This is a good yarn. What do knitters, nannas, veterans and not-for-profit foster care have in common?
Threading these themes together is Verve Community CIC. We spoke to its directors, Val Hogan, and Paul Sandelands, about the vision of this cooperative of ex-Armed Forces personnel, charities, and community groups shares.
Val has always been embedded in the community through her company Verve Recruitment Ltd, recruiting much-needed foster carers. However, after becoming disillusioned by the system worked she cashed in her pension to continue her community work in another way.
Val said: “The Verve Community began as I collaborated with others who wanted to prevent vulnerability. I converted Verve to a CIC in 2021.”
Growing up in a military family, Val has worked with many Armed Forces charities and groups, supporting veterans and vulnerable families, especially through the pandemic. Through this, she connected with Paul Sandelands and Major Chris Chudleigh.
Val said: “Paul and I met on a Wigan B2B Zoom during the pandemic. He had worked with Help for Heroes and wanted to support veterans locally using some ground-breaking technology, Spotlite.”
Spotlite performs DBS/RTW checks for charities and vulnerable groups more quickly, safely and cheaply. Val saw the potential as in foster recruitment, digital technology, and GDPR was at the forefront of her mind.
Knitting for Babies campaigns
Paul said: “These knitting campaigns are significant as a foundation in the community.”
The Verve Community story started with local premature baby born in the pandemic. With charity shops closed and other stores hiking up the cost of baby clothes, he was without clothes until the Verve knitters stepped in.
“The impact of wool on communities is precious,’ explained Paul. “Baby clothes, blankets, and knitted toys are being made by over 190 ladies of all generations. They crochet and knit bereavement blankets, hearts, and teddies for Salford Royal Hospital Swan Team.
“They have formed an army. They never stop because it gives them a purpose.
“Verve’s knitted toys are given to foster children in welcome boxes provided by local authorities. They go direct to mums in community and Sure Start centres to give as Christmas gifts.”
Val added: “I don’t think these ladies know the full impact of what they do. The kindness they bring from a little ball of wool is immeasurable. Last year, Amazon donated good wool to us. The 15,000 items donated so far, wash well because of the quality and pass on through community centres when babies outgrow them.”
Paul said: “The knitting nannas love it because they are doing something for children and helping mums. Children love them because they have hugs from a little friend, made with love from an invisible knitting nanna!”
Veterans and civilians making a difference
Val has been the driving force in setting up the Veterans Hub, Leigh, CIC in the Heritage Centre of Spinners Mill in Leigh.
“Many veterans’ organisations have come and gone over the years.” Val said. “Integrating civilian-veteran partnerships is important to our communities.”
Verve Community CIC is part of the Deal with Wigan Council and they sought help to complete works on the hub through their community noticeboard. Two firms volunteered to make a difference for veterans thanks to community support officer Lucy Hatton.
Val said: “MAC Construction and Neo Projects are Wigan Deal members, too. The Deal allowed us to collaborate and start work on the hub.”
Adapting to civilian life is a challenge for veterans. Personal experiences go unacknowledged and much military expertise non-transferable. But they have do valuable skills to offer their community, particularly with young people.
Val said: “This is frustrating, especially when they have the skills children need. I have worked in alternative education, and I love outdoor learning. I know the positive influence veterans have on young people and children.
“Recently, I recruited veterans to Social Adventures fully funded Level 2 Forest learning programme because of their unique skills. Through this course, they could gain a formal qualification in Forest education. It is important that at last, positive contribution that Armed Forces learning has in children’s education and lives is recognised.
Val said: “Military veterans are also fantastic foster parents to vulnerable teenagers. Over 68% of children in care are boys over 12 years old. They’re the most difficult to find homes for because of the labels attached to them. Thankfully, labels don’t define children for many veterans and foster carers. Often, they too wore labels that did not reflect them or the journey in life they had travelled.
“The difference they make is invaluable, especially for care leavers who often lack support networks. Having strong role models is the difference these young people need.”
Paul said: “Whether they are coming from abusive families or challenging backgrounds, many kids escape into the Forces. If you’ve come through that process yourself, you recognise it and connect with it. They speak the same language because they’ve lived similar journeys.”
Many social enterprises rely on funding, but Verve’s work is self-funded. Paul brought to the Verve Community a solution to a nightmare many employers and voluntary organisations face: the DBS check.
CDD, the Manchester-born creators of the Spotlite technology, founded SafeGuarden CIC with Paul to give back to the community in which they live.
Paul said: “Spotlite speeds up getting good people into work quicker. It is the only tech that is integrated into the DBS system digitally.
“This digital integration means Spotlite can do criminal record checks at pace with digital onboarding and recruitment for volunteers or employees at charities and commercial businesses.
“I’ve worked with the government to develop the technology, which is licensed by the Home Office and certified by UKAS. We now have an in-house service to either carry out the work for organisations, or larger businesses and charities can register to license the technology for themselves. There’s always a cost for doing it anyway, but we do it cheaper!
Paul summed up: “We’re building potential revenue streams so we can become sustainable. We’re now at the stage where, if we want to scale what we’re doing, we need support. We recognise that, but we are not dependent on it. However, it is a fundamental difference because Verve has always stood on its own two feet.”
Find out more about Verve Community CIC
CDD Services will make a donation to Verve for every direct subscription check made with Spotlite. Use promo code VERVE2023