/blog/The Neighbourly blog | NeighbourlyRead the Neighbourly blog for our latest news, resources and information about our fundraising, volunteering and surplus programmes.

Why we are supporting Stop Hate For Profit

7 July 2020
stop hate for profit final

We stand for many things here at Neighbourly but at the heart of everything is responsible business practices and community.

 

We believe that every person, family, community and society should have access to information which is true, inclusive and free from hate. That is why we are standing with other businesses around the world to boycott Facebook advertising until firm action is taken.

 

There is no room for discrimination in our society - now more than ever. As we embark on the most critical time of our lives as the global pandemic takes hold and economic shockwaves are felt - bringing communities together to collaborate positively is essential. 

 

With that, ‘Stop Hate for Profit’ should be embraced as a core value by all business leaders, politicians, community leaders and citizens.

Fund communities, not hate

Facebook makes $70 billion a year from advertising. The Stop Hate For Profit campaign asks us: what would you do with it?


We'd invest in our communities - into the hundreds of thousands of local charities that are looking after us all as part of this crisis but now face a £4 billion shortfall in funding in the next 12 weeks. 


Whilst business leaders and politicians look ahead to piece together a fractured economy, we must not forget the smaller and more humble causes that, collectively, have prevented our communities from falling apart.


By championing the organisations that fight for the vulnerable in society and give people a voice - we can #BuildBackTogether.


To find out more about the Facebook boycott and reasons behind the campaign, head to the Stop Hate For Profit website.

Let’s Talk Loneliness: A Q&A With Danone’s Volunteer Befrienders

16 June 2020
danone befrienders loneliness awareness week

According to research from British Red Cross and Co Op, over 9 million people in the UK – almost a fifth of the population – say they are always or often lonely.


Loneliness is one of the most complex of human emotions that touches us all - old or young, rich or poor. Yet, for those affected, it’s rarely talked about. 


Through the Neighbourly community, we’ve seen the tremendous impact small charities and volunteers can have on reducing the sense of loneliness and isolation vulnerable groups can feel. 


This week, with the Marmalade Trust spreading awareness through its Loneliness Awareness Week 'Let's Talk Loneliness' campaign, we caught up with two employee volunteers from our partner Danone who have signed up as remote befrienders at local charities to find out how they’re connecting with others to help them feel less isolated and alone.

Giving back

danone befriender beth

Beth Underwood, a Shopper Marketing Manager at Danone Dairy UK, always wanted to find a way to volunteer when she moved to London nearly three years ago, but struggled to find anything suitable.


Since discovering the more flexible and remote volunteering options through Danone’s partnership with Neighbourly, she’s now signed up with not one, but two charities - Dorset Mind and Greenwich & Bexley Hospice.


“Covid-19 has made me more determined to volunteer”, she says. “I’m really close to my grandparents (pictured above) but they live a four-hour drive away, so I haven’t been able to see them in months. I video call them every day, but I know that many older people are not as fortunate to have this kind of regular contact with others.”

Image

For Samantha Legg, Danone's Head of Legal Affairs, who has been writing letters to the elderly through Selly Oak MHA, the motivation to connect to others was due to being separated from her father during the lockdown. "My father, who lives in France, unfortunately suffers from dementia", she tells us. 


"It has become increasingly difficult over the past several months for us to connect to him remotely. This has been a difficult time for myself and my daughter, who was particularly keen to retain some meaningful connection to her grandparents’ generation."

A friendly voice

Pre Covid, Sam and her daughter Anita had been visiting the residents of a local care home on a regular basis, so already knew what a huge difference a friendly face and connection could make.


Continuing these visits on a remote basis, she tells us: “In addition to bringing a little bit of joy to those who are experiencing loneliness, this is also an opportunity for myself and my daughter to continue to connect to, appreciate and learn from our older generation.”


Beth on the other hand, who’d previously held a career in Psychology, had seen some of the negative impacts of poor mental health and isolation. Her motivation to volunteer came from a desire to use her skills to give back.


“From my previous experience of working in a hospital and care home, I know first-hand how much of a difference a friendly face or voice and a conversation about something silly can make to those who may be having a difficult time”, she says.


“I also know how much value a sense of regular contact and commitment has from someone external to friends, family or health workers.”

