Friendship Really Matters: how Friends within a community can change students’ lives

nash-college-friends-group-tagLivability friends groups work to support local services not just with fundraising initiatives but by raising awareness in the local community of the charity’s work. The Friends of Nash College, a specialist college for young disabled adults in Kent, are no exception.

But what motivates volunteers to champion a local service and offer their time and experience for free?

A personal connection to the charity helps to drive the group

For Friends members, Christine Hatton and Doreen Hobbs, a personal connection with Livability and Nash played a big part in their decision to get involved and their commitment helps to make the Friends group the success it is today.

Christine’s husband had been in one of Livability’s children’s homes when he was a child. ‘He lived in a residential home in Westerham when it was called John Grooms,’ explains Christine. ‘When we saw an advert in the local paper asking people to join the charity’s local friends’ group, we decided to get involved.’

For Doreen, the connection with Livability also went back a long way,I was one of the teachers at Coney Hill School in the 1960s and ’70s, a pioneering residential school for disabled children. The staff there developed “learning for living” courses in the late 1970s to teach independence and life skills to its school leavers. This was the beginning of Nash College.’

Doreen went on to become Head of Nash in the 1980s, before retiring in 1992. Her own experience working with students at the school means that, when it comes to deciding what to raise funds for, their requests are always put first.

The Friends always consult the students when fundraising

‘We always ask the students which “extras” they would like that will enhance their lives.’ Doreen explains. ‘We are then given a short list of “would likes” and we decide as a group what to fundraise for next.’

‘They always take time to consult with staff to make sure that they are purchasing items that will have an impact on students’ lives – they find out what the students enjoy using by coming to College and watching the them interact with sensory items.’Neil Rees-Davies, Head of College

The Friends group helped to raise funds for special equipment, including an ‘eye-gaze’ computer – an amazing piece of technology that allows students to operate it with eye movements alone – and equipment for the new sensory studio at Nash, including a ‘Magic Carpet’. Both have a big impact on students’ lives, as Neil explains.

‘The “Magic Carpet” allows students to control images on the floor or on their wheelchair tray by simple movements. This may seem like a small thing, but for students with limited physical ability independent acts offer them some control and autonomy.’

The Friends group helped to raise funds for special equipment for the college.

The Friends group helped to raise funds for special equipment for the college.

Last year, the Friends group provided the college with robust outdoor furniture, including a very large outdoor umbrella, for the summer months.

Neil says, ‘The garden furniture not only make the outside area look so much better, the umbrella offers much needed shade, allowing students to spend more time outside. This furniture is so much better! We previously had cheap garden chairs that kept breaking and gazebos that had ropes to trip over or collapsed at the first puff of wind!’

‘The Friends group would now like to help regenerate the facilities in the wooded area around the college so that students can get greater benefit from the outdoor space,’ Doreen tells us.

Connecting with the local community is a vital part of their role

Spreading the word about the work of the college to the wider community is considered as vital as their fundraising work.

‘Engaging the local community hasn’t always been easy. On occasion, it has been difficult for students going into the local cafés – but it is improving,’ says Christine. ‘We go and speak to groups and individuals in the area about the college to build awareness. Our stall at the local Hayes Fair each year has also helped to spread the word about the work of the College.’

‘The local schools and churches now know about the work at Nash and have been very supportive’Doreen

Members of the group love involving local schools in fundraising for the College and make sure that they report back to the children on the difference their funds have made to the students.

Since the Friends group began, they have worked hard to create fundraising opportunities within the local community. ‘As well as the Hayes Fair, we do a “Rock Choir” concert, quiz nights, carol singing, a wine tasting evening, and organize local school collections,’ Doreen explains. ‘Local companies and Rotary Clubs also donate to Nash College through us, and, of course, we are supported by the friends and families of the students.’

Inviting students to participate in events helps to raise awareness

‘We tend to raise the most money for the college through the quiz nights and Rock Choir, but the Hayes Fair and carol singing reach out to the community, so are well worth doing and great fun!’ Doreen says. ‘Some of the students join in the carol singing. Having students at our fundraising events is really useful as they help to improve the visibility of the college.’

Nichola Beeston, who acts as clerk to the Governors of the College, agrees. “We try to encourage staff and students to attend our Friends’ fundraising events to meet the wider community,” she says. “This helps those who may not know about the work of the college to gain a better understanding of students’ lives and the difficulties they face.”

Neil Rees-Davies, is  delighted with the success of the group and the way its hard work benefits the students. ‘The staff and students owe our Friends a big thank you. Their work really makes a huge difference!’

Can you help connect people this Christmas?

Our work to help connect people with their community is only possible thanks to the friendship of our supporters. This Christmas, your support could help with:

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Supporting people recover from mental health illness by taking part in Flourish – our horticultural therapy programme at Livability’s wellbeing centre.
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Enabling disabled people express their creativity and build friendships through art classes and community programmes.
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Coaching people facing barriers to employment in setting up their own business.

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