A Big Thank You to Aldi Didcot

Balsam would like to thank Aldi Didcot for their kind generosity.  They have donated to us 36 bottles of non – alcoholic mulled punch.  The punch will be heated and then made available for people at the Didcot Christmas Fair on Thursday.  I shall be writing to Mr. Charles Evans the area manager to thank Aldi on our behalf.

Balsam Update May 2016

Encouraging News!
Early this year it became clear that Balsam needed an injection of finance if it was to remain viable. Thanks to the enormous generosity of all who have given financial support, we now have funds which mean we are secure for the next 12-15 months!  We are so grateful to our faithful friends and supporters who have stood by Balsam, over the last few difficult months, and to those who recently gave time to discuss fundraising options with us, resulting in many interesting suggestions for us to explore.
We are grateful for all that Fiona Scott Brennan has achieved, over the past 8 months, as a paid employee, in her role as Promotions and Fundraising Co-ordinator, and for her continuing to work on a voluntary basis for some time each week. Fiona has been successful in bringing in some great volunteers to join the Balsam team.Now we look forward with excitement to the prospect of three new trustees with an amazing range of skills, experience and insights to contribute to the leadership of the Balsam Family Project.
Balsam Office has a New Home!
On 23 April Balsam Family Project moved from Harwell to new premises at The Annexe, 191 Broadway, Didcot OX11 8RU.  A BIG THANK YOU to Paul Luper (Roxy’s dad) and Roxy Thorp for having our office in their house, rent free, over the last few years. Our move went so smoothly with the help of Paul, Alex, Fiona, Rob and three good men from Ladygrove Church.  Many many thanks to  Tim Sugar from Ridgway Community Church for providing the van, and to Jane and Fiona for cleaning the new office beforehand.  Thanks also to Julie, our new ‘landlady’ for opening her home and blessing Balsam once more with rent free office space.  Finally, thanks and praise to the Lord for how well everything went.  We are grateful to Paul who gave his time to help Balsam set up a network.
Networking with other Organisations
Balsam continues to build links with Doorsteps, OCVA (Oxfordshire Community Voluntary Association), The Children’s Trust Board, and the Local Authority – to work collaboratively to provide families in Oxfordshire with support.
OCVA Award
On Wednesday 11 May Balsam representatives attended the OCVA awards in Oxford.Roxy Thorp, one of our key volunteers, has just been given an award for all her commitment and work with the families Balsam serves.  CONGRATULATIONS Roxy!  Well deserved!  You are such a gift to us all! Roxy has been part of the Balsam family for over five years, actively involved in so many ways – supporting and encouraging families, currently running Family Days and craft activities et al at College Creche, and Office Manager for much of this time.  Roxy is one of those fabulous people who are always there when you need them, ever-ready to do whatever’s needed and doing it well.
 Bagpacking Fundraising
We are so grateful to Sainsbury’s Didcot for allowing us to offer bag packing services to their customers and to the generosity of customers and a GREAT team of Balsam volunteers who helped to raise the FANTASTIC total of £602.08 on 30 April.  The publicity this gives to a small local charity is so valuable, giving us the opportunity to meet families interested in parenting courses, as well as people who have gone on to become regular Balsam supporters or volunteers.
Balsam College News

“Is there another Course following this one?  We’d really like to do that too. It’s been really helpful, full of practical ideas”. (Quote from a participant in Balsam’s NEWEST COURSE – see below:

This term has seen the exciting launch of a new 5 week Refresher/Taster’ Courseat Balsam College for those who have done Level 1 ‘Parenting & Home Management’ Course and Level 2 ‘Personal Growth & Development’ Course’; or new people who want to come along and get a taste of what the Courses are like.  We pray they will then go on to do the other Level Courses.  Currently, there are six people doing this new Course, one of these having rearranged another commitment to come along because she enjoyed the first week so much!  We are grateful for Melanie and Leanne, who have joined the Crecheteam, who ably run this and prepare craft activities related to the theme of the day, for the parents and children to do together, when parents return from their teaching time.

This has followed on from the Level 2 course that ran from January to March and was greatly appreciated by the three who did it.  They asked “Is there another Course following this one?  We’d really like to do that too. It’s been really helpful, full of practical ideas”.  Please pray for sufficient interest to run a second ‘Refresher/Taster’ Course in the second half of term.

