Tim Goodwin, Board Chairman, gave us a well-informed and thoroughly professional presentation. He described his organisation as a Registered Charity and a Company Limited by Guarantee, and stressed the importance of the plural ‘Initiatives’ in its title, and not just ‘Initiative’. The importance of the distinction soon became apparent as he unrolled, like a multicoloured tapestry, an overview of the organisation’s activities and spheres of influence, in effect a commentary on the recent history of social welfare provision in Exeter.
The story starts in the 1960s when the City was shocked by the tragic death of a homeless person on Cathedral Green. This stimulated the Christian body into activity, resulting in the coming together of churches in the Palace Gate Project, the setting up of the Shilhay Community modelled on the national Simon Community, and the St Petrock’s Centre, and more recently the Turntable service.
Exeter Community Initiatives continues in its mission to help people improve their own wellbeing, by improving individual skills, opening up opportunities and helping families to look after their own members. In particular there is work with Exeter Connect, supporting voluntary organisations, Devon Family Resource, working with young people, the Bike Bank, giving a hands-on opportunity to develop mechanical skills, but more importantly providing transport and independence to young homeless people.
Exeter Community Initiatives sees itself focusing on the individual, and through its Transitions programme provides workshops dealing with topics such as health, eating, budgeting, and clearing clutter. The community context is important, and the role of a Community Builder in every administrative ward of the City has been established. In total there are fifty-one volunteers involved and one area that depends heavily on a substantial volunteer input is the Jelly Charity Shop at the top of Fore Street hill. Perhaps unique amongst charity shops, this one specializes in serving a clientele of children and their parents.
The Covid pandemic gave us all additional challenges. Apart from the consequences of infection, the lockdowns left some individuals with post-traumatic effects which can benefit from support in recovering personal strengths and resilience, an area where the experience and expertise of Exeter Community Initiatives has proved invaluable.
But the work of the organisation comes at a cost, and Mr Goodwin pointed out with some feeling that government financial support, nationally and locally, has recently been dwindling at an alarming rate. He ended his prsentation with suggestions as to how members of the Club might be able to assist:
- Donations – from individuals have always been important; corporate generosity has hitherto been less so, but this is an area which the organisation feels it must work on, and any suggestions would be most welcome;
- The ECI newsletter – signing up to this would be an important gesture of support and may lead to further involvement, as would becoming a Friend;
- Involving the ECI in local challenges and events could be in the interest of both the community and the organisation;
- And finally, a Gift in a Will, no matter how small, would be more than just a parting gesture of goodwill.
Exeter Community Initiatives will be holding its Annual Review meeting in November on a date to be fixed. The venue will be St James’s Park, courtesy of Exeter City Football Club. Further details will be provided and Mr Goodwin hoped that members would be able to attend. ECI HQ has recently relocated to Palace Gate, to an office within the premises of the Baptist Church which has become something of a hub for social welfare activities in the City. As mentioned above, this is a place of historic inspiration for a community determined to advance the cause of the care of its citizens.