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

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

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.

SoLO accredited again with Investors In People Standard

Many years ago SoLO, when we were very small, we achieved our first accreditation from the Investors in People.  It was a big deal then as it reflected our organisation’s commitment to our staff and volunteers.  As we have grown, every three years, we have applied for re-accreditation and, as we get larger, investing in our individual staff and volunteer becomes more and more of a challenge.  There is always a danger, with growth in an organisation, that the core values are diluted and the approach to personnel becomes institutional and less person centred.

However, we are delighted to announce that yet again we have smashed the standards set by Investors in People and have scored highly in the IIP league tables.  In an overall benchmarking, where the average score is 726, SoLO scored 794 – so we are industry leaders.  This, in itself is really good but what it means is so much better.

So, what does it really mean for our staff and volunteers?

Our leaders inspire staff to be honest and work within our values, delivering services to our members that reflect our values of safety, trust, adaptability and resilience which in turn is providing quality to those who are experiencing all that SoLO offers.

People who are in the organisation are empowered, involved in decision making, encouraged to perform well and rewarded when they do well.  They know what to do and are given opportunities to be trained and skilled up.  They are involved in planning and the future of SoLO.

The whole process has been a valuable learning experience and there are areas that we will continue to develop.  As we consider our future strategy, will take on board some of the advice given for developing areas such as performance management, new ways of recognising great people and system changes to make processes slicker.

Always, at the heart of what we do will be the people we serve and the people who help us deliver our high quality services.

A huge thank you to our partners – Coventry Building Society

On Monday evening Maria Brown (SoLO’s fundraising co-ordinator) and Janet Down (CEO) had the lovely task of meeting with the amazing team from Coventry Building Society to receive a cheque for almost £2000 in respect of their fundraising efforts for SoLO over the past year.

If this wasn’t enough, they were also actively involved in fundraising events for Sports Relief with the Shirley Manager walking from the Shirley Branch to Sheldon in an attempt to increase her steps – now, there’s commitment for you.

This great band of staff have gone over and above the call of duty of the past twelve months and we are delighted to know that they will be continuing to support us in the coming year.

Thanks guys!

Golden Nuggets

This week was a Golden Nugget week.  When we are all in the midst of the busyness of life and the ‘nitty gritty’ day to day work, it is often easy to lose focus.

Friday evening at Sing for SoLO was a refocusing ‘Golden Nugget’ moment.


Well, it was a lovely concert – involving amazing people who have given up a huge amount of time to contribute to our cause and that is always so lovely and encouraging, but the Golden Nugget came in the form of a young person who was part of the SoLO Choir.

A year ago, she performed with the choir – I use the word ‘performed’ loosely, as she spent most of the time, on stage, with her head in her hands and, clearly, found the experience less than pleasurable.  However, with the support and guidance of an amazing dedicated, professional and skilled group of volunteers who run the SoLO Choir every week, this young lady has absolutely blossomed.  On Friday, she was confidently signing, singing and just loving the experience.

This was validated by two ladies who, with no knowledge or experience of people with a learning disability, commented to me on the amazing change that they, as part of the audience on both years, could clearly witness in this young lady.  One of the ladies commented:

“We just cannot get over the development in this young lady – you (SoLO) are doing an amazing work and we saw a small glimpse of the results tonight – keep doing what you are doing”

As we move forward and grow, we need to keep these nuggets and recognise that what happened on Friday didn’t ‘just happen’.  It was the result of years of hard work, determination, focus on quality, making hard decisions and keeping focus on what matters – our members experience.

Looking forward to the next Golden Nugget moment.

Shout it out for Sytner!

Thanks to the marvellous guys from Sytner who spent a back breaking day laying slabs for our new sheds at Walnut Close.  Not content with doing that, they also tidied up the willow den, cleared out the greenhouse, lay soil for grass seed and filled a skip.

They didn’t leave us a Ferrari to test drive – but I guess we can’t have everything!

They are obviously gluttons for punishment because they want to come back.