Friendship and support

anita befriending LAW danone

Whilst Beth and Sam’s volunteering will inevitably be helping others to feel less alone, befriending can mean different things to different charities and the people that are a part of them. 


For Sam’s daughter Anita, who enjoys drawing and colouring, this means bonding through art as well as words and the crafty pair have also been sending brightly coloured pictures along with their letters, to bring additional brightness and cheer to those they’re connecting with.


Meanwhile, Beth will be experiencing two different ways of supporting others remotely. She explains: “Volunteering at the hospice will involve making regular calls to individuals who are part of the hospice but working at home and missing out on social contact. It will involve simply having a conversation, like I would with a friend, to support with loneliness. 


“For the Mind befriending, I will be matched to one client who is managing their mental health condition with professionals. I will then have scheduled 30min conversations every fortnight and go through a specific ‘goal’ programme over a 3 month period.”


Huge thanks to Beth and Sam for taking the time to share their stories and experiences. To get involved in Loneliness Awareness Week, check out the Marmalade Trust website.


To find out how Neighbourly matches businesses’ volunteer skills with its network of vetted good causes, head to our Volunteering page. If you're a charity that's looking to recruit some volunteers, create a volunteer event on your Neighbourly project page. You can get in touch if you have any questions by emailing hello@neighbourly.com.

Hachette UK donates 12,000 books through Neighbourly platform

12 June 2020
hachette book donation

Publisher Hachette UK has donated a whopping 12,000 books to charities and community groups on Neighbourly to help those who need them most during this period of self-isolation.


“Books connect us and that’s never been more important than now, when we’re physically apart”


The donation included a large number of Fearne Cotton’s ‘Calm’ journals which went to staff and patients at the Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, the perfect antidote to those needing to work through feelings of anxiety and distress from the situations they face in hospitals during this crisis.


Malcolm Heaven, who works as a project specialist for the trust, says: “The donation of 'Calm' journals has meant so much to the staff at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust. They have brought some positivity and motivated our staff and their most vulnerable patients to look after themselves and their wellbeing at such a challenging and difficult time.  


“The books have been used by staff who are self-isolating and by ward teams and young patients in hospitals. Our teams have put in so much hard work keeping patients safe during the pandemic and we're grateful that we were able to thank and support them with these books.”

hachette book donation nhs leicestershire

Bags of sunshine

Over at Age UK Oxfordshire, the book donation went towards their ‘Bags of Sunshine’ scheme.


Ruth Swift, Head of Community Development at Age UK Oxfordshire, explains: "These Bags of Sunshine were designed to let older people know that they are still cared about, still thought of and that we are still here to help when they are even more isolated than usual due to Covid-19. The books will have a great impact on lifting spirits and relieving boredom during this time." 


Another beneficiary of the book donations was the Children’s Book Project - a charity based in London that gifts books that children have grown out of, to those with few of their own. Their ultimate aim is for every child to experience the emotional pleasure and escapism of a book that they have chosen themselves.


“It's about the creative spark that all children can get from opening a book and getting lost in a fantasy world”



Liberty Venn from The Children’s Book Project says: "The books from Hachette have been very gratefully received by the schools and communities we work with. They have played a key role in reassuring parents and carers that they are not expected to be teachers. 


“One of the schools which received Hachette books told us it's not just about home learning; it's about the creative spark that all children can get from opening a book and getting lost in a fantasy world or a world full of facts and figures. At this particularly challenging time, this gift of books has allowed them to spend a vital few minutes engaging with the parents and sometimes the children while they are collecting their books.”

Words and actions 

At Hachette UK, their goal is to make it easy for all people everywhere to access new worlds of learning, entertainment and opportunity. 


David Shelley, CEO of Hachette UK says: “Books connect us and that’s never been more important than now, when we’re physically apart. These are just a few of the deserving causes we’ve been able to help, and we hope our books have opened up new worlds of entertainment and learning for these communities during the lockdown.”


Head to Hachette UK’s page on Neighbourly to find out more about their book donation. To find out how Neighbourly matches businesses’ product donations to its network of vetted good causes, head to our Product Surplus page.