Family Days
Venue:  Didcot Methodist Church on Thursday mornings 10 – 11.45 am.
A typical Family Day –  Everyone is warmly welcomed, and then down to the important task of playing!  This could be making the sounds of the animals in the farm or zoo; drinking endless cups of pretend tea in the play kitchen; building an incredible structure with building blocks; making a joyful noise with instruments; listening to a story; parking the cars in the garage; rolling and squashing play doh and much more.There’s usually an activity for parent and child to work on together. Some recent ones have been: making a nest for an Easter chick; colouring, cutting and sticking a Mother’s Day card; decorating bottles and filling them with beads to make music shakers.
Family Days always include lots of chatting – sometimes about last night’s TV, but more often about family, life and parenting.  Recently one of our mum’s was sharing about the problem she was having getting her teenage son to school, and another about her concerns over her sons development. You know at Family Day there will always be someone to talk to about the niggles and issues all parents have – someone to listen and offer support. We try to run Family Days throughout the year, including school holidays, to always give our families the routine and support they need.
New volunteers are always needed and very welcome – to make drinks, chat with adults, read a story, assist with a craft activity or just play with children.  Volunteers arrive at 9.15 to set up the toys, activities and refreshments ready for the families who arrive at 10.00 am; then after a final cuppa (and maybe even a sneaky biscuit!) it’s time to tidy everything away, say goodbye and head home at 11.45 am.  If YOU are interested in joining the team, or just coming along to see what’s going on, please contact Roxy on 07984 641466
There are always lots of opportunities for volunteering with Balsam:
    currently needed to support families who’ve participated in a College Course.  NEXT TRAINING COMING UP SOON  
    Contact: Alex Walker (Project Manager)
    Tel: 07799 894410 email:  info@balsamfamilyproject.co.uk HELP NEEDED AT COLLEGE OR FAMILY DAYS to:  
    set-up, serve refreshments, chat or help with craft activities – any or all of these skills! 
  • BALSAM FAMILY COLLEGE at Didcot Methodist Church
    Mondays and Tuesdays
    (9.15 am to 2.45 pm)
    Contact: Alex (as above)
  • FAMILY DAYS onThursdays (9.45–11.45 am) at Didcot Methodist 
    Contact: Roxy on 07984 641466
    or email roxy@balsamfamilyproject.co.uk FOR MORE INFO ABOUT BALSAM:  www.balsamfamilyproject.co.uk

Balsam Family Project Financial Challenge

What is the nature of the financial challenge facing Balsam Family Project?
Balsam Family Project (BFP) relies entirely on donations from individuals, churches and businesses/organisations, almost all of them local. Although our original model was to work closely with social services and be paid by them for much of our work, this has not proved viable and we receive no money from central or local government. Furthermore, only around 10% of our costs this year will have been covered from committed, predictable giving.

We are therefore heavily dependant on grant income, fundraising and one-off donations. Only twice in our history have we received a grant or donation greater than £6,000 and so you will see that we rely on quite a number of different sources. This can be helpful because it means we are not reliant on a single source but it also means that our income is fragile. In the last year, for no apparent reason, we have been less successful than previously in securing grants and have had fewer one-off donations than normal since the Summer. So for the past 6 months or so we have been spending more than we have received in most months and our limited reserves have been depleted. When the Trustees met on 8th February we had funds to continue our full activities until  the end of March but not for a whole month beyond. That is why we had to take action to flag the issue and sadly serve notice to our colleagues.

Why have BFP’s costs increased?
As Balsam Family Project has grown so have our costs.  We now support over 70 families. We are still incredibly efficient and those who work for us are paid well below the going rates.  All of our paid resource is  part-time or self-employed so that we do not pay for time when they are not utilised and we are blessed with many willing volunteers.  But as the scale of our activity has grown, we have had to increase our cost base to ensure proper administration of records and co-ordination of activity. We also believed that not to pay the equivalent of the Living Wage was dishonouring our colleagues. Our Annual Accounts for the year ending 30th June 2015 will be published shortly.  They show a cost base of around £43,000 in that year and we estimate costs of close to £50,000 in the current financial year. For that we fund a project manager, two college course trainers, promotional and administrative support, transport expenses for some of our families to enable them to participate, celebration and recognition events and running costs such as rent, insurance and sundries.

What is the plan to recover the situation?
We are asking all our supporters to consider making a financial commitment to our work. We need some one-off donations (totalling £25,000 would be fantastic) to give us confidence to continue operations over the next 6 months. Additionally and as important, is a commitment to regular giving. A donation of £20 a month from 50 supporters would make an enormous difference to our financial stability. We would then be in a position to consider professional fundraising support to provide a sustainable income stream. In the meantime, colleagues have been sacrificial with some of their time and Didcot Methodist Church has most generously agreed to waive our rent.

Since flagging the position we have had a number of approaches from individuals willing to commit to our work and we are of course exploring many different avenues. We expect to hear in the next week or so about a grant application that had been submitted just before Christmas.