Thanks guys!

Turning down money!

The recent controversy over the Presidents Club has created a huge amount of discussion across the media about whether charities should turn down money if they are unhappy about how it is raised.

I, as CEO of SoLO was called by a local radio show to comment. The interview can we listened to on the Coventry and Warwickshire BBC website – where I spoke about SoLO’s approach to this dilemma.

Basically, I spoke that if an organisation is to work with integrity and keep to its values, it has to draw the line somewhere in relation to the source of it’s fundraising.  How can an organisation like SoLO which is built on respect for the individual link itself to activities that treat women with such little respect.  Earlier in the BBC interview, a local resident was berating Great Ormond Street Hospital for turning down the monies on the basis that a few individuals were making decisions about money that could benefit children’s lives. I agree it is a very difficult decision to make and the decision makers in the hospital and the other charities who returned money, must have had to look long and hard at the consequences of such an action. I know that my trustees have had similar conversations in the past and they are not easy.

However, sometimes, those who sit in governance have to make these difficult decisions and they have to make them in the best interest of the charity.  I would challenge, then, the criticisers of the charities who have stood by their principles and turned down monies on the basis of integrity and reputation, that whilst those charities might have gained some financial benefit if they had accepted the money, the long term consequences of being linked to dubious practises may well have impacted on their regular supporters.

It is never wise to go for short term gain that could then result in a long term loss.  And, as the CEO of a charity that stands on a values base that includes Trust and Integrity, I would have taken the same action as these charities and, at least, I would know that I would sleep at night.

Acts of Random Kindness

When looking back over the last year (which we all often do in this season) I am struck with the kindness of people.  We hear so much bad stuff on the news and we have experienced, first hand, the more unpleasant side of life (when we were burgled) but my overwhelming sense is that of gratitude for the general kindness of people who support what we do.  Below is some (and clearly not all) of the random acts of kindness that we have experienced:

  • One of our staff using his skills and talents, spent hours of his own time to make props for our members ball, fundraising ball and daylight programme – all added so much value to the programmes supported.
  • A random stranger, put £50 in an envelope and put it through our door when they heard about our burglary.
  • A local business man took time out of his busy week to visit us, do a survey of our security needs and is now organising grills for us and has committed to putting them in for free as well as paying some of the overall costs.
  • An older lady who has moved away from Solihull and has very little to do with SoLO, sent us £50 in a Christmas card to support what we do.
  • Countless people have taken time out of their busy lives to support the various Christmas events that we have been involved in and some have been sacrificial with their time.
  • Teams of staff volunteered their time to enable their members to attend the members ball (and they even paid for their own tickets!)
  • large corporate teams have been involved in so many fundraising activities over the past year and we have benefitted hugely from the money they have raised, but also from their enthusiasm and passion for our cause.

In a world where there is an emphasis on me and mine, at SoLO we are privileged to experience these random acts almost every day.

As we move into 2018, my wish is that we will all think of random acts of kindness that we can bestow on our fellow man and enrich their lives as so many have done this year for us at SoLO.

Fun at the Grotto

How much fun can you have at Santa’s Grotto?  A lot!

Ramping up to Christmas and the Grotto is open every day this week except Wednesday.  Elves and helpers have been working hard to assist Santa to give out presents to lots of excited children counting sleeps till the big day!

Wonderful people doing wonderful things

It’s panto day today at Orthodontic Excellence – oh yes it is!

Thanks so much to them for supporting SoLO and having such a fun time doing it!

Enhancing the orthodontic experience or what!

Thanks guys – we really appreciate it.

Votes for SoLO count!

Not only are we still in the Aviva Community Fund pot, we are also in the running for the  Co-op Local Community Fund – which is very good news!  Watch this space for a link and more information.

Voting is still open for the Aviva Community Fund so spread the word and keep voting for us! – Aviva Community Fund link

Your votes do count – so spread the word and vote for SoLO!

Thank you 🙂

Aviva votes still open!

