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A heart for the community – Connecting Bowthorpe

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Connecting Bowthorpe is a collective of community volunteers from several organisations within Bowthorpe, all with extensive experience of community work and a real vision for the area, and with a long-term commitment to the residents of Bowthorpe.  

Their aim is to bring more community cohesion and access to much needed services. As part of their outreach, the team would like to offer space to organisations like Age UK, Mind, Citizens Advice, mental health services and children’s services to provide vital resources and services locally. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic they are: 

  • providing food parcels and recipe ideas to over 50 families  
  • distributing activity packs to residents over 50 years of age and to children  
  • organising litter picks when covid-19 restrictions allow. 

 

A bigger picture 

But that’s just part of what Connecting Bowthorpe already does. A walk around the vicinity of Bowthorpe Community Hub demonstrates just how many activities are provided locally, and how many facilities already exist thanks to the efforts of local volunteers. The dementia-friendly Oaks Friendship Group, based at Bowthorpe Community Church, was set up in response to council development of Bowthorpe Care Village is just one example of co-ordinated activity in the community, along with close connections to a wide range of providers and VCSE organisations.   

A partnership between Bowthorpe Community Church, local schools and NR5 Helping Hands saw the setting up of a successful food distribution project, with produce provided by Fare Share and Ormiston Food Bank. Connecting Bowthorpe sustains the venture in the greater Bowthorpe area, this always being part of the long-term vision for the future, even before Covid. 

The Team 

Helen and Dave Blake have been involved in community support work in the area for many years. Helen is currently chair of the food distribution committee and acting chair of the main committee and is at pains to emphasise the word ‘team’ in applauding the past and present efforts of a veritable army of innovators and volunteers.  

‘We have a heart for the community’ says Helen, expressing the volunteers’ commitment to those in the neighbourhood who need and rely upon the support of Connecting Bowthorpe’s help.  

Bowthorpe is an extensive community, with a high proportion of low-income families and older, single residents who have experienced isolation and loneliness over the past year. Mental health and wellbeing are major threads that run through Connecting Bowthorpe’s activities. Helen’s own commitment to the community is born of personal experience of difficult life issues and working through them; she qualified in Certified Personal Medicine training and has completed peer support training with Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. She understands and empathises with the mental health issues that have been made worse for many people by the pandemic. 

“Ours is a long-term vision of hope for the community of Bowthorpe. We aim to work alongside local schools, mental health services and other community groups and local organisations so that we can utilise the tremendous resources we have in this community. We are committed to continuing the Bowthorpe side of food distribution and thank West Norwich Helping Hands and Bowthorpe Community Church for the incredible service they have provided during the pandemic. We would love ideas for more projects and services we could bring to the residents of Bowthorpe, within constraints of donations, resources, buildings and time. We want to pool our resources, ideas, vision and time, and invite anyone in the area who might like to donate to us or join our team to contact us or, if you know of anyone in need, tell us!”  

Future plans 

Connecting Bowthorpe is working to establish a range of permanent community projects, hopefully centred on Bowthorpe Community Hub. The building is closed at present but Bowthorpe councillors are supporting efforts to bring the Hub building back ‘online’ in anticipation of it being a physical asset to the work - and a model of co-operation between large statutory agencies and small communities for their mutual benefit. 

Future plans include:  

  • continued local food distribution, with a long-term aim to provide a local food bank 
  • a community nature reserve to provide an eco-centre for exploring for families and schools 
  • working with Bowthorpe Arts Foundation to create a centre for the arts providing an educational base for lifelong learning for the Bowthorpe Potters group (this group has a commitment to using the arts to address mental wellbeing). 
  • more links to other services and community groups 
  • a community information café, alongside the food bank, allowing access to advice on benefits, savings, education  
  • a homework club and children’s library  
  • outdoor facilities to promote healthy living, including growing fresh produce and promotion of exercise such as cycling.  

 

“The idea is to work alongside local schools, mental health services and local community groups in building a lasting legacy” explains Helen. “We hope the amazing community response which came out of this global pandemic may provide a model for other communities in bridging gaps between voluntary and statutory services.”  

In common with other community support groups, the community effort in Bowthorpe has not begun and ended with the pandemic. It was there before and it will continue long after.  You can contact Connecting Bowthorpe at [email protected] or visit them on Facebook here.   You can read more about the community here.  

This is part of a series of examples of the huge contribution made by local VCSE organisations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. To understand more about the pivotal role played by Voluntary and Social Enterprise organisations in Norfolk’s Covid-19 response effort please visit our Norfolk VCSE Covid-19 Story page.