Emerging from lockdown with a new look – and a new emphasis in our name.

We’re nearly there for welcoming more members back to SoLO – our planning continues to ensure everything is as safe as we can make it and like everyone in this strange world we’re all in at the moment, we’re cleaning and spacing for appropriate social distancing. Like many organisations, we’re facing the challenge of changing the way things can be done. We successfully enabled our children’s services to continue over the Easter holidays and now we’re re-introducing our adults’ opportunities in our new Pods. We’ve been contacting our members and further details will be sent out over the next couple of weeks. Our PA service has continued to run to support members in their homes and we have Personal Assistants ready and waiting for those who would benefit from additional support.

As you may know, before the lockdown we were most of the way through a review both of our website, and of how we present ourselves more generally. The review included asking members, their families and SoLO staff for their views. Lots of the replies suggested that our website should be as user-friendly, helpful and professional, as SoLO itself.

Since then, the lockdown period has brought home, quite distressingly in many cases, how hard it can be to go without meeting friends to work and have fun together. The need for a varied, interesting social life has been demonstrated, by its removal. This convinced the trustees that the time is right for a new emphasis in our name. We are still SoLO but, whereas SoLO has, for years, been short for SoLO Life Opportunities, we are changing that to Social Life Opportunities. As we offer services beyond Solihull we removed Solihull from our name a few years ago but it remained as part of our website address. We’re also now picking up on another point which featured strongly in feedback – an association that new people potentially think we’re an agency for single people.

Our new look is “live” now, though, because of lockdown, we are still not permitted to offer the full range of features on the website. One of the practical highlights – being able to book and pay for activities online – will be available as soon as we’re able to add it. Feel free to browse and to let us know what you do and don’t like about it (we’re bound to have got some things that need tweaking!).

We’ll continue to be in touch with you and we look forward to seeing you, as well as hearing from you, as soon as circumstances allow.


It’s amazing what great partnerships can do!  We are very lucky at SoLO to have the support of some really great charity partners – and we all benefit!

As the season of goodwill approaches, we would like to show our appreciation and shout out a huge thank you to them all.

Our charity partners support us in so many ways – finding out what we’re all about, raising awareness on our behalf, spreading the SoLO word, and then gradually getting more involved as they journey with us.

From  in-house events to joining in with SoLO activities, by giving of their time and talents, spending time with our members and coming back for more – because they can see at first hand exactly why we do what we do – this is the stuff of making a difference to the communities we are all part of and forging lasting relationships – with memorable experiences for all.

Thank you to all our community partners – you’re all amazing and we couldn’t do what we do without you!

Community Spirit

Community spirit is never so palpable as when something happens to a member of that community which seems unfair or worse.   Although bad things happen, good often comes out of it, you find out who your friends are and you make some lovely new ones into the bargain!  Knowle Masonic Charity and the Smile Charity came up trumps when our recently acquired garden water feature went for a walk and Marston Green Lions have also responded and expressed interest in funding some new or replacement equipment that will support our members.    We are very grateful to them and to all those who help turn the bad news into good news with their responses.

We have been very fortunate to work with Knowle & Dorridge Lions for the past year as well and have had much fun along the way.  The recent presentation evening was a tribute to many unsung heroes who are doing amazing things for their own community and some of the youngsters in particular had made their mark in far flung communities with the aid of bursaries to help those less fortunate than themselves.  The lesson there is about valuing people for who they are and what they can achieve just by being their wonderful selves – and that is so true for our members with a learning disability.

Surprise Sunshine for SoLO

Letters can be lovely!  You never know what to expect in the post these days but this week we were thrilled and very surprised to discover that SoLO is to benefit from a legacy!  It seems that there are generous folk out there who wish to benefit charitable organisations in their endeavours and have found a way to support.   It is a wonderful boost to organisations such as SoLO trying to do the best they can for the families they serve.

What a difference a day makes – and what a difference we can make to the lives of our members and their families with such support.