We Stand With You

10 June 2020
Image

We entered this week as a proud Bristolian business – the removal of the statue of Edward Colston during the Black Lives Matter protests, whether you agree with it or not, has opened the door further for the uncomfortable conversations we need to have, which are reverberating around the world and have finally reached our UK parliament. Racism is systemic in our society – it’s conscious and unconscious and goes unchecked as we sleepwalk through our lives.

Rarely has there been an occasion when Ben & Jerry's and Banksy have been singing from the same song sheet, such is the urgency of the debate that we need to have, calling for an end to “white supremacy” - not self-conscious racism but the political, economic and cultural system in which white people overwhelmingly control power and material resources - and that “people of colour are being failed by the system – the white system”.

The words they use are strong, powerful, uncomfortable and deliberate. The atrocious death of George Floyd is yet one more lost life to add to the list of countless others who have died at the hands of police brutality, disadvantaged by an unequal society, living in underfunded communities and fighting for survival on a daily basis. White privilege is a real thing that has existed for as long as we can remember. It is the responsibility of all white people to acknowledge and consciously reflect on the wrongs that have gone before. 

The Covid-19 crisis has sadly amplified the situation further by highlighting the undeniable fact that this social disparity has meant the virus has killed more people from BAME communities than others, so not only is the ‘conversation’ urgent, but action needed is too.

These events underpin the importance of how the Neighbourly platform operates, providing micro-grants, surplus food and volunteers to causes supporting those hardest hit in our communities. We commit to ensuring that beneficiary charities working hard to support minority groups or striving for their equality and representation are heard, now and in the future. We will use this moment to call to action businesses and individuals alike to maintain their support for these grassroots organisations that have made a critical difference to BAME communities, not just over the last 12 weeks of the pandemic but for as long as they have existed.

Right here, right now, as our normal everyday lives have been put on hold and our habits have been broken by the Coronavirus crisis, it creates the moment to catalyse change in our local communities around the globe. But change starts with “I” as well as “we”. Personal responsibility, personal commitment and personal accountability. No more sleepwalking or ignorance. No more apathy.

We must “build back better”, celebrate historical moments that reflect progress, which remind our communities and our Government how we must change, that inequality is not acceptable and make a personal commitment to "be the change we want to see in the world".



Leaders call on Prime Minister to create socially just and green recovery from Covid-19

9 June 2020
Image

A letter sent to the Prime Minister on Tuesday 9th June, signed by Neighbourly CEO Steve Butterworth along with more than 100 renowned individuals, companies, charities, universities, and trade associations has called on the UK Government to ensure the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are at the heart of UK Covid-19 recovery plans. 

The letter references a statement made by the Prime Minister at the Financing for Development event on 28 May where he called for "fairer, greener and more resilient global economy" after Covid-19. He said that we must ‘work together to get shared goals back on track including [...] the Sustainable Development Goals’.

The letter supports this and states ‘we do not need to reinvent frameworks or agreements, we can instead use the global goals as the basis for a socially just and green recovery in the UK and abroad’.

Early evidence from the Business and Sustainable Development Commission showed that if implemented the SDGs create at least US$12tn in business opportunities in just 60 market hotspots and estimates this could be 2-3 times bigger across the whole economy.  

The letter has been coordinated by the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD) and the United Nations Global Compact Network UK (GCN UK).

Signatories, along side Neighbourly, include: the leaders of Leonard Cheshire, Natwest Group, Nestle UK & Ireland, Linklaters, Clifford Chance, The Body Shop, SSE, HSBC, Standard Life Aberdeen, Mott MacDonald and Unilever; filmmaker Richard Curtis; the Mayor of Bristol; Chairman of the Local Government Association and Dr Mya-Rose Craig (aka Birdgirl).

The letter states that the ‘SDGs provide an internationally agreed framework, which also works at national, regional and local level, alongside and reinforcing existing plans and commitments.’

It asks that the SDGs be used ‘used to consolidate and future-proof [recovery] plans’ and goes on to recommend that they are used to:

  1. Prioritise the most vulnerable in our society and level-up regional and societal inequalities
  2. Build coherent policies for a healthy planet and to aid the transition to net zero
  3. Unite all sectors behind a plan to build a stronger and more resilient economy

The SDGs are part of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and give a “shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future”. There are 17 Goals at its centre, encompassing climate action, education and health.

