Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association annual review 2013

Introduction

We recently submitted our accounts and other paperwork to Companies House and the Charity Commission for the financial year 1 April 2012 to 31 March 2013. You can view these by searching for charity number 1111649 on the Charity Commission website, and by searching for company number 01673259 on the Companies House website. Below is a summary of the accounts and written report. 

Income and expenditure

Our income for the period 2012/2013 was £85,756 and our expenditure was £118,065, this compares to the period 2011/2012 when our income was £180,810 and our expenditure was £97,622.

Advice service

Our advice service continued to remain busy throughout the year. Between April 2012 and March 2013 we had over 1,000 enquiries at our twice-weekly drop-in advice and information service. This service was available to both Camden and Westminster residents and to both men and women one morning a week throughout the year. We offered advice in English, Bengali, Sylheti, and Urdu. The majority of our clients were over 50-years-old and of Bangladeshi origin. We also gave advice by appointment at regular outreach sessions to people over 65-years-old at a nearby sheltered housing project. Our advice service received an increasing amount of enquiries about the changes to housing allowance and other welfare benefits during January to March 2013.

Users of the advice service are helped to understand their entitlements to welfare benefits and to help them realise their benefit entitlements. We help those who are not able to fill in forms and to communicate with the welfare agencies.

We gave advice and assistance with welfare benefits, housing, disrepair and maintenance, fuel debt and poverty, and education. This year there was an increase in the number of appeal cases for Employment and support allowance as more people failed the work capability assessment test.

From July 2012 we welcomed another Bengali-speaking adviser to the team which helped spread the heavy workload.

Our women-only advice session continues to be popular among the women as they prefer to have some privacy. Our Neighbourhood Centre looks very lively on Wednesdays as some women just come in to socialise besides seeking advice. Many of the women using the service are otherwise socially isolated. The local women feel strongly about the centre as it is accessible and supportive and they can talk to an advisor or share information in a friendly, understanding and safe environment. The new female advice worker also helped running the women’s advice session which helped the senior advice worker to attend important benefit liaison meetings and other health meetings.

This service relieves users of financial poverty as well as achieving the outcome of socially including a group of people that would be otherwise isolated and excluded.

Women’s Health

We delivered weekly exercise and massage sessions on Thursdays excluding half-terms and other school holidays. Eight women joined exercise sessions in April and they reported benefits from reduced aches and pains. Through word of mouth and more publicity, more women started to come and attendance increased to 14 women. There is a wide range of ages represented, from age 25 – 60, and a wider range of backgrounds interested – not just Bangladeshi women but also now Pakistani, Hindi, Greek, Moroccan, which is also helping women to integrate with the wider community.

Six women each week were given 15 minute free massage, in total 60 women benefited from the service. They reported better sleeping, reduced need for medication, reduction in aches and pains.

This project benefited the Bangladeshi women aged 20-65 who suffer from long term illness such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, etc, which are related to unhealthy lifestyles. The women enjoyed these sessions as they were culturally appropriate and the venue was easily accessible.

In conjunction with the Desta voluntary group consortium we ran a 6 week Expert Patient Programme (EPP) for women from 18/4/12 to 23/5/12. Fourteen women who suffer from long term health conditions registered with EPP and 12 women completed the programme successfully. They learned how to make a plan and manage their illness, strategies for dealing with pain, dietary advice, and relaxation and other techniques for self-managing their long-term illnesses. The local GP surgery reported many of the course participants have become enthusiastic attendees of their chair-based exercise sessions.

We also ran two bi-lingual health workshops about dementia and bowel cancer for women in July where 15 women attended in each health talk. The women engaged well during both sessions and most reported that they found the sessions very informative and eye-opening. The dementia workshop in particular, for which there is no word in Bengali, was very useful for several women who are carers for older men and had never had a chance to really think and talk about this issue.

Men’s health

We ran another Expert Patient Programme for men from September 2012 to October 2012 for six weeks. Nine local Bengali men initially registered, and 7 completed the programme. This is an extremely hard to reach group, requiring a lot of staff time to make sure they remember to attend. This was very challenging as this was the first time we ran workshop for Bengali men.

Social events

We organised our yearly summer outing in August 2012: 32 women and 34 children (total 66) went for a trip to the seaside at Margate. For most of the women, this is the only time in the year when they have a chance to get out of London, relax and socialise with other women, and spend time with their children unburdened with their responsibilities for producing meals and organising their households.

We didn’t organise our yearly Eid celebration at the end of Ramadan due to uncertainties about our premises move and other logistical problems like the fact that it fell during the school holidays, when it is difficult for our volunteers to give their time.

In November 2012 we took women over 50 to the British Museum for an object handling session where women looked at some old pieces and discussed them with the Museum staff. They all visited different section of the museum and found it very interesting.

