Bostin* Black Country travels

Following on from the amazing success of TimeBank’s Talking Together project we were able to secure additional funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government to expand the English teaching programme across the Midlands, with a particular focus on the Black Country.

This is the area to the north and west of Birmingham which at one time was one of the most industrialised parts of the country. These days it contains some of the most deprived wards in England.

We wanted to explore how we might work with smaller, grassroots organisations – those that are often invisible in the usual profiles of the third sector. We’d already  undertaken a lot of research work across the Midlands, looking ward by ward at English proficiency, ethnicity and other indices of deprivation. We knew where we wanted to work, but now needed to identify appropriate delivery partners.

We soon discovered that even in an age where internet and social media has a deep reach, there are some places it doesn’t get to. Some of the delivery partners we are working with don’t have websites or email addresses. Two do not have any paid staff members at all. So we worked with Dudley Council for Voluntary Service - thanks in particular to Becky Pickin, whose role is to support small, informally constituted groups - to identify potential partners.

After that it was a case of traditional community development work for the TimeBank team – buses, train, visiting housing estates miles from anywhere, going to see people in their homes, scout huts or community centres. Many cups of tea later, we had identified our delivery partners.

However, that was only half of the challenge. We wanted to invest in these small community organisations to build their capacity to grow in future. But we were also acutely aware that in managing public funds there had to be transparency in our arrangements and clear lines of accountability. So where necessary we worked with them to ensure they had simple and straightforward governing documents, bank accounts in the name of the organisation, not an individual, and a clear strategy if their group ceased to function.

So now we have some amazing delivery partners identifying and providing learners for our functional English classes including the Women’s Awareness Association, a Yemeni women’s group meeting in a scout hut in Halesowen; DIYAA, a south Asian women’s group tackling social isolation in Lye and a project supporting Bangladeshi women in Tipton. Over the next few weeks we hope to bring on board partners in Nottingham and Coventry including a Women’s Centre and a project supporting Asian women experiencing mental ill-health.

It’s been a whirlwind ride, but incredibly satisfying to invest time and small amounts of money in organisations which often miss out on bigger funding opportunities. And most importantly, by extending TimeBank’s reach into local communities we will provide the opportunity for many women who would not otherwise get the chance to learn English.

You can see more about our Talking Together project here. 

*Bostin means very good in Black Country dialect. The dialect is a source of pride in the Black Country and is still widely spoken in towns and villages.  It has led to a number of words and sayings, such ‘Ow bin ya?’ for ‘How are you?’ and ‘babby’ for ‘baby’.