Welcome to the Big Society – Winslow style

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Winslow’s Big Society Group, which started life less than three years ago, now has eight different community schemes up and running, with more in the pipeline.

The organisation was set up by residents, in response to a talk given by Iain Duncan Smith to the Winslow Churches Together group.

Christmas lunch at Jennie Wren's Tea Rooms for the Friendship Lunch group last year

Christmas lunch at Jennie Wren's Tea Rooms for the Friendship Lunch group last year

With a committee of just seven people and no fundraising arm, not only has the group managed to get a whole range of ventures aimed off the ground but it also has cash in the bank to put towards future projects.

Grants have been received from the masons, Winslow Co-op, Winslow Town Council’s War Memorial Fund, Winslow county councillor John Chilver’s discretionary fund and Community Impact Bucks.

The group’s AGM last Thursday afternoon saw Jennie Wren’s Tea Rooms packed with about 30 people.

Chairman Vron Corben outlined some of the group’s achievements, including one of the first ventures, the Friendship Lunches.

The launch of the Community Car Scheme

The launch of the Community Car Scheme

Originally held monthly in Jennie Wren’s, they soon proved so popular that a second lunch had to be added every month.

About 40 people now attend over the two sessions.

The Gentle Walks programme, which started in April last year, is another huge success.

Originally held on the first and third Wednesday of every month, walks became weekly this April due to popular demand.

Activities in the Park

Activities in the Park

Volunteer walk leaders, including Winslow district councillor Sue Renshell, were trained under the Simply Walks programme run by Bucks County Council.

Aimed at people who cannot walk very far, including those with baby buggies, walks set off from Winslow’s St Laurence Room at 10am every Wednesday, and return there in time for tea, coffee and biscuits.

An average of 10 walkers attend and to date not a single walk has been cancelled, with walkers braving ice, snow, strong winds and heavy rain.

Group secretary Christine Dodds said: “When you see their faces and see the benefit the walks have for people, that’s what makes it so rewarding.”

New this year, a monthly Singing For Pleasure group has really taken off, with 25 to 30 people turning up to sing ballads, folk songs and songs from the shows at the monthly sessions.

A charge of £1.50 per person pays for the hire of the St Laurence Room and two volunteer pianists take it in turns to accompany.

The Winslow Community Car Scheme is also going from strength to strength, with over 50 journeys carried out last month.

Launched in February, with a small team of volunteer drivers, it is designed to provide a weekday daytime transport service for people with no other form of transport.

Journeys within Winslow include visits to the hairdresser, GP surgery or shopping, with charges due to rise to the princely sum of £1.20 in the new year.

Although set up with grant assistance, like most Big Society schemes the venture now pays for itself, with the income from charges just covering expenses and drivers claiming back a mileage allowance.

Due to demand, scheme organisers Bill and Bet Dobson are keen to recruit more volunteer drivers.

About a dozen people attend a Memories group once a month, where people reminisce over a cup of tea and a biscuit in Winslow Community Library.

A brand new weekly Gentle Exercise and Relaxation class started last Friday in the St Laurence Room.

Next year, the group hopes to put more emphasis on young families and children.

Committee member Sue Keane said: “We think of Winslow as being an affluent town, and it is. But there are a lot of people who come to Winslow and do struggle.

“I think our emphasis might move next year into young families.”

A series of Activities in the Park children’s play sessions the group organised in the summer holidays proved very popular, with families biring picnics and enjoying an afternoon on the sports field.

A large number of community organisations helped make the scheme happen, with the sports club giving free use of its field, toilets and tea-making facilities, Winslow Town Council loaning the gazebos and tables it uses for the farmers’ market, Treehouse Pre-school organising activities for tinies and Winslow Community Library loaning books for a storytime session.

Winslow Co-op donated £200, along with a further £239 which was collected from customers’ loose change.

For the new year, the group is looking at activities which match the young and the elderly together.