We are very privileged to be the recipient of such generosity and we give thanks.

Community Partners

SoLO is very fortunate to have the opportunity to go out into the community and be part of amazing events in order that others are supported to do the things they do.

From a Solihull Radio spot to Smarties quiz evenings, from green token schemes to bike rides and fun runs to feeding people luscious cakes – the possibilities are endless!

We have some amazing partners at the moment who are getting behind us and getting involved in the various events we have going on – this is so great – as it spreads the SoLO word, gives people a different opportunity and – most of all – enables us to support our members to live the life they deserve.  At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about!

Huge thanks to everyone supporting us at the moment and if you are not already on board we would love to hear from you!

Dates for your diary:

  • 19th May: Knowle Fun Run
  • 9th June: Wren Hall Teas
  • 14th July: Heart of England Bike Ride

Thanking our current partners: Coventry Building Society, Knowle & Dorridge Lions, Smart Homes, Gro-Organic, HSBC, Solihull Moors, Mountain Warehouse, Sheldon Hall

SoLO in the Community

The Knowle Fun Run is fast approaching and the heart of England Bike Ride is not far behind!

Knowle & Dorridge Lions are doing a wonderful job but they can’t do it without their friends.  SoLO and Sepsis Trust are delighted to be partnering with them this year as they strive to  support their local community in the way they do best.

The Festive Walk, the Fun Run and the Bike Ride are annual events that bring together so many wonderful people going – literally – more than the extra mile so that others can benefit.

These events would not happen at all without the marvellous volunteer support that they attract – from the marshalls along the route, the water stations, the t-shirts, the numbers, the registrations, the course organisers – there are so many ways to get involved.

SoLO and Sepsis Trust have a marvellous opportunity to be part of these events this year – the Festive Walk was amazing – and we would love you to join us – the dates for your diary are: 19th May for the Fun Run and 14th July for the Bike Ride.  We would love to hear from you if you have a few hours to spare – come and be part of something amazing – for just a few hours, you can make such a difference!

Partnership – the way forward

There is always more than one way of doing things – and often two heads are better than one!

SoLO is very fortunate in having some great partners to work with – there are some amazing people out there who are working with us and supporting what we do – together we can make such a difference to our communities!  Just to highlight a little of what is happening in this area – but by no means exhaustive:

Screwfix Foundation came to visit us last week, following a successful application last year – liked what they saw – and offered us the chance to apply again – marvellous!

Knowle & Dorridge Lions value their charity partners to support them in their community endeavours so that they can do even more and make the funds go further.  Following the very successful Festive Walk back in December, we are now heading for the 36th Knowle Fun Run on 18th May when so many wonderful people will come together for the benefit of others – and SoLO is proud to be a part of it!

Equally the Dorridge Fun Run on 2nd June will be a shining example of a community coming together for an event that can be enjoyed by absolutely everyone.  We are delighted to be supporting this once again – marshalling along the route, serving much-needed refreshment and giving our members and supporters a chance to be involved  – what more could we want!

We are delighted to be associated with Solihull Moors who support so many of our members in their community activities and have named us as a charity partner with a view to even closer joint working to further support those disadvantaged in our community.  We look forward to the continuation of a fruitful relationship as we strive to support our members and their families in the best way that we can – together!

It has been said that the more you put in, the more you get out – and that is certainly true of partnership working – long may it continue – for the benefit of all!

Festive Fun-raising :)

As we move into 2019 – with its various challenges (known and unknown) to come, we at SoLO can be buoyed up with the festive spirit demonstrated to us by some wonderful community-minded individuals coming together in their own time to do their thing for others.  Whether it was dressing up in festive finery (bikes and selves!) to cycle in a good cause – or turning up in droves for the annual festive walk – SoLO has a lot of amazing people to be grateful for.