Unfortunately, the UKSSD Measuring Up report, found gaps in policy or inadequate performance for 57% of targets, and 15% where there is little to no policy in place to address it, or where performance is poor. It anticipates that this situation will be worsened by the societal and economic impacts of Covid-19. 

Richard Curtis, UN Sustainable Development Goals Advocate, film writer, director and co-founder of Project Everyone has said:

“The COVID crisis has shown more than ever that we must work together to secure a better future. The Global Goals are a powerful tool to help us do this; they provide a common vision and a practical blueprint for collaboration. The breadth of support for this letter demonstrates a commitment to working with the UK government to deliver healthy lives, healthy societies and a healthy planet for everyone. We can only build back better together and I hope that the Government will use the Goals to help them do this”


Read the letter in full here.

New Danone volunteer partnership helps young people with employment skills

5 June 2020
remote employee volunteering schools danone

For the past few weeks, our team has been matching Danone employees with local charities and community groups as part of our brand new Remote Volunteering programme.


One of the first to volunteer was Sales Lead, Miriam Tellis. After a great first experience and keen to encourage other employees to take up volunteering from home, she’s shared her experience of running a workshop for the IGD Feeding Britain’s Future schools programme.


“I can’t recommend remote volunteering highly enough – it offers a safe and flexible way to make a big difference”


Here’s what she had to say:


“As part of our dual project for business success and social progress, Danone is committed to supporting communities across the UK and Ireland throughout and beyond these challenging times. 


“As part of this, we’re adapting our volunteering schemes so that employees can volunteer from home, to support charities and people across the UK and Ireland. Through our partnership with Neighbourly, employees’ skills and availability are being matched with community needs.


“With many young people facing an uncertain time and contending with anxieties and challenges around future unemployment, I volunteered at an IGD Feeding Britain’s Future school workshop to help inspire and educate students about the world of work in the food and grocery industry. These workshops are a great initiative to connect industry professionals with young people and to share guidance on the skills needed in the workplace.  


“I participated in a quiz and panel discussion to share my insights into the varied roles available in the industry, and how we are adapting our ways of working during COVID-19. 

Speaking with over 50 secondary school students from different schools it was heartening to see pupils so engaged and interested about the role our industry has played during the pandemic. 


“We all have a role to play as we collectively rebuild from the crisis, and I can’t recommend remote volunteering highly enough – it offers a safe and flexible way to make a big difference:


  • It was hugely rewarding to contribute something practical for young people during a difficult time 
  • The process is really simple – Neighbourly found me a volunteering match and within a few days 
  • You can support people wherever they might be based, all while at home, fitting around other time commitments – I could fit the workshop into my usual workday


“I connected with the wider community which felt great to speak to a different audience and make a difference.


“I’m already looking forward to getting involved again, and encourage others to do the same.”


Thanks to Miriam for flying the flag for employee volunteering and taking the time to share her experience. 


To find out how Neighbourly matches businesses’ volunteer skills with its network of vetted good causes, head to our Volunteering page. If you're a charity that's looking to recruit some volunteers, create a volunteer event on your Neighbourly project page. You can get in touch if you have any questions by emailing hello@neighbourly.com.

5 ways employee volunteers can support charities from home

4 June 2020
remote volunteering projects

With many charities experiencing both an increased demand for services and a reduction in the number of volunteers due to social distancing, we’ve been on a mission to match skilled employees with local charities and community groups across the UK.


Many of the charities and good causes we work with are either completely reliant on volunteers or have had to divert their senior staff to support the rise in vulnerable people and families in crisis.



In response, we’ve been working with our partners Danone, The Football Association and Heineken to launch our Remote Volunteering programme. These large companies have thousands of experienced professionals and experts on everything from marketing and tech to administration and financial management who are keen to support their local communities.


This week, to celebrate Volunteer’s Week, we’re excited to share some of the projects these employee volunteers have been working on to support charities, community groups and vulnerable people from the comfort of their sofa.

Inspiring children and young people

remote volunteering inspiring children

With most children and young people still out of school and education and many questioning what their future might look like, charities have been working to support and inspire students and young people to stay curious, learn and discover new skills during lockdown.


