The original name of the organisation was Sudan Women’s Association. Formed by Sudanese women refugees in 1991, it registered as a charity in 1996. In 2011, when South Sudan became an independent state, the organisation changed its name to South Sudan Women’s Skills Development. Although we still have members from Sudan, we do not look at them as complete strangers as we are all part of the same Sudan.
What sort of services do you provide?
Before our current financial problems, we used to provide various projects for young children, young people and women of different ages, maybe from 25 years to 78 years. For young children, we had a crèche every Saturday and did many activities with them, like painting and reading books, all activities that involve young children. We provided out-of-school educational activities for school-aged children every Saturday where they received teaching on core subjects such as Maths, English, and Science, as well as mother-tongue languages. During the summer term, we taught them healthy cooking, football, basketball and martial arts. We would involve them in planning events such as Black History Month: they would write the programmes, plan their research etc. and then do a presentation in front of their parents. Those who were good at music would play their music for everyone’s enjoyment. We had various activities for women, such as ESOL and sewing classes, and we had an awareness workshop on HIV and Aids, mental health and wellbeing, conflict resolution and safeguarding children.
Unfortunately, due to the current financial difficulties, we now only provide sewing, knitting, crochet and hand crafts, for two hours on Saturday’s.
Were all these activities done out of Abbey Community Centre?
Yes. We have been in Abbey Community Centre since 1996, almost 20 to 21 years.
How did you get involved with VAC?
We have used VAC for many things! We got involved with VAC right from when we were setting up our organisation. At that time, I was a trustee and we had a very active chair who was referred to VAC by Camden Council’s Voluntary sector unit. VAC covered all of our training needs thereafter. For example, I was the Secretary General of the organisation, so if I had any needs about report writing, minute-taking etc. I would check with VAC first to see if they had any training that could help with this. I would do the same thing for the Treasurer and the Chair, and for the Management Committee overall.
When we had funding to employ part-time workers, VAC would do the payroll for them.
At that time, our members were not computer literate. I knew that VAC had some funding to deliver basic IT support to groups. So their then IT development worker, Mary Sakho, helped us to get around 6-7 donated computers from Camden Council. She would then come and help the women use the computers. She would teach them the basics such as switching the computers on and off and using Word. When they developed their confidence, they would start to use the internet and then, later on, email. Through this project, we were also able to create our own website as the University of London had web development students, which VAC was pairing up to organisations that needed help. We had one very talented young man who came and developed our website. His name was Arthur.
Every year, we also arranged children-safeguarding training for a group of women through the Community Partnership Project, led by Asha Kin-Duale. I remember there also being a 10-12 week project VAC ran for women and grandparents on supporting children and young children.
If we had a problem with funding, we would contact Simone and she would look at our applications and tell us what we needed to add to help us to write a better funding application. If VAC ran training on bid-writing or writing funding applications, we would attend them. I attended the most recent session in March 2017.
I also attended VAC’s Operational Management training. It was a 3-month course, based at Mary Ward. After that, I did the Project Management training through VAC as well.
What support have VAC given more recently?
Recently I have received fundraising support from Simone to look at an application I had written to the Big Lottery. This came on the back of having attended VAC’s bid writing workshop at the Mary Ward Centre, also delivered by Simone.
I found the training very useful, especially obtaining Camden data and other resources from the VAC website. The session mainly covered what the requirements are for Lottery funding and how to search for other funding from trusts and foundations. After the session, we used the handouts to develop our fundraising strategy. The session enabled me to get an insight about the Big Lottery requirements for planning, delivery and monitoring and evaluation.
I then started the Big Lottery application, which Simone was happy to look at. However, in the end, I changed my mind about applying, as we would struggle as a small organisation with only one part-time worker to meet the requirements for Big Lottery funding.
Currently I am working with our volunteers (Justyna Herbut and Deirdre Patterson) to develop a fundraising strategy. After that, we might apply to some other trusts and foundations.
Has VAC supported you with anything else?
Yes, we had some HR support from Caroline Jepson on how to write contracts, person specifications and job descriptions. When we have a project and we need to employ a sessional worker, for example, we would give Caroline a ring. We would tell her that we have funding and need a job description. She would ask about the background of the project and then she would draft us the job description and we would look at it. She did a good job with that. VAC also developed all our policies and procedures.
What is your overall impression of VAC and what impact have they had on your organisation?
I believe VAC is a fantastic organisation and the way they help, especially small refugee organisations, they understand what it means to be a voluntary and community sector organisation.
In the past, I attended various training for BME Women’s and refugee groups at other places, but found the training was not structured like VAC’s training. VAC have more knowledge on the background of people who are coming from refugee backgrounds, so VAC’s training met their needs. Without the support of VAC, we would not have lasted up to 21 years. We would have finished a long time ago. All the staff are really helpful.
What sort of things do you see yourself doing with VAC in the future?
The most important thing is fundraising. I think VAC have people with good fundraising knowledge. Whenever I am ready to submit an application, VAC have assured me that they would be happy to look over my application before I submit. I would just need to send an email. The first thing we need to do with VAC’s help is to raise funds, to sustain our organisation.
We want to do a small project to help women gain employment, as for most of them, their reading and writing skills are not very good and they find it hard to get a job. We thought maybe they could finding jobs in retail or care, and so we are planning to look for funding to provide training for these women in either retail or care.
The number of our children affected by autism is on the rise and the parents, some of them, don’t understand what autism is so we are planning to apply for funding from” Award for All” to deliver a project on Autism.
Do you have any other comments?
I just have the one final comment, which is about Camden Council. They need to understand that certain organisations, like VAC, should be financially supported so they in-turn can support smaller organisations. I believe all the training and the support we got from VAC was free of charge. We did not pay money. If there is no VAC, we will have limited resources, which we will use to deliver training, but those resources will not be enough to deliver services to the community as well as to train and develop our staff. My appeal to Camden is to support organisations like VAC so their impact can continue with small organisations.
Staff at VAC are very down to earth and very helpful. They do not consider themselves away from the community; they present themselves as part of the community. Whenever we have needs, VAC is there to help us. If any issues affect small organisations, it is VAC’s issue and we feel that they are part of our development.
You can find out more about the work of South Sudan Women’s Skill Development by visiting their website: http://abbeycc-kilburn.org.uk/index.php/about-abbey-community-centre/south-sudan-womens-skills-development/