County Durham Stroke Club
Founded in 2011 the stroke club meets twice monthly on Tuesday afternoons at Framwellgate Moor’s Bede Lodge Social Club and the majority of its 30 members are able to get to meetings under their own steam.
However, club treasurer, Mrs Isobel Wylie, explained: “About a quarter of those attending have no access to private or public transport and without the help of our three regular drivers - plus one reserve - they would otherwise be housebound. The freemen’s £500 donation will meet about half of our annual transport costs and for that vital support, alongside two previous gifts, we are very grateful.”
St Margaret’s Centre
For the past nine years St Margaret’s Centre too has received regular backing from the freemen which has played a key part in underwriting their financial future. For nearly 30 years the ecumenically-backed operation has supported many hundreds of attendees – and in recent years numbers have more than doubled.
At present 179 people are registered with the centre, their ages ranging from their late teens to their 80s. They take advantage of placements in all areas of the centre’s work which embraces woodwork, hospitality training, customer services training, horticulture and arts and crafts. Additionally 50 educational courses are available.
The current contribution of £500 will be invested in the continuing development of workshop training.
“We have long known the quality of the therapy delivered at the centre and had no hesitation in offering continuing support,” said trust chairman Eric Bulmer.
Solan, Connor, Fawcett Trust
Hundreds of individuals and families, whose lives are blighted by cancer, continue to be given practical day-to-day help and support by award winning charity leader Mark Solan and his team. He founded the Solan, Connor, Fawcett Trust over half a dozen years ago after cancer claimed the lives of his mother and grandmother.
The organisation gained charitable status in 2017 – the same year he was named a regional Pride of Britain winner – and two years later received further recognition for his community achievements with a national “Points of Light Certificate” from the then Prime Minister Theresa May.
Mark, operating from substantial premises in Spennymoor, can call on more than three dozen volunteers and a counselling service to deliver help. While the free service responds to individual pleas the trust also takes up referrals from Macmillan Cancer Support, St Cuthbert’s Hospice and the NHS.
Currently 162 people receiving treatment - their ages ranging from 11 months to 95 – are being supported, as are more than 70 in remission and over 100 recently discharged. More than 40 bereaved individuals and families are also getting help.
Tradesmen, cleaners and gardeners provide household services, while wheelchairs, mobility scooters and chairlifts are also on offer. Help with fuel costs, groceries and transport to hospital appointments is also available, along with access to a wig bank, treatment rooms, support groups, coffee mornings, social activities and day trips.
The freemen’s gift has helped fund the trust’s Christmas campaign, their most successful yet, with nearly 300 gifts distributed which have included a £30 Aldi card.
While TIN Arts offers inspiration to young people with learning disabilities, autism or additional needs, the Durham Area Disability Leisure Group (DADLG) delivers programmes of sport, social and leisure activities during evenings, weekends and school holidays at venues across the county. Both organisations, based in the city, will share £1,000.
TIN Arts, set up in the 1990s, delivers training and support from a dance studio in Framwellgate Moor’s Community Centre and strives to help its 80 young charges achieve their potential through movement and the wider performing arts.
Martin Wilson, the charity’s co-founder and executive director said: “We know some families are struggling to pay class fees and travel costs and plan to use the freemen’s latest donation to launch a support scheme which will run from January to March. We will waive lesson fees for a very limited number and discount fees for others. At the same time we will try, where possible, to give help with the cost of getting there and will target local businesses for additional help.”
Five years ago the centre, staffed by 13 full-time and part-time staff, supported by eight associated practitioners, gave their studio a major face-lift. At that time the freemen made a contribution to help cover redecoration costs, the inclusion of mirrors and dancing barres to support dance participants during their sessions.
The ages of those attending weekly sessions range from two to young adults up to the age of 24 but the dance studio facilities are also used by young disabled artists developing work for performance.
“We exist to inspire people of all ages and backgrounds to engage in movement and dance and the wider performing arts. We reach schools and local community settings, as well as help adults with learning difficulties access further and higher education,” said Martin.
Durham Area Disability Leisure Group
DADLG, founded by two postmen 40 years ago is based in Gilesgate’s Vane Tempest Hall. It is supported by the families of more than 200 children aged between aged from two up to 25 and beyond. In early 2019 they received help from the freemen with costs of launching a new youth club and an extension of other activities.
“In the wake of the pandemic, followed by the new financial pressures we all face, many families are reluctant to leave their homes except for work and school. With that in mind we want to enhance and expand what we offer at our youth club and the freemen’s latest gift will go a long way to allowing us to do that,” said project manager Lesley Clelland.