One of the most active projects we’ve seen here has been between Danone employees and the IGD's Feeding Britain's Future Schools Programme.


As part of the programme, employees have been leading interactive workshops for school children to inform and inspire students about the world of work.


Miriam Tellis, a Sales Lead at Danone, has already run one of these workshops and found it a great success. She recently wrote in a post “[We spoke] to 50+ students from two UK schools, discussing the wide range of jobs within the food and drink industry and how shopper behaviour has changed during lock down. [There's never been] a better opportunity to showcase our industry to future talent.”


Meanwhile in Berkshire, ABC Reading - a voluntary group that supports schoolchildren in learning to read - had to cease their efforts after the closure of schools in March.


Instead volunteers have been doing as much as they can to inspire children to keep reading at home - and have recruited employee volunteers to put together and send out ‘story sacks’. Some have even been perfecting their best reading voices and signed up to record themselves storytelling.

Boosting marketing and PR

remote volunteering marketing

For charities who’ve had to drop their social media channels, blog or marketing strategy in favour of urgent support work, there have been a few projects popping up for marketing experts to help get things going again.


Chiltern MS has sadly lost a significant amount of its income due to Covid-19. However, with their non-profit paid-for physiotherapy service offering hope for recovering some of their lost income, they have recruited an employee volunteer to update their website and launch a marketing campaign to get things back on track.


For non-profit community group More Trees BANES in Bath, a small group of volunteers has come on board to help with communications, copywriting, PR, research, project management and policy creation to help with the launch of their upcoming Community Tree Nurseries campaign.

Supporting job seekers

remote volunteers supporting job seekers

One of the biggest negative impacts of the pandemic has been in the loss of work for many thousands of people. Jobcare, a charity based in Dublin, is providing support to people who are desperate to find and keep satisfying employment. To help out during a time of social distancing, a team of employee volunteers have signed up to provide one-to-one remote coaching for jobseekers covering everything from career advice to mock interviews.


In the South of England, Milton-Keynes charity Worktree is focussed on youth careers, recruiting employee volunteers to answer nine questions about their careers on film - a ‘Career Snapshot’ - so that they can develop a human library of careers for young people to explore at home.

Letter writing and befriending

remote volunteering letter writing

In attempt to quell the increasing sense of loneliness and isolation many individuals, particularly the elderly and those living alone with health conditions, have been feeling during lockdown, many charities have stepped in to up befriending and letter writing schemes to aid in the remote friendship building that can keep hopes up during these tough times.


Plenty of employee volunteers have already signed up to provide either telephone befriending or connect up with a pen pal to help those who are vulnerable feel less alone, with charities involved across the UK, including Dorset Mind, UACS Elderly Person Project in London, Age Concern Chipping Norton and more.

Data and admin assistance

remote volunteering data admin

With data and admin tasks often put on the back burner during times of crisis, charities are requesting extra help in this area to keep things running smoothly.


Skylarks, an independent charity supporting children and young people with additional needs in Richmond-upon-Thames has just three employed staff - so having some remote volunteers come on board has meant they’ll have the extra help they need with everything from designing posters and leaflets to updating essential contact information directories.


On the more technical side of things, Express CIC which supports children and young people with autism, is hoping to use the pool of employee volunteers to find a database expert to build them an automated database so they can reach people in need more effectively.


These are just a handful of projects that have been set up through the Neighbourly platform between our partners, their fantastic employees and the charities that are working so hard to help as many people as they can through the pandemic and beyond.


To find out how Neighbourly matches businesses’ volunteer skills with its network of vetted good causes, head to our Volunteering page. If you're a charity that's looking to recruit some volunteers, create a volunteer event on your Neighbourly project page. You can get in touch if you have any questions by emailing hello@neighbourly.com.

Remote employee volunteering could offer lifeline to charities across the UK

28 May 2020
working from home remote volunteering

Since the onset of strict social distancing measures in March, many charities and community groups have seen an unprecedented increase in demand for their services - along with a reduction in face-to-face volunteering as individuals and families are forced to self-isolate or care for others.


With the employee volunteering schemes that usually peak during the spring and summer also facing massive disruption, we knew we needed to help employees switch their approach.

