Our Highlights Of 2023

Twenty-twenty-three was a momentous year for GRCC - it was our Centenary!  The charity Gloucestershire Rural Community Council was founded in May 1923, so we've now been supporting community action in Gloucestershire for more than a century, and for over 95 years we have been based in the same place, Community House in the grounds of Gloucester Cathedral.

It's not easy to pick highlights from a whole year, but in the selection below we've chosen just one snippet from each month, in the hope that it will give a good picture of what we were doing during our Centenary year.

January 2023 - Village Halls Week 

Members of our Community Buildings Network in during Village Halls Week in January 2023

This picture takes us right back to our roots, because supporting communities to build village halls was an important part of our early work in the 1920s.   To this day GRCC continues to provide information, advice and support to the wonderful volunteers who keep Gloucestershire's village halls running at the heart of their communities.   The photo above was taken at our Community Buildings Network meeting at Whitminster Village Hall in January 2023.  Our other Community Buildings Network meetings during the year were at Witcombe and Bentham Village Hall in May, Highnam Community Centre in August, and Elkstone Village Hall in November.  We hold each meeting in a different community building so that members can visit and learn from as wide a variety of different community buildings as possible. 

February 2023 - Our Social Prescribers Distributing Warm Items

GRCC Social Prescriber Richard Burdon delivers an electric blanket to a client in the snow

During February 2023 our Cotswold Community Wellbeing Service Social Prescribers were able to distribute free electric blankets, hot water bottles, slow cookers, fleece throws and heaters to their clients, thanks to some funding we received for this.   During freezing weather and unprecedented energy prices, this help made a real difference to some of our clients who were struggling to keep warm.  A typical example was an elderly gentleman with health issues who lives in a cold caravan on a farm.  He later sent his Social Prescriber a message saying "thanks for the electric blanket – I had the best night’s sleep I have had in a very long time".    Over the year our Social Prescribers have also been able to access financial help for their clients to help pay their energy bills, and of course helped with the full range of issues that affect people's wellbeing,  including loneliness, long-term health conditions, exercise, housing, debt, and many more.  

March 2023 - Housing Needs Surveys and Affordable Housing

North Cerney resident Sophie Brown outside her recently built affordable rented home.

GRCC conducts Housing Needs Surveys as part of our work with the Gloucestershire Rural Housing Partnership,  which consists of GRCC and Gloucestershire's Housing Associations and District and Borough Councils, all working together to try to increase the supply of affordable homes in the county.  In March 2023 we looked back at the figures for our Housing Needs Surveys in the previous 12 months, and found that we had conducted surveys in 15 parishes, contacting a total of 8700 households - and of course we analysed and summarised all of the responses.   In the photo above, resident Sophie Brown stands outside her recently-built affordable rented home in North Cerney.  You can hear more about the huge impact that her affordable home has had on Sophie's life in this video.

April 2023 - Art For All's Exhibition at Nature In Art

Zoe, a member of the Art For All art group which held an exhibition at Nature In Art in April 2023

For April's photo we have chosen this picture of Zoe, a member of the Art For All mental health support art group in Cheltenham, at the group's fantastic April exhibition at the famous  Nature In Art gallery at Twigworth.   Art For All started as an Independence Trust activity group, and still works very closely with GRCC's Independence Trust,  but has now grown into an independent organisation with help from GRCC's Community Development Team.  Art For All gives people vital support to help them cope better with mental health challenges.   "I started painting when I was in a mental health hospital," said Zoe.  "I find it a great way to express my emotions and communicate with others.  It not only works as a distraction from difficult thoughts and experiences, but also as a focus to produce a meaningful piece of art.... Art For All is my favourite time of the week!".      To hear more from Zoe you can watch this short video.

May 2023 - Gloucester Town Crier Proclaims GRCC's 100th Anniversary

Gloucester Town Crier Alan Myatt proclaims GRCC's Centenary in May 2023

The third of May 2023 was a landmark date for GRCC, because it was our official 100th birthday - 100 years to the day since the inaugural board meeting of the GRCC Charity.  We indulged in some gold 100-shaped helium balloons, ate birthday cake, and were treated to a VERY LOUD proclamation by the Gloucester Town Crier Alan Myatt - you can watch a video of it here if you're curious.     Back in 1923, the charity Gloucestershire Rural Community Council was formed for the "development of educational and social life" in villages, through "any activities that make for the elevation or happiness of a community, provided they are non-political and non-sectarian in nature".  Our early work focused on areas such as health, education, juvenile welfare, rural industries, music, drama, and funding the building of village halls.  GRCC's activities widened to include almost every area of social support for rural and urban areas in the county, in an era before these services were provided by county councils. We nurtured many other local support organisations, such as Gloucestershire Age Concern and Gloucestershire CAB, which both started in GRCC's Community House at 15 College Green.     

