Suits You Sir!

In January, Jodie Clarke and some friends brought the nationwide project “Take One; Leave One” to Plymouth streets supporting people sleeping rough during winter with clothes, food and toiletries.

An appeal for donations brought a variety of smart clothes, suits and shoes and, after hearing from some of the men they were helping about the challenge to find suitable clothing for a funeral or job interview, a new project, Suited To Help, was born. Coming from a military family and working as the Volunteer Co-ordinator for the Royal Navy Family and People Support, Jodie was particularly aware of the difficulties facing ex-servicemen;

“The transition to civilian life can be difficult for some service personnel and not everyone
would have suitable workwear for an interview.”

With the launch of the project and an appeal for smart clothing so donations have been rolling in from far and wide: people have taken special journeys to bring clothes from all over the south west to Plymouth while surplus ‘menswear’ has been despatched from national companies, such as, Next, Slater Menswear and Asda. Jodie also used the money from the £250 a POP fund to buy some much-needed clothes rails. Before long, Jodie, her Royal Marine husband and four children were fighting for space;

“It has been amazing but for a while you couldn’t move in our house for rails and boxes of clothes! We’ve got a bit of temporary storage, but it would be really great to have somewhere where people could come; try clothes on and leave with something there and then.”

Despite being only a few months old the project has already helped more than twenty unemployed men and veterans dress for the occasion. As Jodie says the impacts of a jacket and tie are often invisible:

“We gave one man a pair of shoes as he only had his trainers to wear to a job interview. He was really worried that he was going to create a bad impression, but he said that wearing the shoes, he felt more confident and was able to concentrate on his performance rather than his appearance. “

As the suits keep coming, it is clear this project has touched a chord with many people. Despite it being designed to help ‘individuals’ it has, says fellow director, Louise Hurley, community at its heart;

“There are some people that we know are on benefits themselves and have still wanted to donate. And we get such decent stuff and I think people are really happy to give it to us because they know it’s going to a good cause; they can see what we’re doing with it and they like to know they are giving back to the community.”

As word spreads and introductions to organisations such as The Plymouth Veterans’ Hub, The Royal British Legion and The YMCA are made so the project grows. What’s needed now, says Jodie, as a priority, is somewhere to store the suits and offer fittings. The next step, she says, is to offer the same help to women so that Suited To Help is providing smart occasional wear to anyone going anywhere significant.

For more information or to donate, contact Jodie at suitedtohelp@gmail.com

3 Years of Esmée Fairbairn Funding

POP started life as a project of the Zebra Collective. From 2013 to 2017, its focus was on building connections between the Voluntary and Community Sector organisations that existed in Plymouth, and then supporting the sector to influence decision making with an explicit focus on building networks.  

When the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation (EFF) began discussions with POP in 2017, the language of creating a ‘21st Century CVS’ (Council for Voluntary Services) was introduced:  

“As regards the structural support, we’re keen to explore further the idea of ‘a CVS for the 21st Century’….  Ideas that came up for us were the role of the organisation in brokering, advocacy, coordinating, facilitating new relationships, providing a place for thinking and incubation of ideas, as well as the broader points about being a single point of access and a mechanism for equalising the relationship of the VCS with the local authority. In practice though, what would this look like? We’d encourage you to think flexibly here. …  We’re open to hearing thoughts on how the organisation can remain nimble but still have the desired strategic impact.” 

– Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, April 2017 

The reflections and learning in our work are underpinned by the following beliefs:  

  • In complex environments, healthy networks and collaboration at all levels are fundamental to achieving social change.  
  • Values, ethics and ‘the way we do things’ matter.  
  • Investing in grassroots infrastructure, in diversity and inclusion are both moral and practical imperatives. 
  • A distributed, inclusive approach to leadership, control and power allows the best solutions to emerge. 
  • Not everything works well – but the only true failure is to fail to learn and try to do better next time. 

This report captures key points and lessons from the last three years since that initial conversation, and then suggests a way forward for the organisation. 

CLICK HERE to read POP’s latest learning report in full.

Ready, Steady, Thrive!

A pioneering mental health project is underway in Plymouth in which people with significant and long-term mental health problems are not just benefitting from the Ready Steady Thrive initiative but are helping to deliver it as well. Dan, a former chef, has spent the last four and a half years unemployed, fighting cancer and suffering from depression. Dan admits that at times he was unsure whether he would ‘make it’ but today, he is free-of-cancer, invigorated by exercise and about to start a new career. Dan who took part in the first course of Ready Steady Thrive last autumn says it helped to turn his life around:

“My life has been a bit of a train wreck really and a year ago, I hit a really dark depression and things were spiralling out of control. I was struggling with another bout of cancer; in pain and not exercising; nothing. Now, I’m not even the same guy and Ready Steady Thrive has just been a cog in the whole recovery plan but it’s a really important cog and from that I’m doing alright now.”

One in four of us will experience a mental health problem each year. For some it may be a short-term affliction; others may learn to manage their illness perhaps with medication, counselling or both but, for some less fortunate, it can ruin their lives. Ready Steady Thrive helps people get back on their feet by following ‘the five ways to well-being’. Working through five weekly two-hour zoom sessions it aims to give people basic tools to manage life’s daily ups and downs and help them look forward, one manageable step at a time.

Georgie admits, when she started the course, she was on the edge of a breakdown but with help from her peers, she has been able to overcome some of her fears: “I’ve always struggled to answer the telephone in case it was a male on the other end and we were doing one of the practical parts of the session and someone said, ‘think of a funny face when you answer the phone; one that will make you laugh’ and now I do that every time I answer the phone.”

Georgie admits that one of the biggest lessons she has learnt from the course is to be thankful for things, no matter how small or insignificant. Every night and every morning she writes in her Gratitude Book, she’s now on her second; “It keeps me on a level and on ‘down days’ I can look back and see what I’ve done: even if it’s something silly like I did the ironing, then it goes in the book, because what it shows is that I got off my bum and did the ironing! It’s little things that most people will say ‘that’s stupid’ but no, it’s not stupid; it’s what is needed in some people’s lives and I definitely needed it.”

Being alongside other people who are also experiencing their own challenges enables the individuals to learn from each other, to offer each other possible solutions and coping-strategies. For Dan it has had such a profound effect on his health; his confidence and his life that he is now volunteering as a peer-facilitator on the course; “You have to buy into it and put your trust in the process,” says Dan. “If you’re not mentally well then it’s really hard to do any of these things, but the course has been designed to help you. My support network has grown and when things go wrong now, I’m just about mentally able to cope with it.”

Ready Steady Thrive – which is delivered by the Positive People project under the POP umbrella – is unique to Plymouth and Torbay. It is funded by the Big Lottery Community Fund and the European Social Fund until September 2022. For more information contact Chris Maccullie on 07951 313163 or Five Ways to Wellbeing chris.m@plymouthoctopus.org.