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Behind the scenes at Cheshire Community Foundation

PUBLISHED: 10:45 24 February 2015 | UPDATED: 10:45 24 February 2015

Cheshire Ladies Philanthropy Club in Macclesfield;  Pat McMillan (back) with Pauline Middlehurst,  Kate Hepworth, Helen O'Donnell (CEO) and Josephine Wilson

Cheshire Ladies Philanthropy Club in Macclesfield; Pat McMillan (back) with Pauline Middlehurst, Kate Hepworth, Helen O'Donnell (CEO) and Josephine Wilson

Archant

Women across Cheshire are doing their bit to help people in need, as Paul Mackenzie reports

The Mayor and Mayoress of Cheshire East, Cllr Wesley Fitzgerald and his wife Joan, are flanked by Anne Dawson and Cristel Berridge (to the right of the mayor) and helpers at the Hampers of Hope charity in WilmslowThe Mayor and Mayoress of Cheshire East, Cllr Wesley Fitzgerald and his wife Joan, are flanked by Anne Dawson and Cristel Berridge (to the right of the mayor) and helpers at the Hampers of Hope charity in Wilmslow

Cheshire is famous for its designer clothes boutiques, glitzy bars and expensive car showrooms; its chi-chi restaurants, the WAGs and the champagne. But behind all that is another, hidden, Cheshire, a county of hunger, despair and poverty.

The contrast is stark but a group of women firmly rooted in the well-to-do world are trying to bridge the gap and want others across the county to give what they can to help.

Helen O’Donnell is the chief executive of the Cheshire Community Foundation, one of 48 organisations around the UK which bring people who want to make charitable donations together with grass roots charities working to help others in need.

‘Through my work with the CCF I get to see what people do in other areas and I thought if they can have giving clubs, why can’t we?’ said Helen. ‘The CCF deals with some large funds on behalf of people and companies so I was aware that although many of us routinely give to charity, if we all come together we can do much more.’

Organiser, Anne Carr (seated, right) with members of the Burtonwood Sewing GroupOrganiser, Anne Carr (seated, right) with members of the Burtonwood Sewing Group

Helen’s lightbulb moment came towards the end of 2012 and the following March she was part of a small of team which staged an event attended by 50 women who gave their views on how a giving club should operate in Cheshire and who should benefit. The result of that event was the Cheshire Ladies Philanthropy Group which was officially launched last April and now has a committee of ten and has given about £4,000 to small charities across the county.

The group collect direct debit donations each month and will hold a fundraising event in April, then in June a panel from the CCF will distribute the funds.

Pat McMillan chairs the group and she said: ‘We can all help the local community and we can see the difference it is making to people’s lives. There is no minimum amount we ask for each month – just whatever is comfortable is welcome, whether that’s £5 or a few hundred pounds, it all adds up to make a big difference.’

Last year the money went to four charities – Styal Village Community Shop and Café, Hampers of Hope, the Burtonwood Sewing Group and Ruby’s Fund – each with very different aims and targets but all in need of a financial boost.

Three of Styal Village Community Store volunteers, Jean Burke,  Vince Pagent and Linda BullThree of Styal Village Community Store volunteers, Jean Burke, Vince Pagent and Linda Bull

‘We are keen to find groups that fall under the radar and get them going,’ Helen added. ‘Styal has an aging population, its shop had gone, its Post Office had gone and the community came together and got the shop off the ground and the difference it will make is incredible.

‘The sewing group in Warrington decided to bring women together and show them how to sew but they needed machines and the fund really helped them to move along. It’s not just about sewing, it’s about sharing skills and bringing people together. There’s a knock-on effect which helps to tackle social isolation.’

Committee member Pauline Middlehurst explained why Hampers of Hope received funds: ‘People were starving during the summer holidays,’ she said. ‘Children being off school meant more mouths to feed and there were people here in Cheshire who couldn’t afford the extra food.

‘Hampers of Hope is based in Wilmslow where you wouldn’t expect people to face problems like that but they organise and deliver food parcels. The perception of Cheshire is that it is a very rich county but there are areas of poverty, even in such wealthy areas, which don’t get mentioned.’

Katie Glynn with daughter, Mia (8months) and son, Beau (2yrs) with Sensory Centre assistant Laura ToftKatie Glynn with daughter, Mia (8months) and son, Beau (2yrs) with Sensory Centre assistant Laura Toft

And Pat, who chaired the East Cheshire branch of the NSPCC for almost 20 years, added: ‘Ruby’s Fund in Congleton has created a sensory room in the centre of the town which children can use. The charity was launched after one of the founders found out her baby daughter had a rare, life-limiting chromosome disorder.’

The group now want to enlist more women who are willing make a regular donation and hope that by the time the next round of grants is decided, in June, there should be at least £8,000 to give away.

Committee member Kate Hepworth said: ‘I came to the CCF when I worked for a company that wanted to set up a foundation and although the company decided against progressing it, I was really interested and wanted to get involved.