Among new features they hope will attract additional members are a multi-games table and table tennis table, as well as new board games and jigsaw puzzles. A rocket ship tent – to meet the needs of children with sensory needs – is also on their shopping list, along with a portable observatory to look at the night sky.
“All this equipment will be available at the Vane Tempest Hall but for all those unable to travel to us we plan to take the equipment to other venues in the city, Spennymoor and Newton Aycliffe – as a DADLG road show,” said Lesley.
Festive Cash For A Dozen Charities Will Benefit Thousands
The County Durham Foodbank - which provides emergency food parcels to thousands of local people in crisis - is the first of ten charities to benefit from a bumper festive hand-out of cash from Durham City’s Freemen.
Operated by Durham Christian Partnership from its central warehouse on the Drum Industrial Estate in Chester-le-Street, it is linked to 28 distribution points across the county. Last year the warehouse was responsible for putting together emergency food parcels for over 11,000 local people, nearly 4,000 of them children.
Against the current background of rising inflation and soaring food prices, the charity admits demand for its help has risen by approximately a third in the current year.
“Food donations are down this year as everyone is feeling the pinch and the money from the freemen and other donors allows us to buy in and top-up essentials to fill the gaps,” said Glen Jones, chairman of the board of trustees.
Eric Bulmer, chairman of the freemen’s charitable trust said: “A great many vulnerable people are facing a challenging winter and our aim is to offer some comfort to as many as possible. Food is a fundamental need and the warehouse and the outlets they supply continue to do sterling work.
“At this time we have also committed a further £1,000 to be shared equally by two other charities, one a Salvation Army sanctuary for those sleeping rough in Durham and the other a village primary school supporting vulnerable families.”
The Salvation Army offers practical solutions to homeless men and women facing winter weather on the streets. Contact through Sanctuary 21, the church’s haven in Saddler Street, offers a welcome and place of safety. Its warmth, hot drinks and food, available three times a week, serves to cultivate a platform of trust.
“Depending on changing circumstances we see between five and ten rough sleepers a week, some of them with complexities in their lives which can cause barriers. We have been very busy lately and the freemen’s gift allows us to offer some immediate solutions by providing a sleeping bag, backpack and range of warm clothing.
“We also work closely with the local authority’s rough sleeping team who can, through face-to-face conversations, address possible housing solutions. Additionally, if the individuals agree, we can put them in touch with drug and alcohol workers.” said church leader Darryn Hook.
The cash for the 200-pupil Silver Tree Primary School in Ushaw Moor ensures the continuation of a “life-line” launched two years ago. Supported by local community funding, it delivers direct help to families with youngsters at the school who are identified by the school, local community group, local churches and community workers.
Each Friday up to 20 parcels of fresh and long-life food – enough to last through a weekend – are handed to parents in crisis who can also get help to buy uniforms, winter coats and shoes. The school’s hardship fund can also offer additional help for any child facing further special needs.
“The freemen’s backing for our school since the scheme was launched in March 2020 guarantees this vital life-line which will continue to deliver during the coming winter,” said head teacher Mrs Natalie Maughan.
While the foodbank, the Salvation Army and the primary school are the first three charities to benefit from the freemen’s gifts, the trustees have also committed to handing a further £5,000 to nine more local organisations during the next two months.
“This is a time of year for giving and we are trying to reach as many people as possible across the widest range of age and ability. The other charities will be identified in December and January,” added Eric.
New Brancepeth Revelers
Members of a top marching jazz band returned from a national competition in Wales with an extra spring in their step after winning no fewer than a dozen first prizes and five runners-up spots.
And leading the charge was Elijah Stabler (pictured) who at just three years old was judged to be the best mini baton carrier. He was joined in his celebrations by his Nana, Sarah Stabler who is one of the kazoo marchers and Aunty Jessica Upton who leads the band
The New Brancepeth Revellers, established more than 50 years ago when Juvenile Jazz Bands were the rage, currently boast 49 members whose ages range from three to 60.
But without the financial support of the Durham City Freemen – a £500 donation from their charitable trustees – the band would have struggled to meet the costs of the three-day trip to Cardiff’s Sophia Gardens Sports Arena to take on 16 rival bands from across the country.
“Hiring the bus was £2,000 and there were other add on expenses including accommodation. Without the freemen’s generosity we would have struggled to raise all the money needed to compete. Thanks to them we had an absolute blast,” said band secretary Sharon Rank, who was a four-year-old member of the original band, founded in 1970. Now one of the oldest members she steps in to play the bass drum when required.
Over a decade ago the band, made up of adults, teenagers and children, was promoted to the national top tier after winning the national second division title.