“54% of charities said that they needed the help of remote volunteers to continue to support vulnerable people”

We sent out a survey to the good causes and charities registered on Neighbourly which, with almost 1,000 responses, has highlighted a real need for remote employee volunteering.


80% of the front-line charities and community groups in our survey, which included food banks, homeless charities and disability groups, said the Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing has forced them to adapt their services.


With that, 54% said that they felt they could use the help of remote volunteers to continue to support both vulnerable people and with the running of services in the coming weeks and months.

“Remote volunteering presents a major opportunity for our hospice to recruit younger members in the community who have vital digital knowledge”

Jon Devlin, Volunteer Co-ordinator at Greenwich and Bexley Hospice says: “We have 700 patients, and many of our volunteers are aged over 60, so are currently unable to provide their usual support. Remote volunteering presents a major opportunity for our hospice to recruit younger members in the community who have vital digital knowledge, time on their hands, and are looking for ways to make a difference.”

Volunteering from home

volunteering from home virtual

Large corporate organisations, with highly-skilled and experienced employees based across the UK, are in a unique position to assist charities whose senior teams have had to divert away from tasks like charity finances, fundraising and marketing, to focus on essential support work for vulnerable groups.

“By matching relevant skills with charities’ need, businesses can support essential services at a time when they are needed more than ever”

Steve Butterworth, CEO of Neighbourly, explains: “We all have a crucial role to play as we start to rebuild from the crisis while continuing to help people in need. By channelling volunteer skills into local organisations who are already doing vital work, we can help to ensure that the right support reaches the most at-risk people.


“Volunteering from home offers a safe and flexible way for people to make a big difference. Employees can support good causes wherever they might be based – all while at home, fitting around other time commitments. By matching relevant skills with charities’ need, businesses can support essential services at a time when they are needed more than ever.


“It’s not just charities who will benefit. Volunteering has important wellbeing benefits for the volunteers themselves, and helps people feel engaged and rewarded – all of which is particularly important in helping to stay connected and motivated while working from home, or furloughed.”

Corporate heroes

So with next week’s Volunteer’s Week marking one of the peak weeks of employee volunteering in the yearly calendar - we’ve been working with our partners Danone, Heineken and The Football Association to help them adapt their volunteering schemes, enabling their employees to offer skill sharing and practical remote support to good causes local to them.

“We have a passionate and motivated group of ‘Danoners’ who are eager to volunteer and offer support and advice”

This means employees will be helping charities with everything from website and financial management, fundraising and social media, to befriending and letter writing to isolated people - all from home.

letter writing virtual volunteering

Chris Hillman, Head of Sustainability & Social Innovation at Danone, adds: “At Danone we’re committed to supporting our community, and throughout this crisis it has never been more important to help charities. Not just with donations of money or food, but also by donating time and skills to help others. 


“We have a passionate and motivated group of ‘Danoners’ who are eager to volunteer and offer support and advice. We’re proud to team up with Neighbourly to support charities through virtual volunteering.”


Click here to find out how Neighbourly matches businesses’ volunteer skills with its network of vetted good causes. Neighbourly is committed to creating measurable outcomes through remote volunteering, with those who give their time and skills able to see a real-time positive impact.

How Middlesbrough’s alleys brought a community together

27 May 2020
alley pals team volunteers

For many, the advent of the Covid-19 outbreak has been overwhelming and disastrous. Yet, for the thousands of communities coming together, society has simultaneously begun to pave the way for a kinder, more neighbourly future. The young are looking out for the elderly and those with family and friends are reaching out to those in the community who are isolated or lonely.


For Middlesbrough-based community group, Ally Pals, this sense of community togetherness is something they’ve been creating in their neighbourhood for the last 15 years. 


Not immune to the devastating effects of the pandemic, this year Ally Pals’ very sadly lost their founding member Jim to Covid-19. Jim started Alley Pals with his neighbour Mavis and will be sorely missed by his loved-ones and friends.


Despite this, Catherine Howell, who is the co-founder of Barefoot Kitchen - the community interest company that now manages the Alley Pals project - knows his memory will continue to inspire others to carry on his heartfelt community work.


With so much history behind them, we caught up with Catherine, to share the story of this unique project along with the work neighbours have been putting in to support the local community during lockdown.

