October has been an incredibly busy month at The Mill. Following on from September’s launch, we have consolidated and developed our programme of activities – as can be seen from our developing programme and reportage on the website. As activities have started and developed, we have also started to earn room hire, which is crucial for our long-term sustainability. Some groups which started informally in the ‘living room’ have proved so successful that they have started moving into the space of the more private rooms at The Mill. The Coppermill Recycled Teens (over sixties) group and Asian Women’s Support Group have certainly already outgrown the public space and are doing amazingly well.
We’ve just finished half term and a packed programme of free family activities, organised by Mo and the staff and delivered by wonderful, talented volunteers, has proved extremely popular – oversubscribed in some cases. Meanwhile we have a new art exhibition ‘Multi Cultural Islam’ for Black History Month, which is informative and beautiful. And much fun was had over Halloween weekend.
October has also seen us make offers of grants to local initiatives, in response to an application round held in September. Many applicants received support from our Community Organiser, John – mostly applying for their first grant. We then had an independent Mill grants committee, made up of local people with grants and community expertise who are not otherwise involved in The Mill’s management (or with vested/conflicting interest in any of the applications), scrutinise the applications against the published criteria and make recommendations to the trustees.
We were stunned when we saw the quality of projects and resources offered as community match that came through the process, and only the desire to be able to run a second round of grants stopped us from funding more, but we were very happy with the projects chosen. We will publicise these more once all the successful applicants have accepted and met any outstanding conditions to do with their grants.
My blog questions from NESTA say next up is what has been challenging this month. No question about that – it’s our heating, or rather our lack of heating. When we took over the building, leasing it from the council, it had an old heating system that turned out to be completely defunct – in fact, the gas had been capped years earlier after it was closed as a library.
Our ward councillors have c£10,000 a year to award to local projects through the Community Ward Forum (formerly Community Council) system; they agreed it was a suitable project and we put a bid in in August to fund a good, energy-efficient heating system, for decision in September – or so we thought. The meeting has been rescheduled four or five times and is now scheduled for mid November; meanwhile we’re making do with a few plug-in heaters and keeping everything crossed that the temperature doesn’t drop too much – plus recognising that we may have to curtail our opening hours and rooms available if it does. This is nerve-wracking and frustrating, but hopefully the weather will be kind, the council or someone in the community might find a few more plug-in heaters to send our way, and then the end is in sight ! I hope to be toasting myself in The Mill as I write the November blog…
Grants were certainly a learning process for us this month – brought upon us by the Neighbourhood Challenge timescales, we have done our very best to run a transparent, well supported grants round and feel, on reflection, that we have largely achieved this. It is yet another example of a learning opportunity from this programme and our ambitions for The Mill – coming thick and fast, well-meaning and hard-working community members are gaining considerable skills and experience in the process of working and learning hard for The Mill.
We are also in the process of learning and hopefully doing better with our volunteers processes, which have been somewhat ad hoc up until now. I guess maybe we didn’t realise quite how many volunteers we’d get so quickly, and offering such a diverse range of talents, and now we’re learning all about volunteer strategies and supporting volunteers. We think we may well need someone to take a lead on this and that there may even be a grant application coming together for a volunteer programme that coordinates volunteer contributions and includes structured work experience for local young people – watch this space. But we are, meanwhile, incredibly grateful for all the input so far and for everyone working together to take this forward.
Meanwhile, I am incredibly proud of how well things are going, how many people are involved, and how incredibly hard everyone is working to make things happen. This is our greatest strength – the ever-increasing number and range of people involved, and the hours and talents that they are putting into the project, and that certainly includes the trustees and staff too.
I hope we can proudly report on a new volunteer strategy (as well as a heating system) next month…