Art workshops

Fitzrovia Bengali Women’s Group were involved in a partnership community art project with the Mary Ward Centre and the British Museum from April to June 2012. Eight women participated in this partnership art project making the London Map banner. Inspired by Shakespere’s journey through London, the banner showed London landmarks and places of interest which the women chose themselves, including Drummond Street, Chinatown, Southall market, Camden Lock market, BT Tower and Regents Park Mosque, as well some of the usual tourist sites like Big Ben and the London Eye. This was exhibited at the British Museum on 6 October 2012 along with the Shakespeare: Staging the World exhibition. The women and their families were very pleased to see their art work and meet other people in the Museum who appreciated their creative work. The banner was also on display at several local events, including the Bloomsbury Festival in October, and provided a good incentive for the women to participate in these wider cultural events.

In the autumn term art session women were involved in making silk purses. 12 Bangladeshi and other Asian women attended the workshops, making and designing their own purses. They learned different techniques, like silk painting and applique, and using embroidery skills they already have.

From January to March 2013 women learned to do knitting. Each woman made their individual hats, bag, slippers etc. and were excited to gain this new skill. Due to outreach work, 4 new women have come and joined the art workshop and made new friends. All the art workshops were run by Mary Ward Centre tutors under their community outreach programme.

Older Fitzrovia

A newsletter went out every month to a growing list of 119 local residents over 65 with that month’s Older Fitzrovia activities, outside activities (especially those at Club 60 run by a local community church) and news relevant to older people’s lives. This has proved very popular in our monitoring, even among people who don’t usually get involved with our activities, with 95 percent saying they would miss it if it wasn’t taking place. Half of these activities were delivered by a volunteer.

Advice for older people

The big event of the year was the sale of Cleveland Residences and Highwood House by UCLH Charity to the Marcus Cooper Group (a property developer) in October 2012. UCLH Charity had housed doctors and nurses in the buildings at relatively affordable rents. UCLH decided to take advantage of the rising cost of land in our neighbourhood and sold the buildings. This resulted in over 30 households being evicted, including several pensioners. The three pensioner households able to stay lost their community. We organised two meetings for the residents, one with the Central London Law Centre, and the other with local MP Frank Dobson and law firm Hodge, Jones and Allen to explore people’s options, and how we and the other agencies could help. Both of these were well attended, by over half the total affected. We helped to get 1 pensioner rehoused by Camden, and referred 5 to lawyers for help, and support 3 others with disputes with the new landlord. The advice provided by UCLH Charity to their residents was inadequate, and many of the working residents ended up moving out of London entirely.

Improving health and combating social-isolation

Older Fitzrovia ran 3 Expert Patient Programme courses, as part of a collaboration with Desta, beginning in January 2012 with the final one finishing in November 2012. These were meant to help people with long-term health conditions motivate themselves to do more, eat well, and trained people in stress management. There were 25 participants overall. Although the feedback from this venture was generally good from participants, they never generated the amount of interest we first thought they would; despite publicity going out both in the form of leaflets in local GP practices and chemists, and adverts in the Fitzrovia News, it was a struggle in two out of the three courses to get enough participants together to run them. The courses themselves were very inflexible and unsuited to people with multiple health problems, not just one or two. We have for the time being withdrawn from EPP although we still have a friendly relationship with Desta and may work with them on other projects in the future.

The massage sessions carried on at Fitzrovia Court. Five people a week were seen, given either a short massage or reflexology session, and also counselled on stretching and other exercises they could use to keep up the benefits. 45 people this benefitted from this strand, and it remains one of the most popular strands in the Older Fitzrovia programme.

In July of 2012 Older Fitzrovia started weekly singing sessions at Fitzrovia Court on Monday mornings with a qualified music therapist Angela Reith. These have worked out very well, with very good feedback from participants and the Scheme Manager at Fitzrovia Court, who said that ‘people come in weighed down by their problems and leave laughing and chatting’. Angela takes people through a set of breathing exercises at the beginning of each session, and the participants choose the music which has ranged from traditional folk songs to hits from the Beatles. Over the year 2012/13 attendance ranged from 6-15 each session, with over all 24 individuals involved. It has proved very a very good activity to get people with dementia together with people who do not have dementia.

Lunches: For the first two of the EPP programmes and then on-going until August 2012 healthy lunches cooked by a local café were served at Fitzrovia Court with the help of a local volunteer. Attendance at these while regular was never more than 10 and often as few as 5. In February 2013, as the result of a donation by construction firm Sir Robert McAlpine, we negotiated home-cooked pub lunches for a discount at the George and Dragon on Cleveland Street after the Monday singing sessions. These have proved very popular, with an average of 10 people attending each week.

