The first step of our prep was for me (Jac, Chairwoman) to attend a media training course. This was a very valuable asset to our campaign strategy. The first thing we were asked to do after introductions, was to talk about our project for one minute into the camera. This came as a shock to the 8 of us taking part. I’m very passionate about our project and I don’t have to read or be prompted to tell people what it involves. But to be amongst strangers on my own and talk about it into a camera which was totally out of the blue, I was about as tongue tied as everyone else.
I think the reason the do this is to show us how awkward we come across if we don’t follow their advice. Believe me, it works. You watch yourself and cringe, then after a day of learning, you are so much better the next time.
The most valuable advice for me though, was about how to campaign! They gave us so many tips and hints, showed us videos of past winners campaigns and more importantly gave us hints on what NOT to do because it might sound like a good idea but in reality it was a waste of your resources and time.
The next step was a team meeting. All the volunteers were invited and our president to just happens to have been an MP for thirteen years, so knows all about campaigning, got together and set up a strategy of what to do. Fortunately we have an enthusiastic team so ideas came flooding in.
You have to think about your own town and community and think what would be best. Each town is different so what works for one wont for another. We decided on four main strategies.
1. Get the local media involved. I spent 2 hours on the local radio, chatting away between songs about our project.
We also got ourselves a big spread in the local paper,that brought us a lot of interest.
2. Social media. We made a video of our own about our project. It was set to music, we found a song that we felt was suitable for us. It wasn’t sloppy, it was a happy little ditty. It had text on it at the beginning, then at the end giving out details of the numbers to call and other details of the project. We obviously had to wait until the numbers were released to be able to send it out. We sent this video out to a few PR companies that we had previously been in touch with, so that they could send it out on the day of our campaign. We also put it on all social Media. We paid for it to “Reach” people on Facebook. That way, people didn’t have to wait until the news to see a film of us, they saw it during the campaign day and voted. We took into account that voting went on until midnight, so we kept circulating the video until late.
3. Lots of us took to the town Centre to campaign all day. I set up my PA so that myself and my Dad could sing all day long to attract attention. We also spoke between each song telling everyone what we were doing and why. We took a notice pin board with us so that people could see photo’s and read about the Centre that the project is being run from.
4 We had a very large banner made that was hung from our building, it let people know about the campaign day and the vote. Our building has many passers by, so we knew this was a good move for us.
Campaign day was a very long and cold day. It was hard work but fun and exciting too. We put up a large bright red gazebo with bunting on to get people’s attention that something was going on. We had so many people come to us congratulating us for getting to the tv vote and saying they will vote there and then. We had some collection pots with us and managed to fill a few of them, so that was a bonus. Being out in the street is great because you get to talk to your community. For us, having the PA and 2 people singing was fun, it attracted people to where we are and people donated just because of that.
After the campaigning and the tv vote was over, we kept things going on social media and a few people went round pubs and social center’s in the evening to keep gaining votes. This was really good.
Getting the call
The best thing about the campaigning day being so long and being hard work is that we slept well. The adrenalin had worn off and we were all warm and cosy back home.
The next morning however was tense and dragged on. We had watched the previous winners the day before and seen how they were told and I figured with all the people there, that they had been told before anyone from Anglia tv turned up. So, I thought to myself, the call must come before 9.30 to give the project leaders time to get the place buzzing with people. 9.30 came and went and I resigned myself to the fact we hadn’t won. 9.36 was when the call came. I still thought she was going to say no, so when she said we had won, I didn’t say a word, my brain went into trying to process this, she then repeated it and I broke down like a total gaffawing mess. All the tension that had built up over the months leading up to this call just came blubbering out. Not my finest hour!
Anglia tv’s arrival
The long wait of one and half hours for the cameras to arrive kind of flew by. We had to phone people, go collect people and try to locate as many people as we could, to be in the Centre by 11am without telling them why. That wasn’t easy. When the cameras arrived and announce to us all that we had won, I cried again. Now, quite a few friends of mine, like me, had figured out, we must know before hand so they said to me that I was a good actress for turning on the waterworks. But they were real. The whole winning thing didn’t seem real until the presenter walked in with the cheque. It was such an amazing feeling. We had all worked so hard for this so to have won was just beyond words of happiness at the time. The presenters stayed with us for a cuppa and a chat, they were lovely and so interested in our project.
A little flaw in our winnings!
After winning the money, we then had a set back. The reason for that was because £12,000 of our bid was rejected. I was astounded because I had gone through the bid 3 times before we even got to the tv vote, so why was it now being rejected. To cut a long story short, basically “The Peoples Millions” seems like it is just the competition, you then get handed over to “The Big Lottery Fund” who give you the money. The PM’s hadn’t picked up on the fact we had applied for a years running costs of already existing bills which the BLF don‘t pay out for. All was not lost though, they didn‘t take the money off of us, they asked us to spend it on something else that we needed.
