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

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 🙂

Fundraising Partners and Heroes

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