Chronic Pain Awareness Group – Grant received: £4,293  

Started as a coffee morning after her mum was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, founder Kerrie Barrett wanted to create a space where people with chronic pain could support one another. Since then the group has grown, now welcoming around 20-25 people weekly including those who experience chronic pain, mental illness and carers.

‘Those who suffer with invisible illnesses are prone to loneliness’ Kerrie told us. ‘Even with family and friends around, not having someone who understands what you’re experiencing can be isolating’. The group enables people to support one another and through fundraising and small grants arranges activities such as Christmas meals for adults and days out for children who are also carers, including cinema trips and Halloween parties.

During lockdown the group managed to stay in touch through Facebook and from the dedication of Kerrie and another trustee, who called members on a regular basis and opened up their gardens to welcome small groups, once restrictions eased. ‘We have a very inclusive approach’ said Kerrie ‘Our motto is ‘Don’t suffer alone, together we are warriors’ and we stand by that. We don’t want anyone to feel left out, so finding premises that would allow us to welcome everyone was important’. 

The group found suitable accommodation in Deer Leap Hall in East Swindon where it can welcome everyone safely. This grant will provide them with the funding to pay for 12 months of room hire and running costs. If you suffer from chronic pain, mental illness or are a carer and would like to come along to the sessions or find out more, visit the group’s Facebook page and send a private message to Kerrie Barrett.

The Recovery Tree – Grant received : £4,562

Since 1998, The Recovery Tree has been empowering people in Swindon with mental health needs to build their confidence, learn new skills and build friendships. They focus support around three sites:

• Twigs – a three acre garden where people can experience the therapeutic and healing effects that comes from gardening, woodworking and spending time with nature

• The Olive Tree Café – where people are supported to build their confidence and learn new skills such as team work and customer service, enabling them to live more fulfilling lives

• Pinecones Café – where community lunch clubs held weekly provide a space for people to branch out into their wider community

‘People often come to us lacking in self-confidence, shy, withdrawn and unable to make eye contact.’ said Gillian Barber, one of the charity’s dedicated trustees. ‘To then see them grow in confidence and happiness, learning new skills in either TWIGS or The Olive Tree Café and making new friends is amazing. It's heart-warming to see the same person, months after starting with the charity, greet you with a big smile and clearly with a sense of belonging."

The café has a thriving customer base including people with disabilities and their carers, families and those experiencing loneliness. When it was forced to close in March, those it supports were left without its services, throwing many back into loneliness and isolation. The inspiring team that support the charity worked hard to maintain contact through telephone calls and by making gardening boxes to drop at doorsteps. As restrictions have eased slots at Twigs and some of the café services have been reintroduced.

This grant will enable them to offer two work experience places in the Olive Tree Café and create an opportunity for more young people to dream, aspire and achieve. If you’d like speak to someone about how they might be able to support you or a loved one, contact Twigs on 01793 523294 and The Olive Tree café on 01793 533152 and ask for the Manager. Both projects are working at restricted levels at present.

The Olive Tree café has reopened with limited services, but the same warmth and friendliness and is welcoming customers old and new. Head to Manor Garden Centre, Swindon, SN2 2QJ and visit their website for information on opening times and booking requirements.

DASH (Discovering Autistic Spectrum Happiness) – Grant received: £5,000  

DASH is a local charity whose mission is to improve the quality of life for adults with aspergers and autistic spectrum conditions, living in the Swindon area. 

They have two main areas of focus:

• Autism Matters Service – whether it’s supporting individuals to complete paperwork for moving house, signposting to mental health advice or speaking to employers about how they can best support their employee who has an autistic spectrum condition, they have experienced advisors with the skills to help in all aspects of life. People are also referred to the charity by the NHS and it supports with post-diagnosis journeys and issuing autism alert cards for people to show to public sector workers such as the police or ambulance services

• Social groups – the charity runs social groups for people to meet peers, build friendships and broaden their support network. With two ladies’ groups, one for young adults and some general monthly sessions for people of all ages, they offer something for everyone

During lockdown, the charity’s Autism Matters Service was able to continue by email, telephone and WhatsAspp, but social sessions had to be cancelled. ‘Having to stop the sessions came at a time when people needed that emotional support more than ever’ said Gemma Owens, Manager at DASH. ‘For some people, having to wear masks when going outdoors just wasn’t something they could contemplate, and it was a confusing time in relation to what people could and couldn’t do’. 

DASH are hoping to restart their face to face social groups soon and this grant will be used in a variety of areas including to help the charity upgrade their website and online services, enabling them to support more people and covering the costs of having experienced advisors to support the Autism Matters Service.