Charity inspiration interview - Chelford Together

Chelford Tenants and Residents Association

Originally set up to help local residents with the transfer from the local Council to a Housing Trust, Chelford Together, formally Chelford Tenants and Residents Association (CTARA), – a not-for-profit voluntary organisation – is still going strong ten years later.

Here, David Kent, secretary of CTARA, explains why there is a need for such an association in his local area, the issues that have cropped up along the way, and what other organisations and charities may be able to learn from his experience.

When and how did the dream of CTARA become a reality?

Really, CTARA was initially designed to look after tenants in the local area through the housing change; we’d have consultations with them and aim to look after them throughout the process. Yet, while other organisations tended to fold after the transfer took place, we began looking at other, more social, aspects of work within the local community – working with older people to reduce social isolation and loneliness.

What are the main drivers behind the concept?

When a person has no social contact or can’t leave their home, they can feel extremely alone. It’s actually a “hidden killer”, and something we wanted to change.

We are still there as a body for local people who may have problems with the council or their landlord, and we act on their behalf. But our social calendar is also proving to be extremely popular, and we have broadened our reach to appeal to the younger generation, too. In terms of properties, we mainly cater for older or disabled people, but our activities are open to everyone – all bar Age UK activities which have obvious age restrictions.

The main driver has been our desire to get people out of their homes – whether it’s to attend one of our lunch clubs, coffee mornings or coach outings. There’s always plenty going on, and we aim to have at least two activities per month – from quiz nights and bingo to nail painting and flower arranging – which we call “Flower Power”.

We also want to be able to give the older generation in the community the opportunity to learn how to use a computer. So much is done online these days, it’s important that they don’t feel excluded. We call this “Digital Discovery” and it’s great to hear that older people who have never used a computer before are now being able to Skype their relatives in another country, for example.

How many of you run the organisation?

There are around six people who run CTARA with me, plus 20 additional volunteers. However, we’re a not-for-profit organisation – not a registered charity – so we have no paid staff and rely entirely on volunteers! In terms of attendees, there can be anything from 35 at a luncheon to 200 for an event, such as our Summer Garden Party or Christmas Fair.

Have you faced any challenges along the way, and how have you overcome them?

Our main challenge has probably been sustainability, given that it’s increasingly difficult to get funding. We have received funding from various sources like Cheshire East Council, Peaks & Plains Housing Trust, Chelford Parish Council, Manchester Airport, to name but a few. In order to overcome this challenge we need to make very small charges – for example, the Age UK exercise classes are just £2 instead of the normal price of £4, which makes it a lot more accessible to elderly people who are on a tight weekly budget.

Getting sufficient volunteers can be a challenge, but we are spurred on by achieving some awards, which recognise our volunteers’ efforts. For instance, we won three awards for our Community Garden Project last year, and the icing on the cake was to be nominated for the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (for which we are still anxiously awaiting the result!). We feel this recognition helps our association grow and flourish.

Another challenge is that we have to constantly be thinking ahead and moving with the times. As generations start to phase out and new ones take their place, we have to remember to replace activities with up-to-date, popular choices. That’s also why we’ve introduced IT classes into our calendar.

Is there any advice you would give to other organisations or charities?

I would certainly say that you should try your best to stay focused and motivated, and always look at different ways in which you can diversify. I would strongly recommend attending courses, such as The National Communities Resource Centre at Trafford Hall – it’s an invaluable experience. You will be given advice on everything from how to market your charity to how to connect with your community and undertake fundraising – and you’ll also meet other people and network which is great for sharing ideas.

Through a collective voice, you can really make a difference. Make sure you listen to and share advice, as knowledge really does equal power.

CTARA website

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