What if I make a contribution but the charity does not raise enough money to sustain its activities?
If you are considering giving but are worried that the future of the project is in doubt then we understand this dilemma. The Trustees are asking supporters to give us a clear indication by 7th March 2016 of the level of support they are prepared to offer. We will then take a decision on the future of the project that evening.  We will only continue with the charity if we have confidence that http://dailycialisuse.com/ we will be able to secure at least 12 months’ resources, having received pledges that provide at least half of the year’s necessary income.  If that is not possible, then we commit to returning any funds committed since 15 February and not activating any pledges.

How can I give?
There are lots of ways to give.  We have a Give.net site https://my.give.net/BalsamJer2911 (for smaller donations or one-off donations of under £500), via Paypal on our Donate page here on our website; you can also download a Standing-Order-Mandate and a Gift Aid Website Form . Standing orders can be presented to your bank or send to us to do so with your Gift Aid Form. Alternatively, or if you have any further questions, you can contact the chair of our Trustees at the following address: Andrew Haines OBE, Yew Tree Barn, The Paddocks, East Hanney, Wantage OX12 0HX .

Thank you and please do give generously.

March Update as promised

We promised to write to you again following our most recent Trustees meetings.  These took place on 7th and 14th of March.

We have been overwhelmed by the words of support and encouragement and very generous giving to the Balsam Family Project.  This has been sufficient for the Trustees to have confidence in continuing to operate and we would like to thank everyone who has contributed to that in whatever way.  We are now ready to receive the donations that were promised and the best method of activating those payments is, for monthly giving, download a Standing Order from our website, fill it in and then take it to your bank. Alternatively for one off gifts you could post a cheque to – Meadow Cottage, Froud’s Yard, Reading Road, Harwell, Oxon, OX11 0LW or for any enquiries email Martin Holden (Administrator) – martin@balsamfamilyproject.co.uk and he will assist as best he can.  We remain very keen to build a network of small, regular givers as this is a key area of our fundraising which remains quite weak.

In deciding the way ahead the Trustees have sought to identify the unique characteristics of BFP, how we can ensure we focus on those as our principal focus and how we can generate a more stable income base.  We identified our three strongest characteristics as the quality and intensity of training we can provide, the critical importance of the role of Community Family Friends and Balsam as a basis for long term relationships into the wider community, especially, but not exclusively, through churches.

The key elements of our plan for the financial year starting 1 April are:

  • To reduce our short term operating costs by cutting back on the number of paid hours worked until the end of 2016 at least.
  • Instead of running our normal courses in the summer term we will trial a series of 5 one day work-shops as specifically focussed on families that have been through Level 1 and Level 2 courses but who would value ongoing training and nurturing of this sort.
  • Prioritising between now and September the recruitment, training and nurturing of Community Family Friends so that we can offer this support to any families who wish to pick it up.
  • Ensuring that we run two x Level 1 BFC course in the Autumn term with maximum attendance through active recruitment in advance.
  • Relocate our offices to new, rent free accommodation in Didcot ( largely driven by changes in the domestic circumstances of our existing very generous space provider)
  • Stabilising the operation of Family Days given that our current coordinator is due to give birth in September.
  • Developing a wider fundraising strategy with the support of various organisations and individuals who have offered their insights and help since our financial challenge has become more widely known.
  • Recruiting at least two new Trustees.

If as a supporter you would like to be involved in any of these activities; considering becoming a Community Family Friend, volunteering to assist in our BFC crèche or at a Family Day, helping with fundraising or acting as a trustee, then we would love to hear from you.  Please do let us know via email at martin@balsamfamilyproject.co.uk or speak to Alex on 07799894410.

Thank you once again for all your generosity and encouragement.  It has meant so much to those of us involved in Balsam Family Project, not least the families themselves.
Yours sincerely,
Andrew Haines
Chairman of the Trustees

Alex Walker
Project Manager and Trustee
Alex Hammond

Rob Bennie

Balsam Christmas Celebration

Balsam Family Project had its Christmas Celebration at Didcot Civic Hall last Saturday (10 December).  It went very well and was enjoyed by all.  A Big Thank You to all those who helped to make it a success.  Here are some pictures for you to look at.

The Children were Entertained by Magic Peter

The Mayor Presenting Certificates.

Hampers for our Families. A Special Thanks to Miriam and the Food Bank Team.

A Rising Star


Business & Community Awards 2016

November sees the 8th annual Didcot Business and Community Awards sponsored by Didcot First.  I have great pleasure in announcing that Balsam Family Project has been nominated for two categories.

They are:

  • Best Established Charity / Community Group
  • Inspirational Youth Group

Many thanks to those who nominated us.

Balsam Love Story


Churches Working Together for Oxfordshire’s Children

Executive Summary

Together, churches care for more children than any other organisation.

Over the next year Oxfordshire County Council is closing 44 children’s centres and so thousands of families will miss out on vital support. These closures along with other changes add up to a crisis for many children and families who are already struggling.