Sharon explained: “We need a mix from across the generations because these days, unlike the 1970s, some of the instruments are heavy and need at least a teenager to carry them.”
The band is now back to weekly training sessions after life was put on hold during the pandemic.
“We are fortunate to have stayed together during that difficult time and have enjoyed a busy summer. The high point was undoubtedly the trip to Cardiff for the UK Marching Band Association’s main event,” added Sharon.
A constant presence since the band was first formed is Sharon’s dad, Dennis Rowland.
As a member of the Army Cadet Force he was initially recruited to provide a few weeks marching training back in 1970 – and has been a constant ever since. His dedication to both the band and the cadets earned him an MBE for his youth and community work in 2000.
Alan Ribchester, a member of the freemen’s charitable trust, said they had been “delighted” to help the band fulfil their ambition to take part in a national competition and shared the joy of their success.
“It is a pleasure to witness the commitment and enthusiasm of so many people across a wide age range as they bring continuing credit to their community. We congratulate them all on their latest achievements,” he added.
Brandon Carrside Youth Centre
From their centre in Brandon the Carrside Youth and Community Project embraces Meadowfield, Langley Moor, Ushaw Moor, Esh Winning and New Brancepeth, offering a year-round safe haven for young people to develop skills, learn more about themselves and take a more active role in their communities.
For a month, during late July and into August more than 70 youngsters aged 11 to 16 from families across the area, got the chance to enjoy a special programme of outdoor activities, offering new opportunities to build positive memories and experiences.
While Mondays and Tuesdays were reserved for community activities and craft workshops, Wednesdays and Fridays were set aside for off-site outdoor activities the centre’s older members would not normally have access to. The fun included horse riding, surfing, ice skating, bowling in North Shields, a sand castle competition at Whitley Bay, kayaking and raft building on the River Wear at Chester-le-Street.
At the same time an equal number of children under eleven enjoyed community sessions centred in Brandon and Esh Winning
As part of the same programme organisers provided opportunities to improve youngsters cooking skills, encouraged healthy eating and also provided healthy meals to combat their holiday hunger. Additionally, at the end of the programme, each participant left with a special cooking pack to take home for their family’s benefit.
All the summer-time escapades, which project co-ordinator Rachael Avery estimated had cost £14,000, was underwritten by grants and donations from seven benefactors.
“We are very grateful for the freemen’s generosity and it contributed significantly towards our programme and it has benefited families during this on-going cost of living crisis and the long six-week break,” said Rachael.
Eric Bulmer, chairman of the freemen’s charitable trust said: “We are pleased to support a local community group and its dedicated volunteers who are making a difference to the lives of young people, particularly in uncertain and challenging times.”
Craft Apprentices “Key In” To New Opportunities
Apprentices working for Durham University’s estates directorate have been handed the “key” to new computer and software equipment to support their training – thanks to the city’s freemen.
Craft apprentices have played a vital and unbroken role within the city’s commercial heart since the 14thcentury and a £700 donation from the freemen’s eight surviving craft guilds underlines their pledge to continue the proud tradition.
The university employs 60 plumbers, electricians, mechanics and botanical specialists with their estates department – among them six apprentices.
The new equipment will be available specifically for apprentices within the first stage of a training unit currently being developed in Green Lane.
David Profit, the university’s senior maintenance services manager, said: “Not everyone has easy access to specialist computer equipment outside of work or a suitable space at home in which to study. The freemen’s gift fills that gap and allow us to provide the space and time for apprentices to enhance their studies within an allocated room in the new training unit.
“In the face of the current shortage of trades and skills training is vitally important and we would not have been able to move as quickly as we have without the freemen’s generosity.”
John Booth, chairman of wardens of the freemen’s eight guilds said: “Freemen always placed great value on apprenticeship training, not least because it guaranteed commercial survival by maintain high standards of craftsmanship delivered at a fair price.
“It also ensured the continuation of the freemen’s guilds – not least because anyone completing an apprenticeship within the city’s boundaries was eligible for membership. That is still one of the qualifications to this day.”
Arrival Of Extra Alexas Brings Added Pleasure
A specialist centre – offering temporary 24-hour respite care to people from across County Durham with learning difficulties – is also benefiting for a second time from the freemen’s latest round of charitable awards.
Over two years ago Hawthorn House, a 15-year-old county council-run complex at Newton Hall, Durham City and staffed by a specialist team, used their first £250 windfall to fund an internal decorative make-over which included clocks, cushions, wall art, safety mirrors and bed throws to brighten the surroundings.
The centre’s latest £300 gift will this time be devoted to taking the sensory benefits on offer to users, whose ages range from their mid-teens to their sixties, to a new level.