The secret gardens

With somewhat unusual beginnings, Ally Pals was set up when the local authority began gating the alleys that sit between Middlesbrough’s back-to-back terraced housing. 


Catherine tells us: “The local authority’s main goal was to prevent crime but at the same time they inadvertently created safe and enclosed spaces that communities could use. 


“People realised that with a lick of paint, and a few planters, the alleys could become incredible shared gardens.”

alley pals middlesbrough before and after

Since then, a team of green-fingered neighbours has cleared, cleaned, painted and planted in more alleys than you could count. Over the years, these spaces have become essential to the neighbourhood - for residents to sit and relax and children to play and learn - they’ve even been used for community parties, film nights and concerts - all with the ultimate aim of bringing people together.

Positive partnerships

More recently, with local community interest company Barefoot Kitchen helping to increase the impact of Ally Pals - the project has blossomed.


Catherine explains: “Barefoot Kitchen has been working to support the Alley Pals groups by finding funding - such as the Neighbourly Community Fund - to help realise their ideas and linking them with other networks that can help out.  


“For example, Alley Pals had struggled to access compost locally, so we helped them set up a small garden centre in a shipping container at the local community hub car park. And when we heard that free fruit trees were on offer from a nearby environmental charity, we not only managed to get hold of the trees - but also got some free training for the residents.”

alley pals middlesbrough tree planting

Covid community heroes

Since the Covid-19 lockdown began, Alley Pals have been unable to have their usual neighbourhood alley gatherings, but that hasn’t stopped them from being a force for good in their community.


Catherine says: “Neighbours have become close friends, helping each other with shopping errands and checking in to make sure that people are okay. Several of our Alley Pals are in isolation, but our Facebook and WhatsApp groups have been invaluable for keeping spirits up and sharing what we’re doing.

alley pals finished alley with seating

“We’ve been dropping off seeds, compost and donated seedlings, so that people can work in their own alleys and we’ve made a fantastic new connection with an organisation that is distributing our surplus allotment produce to newly-arrived and struggling families.


“We’ve also just started a ‘Community Cupboards’ project, where local people can swap and share spare gardening materials and surplus home grown veg using a box on the alley gates.”

A blooming great idea

All their hard work is paying dividends now, as Catherine explains: "In 2019, we tackled an alley that was completely overgrown and prone to flytipping, clearing 27 bags of rubbish.  


“Residents loved the new space, and they began to build planters in the alleys. We helped by providing compost and plants and, later that year, two beautiful apple trees.  

alley pals middlesbrough planters

“One of the residents sadly contracted Coronavirus. Although he has made a recovery, he has been isolated at home. Having a green space outside that he could visit safely has been a godsend, and he was discharged at exactly the right point to see the apple trees in their first full bloom.”


Big thanks to Catherine for taking the time to tell us all about Alley Pals. This blog is dedicated to Jim and all others in the volunteer and charity community who’ve lost their lives to Covid-19.

If you know of any amazing community group stories or volunteers who deserve a cheer, tag us in your posts on Twitter @nbrly or via the Neighbourly Facebook page.

Meet the Covid Community Heroes: A Mental Health Awareness Week Special

18 May 2020
mental health awareness week 2020

After 8 weeks of lockdown in the UK, it’s more important now than ever before to look out for our friends, family and neighbours who may be struggling with their mental health.


With that, the Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which is running this week from the 18th to 24th May, has come at just the right time.


This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘Kindness’. The Mental Health Foundation explains: “We have chosen kindness because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity”.


Thankfully we’ve seen kindness in abundance through the Neighbourly platform since the Covid-19 pandemic began wreaking chaos in our local communities back in March.


Since then we’ve launched our Community Fund which we’ve been distributing as grants to a huge array of grassroots charities and community groups across the whole of the UK and Ireland, including those who are going to all lengths to support those struggling with their mental health. 


So as a special edition of our ‘Meet the Covid Community Heroes’ blog series, here’s the story of just five of them:

Tonic Music

Plenty of us identify with the joy that music can bring - whether that’s listening to soothing classical, bashing a drum kit or singing in the shower.


