have a friends group and – because there’s no charity shop here – they have set up a charity table in the community centre where they sell donated goods. The money they raise helps pay for the children’s summer activities, and provides a real service for local people for whom it’s really important to be able to buy a coat for 50p. It may not sound like much to some but it’s a real life-line for people here.”
The most meaningful grant recently awarded to Southern Brooks by Quartet is to fund the development of a ‘Community Plan’. “The Plan will help us to identify our needs for the future, and help us to focus our efforts for future projects. We couldn’t have done it without that funding from Quartet.”
“Ten years ago we had lots more money from national projects. Things are so much tighter now; it’s been a rollercoaster year but we’ve kept going. Last September the funding cuts and the end of some grants meant it looked like we might have to close, but we’ve turned it round.”
Southern Brooks have had to be inventive with funding and constantly look to generate extra income from training and trading. They also recently merged with Community Ignite so they have a presence in Kingswood too and have just opened a community cafe there.
“We do so much more now. The fact that we’re here at the heart of this community has been really important. People are better able to access the services they desperately need. We often get people in here in tears, maybe they’ve just had their benefits cut, perhaps they’ve been drinking, and we’re able to be that community hub, a place that can help people turn their lives around. That’s what makes a difference to this community.”
Meeting local needs is a never-ending job, with constant pressure for creative solutions and finding funding to help local people make their community stronger. Whilst this would make most people run a mile, it has the opposite effect on Julie.
“The thing that keeps me going is that we are meeting local needs.”