The Vine Centre

“COVID has allowed us to do much more person-centred support, much more intense support, in all areas. We’re getting more people back into work, more people back into training, and more people getting support for their mental health.”

Aldershot

Charity location

£50,000

Grant size

2 years

Funding period

“I don’t deal with the cooking – but I deal with everything else client related”, says Tracey Ashton, the Vine Centre’s Operations Manager. We’re sat in her small shared office where she’s contemplating the question we’ve just put to her – what might a typical day look like for her?

In short, no two days are the same. The centre is known – even more widely following their lauded response to the pandemic – for providing a broad range of services to the most disadvantaged members of the community. Beyond staffing, data protection, health and safety, Tracey often finds herself supporting and advocating for the centre’s clients directly – showing them how to pay a bill, register with a GP, and helping them plan for the future. They have a proud ‘come one, come all’, ethos, and if they can help, they will.

The Vine Centre offers wrap-around support all in one building to the homeless, poorly housed, socially isolated and long-term unemployed. “We all know if you say [to a client] ‘go there on Monday, there on Tuesday, there on Wednesday’, people don’t go,” explains Tracey. “We’re trying to build up that trust and relationship with us, and offer as much support as we can, all here.”

Tracey explains that often a person will visit the charity needing support in one area - such as help finding a job - before entrusting the charity with more closely-guarded information, such as support with mental ill health or addiction. This process of building relationships and confidence is key to how the centre has become such a trusted resource for the surrounding communities.

Over 80% of the centre’s clients self-identify as having a mental health issue with the majority having a diagnosis. In 2020, the centre received a £33,000 grant to contribute towards their core costs, freeing up time and capacity so the team could concentrate on the immediate needs of their clients. In 2021, the charity received a further £50,000 in unrestricted funding over two years.

Whilst their first grant from the Foundation was to establish a CRM system to maintain clients’ information safely, their current funding is entirely unrestricted – ensuring the resources and the power are in their hands. “For any small charity to get core funding – that’s the best kind of funding!” says Lesley Herniman, the centre’s CEO.

Foundation Manager Marie, left, visits the Vine Centre

Foundation Manager Marie, left, visits the Vine Centre

The centre has come a long way since its beginnings as a soup kitchen in 1987. Building on its role as an open community, the charity has grown into a centre that proudly refuses to be categorised.

“There were no funding relationships, no continuous funding, so those first two years were very difficult to get people to recognise who we are and what we were doing,” says Lesley, who began in Tracey’s role before becoming CEO four years ago.

“I came in on the Monday after thinking all weekend and I got my fundraiser involved and we typed up my plan. It said if we don’t go quickly now and we don’t do something very proactive, we’re going to be left behind and our clients aren’t going to be looked after.”

Mary stocks the centre's Community Cupboard

Mary stocks the centre's Community Cupboard

COVID-19 struck just as her and her team were gaining momentum. “I came in on the Monday after thinking all weekend and I got my fundraiser involved and we typed up my plan. It said if we don’t go quickly now and we don’t do something very proactive, we’re going to be left behind and our clients aren’t going to be looked after.”

And quickly they went. Volunteers offered doorstep support whilst delivering vital supplies. They established Vine Line, a phone line that ensured they could reach the community from a distance. They digitised their sessions offering art classes and one-to-one support via Zoom.

It didn’t take long before news of their rapid response swept the area. 

“We always did all this great work but for some unknown reason, we weren’t hitting the spot. As soon as we did this, everyone suddenly realised we were here and understood what we did. It really raised us in the local community. The local authority were asking me what to do. It was a complete change. We never stopped any of our services at any point,” she says proudly.

“COVID has allowed us to do much more person-centred support, much more intense support, in all areas. We’re getting more people back into work, more people back into training, and more people getting support for their mental health.”

Lesley and the team have taken full advantage of the Enhance development support available through the Foundation. Recently they’ve had a consultant help them achieve CIO status, had training on staff wellbeing, and health and safety guidance for the café. “We never take anything for granted! If Marie (their Foundation Manager) has something I’m like ‘Oh! We’ll have that!’”