But for Portsmouth non-profit Tonic Music, music and the arts is key to how they help people in their community recover from mental health problems.

tonic music mental health awareness

They run workshops, choirs, host gigs, raise awareness of mental health at events and festivals and so much more - simply using the power of music as medicine.


Since the lockdown, they’ve been writing helpful blogs and hosting tonnes of musical fundraising events to keep their work going. You can even buy Tonic Music fundraising t-shirts on their ebay page.

Lindengate Mental Health Charity

Another brilliant charity that’s doing something a bit different to support their local community, the sunflowers of the mental health world, Lindengate Mental Health Charity.


Specialising in Social and Therapeutic Horticulture, Lindengate uses the healing power of nature and the outdoors to improve mental wellbeing, boost self-esteem and social inclusion and encourage long-term recovery. 

lindengate mental health awareness

Since lockdown, the charity has been providing a tonne of helpful information that anyone can use to take advantage of nature for a wellbeing boost - whether you’re lucky enough to have your own garden or not. They even have instructions on how to grow your own tomato plant at home with just soil, a tomato and old yogurt pots!

Dorset Mind 

We all know that sometimes, the best way to feel better, reduce feelings of isolation and improve our mental health is by talking to someone.


For Dorset Mind, this means providing vital talking therapy to hundreds of people across Dorset, to give them the strength to recover from mental health problems.

mind dorset mental health awareness

Since the start of lockdown, the Neighbourly Community Fund grant they received enabled them to purchase video conferencing licenses so they could seamlessly transfer their face-to-face support online.


They told us: “This has ensured that our existing clients have received continuity of support services such as individual counselling, befriending and mental health support groups during this challenging time. Furthermore, providing our support via online video conferencing has enabled us to reach out to members of the community who previously not experienced mental health problems but have found themselves struggling with anxiety, stress, loneliness and isolation as a direct result of Covid-19.


“Our support services are helping prevent problems such as stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness from developing into devastating long-term mental health disorders, and a potential crisis.”

Just Good Friends

It's common to see triumph over adversity in films and the media where it doesn't quite seem real - so when it happens in our local communities it's all the more inspiring.


For Bev Sykes (pictured below left), feeling the intensity of loneliness and isolation after the loss of her mother, she set up Just Good Friends to try and help others in the same boat.

bev sykes just good friends mental health awareness

Just 5 years later and Just Good Friends has around 200 members and 40 volunteers who help combat loneliness and isolation together by doing everything from quizzes and bingo, to trips, outings and even ballroom and sequence dance lessons.


Since lockdown the need to help members of Just Good Friends who are struggling with their mental health has become even more important.


Bev said: “We’ve been regularly staying in touch with members who are struggling with their mental health and some of the £400 community grant has gone towards updating their gardens, which in some cases were like forests. Now they can sit and enjoy nature which is a positive step for improving their mental health. 


“For other members who have no money the grant has enabled them to get connected to social media so they can reach other people, reducing feelings of depression and isolation.” 

Recovery Across Mental Health

Supporting a whopping 7,000 people each year, Recovery Across Mental Health (RAMH) is a Paisley-based charity that provides a crisis service 7 days a week for people experiencing emotional distress, along with a whole range of practical and wellbeing support from one-to-one counselling service to stress and anxiety management sessions and activity groups.

Recovery Across Mental Health RAMH community heroes

To help those unable to access their usual support during lockdown, they have been providing helpful resources via their Facebook page and setting weekly creativity challenges. Plus they’ve been organising regular information webinars along with transferring one-to-one support to private online video conferencing services. Crucially, this has enabled them to continue taking new referrals and continuing to support as many people as they can.

Mental Health Resources

For anyone out there looking for support for their own mental health during lockdown, there are lots of resources out there that can help. 

If you’re looking for a local support group or charity, have a search on the Neighbourly database.

For more general advice and support, check out the links below: 

Mind - For information and support on everything from teen mental health to dealing with bereavement and grief.

Samaritans - For information, resources and a free 24 hour phone line if you need a friendly voice to talk to.

If you know of any amazing stories of volunteers, community groups or charities that are supporting those with mental health problems through the lockdown, tag us in your posts on Twitter @nbrly or via the Neighbourly Facebook page.


*Please note, all photos of volunteers and charity staff in this blog were taken before social distancing measures were introduced.