June 2023 - Pets As Therapy Dogs At Our Cotswold Community Wellbeing Hubs

Pets As Therapy Dogs Visit GRCC's Cotswold Community Wellbeing Hubs June 2023

This month's photo shows the power of community activity - and pets - in supporting people's wellbeing.    Our team of Social Prescribers deliver the Cotswold Community Wellbeing Service, and can provide one-to-one support and signposting for people on any issues which affect their wellbeing, such as loneliness, housing, debt, employment, healthy living, bereavement, depression, and many more.   Our Social Prescribers also run community wellbeing hubs on the first Monday of every month in Stow-on-the-Wold and Moreton in Marsh, where the social prescribers are joined by staff from many other support services, plus a speaker or guest providing a special topic for the session.  In June, the special guests were the dogs from Gloucestershire Pets as Therapy who proved a great hit with everyone, and let their humans give a presentation about their work.   More photos from the events here,  more details about the regular Community Wellbeing Hubs here,  and full details of the Cotswold Community Wellbeing Service here.

July 2023 - Our 100th AGM And Centenary Celebration Event

GRCC Centenary Event July 2023 Maisemore Village Hall

Scones, jam, tea, and singing in a village hall - what could be more quintessentially English or more suitable as a way for GRCC to mark its Centenary?  On Thursday 20th July we decked out Maisemore Village Hall with balloons and LOTS of information displays, and invited over 100 people to come and hear about how we started, what we've achieved over the decades, and most importantly, what we are doing now in the 21st Century to support communities and individuals in Gloucestershire.   Each of our teams gave a talk or showed a video about their work - you can see the videos here and here, and see more about the Centenary Celebration Event and 100th AGM here.  

August 2023 - Employer-Supported Volunteering

GRCC Guy Dobson Employer Supported Volunteering August 2023

August's photograph shows Guy Dobson, our VCSE Advice Officer, doing some Employer Supported Volunteering (ESV) at The Venture White City, a long-established Gloucester play project for children and young people.   Guy, who's a dab hand at carpentry, built a wardrobe on wheels for their dressing up clothes, and a large sandpit.  GRCC, like an increasing number of other employers, encourages its staff to do a certain number of days per year of volunteering for local charities during their GRCC-paid working time.  Part of Guy's work at GRCC is co-ordinating the Gloucestershire Volunteering Collaborative, promoting all sorts of volunteering including ESV.   For more information about the Gloucestershire Volunteering Collaborative, or ESV, you can contact Guy via guyd@grcc.org.uk

September 2023 -  Community Climate Action Event

GRCC Community Climate Action Event held with the Farming and Wildlife Action Group in September 2023

In September we teamed up with our friends at the Farming and Wildlife Action Group (FWAG SouthWest) to run an event on Community Climate Action funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.   The event explored all the ways that local communities in Gloucestershire can inspire and carry out action to respond to climate change, including setting up local food projects, community-led planning, community composting, community transport, community shops, and improving flood resilience and emergency planning.  FWAG explained the powerful methodology of Integrated Local Delivery which they have been championing for the past decade, and community groups such as the Bledington Flood Group shared their experience of taking community action with the support of GRCC.

October 2023 - Digital Inclusion Projects - Milestones Reached

GRCC Digital Inclusion Projects Milestones - photo of a woman and child being helped with work on a laptop

December's photo shows some of our digital inclusion work, setting up and supporting community digital support hubs across the Cotswold and Cheltenham districts as a lead partner in the Gloucestershire Digital Hubs Project.     Another of our digital inclusion projects involves giving those in 'data poverty' free mobile calls and data, through our Databank Project supported by the Vodafone Foundation.   In October, our Databank Project reached the milestone of having provided 5000 free sim cards each giving six months of completely free mobile calls and data, which we distributed via Gloucestershire food banks and other community support organisations whose clients have problems covering the cost of staying online.    You can find more about GRCC's Digital Inclusion and Accessibility projects here, or for more information,  email digital@grcc.org.uk  

November 2023 - Independence Trust Pop-up Wellbeing Hub in Stroud

Independence Trust Pop-up Wellbeing Hub in Stroud November 2023

GRCC's Independence Trust staff took over a shop in the Five Valleys Shopping Centre in Stroud from 13th to 18th November to run a drop-in Community Support Hub.  As well as having their own  Community Wellbeing  and Mental Health support workers on hand, there was a full timetable of other visiting support organisations at the hub, such as the local food bank, u3a,  Inclusion Gloucestershire, Home Start etc (you can see the full timetable here).   On the walls of the Support Hub there was also a very successful art exhibition put on by the Independence Trust's mental health support art groups - who sold dozens of paintings during the week.    During the six days, hundreds of people dropped into the support hub and learned a great deal about the support services available from the Independence Trust and other organisations in Stroud.  This innovate, week-long event received lots of press coverage, including on the BBC website.  

December 2023 - The Knitivity in Gloucester Cathedral 


The Knitivity is an almost-life-sized knitted nativity scene which has now become a traditional part of Christmas in Gloucester Cathedral.  Complete with knitted Octopus, it's a reminder to us not only of the fun and quirky nature of community life, but also the power of working on a common project to build community connections.   As the explanatory notice in the Cathedral (inset) explains:  "The Knitivity project began in 2015 as part of GRCC's In Touch programme.  The In Touch programme united communities by starting creative groups for people from all over Gloucestershire to attend.  The groups provided learning opportunities for all, regardless of age, interests or ability.  The Knitivity has quickly become an integral part of the festive season in the Cathedral."  Groups in different villages and towns all knitted different figures for the Knitivity scene.  The Octopus was added two years later, after a campaign asking the public to vote on a new creature to add to the Knitivity, and was knitted by a group from North Cerney.