During 2018, Prime Accountants had already shown us the way to go by their sheer tenacity to go the extra mile to support others whilst challenging themselves at the same time.  Partnering with SoLO and Zoe’s Place over a two-year period they created several challenges and raised a staggering amount.  (I can tell you that a “space hopperathon” challenge is not to be taken lightly!)  We wish them well in their new partnerships for 2019 as we say a huge thank you to them from all of us.

  • Coventry Building Society organised a “Coventree” encouraging their customers do donate festive gifts as well as a Wonderland event where we were able to promote and raise £170
  • we received kind donations of festive selection packs from various organisations and individuals so that we could organise Christmas parties for our members, safe in the knowledge that Santa would have some help
  • Dynamic Rides, Hockley Heath, organised a festive cycle ride and raffle for us, raising a staggering £1000
  • the annual Festive Walk organised by Knowle & Dorridge Lions will have raised over £9000 for local causes, including their partner charities SoLO and The Sepsis Trust
  • Dorridge Methodist Church Christmas service collection donated £265
  • Solihull Care Housing Association donated £50 instead of sending staff Christmas cards
  • Explain Market Research donated £20 as SoLO had been nominated by one of their market research participants

Yes the sums raised have been amazing – but, equally so is the goodwill – the willingness and dedication of so many individuals who give their time to do something amazing for others – and have such fun at the same time.  And it’s not over yet!  We are lucky to have so many opportunities – to get involved, to support our members and to have fun at the same time.  If you would like to see what it’s all about, we would love you to join us for any of the following:

Friday 8th February – Murder Mystery Evening at Hogarths Hotel – come prepared for a night of mystery and intrigue, laughter and fun.  You’ll have the opportunity to question suspects in a murder investigation to solve the crime.  There will be twists and turns throughout the evening, along with prizes to be won from our raffle and auction – and finishing with a disco to dance the night away – what more could you want!   Click on the link to find out more www.eventsforce.net/solomurdermystery

Sunday 8th May – Knowle Fun Run – support SoLO by entering as a runner or volunteering as a marshal.   Further info from http://www.knowlefunrun.org.uk/

Sunday 2nd June – Dorridge Fun Run – we are delighted to be a partner charity again for 2019 and look forward to an amazing day.  You can choose to walk, run, cycle, marshal or help in the tea room.  Further info from http://dorridgefunrun.org/

For further information, contact Maria, Fundraising Co-ordinator on 0121 779 3865 or email her on  m.brown@solihullsolo.org.  She will be delighted to hear from you.

Thank you and look forward to what’s in store to ensure SoLO can support existing and new members.

Christmas Greetings

This will be my last blog as the CEO of SoLO as I retire at the end of the month.  Each year, for probably the past 15 years, I have inflicted one of my dreadful poems onto my staff at Christmas.  This year I have asked a much more gifted Poet, Joe Down, to craft a fitting poem to reflect on my 18 years of working with SoLO and here it is:

The SoLO Christmas Tree

It started small some years ago,
Strong and proud but yet to grow,
A spark of life in fallen snow
Roots pushed deep into the earth below
And forward came, from local lands
Kind hearts, and souls with gentle hands
Who lifted from dusty boxes and shelves
Baubles and tinsel, and reindeer and elves.
And hung those few gifts upon that small tree,
In pride of place for the world to see,
And when each year they returned they found,
More decorations gathered round,
And more kind hands to place them true,
Upon the boughs and branches new.
So on it went, and on it goes,
through summer sun and winter snows,
Through autumn rain and springs first dew,
The decorations came, and the tree? It grew.
And though some kind hands and hearts and souls,
Moved on, were lost, or just grew old,
More would lift the gifts in turn,
And from the old, the young would learn,
The same simple message they bore
Our Christmas tree always has room for one more.

I wish all of the staff, volunteers, members and supporters of SoLO a very Happy Christmas and New Year. 