Respite manager Sue Smith explained: “Those who come to us all have a degree of sensory impairment ranging from mild to profound. They all benefitted from using the ‘Alexa’ listen and respond devices and derive great pleasure from listening to music and stories they can respond to themselves.
“We intend to use the money to buy three additional ‘Alexa’ machines and further develop our garden as a place of fun and enjoyment.
“Our summerhouse has been used to offer a variety of themed ventures and doubles up as a café where users can sit with soft drinks, cakes and ice creams. We now plan to add a garden water feature, incorporating a bird bath. They love watching the birds and it will also provide an opportunity during the summer months to enjoy splashing water with their hands.”
Eric Bulmer, chairman of the freemen’s charitable trust, said: “We are pleased once again to help an organisation which supports some of the most vulnerable groups in our community. They have come through an extremely difficult period, thanks to the care of a wonderful group of dedicated staff and volunteers.”
Freemen Help Write New Chapter In Literacy Courses For The Jobless
A community group is literally rolling out the carpet as it puts the finishing touches to the refurbishment of a special adult teaching unit.
Durham Community Association, based in Shakespeare Hall, in Durham City’s North Road, is completing the face-lift thanks to a £600 gift from the city’s freemen.
The donation will meet the cost of new hard wearing carpets in two rooms offering courses in basic numeracy, literacy and other writing skills to long-term unemployed adults and those seeking to return to work after post medical or addiction issues.
The modernisation has included replacement brickwork, plaster work with fresh coats of paint and skirting boards added. A new kitchenette is an added feature and delivery of replacement furniture, bookcases and desks is imminent.
“The hangover of Covid is still having its effect on the numbers of those attending but they are slowly beginning to build. We fully expect to open with all guns blazing by July 4th,” said the centre’s manager Liam Cawley. “The freemen’s generosity has been timely and really appreciated,” he added.
During the course of the year the centre is expected to offer ten-day courses to about 250 people.
The association provides rooms and spaces for hire which are suitable for a wide range of uses. They include arts and craft classes, sports groups, local history and art groups, ballroom, sequence and line-dancing, youth groups and education classes with more details on www.durhamcommunityassociation.co.uk
The location is within a short walk of the railway and bus stations, with car parking available in the River Walk complex.
John Booth, chairman of the freemen’s wardens, said “Our charitable trust had no hesitation in supporting a long-established community group based in the heart of the city and providing an important educational opportunity to the community.”
Hurricane Takes The Wind Out Of Charity’s Sails
At the end of last year the LionMouth Rural Centre, a community project based at Broadgate Farm, near Esh Winning, was hit by Storm Arwen’s 100 mile-an-hour winds which tore apart a large marquee being used as a makeshift classroom.
Project manager, Brigid Press Bartle explained: “In March 2020 Covid forced us to close our gates not only to those who seek our support but to members of the public as well.
“When our clients were allowed to return in August we made many changes to protect them from the spread of the disease. Our social distancing and cleaning routines, alongside the continuing absence of the public, allowed us to take some of our lessons outside into the open air. Our large marquee was a key part of the strategy, sheltering attendees from rain, wind and shine.”
But, when Storm Arwen arrived its trail of destruction across the region left the seven-year-old heavy duty shelter “twisted beyond repair.”
In 2016 the centre had been awarded a £7,000 donation by the freemen’s charitable trustees to help underpin a series of major developments at the ground-breaking complex. The centre sells plants, herbs and shrubs cultivated in their nursery, as well as glass-ware and pottery from their kilns and furniture from the workshops, to the general public.
The freemen’s latest gift, of an additional £250, is no less vital, covering the cost of a pop-up heavy duty replacement marquee.
Two dozen local people, aged between 14 and 64 and suffering or recovering from mild to moderate mental, social or learning difficulties, are offered day care support and training sessions available in woodwork, horticulture, art, pottery, conservation and cookery.
The centre’s support is delivered by two full-time and three part-time employees while their 16 volunteers will return after all Covid restrictions are finally lifted. The service is overseen by a board of four directors drawn from the local area.
“We serve those who have been ill, have gone through the system and do not qualify for further care and are not yet well enough to go into employment. Many suffer from high anxiety or lack of confidence. The new marquee will be a huge benefit not only to the day-care users on site but also to the general public who are buying our products and attending our team rooms again,” added Brigid.
Eric Bulmer, chairman of the freemen’s charitable trust, said: “We are pleased once again to help organisations which support some of the most vulnerable groups in our community. They have come through an extremely difficult period, thanks to the care of a wonderful group of dedicated staff and volunteers.”