This took some thought as we need so much. We had a few ideas that we put forward and it was decided to use it on replacing the front windows, a new door and brick weaving the uneven patio flooring at the front of the premises. This would enhance the look of the place to make us more attractive, help with energy bills as we were going from single to double glazed and it would mean we could put tables and chairs out front for people to sit having made use of our café.
The next headache was getting quotes asap. Builders don’t seem to understand that term “asap” It took several weeks but we finally got the quotes and the BLF accepted that we would change the running costs applied for, to new windows, door and patio.
Throughout all of this, Anne, the lady I liaised with throughout was great, she explained thing well and ensured I understood what was expected and needed from us.
Getting the first installment
On a plus note for us. Because we are a charity that needs two signatures to spend any money, we didn’t need to open a new bank account. This meant not waiting for a new account to open so it was one less headache to contend with.
It had been 11 months since we first applied, so prices for many of the things we originally priced up for, had changed. Fortunately, most of it had come down in price. Anne was very understanding of this. I meant we could buy a few more things for the kitchen for example because the money we had set aside for that had a remaining amount due to price drops. We used this money to buy extra things we didn’t think we could afford before.
Lets start spending!
What to pay for first!
The first instalment of money was to pay for wages for the 2 behind the coffee bar. It was so great to know that we had staff coming in every day to cover this area. We have Becky every morning and Nathan for the afternoons. We also spent money on buying new equipment for there, which helped a lot.
Our next big purchases were to get an alarm system and 4 more cctv cameras, these were installed and our minds were put at rest for future break ins. After winning the money we were broken into twice, the mess made was the most upsetting part about it, so having a good alarm system was so comforting. The cctv cameras aren’t just for security, because we deal with people with mild to moderate learning disabilities, we have learned that they are forgetful and get confused easily so it is very handy to be able to check things on cctv to see where they have left belongings or even if they had them in the first place. The service users like it that they can do this.
Our first building works to be carried out was to have the cobblestone frontage dug up and replaced with brick weave. We did this because it was difficult for wheelchairs to gain access to our premises so this would make it better for them and also so that we could put tables and chairs outside. It was a bit dangerous to put those out with the uneven floor. Our front faces south so we get the sun all day and we want to take advantage of this.
Our first fun purchase was the interactive smart board. This is a 70 inch screen which we can use for gaming, training and movies.
Things then slowed down with spending because we needed to pay a deposit of half the cost to the window company to have the front windows and door replaced. This was a lot of money for us to pay up front so we wanted to make sure we had it to pay them when they were available. Then we had a meeting with 2 people from the fund who told us we didn’t have to wait for the money, we could get the deposit paid so we could get started….wish they had told us that one earlier. I tried to contact the company who had said they would do it but they weren’t getting back to me so as a last minute decision, we changed companies. This was great and they quoted us cheaper because they couldn’t do the auto door which was a shame but I didn’t want to lose the money so we decided to go with them anyway.
One of the other big changes but from a small purchase was our shop area, we bought a second till and made a new counter. This meant that the people doing work experience would feel like they were in a proper shop work environment, this went down really well. Our work experience volunteers with learning disabilities gained confidence and took pride in their work area. We found that customers and services users alike loved the new shop area, this gave the volunteers great pride in working there. The income for the shop increased because more people used it now it looked like a proper shop.
We had 14 new tables and 30 chairs arrive for our coffee bar area, this transformed our café and social area, it gave more space to socialize and this improved income for the coffee bar.
The art course
Part of our funding rant went to paying for 4 10 week art courses called “Journey through the field of art” These courses we set 2 for parents/carers and 2 for vulnerable adults.
The idea of the course is to help with self-confidence, self-esteem and learning to express themselves. These were popular courses which not only built confidence up in people while in the atmosphere of the course but allowed them to integrate into our Unity family and become a part of something else.
Summing up of our Peoples Millions experience
Like many people, if not the majority of people, who apply for this funding, we are not business people. When applying, we thought we were prepared for the year ahead, but we weren’t. We realized we didn’t understand how some of it worked and should have asked more questions but we weren’t aware of our lack of understanding.
Unfortunately for us we had 2 tragedies and 2 break ins where damage was done, during our year, which made it hard for us to focus on the project. Working with people with learning disabilities is not black and white and you never know what is going to happen from day to day, with our service users and work experience people, supporting them with these upses came first . The whole idea of the Centre is to support them, so that support comes first when it is needed. This put us behind a little, but we got there.
The result of this left us with quite a lot of stress but it was worth it because of what we gained. We now have a shop and coffee bar that we are proud of. When customers come in and compliment us on our achievements it makes us so happy.
The Centre looks so much smarter than a year ago, we were in a rundown building which now looks sparkling from the front and a welcoming environment. We are able to offer more activities and training with our new computers and smart board, our service users and volunteers are enjoying this.
For the first time since we’ve been open, we were able to offer the school kids work experience as they had a proper environment to come to. We offered this to one local school, from doing this, we have had enquiries from other schools for next year.
Having more space now has enabled us to start up a youth group in the New Year which is great because our project of 2015 has enabled us to progress on to more things in 2016 which we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.