Christmas Hampers 2012: Again these were donated by Sir Robert McAlpine, and put together and delivered by volunteers to 150 pensioners in the area. People very much appreciated them, and as a result our pensioner contact list grew by 43 people.

Trips: The FNA ran three trips this year jointly with All Soul’s Clubhouse. We went to the roof garden at Royal Festival Hall and did two trips to the British Museum for object handling sessions. A total of 10 individuals participated with these, including two normally house-bound people who had not been out for many months.

British Museum outreach: Two object handling sessions happened at Fitzrovia Court, where BM volunteers bring objects to handle and discuss, on textiles and footwear. These have been very popular, and also very good for integrating people who are normally socially isolated, or who have dementia. Each session attracted 9-13 individuals, with overall 11 individual participants.

British Museum community viewings: There were five of these during the year 2012/13, which provides free tickets to major paid exhibitions. Older Fitzrovia got between 10 and 15 tickets for each viewing depending on other demand, and 22 individuals participated. They especially attract people who do not participate in most other Older Fitzrovia activities.

Partnership working

British Museum: The on-going relationship with the British Museum is very good, both as a result of Samina’s work and now their work with Older Fitzrovia. In November 2012 Barbara gave a talk to over 40 British Museum staff with representatives from other groups who work with older people about how to improve the museum for older visitors at a breakfast meeting and has participated in several meetings at the BM as part of the ‘Age Collective’ series with many other groups who work with pensioners in a museum context.

Club 60: We continued to advertise what’s available for pensioners at All Souls Clubhouse, although their programmes have shrunk due to lack of funds. We also run the trips with their minibus and volunteer driver, and refer people for their visiting programme.

Next year, if either Westminster or Camden win funds from Big Lottery to tackle social isolation amongst older people, there will be an opportunity to work with other groups in both boroughs on this project.

Fitzrovia News community newspaper

This is a volunteer-led project to deliver a free newspaper four times a year to every residence in Fitzrovia. It is led by a professional journalist with assistance from other local journalists and editorial is discussed at public monthly meetings. The paper is financially supported by advertising from local businesses and from donations from our readers and the general public.

The newspaper is delivered by volunteers to every street in Fitzrovia and left in collection points throughout the neighbourhood. Distribution of the paper is organised by volunteers and offers the opportunity for people to explore their neighbourhood by delivering newspapers to residences that they may not be familiar with. 

Between 1 April 2012 and 31 March 2013 we produced four printed issues of Fitzrovia News and provided regular updates throughout the year on our website. Our website now attracts about 100,000 views every year. We also continued to grow our social media following with more than 2,000 followers on Twitter, over 400 followers on Facebook and around 100 followers on Google+.

Despite the growing popularity of digital media, our printed newspaper is the most important medium we produce and our readers tell us they value it greatly. This year we ran a number of important stories about housing and also about the increasing commercialisation of the neighbourhood. We raised concerns about rising land values pricing people out, hospital workers losing their homes, and questioned Camden Council when they allowed a new commercial district to be created without public consultation in Fitzrovia.

Freedom of Information requests

In the summer of 2012 we submitted requests under the Freedom of Information Act to establish how Camden Council came to allow a Business Improvement District (BID) to be created in an area where around 4,000 residents live. We published an in-depth investigative feature in the paper and held a public briefing about our investigations. As a result Camden Council were forced to admit that there should have done more to press the BID company to consult with residents and small businesses. Concessions were also gained from the BID company with representatives of residents and small businesses were invited to sit on the board of the BID and community and small business groups were set up.

Fitzrovia News enables people to become better informed about activities in Fitzrovia and more knowledgeable about their neighbourhood. The Fitzrovia News also realises the outcome of strengthening the community by bringing people together and providing them with a voice.

Fitzrovia Festival

We celebrated 40 years since the first Fitzrovia Festival in 1973 with a number of events in June and September 2013.

We held a browse and buy bookstall of books about the neighbourhood and by local authors including publications by the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association, E Beresford Chancellor’s London’s Old Latin Quarter published in 1930, Nick Bailey’s street-by-street history of Fitzrovia published in 1981, and London Recruits: The Secret War Against Apartheid published in 2012. There are many books written about the district and we have a small library of books for reference.

There were three guided walks giving an insight into the history of the neighbourhood, its variety of architectural styles, its listed buildings and conservation areas. There was also a cycle ride demonstrating the new cycling facilities available.

An exhibition of photographs of Tottenham Court Road, Stephen Street and Gresse Street (once known as The Gort Estate) from the 1970s was very popular. We had visits from residents, people who work in Fitzrovia and many visitors to the area.

We also held a legal advice drop-in session in partnership with Tuckers Solicitors.