Janet Down MBE

Fundraising Fun with our supporters

Coventry Building Society had to cancel their Winter Wonderland event at the RICOH Arena on Sunday because of the weather conditions which was such a shame – but they are not downhearted.  They are back on the fundraising trail for SoLO today – making up sweet cones to sell in branch.  Huge thanks to Sue and her team for all their support this year – we really appreciate it 🙂

Festive Fun

The fun you can have in SoLO!  Today I was delighted to join Lion Paul Wheatley and Paula Evans from Sepsis Trust to kick start this year’s Festive Walk which will be held on Thursday 27th December at Baddesley Clinton.  Come and walk off the Christmas pud and bring your family and friends!  You will be supporting SoLO and Sepsis Trust and other local causes will also benefit.

This is an annual event run by the Knowle & Dorridge Lions and there will be mulled wine and mince pies to reward you!  There are several routes so if you don’t feel like the 8 mile hike, you have 3 other choices from a mile and a half upwards..

Half the proceeds will go to Lions causes and the other half will be split between Sepsis Trust and SoLO so we are very grateful to the Lions and look forward to a wonderful day.

Volunteers always needed to support the day and if you are walking, put 27 December in your diary now and visit www.knowleanddorridgelions.com/walk for more details and to download a free registration form to complete and bring with you.

Fundraising in the Community

SoLO and Co-op Shelly Farm say a huge thank you to generous Co-op members and customers who have supported SoLO over the year to the tune of the grand total of £2,848.54.  Maria and Scott visited the store recently to accept the presentation cheque from the Co-op manager Rachel.  Co-op raises around £19 million for good causes nationwide by customers voting for their favourite local cause and SoLO was pleased to be one of them this year.  Help make a difference in your local community!

SoLO resorts to murder to plug gap on funding

You will no doubt have read about the recent loss of funding for adults with a learning disability who do not meet the criteria for adult social care provision.

Read the Solihull Observer News Article Here

SoLO are fighting back to keep these services running and we are now resorting to murder!

Don’t be too alarmed, we have not lost our heads!  Our volunteer fundraising team are organising, with the support of Cat Williams, a most dastardly murder mystery evening on 8th February at Hogarths in Dorridge.  As well as great fun with high class entertainment, there will be a wonderful three course dinner, disco and an opportunity to dress up!

Fancy your chances as a sleuth?  Reckon you are the next Poirot?  Or perhaps feel aligned with Miss Marple?

Tickets are now available, and selling fast – click on the link below and you, too, can help solve who the culprit is and help SoLO raise much needed funds.

Partnership Working at its best!

Here at SoLO we love partnerships.  How right was John Donne when he wrote the poem “No man is an island” and we constantly see the benefits of linking with others to serve our local community.

The YAS Alliance met yesterday for their quarterly meeting to review the partnership work that is currently focused at the Meriden Adventure Playground in Chelmsley Wood.  Representatives from MAPA (Meriden Adventure Playground Association), Urban Heard, Gro-Organic and SoLO met together to reflect on the first three months of activity funded by the Youth Investment Fund and the Big Lottery.

What a lot has happened!!!  We shared the work that Gro-organic are doing with young offenders, the provision that MAPA are providing for those not in education, the starting of the satellite youth workers who will be interacting with young people who don’t want to engage.  Urban Heard shared about the relationships they are starting to build with young people to encourage social activism and SoLO workers are excited about the new activities that are springing up for children with disabilities including a sleep over this weekend.

We are sharing training across the organisations, volunteers and expertise. MAPA has benefitted from the skills of Urban Heard with a fresh re-brand, SoLO benefitted from the skills of Gro-organic to help them upload evidence on the YIF Portal, all partners are benefitting from access to SoLO’s on-line training portal.  There was energy, fun and collaboration evidenced at the meeting and real excitement for the future.  This coupled with some connections being brought in with local businesses supporting this amazing provision in an area of great need – marvellous!

Fundraising madness!