Key Move For Homeless Women In Crisis
A charity’s move to offer direct help to vulnerable homeless women, struggling with “complex and multiple needs,” has been underwritten by a gift from Durham’s freemen.
Against a background of constant struggle to raise funds Durham Action on Single Housing (DASH) - a non-profitmaking organisation founded in 1972 - still pressed ahead with the project.
Their venture utilises four flats and two houses in the city to create a safe haven - with round-the-clock support - for a dozen women facing physical or mental health issues, relationship problems, historic abuse, sex exploitation, domestic violence, self-harm and childhood trauma.
The charity’s entire county-wide network of properties offers 45 homeless people, or people who are vulnerably housed - their ages ranging from 16 to 65 – a safe haven and a chance to rebuild their lives.
Director Trevor Atkinson said during the pandemic their service users had struggled more than most to cope.
“There has been a significant change in the complex needs of those coming forward for our help. Yet the grants we receive have not been increased for six years and donations like the £500 given by the freemen is enormously helpful. The women’s project will benefit and it also enables us to provide ‘welcome packs’ to those who comes to us with nothing. They include food, toiletries and cleaning products,” he said.
The charity’s work primarily embraces rough sleepers, people relying on friends for somewhere to stay, people leaving hospital or prison and those whose tenancies are at risk.
“Our users could be young and inexperienced people on their own for the first time, individuals with long-term mental health problems, people with substance or alcohol abuse issues and those suffering after a bereavement or excluded from mainstream housing because of a history of offending.
“Everyone, regardless of circumstances, has the right to shelter and the opportunity to rebuild their lives. Everyone referred to us for supported accommodation is allocated a named support worker, has an individually tailored support plan and an identified pathway to ultimately finding their own independent accommodation,” added Mr Atkinson.
Official funding covers basic support and accommodation costs but the charity is looking to improve users’ mental and physical health through sport, recreation, exercise, mindfulness, cookery and cinema visits, as well as provide winter clothing and food.
Eric Bulmer, chairman of the freemen’s charitable trust said: “We are conscious of the financial difficulties facing charities as a result of Covid and are pleased to be able to offer help to an organisation supporting some of the most vulnerable in our local community.”
Children 'Blighted' BY Lockdown Get Freemen's Help
Durham's freemen are backing the launch of a targeted aid programme designed to bring fresh hope to scores of disadvantaged children and young people on a city housing estate.
The staff and management team of the Laurel Avenue Community Centre, established in 1985 and located on the Sherburn Road Estate, have identified many “stigmatised” children and young people in particular need of support – their ages ranging from birth to 19.
They have already raised £5,000 towards the cost of the 19-week project, designed to cultivate the “personal, social and emotional well-being” of those in particular need of help. A £500 gift from the freemen has lifted them to within reach of their final target.
Claire Linfoot, the centre manager, said children and some families living in the Sherburn Road area were unfairly stigmatised and discriminated against because of where they lived.
“For the past six years we have been funded by Children in Need, working to cultivate children’s confidence, self-esteem and give them a voice. Throughout the pandemic we have worked in a wide variety of ways to reduce anxiety, much of it heightened by self-isolation. This project is designed to target those who remain disproportionately affected,” said Claire.
The centre will be the main base from which evening and morning support sessions will be delivered across the 19 weeks, offering the “safe place” lost during the pandemic when many of the social networks the youngsters enjoyed through school, youth clubs and community groups were put on hold.
Activities will include sports, arts and crafts, playground games, dance and drama, singing, mindfulness activities, team building and resilience.
Off-site activities will take in nature walks and family swimming sessions and staff are also trained to offer advice to parents and carers on housing and debt, as well as referrals food and clothing banks.
“The need to engage children back into the community is even greater than ever before. Our main aims will be to improve the emotional well-being and mental health of those we are targeting, tackle social isolation, improve social development and make sure they are heard.
“Our work is welcomed by all schools and early year settings within our area and our centre is recognised as the main support hub within the estate,” added Claire.
Eric Bulmer, chairman of the freemen’s charitable trust said: “The Corona virus has affected all our lives but none more so than those less advantaged in our society. I am, therefore, particularly pleased the freemen can support the ongoing work of the Laurel Avenue project.”
Durham City Freemen’s Gift to the City
In January of this year, the Durham City Freemen’s Charitable Trust following information from John Booth, decided they would celebrate the Queens Platinum Jubilee by commissioning Brian Russell, Artist Blacksmith to design and fabricate a beacon as a gift to the people of Durham City. The unique design will not only serve as a beacon for ongoing celebration events but also as a bespoke piece of public art.
The project in partnership with Durham County Council, will be installed on Jubilee Hill opposite the Durham Light Infantry Museum in the spring of 2023.