The June events coincided with the London Festival of Architecture and we worked with the Royal Institute of Architecture (RIBA) in Portland Place.

In the autumn we repeated the browse and buy bookstall and the exhibition of photographs for two days only on Wednesday 18 September (to coincide with the London Design Festival in Fitzrovia) and Saturday 21 September (an unofficial part of Open House London 2013 in Fitzrovia).

Environment, Planning and Licensing Project

This is a volunteer-led project helping to meet the objective of promoting a healthy built and social environment for people living in Fitzrovia. Our neighbourhood centre receives planning and licensing documents from London Borough of Camden and City of Westminster and we are a recognised amenity group for both these councils. We support the Charlotte Street Association who comment on planning and licensing applications in Camden. Together with the Charlotte Street Association we commented on numerous licensing and planning applications.

We also took part in public meetings about proposed large redevelopments and engaged directly with a number of landowners and developers in the neighbourhood. We also worked in partnership with other residents organisations over these common quality of life issues where we have a common interest. We gave support to and worked in partnership with the Charlotte Street Association who take a lead planning and licensing issues on the Camden side of Fitzrovia. We support this organisation with use of our premises and information communications technology.

We also contributed to the Fitzrovia Area Action Plan, a planning document which forms part of Camden Council’s Local Development Framework. Together with the Charlotte Street Association we ensured that affordable housing, public open space and the preservation of the neighbourhood’s character were enshrined in this document which will become part of local planning guidelines.

Under the new Localism Act both Westminster City Council and Camden Council have encouraged residents to apply to join neighbourhood forums with a view to producing individual neighbourhood plans. There are several proposed forums in our area of benefit and we are engaging with the groups who are developing neighbourhood planning. We have decided not to support these forums as they are independent to the role of responding to planning and licensing applications. We feel that participation would stretch our resources when we should be prioritising and consolidating the work that we do. We will continue to inform residents about neighbourhood planning through Fitzrovia News.

Our neighbourhood, because of its location in central London, is constantly under pressure from building and commercial development. These developments have the potential to negatively affect the lives of people living in Fitzrovia.

On the Camden side of Fitzrovia businesses voted to create a business improvement district (BID) in July 2012. The BID was led by a large real estate developer and multinational firm of engineers. Small businesses and residents were not consulted but through Fitzrovia News we raised the issue of wider consultation.

These commercial interests have the resources to employ a small army of consultants and lawyers to influence local authority decision-makers. Yet the defence of the Fitzrovia neighbourhood is entirely reliant on the time and tireless commitment of local residents given free of charge.

Promoting and supporting local democracy

In administration the neighbourhood is divided among two local authorities: London Borough of Camden and City of Westminster; and forms part of three electoral ward areas: Bloomsbury, in Camden; and Marylebone High Street and West End, in Westminster. We liaise with all councillors of all political parties in the three wards that make up our neighbourhood.

As an organisation we help to raise awareness of local issues that concern the people living in Fitzrovia through printed material displayed in the windows of and inside our neighbourhood centre, in the pages of our community newspaper Fitzrovia News, and through our digital and social media network.

Through all our activities we encourage people to take up issues of concern with their local representatives so that we can all have the opportunity to contribute to changes that benefit the people who live and work in our neighbourhood.

The future of our organisation

In January 2014 we will move out of our current premises where we have been since 1975. The owners Camden Council are selling the building as part of their policy to reduce their estate.

We have negotiated a 5-year lease with a private landlord for ground floor premises about 50m from our current premises. At the time of writing, we agreed to take up office space at 5A Goodge Place; the lease draft has been agreed by both sides, and, by the beginning of 2014, we should be installed in our new office. Our new premises are smaller than our current premises but both staff and trustees are confident that they provide adequate space at a rent that provides good value and on realistic terms.

We continue to be funded by the Henry Smith Charity until 31 March 2015 and we have funding for an advice service project as part of a consortium until October 2014.

This year we employed an extra part-time advice worker and built a stronger relationship with the Citizens Advice Bureau in Westminster. This new worker has enabled us to strengthen our position as providers of housing and welfare advice.

We continue to accept donations through our website via the Big Lottery’s Big Give and the Charities Aid Foundation.

The trustees, staff and fund-raising volunteers continue to look at other sources of funding to secure the charity’s sustainability. We have thoroughly reviewed our financial situation and have concluded that we have sufficient funding in the medium term and we have a fund-raising strategy in place.

Despite the financial challenges we face and the move to new premises we feel the organisation can continue to deliver its much needed services. We will be sad to leave our much-loved Neighbourhood Centre which has served us well for nearly four decades but we can look forward to developing our services in new premises.

The trustees, Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association, December 2013.

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