Congratulations to the Prime team who spaced hopped from Solihull to Hatton on Saturday to raise funds for SoLO.  Their Coventry colleagues started out from their office base to do the same for Zoe’s Place.  Prime are partnering both charities for two years and take their fundraising very seriously as you can see!  This is the latest in their calendar of events  and I’m sure there were some seriously sore muscles at the end of the venture – as well as some trashed space hoppers!   It can’t be easy hopping on pavements or canal towpaths for any length of time (I tried it for about 3 minutes when I met up with them in Knowle!)  Thanks guys – it’s amazing what lengths people will go to for the sake of charity – and we are so grateful!

Launching SoLO’s new Strategy for next five years

I would like to thank everyone who has had input into our strategic planning process – from the start of the star catching process, to the star gazing sessions and then to the helpful feedback on the draft strategy.

SoLO has always been a forward thinking organisation and in 2018 we have extended our boundaries of consideration – to the skies!  Our Strategy will shortly be available on the website in full for you to read – in our corporate section and will form the basis for our new developments as we move forward.

Our journey to get where we are today has been supported by a wonderful team of staff and volunteers who have given their time, skills and energy selflessly to benefit our members.  When we look at the portfolio of experiences that are now on offer for children, young people and adults with a learning disability to enable them to grow, develop and achieve – it is small wonder that we are ambitious for the future.

Onwards and Upwards!

The state of caring 2018

Oh my, the recent report written by Carers UK as a result of their research with 7,397 carers does not paint a particularly positive picture. Given that the value of the informal support that they provide for their loved ones is worth more than the NHS’s annual budget in England (estimated at £132 billion per year) this is very worrying.

40% of unpaid carers said they had not had a break in over one year, whilst 25% had not received a single day away from caring in five years.

72% of those currently providing care said that they had suffered mental ill health such as stress or depression as a result of caring, whilst 61% reported that their physical health had worsened as a direct result of caring.

What worries me, even more, is that 23% of carers stated that they had refused health and care support due to concerns over quality. Not surprisingly, therefore, is the fact that 1 in 7 carers reported that they receive less care or support services from last year due to a reduction in social care.

On a positive note, 67% had received a carer’s assessment in the last 12 months.  Although the cynic might comment that it isn’t much use knowing what support you need, if you can’t access it or the support offered is of too low a standard.

Carers, as we know, face issues that are related to not being able to work or not being able to hold down a full time, high paid job. Further research has shown that 2.1 million informal carers are in poverty, and 35% reported that they had to give up work to provide care.

The most disturbing finding, I feel, is that 50% of the carers expect their quality of life to get worse in the next 12 months.  This is so worrying, because in the hardest of times, the presence of hope is what keeps us going.  For 50% of the carers involved in the survey, this hope has gone.

The report goes on to make recommendations and I sincerely hope that these recommendations will be listened to and acted upon.  Carer’s allowance needs increasing to, at least, the level of Job Seeker’s Allowance with the earnings threshold changing to enable carers to work more flexibility.  Also – with many carers caring for the long term, there needs to be some form of allowance made in the form of a carers pension.  It is hardly fair to expect someone to give the best part of their working life up to provide care for a loved one to then leave them impoverished in their older years.  Health services need to work more at valuing and supporting carers.  There needs to be an increase in funding for care services to ensure that the quality is delivered and maintained and carers breaks need to be funded in a transparent way that is fair to everyone.  There are further recommendations for employers  in relation to flexibility for carers which most should be able to put in place (if not already doing so).

At SoLO, Carers are at the heart of what we do.  In providing care and support for children, young people and adults with a learning disability, their parents and carers are pivotal to their whole experience and we work closely with them to ensure that we get it right, not only for the individual we directly support, but for their whole family.  We see, first hand, the challenges that are faced day in, day out by carers and the immense strength that they have as they face these with (on the whole) an amazing strength of character, optimism and fortitude.  We only provide a small amount of support, compared to the 24/7 support provided by their carers, but know that this is essential to enable them to carry on and have hope for the future.

If you wish to read the whole report, it can be found at https://www.carersuk.org/for-professionals/policy/policy-library/state-of-caring-2018

Children in Need – a first for Becci!

