This is part of a series of conversations with member organisations of the Connection Coalition.
All the Small Things CIC is a small social enterprise – they’re a Social Action Hub in North Staffordshire and are members of the Academy for Community Organising. They have seven Directors and a team of Associates, all self-employed or volunteers.
They provide training, mentoring and support for social action. They also lead projects, networks and partnerships with a focus on community practice that addresses local people’s priorities. The main themes of their work currently are tackling poverty, cohesion and loneliness through connection and inclusive volunteering and social action. Many of the people they work with are in Stoke-on-Trent, but they work with people from the wider area as well. As a snapshot of the kind of social action work they support people to take, a community member came to them very concerned that a local council were considering fining people if found sleeping rough with a tent – they encouraged them to organise a petition which was their first experience of social action. This helped convince the council to reject the idea.
Penny Vincent discusses what she’s most proud of, what their challenges are, what they can offer the network and what the network could do for them…
What’s your role at All the Small Things?
I’m Penny, one of the founding Directors, the lead trainer and partnership-worker.
10 years ago I was part of a team that started the 1000 Lives Community Network, funded by the NHS as a social action for health project, to connect volunteers and active citizens in Stoke on Trent for mutual support and resource sharing. At around the same time I hosted a group of trainee Community Organisers working in Stoke on Trent. We set up All the Small Things in 2015 to be the independent accountable body for the 1000 Lives Community Network, and also to be the home for Community Organisers in the area.
What do you love most about your work?
I love hearing people’s wisdom and experiences, and connecting people who have similar interests and concerns to share their stories and resources to get started, maintain or develop their community activities. I also get a thrill from facilitating community learning and training, seeing people gain skills, confidence, knowledge and motivation to take collective action to tackle inequalities.
I’m proud of a few things! The difference that people we have trained, mentored and connected over the years continue to make in our communities, through charities, community groups, campaigns, and in the public and private sector too.
I’m proud to have personally survived the Covid-19 pandemic so far. I’ve become a carer, shifted all my work online, and continued to work from home or outdoors to shield my partner due to his long-term health condition. I’ve also started working part-time at the Jo Cox Foundation to support and develop the More In Common Network around the UK.
And I’m proud that Al the Small Things has survived and responded to the pandemic and the cost of living emergency by finding new ways to connect people, provide training and facilitate projects. We’ve spent 2022 undertaking a full Organisational Review and now have a strong focus and great action plan for our development.
What’s your biggest challenge?
We’re still very challenged by the impact of the pandemic. In 2020, moving support online enabled a lot of people to take part more easily – including disabled people who are often excluded. However, people who are digitally excluded were less able to participate. Since we were able to have physical gatherings, our online participation has more or less dried up. This means that I, and other carers and disabled people who are vulnerable to Covid-19, are excluded.
We need to reconnect with people we’ve had relationships with and continue to reach new people, to listen to understand what their concerns are now, and their support needs in relation to collective social action.
Hybrid meetings are too resource-intensive and expensive for us. We’re trying to find ways to organise socially distanced meetings outdoors, which worked well until winter.
People volunteering or taking social action, or who want to, are experiencing barriers because of limited finances and facilities. People’s priorities are not necessarily about attending training or networking events or peer support sessions.
What can you offer other members?
Our working process is all about sharing. The 1000 Lives Network created a simple system of resource exchange we call Got It Want It which other members may find helpful. We also provide training in community organising and social action, and facilitate peer support sessions for other community helpers. I’d be really happy to share our models for these with people in the Coalition.
How can other members help you?
To hear from you, to share your experiences of adapting throughout the pandemic and to build our network for solidarity to sustain us and enable us to collectively address the challenges for our communities. I’d particularly love to hear from anyone else facilitating social action by people in their communities.
How does your organisation’s future look?
We’re in a period of transition and have two current commissions from partners. Under One Roof is a community heritage project based in and around a local Church and we are their project managers. We facilitate quarterly Community Share Network events online for the Totally Stoked project in North Staffordshire. Through partnership working and grant applications we’re seeking to develop our work as a Social Action Hub, from our base at the Church, to progress collective action around poverty, cohesion, loneliness and inclusion and maintain the 1000 Lives Community Network.