The cuts give our churches an incredible opportunity alongside their God-given duty to provide desperately needed support to local families and put churches at the heart of their community life, showcasing the Church at its best: responding in proactive and relevant ways.

The council is looking for creative ways to support families in the future including working in partnership with churches and other organisations. The Doorsteps network and the Diocese of Oxford are a part of these county-wide conversations and are actively seeking to facilitate work by churches and their partners. Together, we are asking local churches, of all denominations, to work cooperatively to support families in the community, for example, by taking on a local centre and providing relevant and desired universal services for families with children under five in the local area.

Doorsteps is a network of local churches and community groups in Oxfordshire, inspiring and equipping churches to work together to effectively reach vulnerable children and families across the county. We believe churches partnering with other community organisations to develop creative solutions for local families is a key solution e.g. family befriending schemes, parenting support or respite care for foster carers. Doorsteps was birthed from and is supported by Viva – an Oxford-based charity which brings positive change to more than 1.2 million children worldwide through 37 partner networks of churches in 50 cities.

We are proposing four steps for you to consider:

 Start the discussion in your church as to how you could work with others to support local families, how you could respond to the closure of the children’s centre and who you could partner with. Doorsteps can support you at every step of the journey, even help with applying for council funding.


Bring some of your children’s workers and leadership teams as well as church members to the Doorsteps conference on Saturday 5th November in Oxford. This conference will begin to equip churches to respond to these challenges (details below).


Sign a joint letter from churches to our local MPs in order to highlight the Church’s engagement with the issue.  Simply down load, add your name and send it: 070716 Letter to MPs


 Upload information about your existing weekday activities for families with children under five to the County Council Family Information Service at the following link: http://fisd.oxfordshire.gov.uk/kb5/oxfordshire/directory/providers.page


Please contact Katy Thompson if you want to get involved, find out more information or learn who else in your area is already interested: k.thompson@viva.org and 07708 184012.

For the full case for support please go to: http://www.vivatools.org/downloads/doorsteps_case_for_support_20160707.docx





The Doorsteps network is hosting a conference this autumn aimed at inspiring, equipping and connecting churches to effectively reach out to children and vulnerable families in their community – and make real change possible.

This is more important than ever in light of the changes to local authority provision, with children’s centres closing, and the opportunity this presents for community groups like churches to work together so that struggling families are supported at an earlier stage.

We hope each participant will go away feeling inspired and empowered as to the next step for them and their church and how to do it in collaboration with others.

There will be inspiring speakers, workshops, a marketplace and an opportunity for networking.  Please save the date now!  It’s taking place on Saturday 5th November from 10am – 4pm at CMS, Watlington Road, Oxford OX4 6BZ.

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Balsam put Families at Heart of Christmas

If you waked into the Conservative Club on Sunday, you would have been greeted by dozens of Oxfordshire families celebrating the hope and future Christmas is all about. Christmas dinner was served to over 60 families by trustees and volunteers of Balsam Family Project and every family left with a Christmas Hamper provided by Didcot Food Bank.

It was an opportunity to celebrate the achievement of several new graduates of Balsam Family College who were presented with their Level 1 Certificate in Parenting and Home Management. We were honoured to have the Mayor of Didcot, Councillor Des Healy to present the Certificates, along with Trustee and Project Manager Alexandra Walker, most of whom hope to go on to Level 2 (Personal Growth and Development) in the New Year.

The Mayor of Didcot presented the Level 1 Certificate to Shaun with the help of Alexandra Walker

The Mayor of Didcot presented the Level 1 Certificate to Shaun with the help of Alexandra Walker

As well as Christmas Dinner, there was live music from Gang Busters and a craft table for the kids. The afternoon ended with all the children having fun and getting messy with The Creation Station.

Christmas Celebration - mum&sonweb

Pictured here is Henry with his proud mum, Daisy, showing artwork he made

62 Balsam families across Oxfordshire will have received hampers before Christmas thanks to packing and provision of Balsam volunteers and the local Food Bank. Balsam Family Project provides community for families who are isolated and vulnerable. They run a Family Day on Thursdays as well as the college course which runs in term time from Didcot Methodist Church facilities. We also have a Saturday coffee morning and other events throughout the year.

“The charity receives no government funding and is dependent on grants, local fundraising events and donations by individuals,” says Promotions and Fundraising Coordinator, Fiona Brennan-Scott. “If you would like to get involved or find out more, please look us up or give us a call. We love to have new members joining us and appreciate all donations to support the work that we do”.

Servers Caroline and Hannah take a well-deserved rest!

Servers Caroline and Hannah take a well-deserved rest!

The charity would especially like to thank Didcot Conservative Club, who donated the use of the hall.

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