‘What I like about the foundation is that all the money donated goes to the charities. If you give £5, that’s £5 that goes to charity, there’s nothing creamed off to cover costs or to pay anyone. It’s very fulfilling.’

Ruby's Fund Sensory Centre assistants, Laura Toft (left) anf Liz Heap (right) with parents and childrenRuby's Fund Sensory Centre assistants, Laura Toft (left) anf Liz Heap (right) with parents and children

* To apply for money from the fund, charities should complete the form on the CCF website www.cheshirecommunityfoundation.org.uk or call 01606 330607.

Hampers of Hope

‘There is no one set type of person who needs this help,’ said Cristel Berridge, who set up the charity Hampers of Hope three years ago. ‘The popular perception of people who use food banks is that they are people on benefits but we have fed people in big fancy houses as well. They come from all walks of life, they are just people who have fallen on bad times and are in crisis.’

Cristel began delivering emergency food parcels after two women at her church admitted they had nothing to eat. ‘One had been feeding the other but she had run out of food so we started to collect food with friends and family and did a Christmas project which fed about 250 people, half of them children.’

The food bank has now fed more than 3,5000 people. Mum of two Cristel, who lives in Prestbury, works with a team of 50 volunteers and now also provides money management courses, cookery lessons and a job club which has so far helped 12 people back in to employment.

The £100 she was given by the Cheshire Ladies Philanthropy Group and a further £3000 from the Cheshire Community Fund meant the charity was able to open their first Hope Centre, in Wilmslow last April. ‘It brings everything we do under one roof,’ added Cristel, whose second Hope Centre opened in Handforth last month. ‘My vision is to have Hope Centres in each area. They are not just about delivering food hampers, they are about helping people get back on their own feet.’

Burtonwood Sewing Group

Anne Carr started the group, along with a line dancing group and a babies and toddlers group when the community centre was faced with closure. ‘We were told to use it or lose it,’ she said. The centre’s future has now been secured and Anne runs two groups on Tuesdays, one during the day, the other in the evening.

The group was given £1,000 from the Cheshire Ladies Philanthropy Group and a further £795 from the Cheshire Community Fund and Anne said: ‘It was hard work at first but I can’t tell you want this cash injection has done for the group and the community. It gives people a place to go and it teaches young mum a new skill.

‘We were able to buy more machines and equipment and the publicity we have received helped bring us about 25 new members. This money really turned us around – it was like Christmas Day when we received the letter, I was absolutely ecstatic,’ added Anne who now has plans to develop the group further and to reach more people.

Styal Village Community Store and Café

A century ago Harry Earlam ran a successful village store in Styal but in recent years the village has been without a shop. Now though the shop is back and it pays tribute to Harry. The shop, called Earlam’s – or the Styal Village Community Store and Café to give it Sunday best name – opened in July and Denis Champ, one of the committee, said: ‘I got involved then because I felt the village needed it. I used to have to drive to Wilmslow for a newspaper every morning.’

The idea was first mooted in spring 2013 and by the end of that year a management committee had been formed and a suitable building identified. ‘We were looking for funding and we started the process of a share issue and applying for grants,’ Denis said. ‘There was an amazing response to the share issue and we were lucky that we were successful with the majority of the grants we applied for. The Cheshire Ladies Philanthropy Group contributed to the flooring and electrics which was vital to getting the shop up and running.’

The shop now also has a café and art gallery and Denis, a former stockbroker, added: ‘It has changed the village. Everyone has got to know each other. One lady told me after her first shift in the shop that she’d got to know more people in the three and a half hours she’d been there than in the nine years she’d lived in Styal. It brought the whole community together. None of us have done anything like this before but I love it. I’ve got to know so many people.’

Ruby’s Fund

Ruby Parr was about six months old when she was diagnosed with a rare condition which slows her development. Since then mum Alison, a former A&E nurse in Macclesfield, has been working to create a centre for children with extra needs and their families. The sensory centre in Congleton opened last September, after a grant of £3589, and Alison said: ‘There was nowhere for families like us to go and I felt very isolated and lonely. The children Ruby had been at baby groups with had all moved on but Ruby wasn’t developing.’

Alison started the charity in 2009 with friend Alix Wisener and raised money for premises and equipment with events around the town which were well supported. ‘It took us a long time to find suitable premises,’ Alison added. ‘And then we had to apply for funding halfway through the building work. It was quite scary because we had not been through that process before but the Community Foundation were really lovely.

‘There were interested in what we were planning and the money they gave us allowed us to purchase equipment for the sensory room that we wouldn’t otherwise have had. The sensory room is the heart of the charity and the money meant it could be as good as we wanted it to be.’

Ruby enjoys the room and so do children from around Cheshire and further afield. ‘It’s nice that people are coming and enjoying the sensory room but quite sad that some of them are having to travel so far to find somewhere suitable,’ Alison said.

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