Lesley has benefitted from a sounding board in the form of the peer forums the Foundation organises. “I find it very useful because I get lots of information from other CEOs, and also it’s very good for my wellbeing – because we’re all in the same boat!” enthuses Lesley. “You know what it is? It’s time to check in with yourself. A couple of people have shared some really quite difficult things, and because we go round and we all offer something, they may just pick something out. It’s a good support network for one of the loneliest jobs.”

Tracey too is supported by Richard Elphick, a mentor matched through our partnership with Lloyds Banking Group. Tracey describes him as a vital confidant on matters as diverse as staffing to funding.

“It’s just been brilliant. It’s as much as anything about giving clarity – someone to talk though things. When you talk through things, you discover the answer, but when you’re staring at a piece of paper it’s much harder. I really look forward to speaking to Richard each month.”

CEO Lesley Herniman, right, greets a delivery for the Community Cupboard

CEO Lesley Herniman, right, greets a delivery for the Community Cupboard

"I answered the Foundation's ‘call to arms’ to support its charities who were struggling to adapt to the rapidly changing environment - everything from delivery of their services, funding challenges and the wellbeing of their staff and client base. It was a really rewarding experience, which led me to sign up as a Lloyds Bank Foundation Mentor.

I was matched with Tracey from the Vine in July 2020 and we quickly got to work. As a mentor, Tracey and I meet virtually once a month, where I have supported her confidentially with a diverse range of personal challenges, from delivery of services, adapting to ‘new normals’, through to new opportunities and the continued evolution of the Vine. Incorporating as a CIO and a Royal visit have been just some of the personal highlights in 2021 so far, where it has been a delight to support Tracey and the team through this by being that trusted sounding board, offering constructive advice and enjoying hearing their continued successes."

- Richard Elphick, Credit Officer with Lloyds Banking Group, and mentor to Tracey

Tracey is excited to show us around and begins our tour with the Community Cupboard, a well-stocked food bank aiming to reduce waste and tackle food poverty. She introduces us to Mary, a former Trustee and now community liaison, who is checking expiry dates and stocking shelves. Open three days a week, visitors are free to browse the plentiful fresh, dried and frozen foods and pick at their pleasure, all without an appointment.

Carla delivers a hot coffee to a client

Carla delivers a hot coffee to a client

We’re led into the impressive, professional-grade kitchen – the engine behind the centre’s social enterprise, Vine Dining. Last Christmas it prepared more than 200 hot Christmas take-away dinners for clients. Responding to feedback, this year they’ll add ‘make at home’ packs for families to cook their festive meals together.

Waving to Mike the receptionist, himself a former client, we enter the bright and airy Culture Café, a great spot for a latte and freshly baked sausage roll. More than a relaxed hub for the community, the café provides accredited barista and food hygiene training for the people they support so they can prepare for and secure a role in the hospitality sector.

Upstairs visitors will find a series of cosy nooks and private rooms alive with group sessions and one-to-one support. In these spaces the centre provides counselling, support for anger management, for families and the elderly as well as IT and numeracy training and creative art sessions.

So what does the future have in store for the Vine Centre? Lesley thinks for a moment before explaining how the only way she sees the centre growing is by extending opening hours which would help attract young clients and expand their training and employment services. The team also plan on reigniting their social enterprise, Vine Dining, which made £30,000 in 2019 that could be reinvested back into their services. “I think it’s important to show our clients that if we can create sustainable income, they can too. We can do it together!”

“We’re continually looking at things that can help people to improve. COVID was a lot about giving but we always try to have the angle on it that you can do something for yourself. That’s what people really want to do.”

What do we mean by Mental Health?

People who are managing mental health problems resulting in significant disruption to everyday living or in recovery from an episode of such problems occurring in the last two years.

We’re more than just a funder

We work in partnership with small and local charities. We are committed to funding them for longer, providing development support and influencing policy. Through this partnership, we help charities help more people dealing with complex social issues and help charities to be stronger and improve wider policy and practice.

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