Becci is seen here talking to the Children in Need Officer to take our bid for funding to the next stage.

At SoLO, we try to offer our staff opportunities to develop and this week was Becci’s turn.  Becci Fox is a Children’s Manager who also supports some cover at Senior Management Level.  Over the past few months, she has been working on a Children in Need Bid to bring in funding for Fun Factory and to enable those on low incomes to access our sleep ins.

Well….. today we progressed to the telephone interview stage and Becci did wonderfully!  The Grants Officer actually commented on how well the bid had been put together – so pretty good for a first timer!

We now have the nail biting wait to see if we will get the project funded… watch this space!

RIP Hazel

It is with great sadness and a mixture of pride that I reflect on the passing of one of our valued members of staff – Hazel Nixon.

The sadness stems from a life cut short, way before her time and the many, many family members and friends who will mourn her passing.  The pride comes from the difference she made to the lives she touched which was evidenced by the number of her SoLO colleagues who turned out for her funeral.

There were many lovely memories shared of a funny lady who enriched both her colleagues and the members of SoLO that she worked with.

The world is a slightly sadder place but her legacy lives on.

SoLO says ‘YAS’ to £600,00 funding for Adventure Play!

Funding of £600,000 has enabled 4 successful community organisations to join together to improve the life chances of children and young people in North Solihull.

The money is from the Youth Investment Fund, which is jointly funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and the Big Lottery Fund, using money raised by National Lottery players.

This new partnership called YAS (Youth Adventure Synergy) is comprised of SoLO Life Opportunities, Gro-Organic, Urban Heard and Meriden Adventure Playground Association.

Meriden Adventure Playground which, through the power of community action, remained open despite threats of closure in 2017, is now the base of the YAS programme, which brings together these organisations with one goal – to develop resilience in young people.

The YAS Partnership puts young people at the centre of all that they do, allowing them to build, develop and most importantly have fun.

Through this initiative young people from North Solihull have the opportunity to get involved in horticulture, building, marketing, paid work, event management, social action or they can just go and be kids; build fires, chop wood or fly through the sky with the playground’s undeniably unique swings, platforms and climbing frames. There really is something for everyone!

On top of this, SoLO, a well-established disability charity in Solihull, will grow the current programmes for children and young people with disabilities supported by specialist workers and volunteers. This will build on the inclusive approach already present in the playground and ensure that children and young people with disabilities are able to take an equal part.

Janet Down MBE, CEO of SoLO (the lead organisation in YAS) commented: “This is a really exciting programme to be apart of. It is no accident that we have chosen synergy in our partnership name because we have already seen the benefits of working together and this is just the beginning! We are hugely grateful to the Colebridge Trust (The Volunteer Infrastructure Organisation in Solihull) for their support in the bid writing stage”

Dawn Austwick, Chief Executive of the Big Lottery Fund, said: “This funding will help provide more opportunities for young people to build their confidence, discover new talents and reach their potential. It will be great to see young people getting involved in the design of these activities, making sure they reflect what matters to them and their lives.”

Over the next three years YAS will develop the service to offer opportunities for young people, 5 days a week, and will engage hundreds of young people. It crucially fills a gap within an area that has the challenges associated with deprivation. However, through YAS, young people will be given a chance to develop new skills, live healthier lives, build self-esteem with the aim to positive lifelong changes for the future.

contact Janet Down on 07947898220 or janet@solihullsolo.org

Meriden Adventure Playground current opening hours are Tues – Fri 3:30 – 6:15pm Sat 10:30am-2pm and 3pm -6:15pm

The £40 million Youth Investment Fund is jointly funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Big Lottery Fund using money raised by National Lottery players. 91 youth organisations across England have now benefited from funding. New Philanthropy Capital and the Centre for Youth Impact are working with all the organisations supported by the programme to evaluate the impact of their work with young people.

Fundraising Partners and Heroes

We are delighted to be involved with, and enjoy the support of, all of these organisations and more.