It’s not too late to vote for SoLO in the Skills for Life Category – voting is open until 20th November and we currently have 192 votes – we need more!!  Not because we are greedy but because we want to give our members what they deserve.

If you haven’t voted yet, please follow the link below – and please share 🙂

“You are the light at the end of my tunnel”

This was a passing comment from a parent as she left the launch of our new build at Walnut Close on Wednesday.  What a wonderful thing to hear and it is reflective of how important services such as the ones that SoLO provides are.

We had a marvellous evening opening our new extended base at Walnut Close this week.  It marked the culmination of a period of hard work on behalf of the fundraisers who brought in the £145,000 needed to effect the build, the volunteers who painted the entrance and hallways, the builders who put up with the countless changes and ways that we could try to save money and get ‘more for less’, the staff who coped exceedingly well during the constant disruption, banging and moving of desks as well as pulling up their sleeves and helping with the final steps. Finally, we are grateful for the fortitude of our members, their parents and carers as they awaited the move back.

It was a joy to see the new facilities and know what a difference they would make, but the real joy was seeing some of our members, their parents and carers being involved in the launch and knowing the difference it will make.  It is also very exciting when we consider the new services that we are currently developing (and a little scary!) So, watch this space for more news on:

  • Supported Living – our new home in Olton is under refurbishment and will be ready for occupancy early 2018
  • Overnight breaks – the first one has happened and was amazing – the next one is shortly going to happen and was filled up 2 days after advertising
  • Evolve – we can now take more people on this wonderful day time activity programme for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities

If you want to find out more and can’t wait for the next blog, contact us at

Aviva Community Fund

SoLO is in with a chance to be the winning cause in the latest round of the Aviva Community Fund awards.  Voting opens tomorrow, 24th October so please spread the word!  We have until the closing date of 21st November to get all the votes in!

Please follow this link to vote for us:

We have entered in the Skills for Life category and have a chance of winning between £1000 and £5000 if we are successful.

Thank you for your support – we can’t do it without you!

A Hat Trick for SoLO

They say that you can wait for a bus for hours and then three come at the same time – well, the same can be said for Awards in SoLO’s case.

The first award was the MBE,  in June,  for our CEO, Janet Down, for services to children and adults with a learning disability in the West Midlands (and most of her work has been within SoLO)

The second award was two weeks ago when SoLO was awarded the Community Project of the Year Award from the Brummies 2017 awards programme.

And now, for our third award, SoLO picked up the Solihull Chamber of Commerce Award for most Outstanding Contribution to the Community in their 2017 Awards Night.

It is enough to know that we are providing a good quality service for our members and to see their development as they go from strength to strength, accessing more from life and reaching their potential.  However, it is rather nice to have external validation of what we are doing and it is lovely to know that people outside the organisation value what we do.

Thanks to Solihull Moors!

Thanks so much to Solihull Moors for enabling some of our guys from SoLO to experience a VIP opportunity at the match on Saturday.  They had an amazing time and even got to meet Darren Moore from West Bromwich.

What a difference a few weeks and some amazing workers make!

It has been so exciting to see the development of our extension at Walnut Close.  Our wonderful building team have become part of the family and we love having them with us so much that we are going to try to recruit them as volunteers!  Anyone wanting a personal recommendation for a really good, reliable and flexible builder, inbox us!

The upstairs office is now being painted and the new carpet tiles are coming in next week.  By the 4th October, when we will have a down tools day in the office, we should be able to move our newly configured teams into their new office environment and with a bit of man and woman power we will hopefully be straight and working efficiently by the end of week.

The downstairs is shaping up – the plasterers will be in at the weekend and then the specialist flooring will be put in during the first week in October.

We are planning to have our members back on site by the middle of October and Walnut Close will once again be the vibrant lively place it is whenever our members are with us.  I have to say it beats the drilling and banging that we have got used to over the last few weeks!

Still working to raise the final £35,000 to see the build complete – watch this space!

Fundraising Partners and Heroes

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