Council's recovery fund is providing a real helping hand for clubs and groups in Wigan

Voluntary and community groups are the “lifeblood” of the borough for many, but the majority of them were forced to suspend their activities during the coronavirus pandemic.

Friday, 7th January 2022, 12:30 pm

Meetings could not be held, sports matches could not be played and subscriptions could not be collected until it was established how best to do so in a Covid-secure way.

It had a big impact on many people, who lost the opportunities to socialise, develop skills and make a difference.

But these groups are now getting back on their feet thanks to a helping hand from Wigan Council’s Our Community Recovery Fund (OCRF).

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Funding was given to Aspull's Royal British Legion club

Launched earlier this year, it has already distributed around £250,000 to help more than 250 projects across the borough.

And there is more cash available for further groups that need extra financial support.

The council launched its Community Investment Fund around 10 years ago under then-leader Lord Peter Smith and gave around £11 million.

When the pandemic began in 2020, town hall chiefs wanted to do something to help affected groups.

Coun Chris Ready, the council’s lead cabinet member for communities, said: “We soon realised, when the pandemic hit, that a lot of groups had not raised any subs and all the outgoings were still there. We worked to set up a fund to help the groups.”

Initially £500 per group was up for grabs through the OCRF, to help with providing PPE, ensuring cleanliness and addressing other such issues raised by the pandemic.

But the council realised that was not enough and raised the limit to £2,000.

Funding was also available from Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham to address community safety, meaning a further £70,000 was on offer.

Hundreds of groups from across the borough have applied for support in three rounds of funding and a wide range of organisations have been helped, from pensioners’ groups to football clubs.

Coun Ready said the smaller grants available have meant that groups which previously might not have considered applying for help have come forward.

And the money has really made a difference, ensuring the groups are able to survive and have enough resources to return to their activities safely.

The Friends of Hindley Station found it was becoming more and more difficult to keep their planters watered sufficiently, particularly during the summer months.

So they applied for just over £400 to buy four self-watering planters.

The volunteers can fill up the reservoirs with water and the plants take what they need, removing the need for people to go every day to water them.

Secretary Sheila Davidson said: “It’s early days with them yet because it was autumn-time when we got them, but everything seems to be very good. The pansies we have grown ourselves are flowering at the moment. It seems to be a success, but the proof will be in the pudding once we get the heat in the summer.

“We can’t possibly keep going every day to water them - we’re not employed, we’re volunteers. They hold a phenomenal amount of water so we top them up and let them water themselves.”

There were concerns for the future of Aspull’s Royal British Legion club during the pandemic, as lockdown meant it had to shut its doors and lost its income.

But generous Wiganers showed their support for the borough’s last-surviving Royal British Legion club and helped to raise £5,000 to pay the bills while it was closed.

The club then received money from the OCRF to hold a children’s Halloween party and encourage people to return,

The venue was decorated for the occasion, there was plenty of food on offer and youngsters enjoyed a disco, games, face painting, prizes and more.

Vice-chairman Alan Jones said: “The idea was to get young and old together and everyone had a fantastic time.”

Another round of funding will be available for organisations in the New Year, but it is not just cash that the council wants to provide.

Coun Ready said: “What groups have been telling us is that they want to move forward. We are still helping them with small pots of money and will carry on with that over the next year to help them be sustainable, but we are looking at joined-up working with community groups and getting back to some normality. We see the groups as the lifeblood for our communities.”

Drop-in sessions are being held online for people to find out more about the funding and how to apply, running from 10am to noon on January 7, January 21 and February 4.

Groups which have previously received money can apply for further funding if they meet the criteria.

While the council looks for 20 per cent match funding, that can be from volunteers’ hours rather than money.

Coun Ready also encouraged groups to consider crowdfunding to help boost their finances.

To find out more about OCRF, email [email protected] or go to www.wigan.gov.uk/Council/The-Deal/Deal-Communities/Funding/Community-Recovery-Fund.aspx

Applications for funding will open on January 10 and close on February 20.

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