Tell us about your organisation, how you started and what you do?
Following an extension of its church building in early 2016, Excel Church established Bilston People’s Centre; a community focussed organisation with facilities dedicated to hosting a range of activities to meet the needs of the local Bilston community.
Although the church had a long history of engaging with the community through various social action initiatives, it found that creating a dedicated space to host community projects would be the catalyst to better serve the whole community. To this end, Bilston People’s Centre was established to not only host existing activities but to develop new and exciting initiatives and provide space for other organisations to deliver their services in the heart of the community of Bilston.
This vision is being realised with a range of activities serving the different needs of the local community: senior citizens’ project, parent and toddler groups, youth clubs, kids’ club, foodbank, advice and guidance service, and seasonal activities such as holiday clubs and our annual Santa’s Grotto. In addition to our own activities, we have been able to host other key services run by the Alzheimer’s Society (Dementia Café), Compton Care (Bereavement Information Hub), St John Ambulance, Prince’s Trust, Wolverhampton College and Police and Community Together forums amongst others.
What has been your greatest achievement?
A lot of what we have achieved to date is thanks the dedication and commitment of our core team of volunteers. Having only one paid member of staff has meant the support of committed volunteers has been key to running our popular in-house activities. So, it is without doubt, that everything we have achieved to date, couldn’t have happened without our volunteers and for this, we thank and honour them.
An excellent reflection of this is our Foodbank. The pandemic has resulted in unprecedented challenges that have interrupted the status quo and pushed us to innovate and adapt to ensure that we keep on meeting the needs of the community we serve. As a result, we set up a Foodbank at the very start of the pandemic that has been run by a very dedicated volunteer coordinator and a small team of committed volunteers. To date, the Foodbank has distributed over 12,000 food parcels in conjunction with the City of Wolverhampton Council and through a network of local community organisations and schools. This service has been vital to alleviating increasing levels of food poverty in the city.
What is your experience of support received from WVSC?
WVSC have been key in supporting our organisation to develop from humble beginnings to where we are now due to the information, training and support they have provided. From the outset, Sharon Nanan-Sen has been a great source of encouragement, providing advice on various issues and opportunities. Throughout the pandemic, the online forum meetings have been helpful in updating the sector with key messaging. Thank you!
What is the most valuable lesson you have learnt about working with people in Wolverhampton?
One thing that has been very clear from working with local people is that they are proud of their corner of the world. They are proud to be from Bilston! This is especially true for the older generation, who see Bilston as separate from Wolverhampton, with its own identity, needs and challenges. It’s important that although Bilston is indeed a part of Wolverhampton, we recognise that local peoples’ mind set in this regard can be quite different and therefore, organisations working in the area need to be sensitive to the area’s unique culture and needs.
What are some of the challenges you face and how can WVSC help to support your organisation in the future?
As for all organisations in the voluntary sector, the pandemic has been devastating to our operating income. A substantial amount of our funds are raised through room hire and associated activities, so the pandemic has had a significant impact on this aspect of our fundraising. The support of WVSC will be important in supporting the sector to respond to these challenges, especially by ensuring that all organisations, no matter how small or known, are able to access new opportunities that may arise. Equally, it is hoped that WVSC will advocate for better joined up working across the sector so that more groups/organisations have the opportunity to succeed through greater integration in service delivery across the city.