Sit & Stew is an initiative started by 4:28 Training that provides food, social interaction and information to the local community in Conwy Communities First. In this blog, Scott Jenkinson, community organiser and head of 4:28 describes how the group was conceived and what their plans are for life after Communities First.
The Stew story
Over the past 9 years as 4:28 Training, I have worked with some of the hardest to engage in the community, people who have been long term unemployed, homeless, struggling with addiction and often quite far from the labour market.
Last year I was asked by Conwy Communities First to go to Pensarn and figure out a way of engaging the local community.
Initially I was stuck for ideas, but then when visiting one of the local charity shops and telling the manager my problem, a voice came from nowhere shouting, “Stew! We need stew and somewhere to sit in the warm”. The head of a local lady named Paula popped up from behind a pile of second hand shoes.
She went on to explain the choice she had to make each day: put the heating on or go and get food. If she couldn’t do both she would have to go out of the flat as it was too cold to sit in.
The seed was planted – what the locals needed was a place where they could have something warm in their belly, connect with other people and relax. Sit & Stew was born!
Engaging the Community
Sit & Stew is about building a community, it is a place that provides opportunities, opportunity to share life, experience, encouragement and resources. People don’t just come to Sit & Stew for something to eat; they come to be a part of it. They come to build relationships with people that can be there for them – due to the diversity of the target group (everyone!) it is a place that those still in their bad place can sit alongside those that have made it through and they can be inspired, they can be valued and feel a part of society.
The theory that best sums up the ethos behind Sit & Stew is based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If through this project, we can meet the needs of a person, not just their food, but their core needs of safety, belonging and esteem, they will be in a better position to achieve their goals in life. Because of the way that Sit & Stew works behind the scenes with the wraparound care and mentoring relationships, when the person is ready to take the next step, 4:28 Training will be there to show the way.
Across both locations there are up to 58 visitors every week – many of them regulars. We encourage different organisations to come and meet with people there as well.
One of the things that we have always tried to do is encourage visitors to Sit & Stew to see it as their own – so we often ask people to give us a hand when it gets busy, and they always step up and seem to appreciate being asked. We’ve actually just recruited one of our regulars Phil to cook for us, as he wanted to develop into a volunteer.
Working in partnership
Our partnership work is developing nicely with Nacro, Citizens Advice Bureau, CAIS and Homes for Veterans working with us each week to deliver the sessions. Some of the staff from Nacro will lend a hand on the tables, and Cherie and the guys from the Veterans project will often help out too.
We also invite organisations in to do presentations on what they can offer. For example recently we had the Fire Service do a presentation on home safety. That went down really well, especially as they followed it up by organising home visits with some of the regulars to have their fire alarms tested.
In the New Year we have invited Money Advice in to promote what they do, which will be especially useful after the Christmas period when people might need help getting back on track after the Christmas spending!
I would encourage other communities to find out who else is supporting the people that they are working with and make an effort to get in touch with them. I actively invite people to Sit & Stew that I know will add value to the project (Make sure it’s by phone though – I find the personal touch works much better than an email!)
Most of my work now is a direct result of my old life, in which I was a heroin addict and alcoholic for 18 years. Much of that time was spent living rough, often on the streets of London. Thankfully, my second life began following a life changing experience on the 17th of October 2008, and this year will see me 9 years clean and sober.
I started volunteering on a local soup kitchen for the homeless, which developed into a role with the Probation Service and then Nacro. During this time, I stumbled into teaching, qualifying with my PGCE in 2014.
I decided to start 4:28 Training to provide quality, potentially life changing training to those looking to follow a similar path. This year is my first full year self-employed and things are going really well with lots of great opportunities being developed, including lots of teaching – from essential skills, to teacher training and employability skills.
Recently I have been working on a new project called Youth Shedz – which is an exciting new initiative to provide a safe place for young people to develop their skills and work with positive role models.
In my free time I am also working on a project called “Soup ‘n’ Sox’ which is similar to Sit & Stew but is a mobile version using a Vauxhall Vivaro van that I have just purchased. This project is something that I am doing in collaboration with local churches and services to try and meet the need of some of the hardest to reach, many of whom are currently living rough on the streets of our community.
Life after Communities First
Sit & Stew is funded by Communities First, and thankfully has been chosen as one of the Legacy projects to continue for next year.
4:28 Training would not exist today if it weren’t for the support and backing of Communities First. The support that I have received from the likes of Libby and Rob from CF has been second to none. I do not say this lightly when I say that they believed in me when I didn’t believe in me. Through their involvement in what I have been doing has also allowed me to have access to the wider CF team that work tirelessly behind the scenes. The whole team has been instrumental in where I am today both as a small business but also as a person.
I am working on a plan to make Sit & Stew sustainable for the long term by encouraging the organisations that partner with us to put their hand in their pocket and fund it – after all it is providing a service to the people that they support!
Finally, I would like to say a BIG thank you to everyone I consider to be part of the wider 4:28 Training family, from the staff at Communities First, the staff at Adult Learning Wales, the fabulous team of volunteers that support my projects, the local churches, the Dewi Sant Community Centre, Prince’s Drive Baptist Church, the services such as Arc Communities, Nacro, CAIS, Touchstones12 and Homes for Veterans that we work alongside and last but by no means least, the people that come into our lives day in day out that we have the pleasure of serving. So many make it all possible – if I have missed anyone out – we thank you too!