‘A Wonderful And Inspiring Day’

From the moment there were queues at the registration desk an hour before the scheduled start time, there was a lively buzz around the Carden Suite for the second annual Steve Morgan Foundation charity conference.

There was chat and there was laughter, there were gasps and there was applause, but above all else there was another real sense of togetherness and teamwork as charities from the four supported regions came together for another day of networking and sharing ideas.

The first ever annual conference held last October was such a success that the Foundation repeated the experience this year, but both bigger, and better.

So instead of being just a morning session with short presentations and one workshop, it was a full day with longer presentations and two separate workshops, allowing delegates more opportunity to contribute and discuss their own experiences and share best practice.

The conference also heralded the return, after a seven-year absence, of the Steve Morgan Awards, aiming to salute the commitment to excellence of so many charities and community groups within those four supported areas.

The keynote speakers in the morning delivered some fantastic presentations offering food for thought in so many diverse areas of the Third Sector.

Lee Pennington and Greg Edwards spoke of their experiences of how the Open Door Charity, which takes an innovative approach to supporting young people with mental health, had grown so much that they had to quickly adapt and grow the organisation’s resilience, including moving to a brand new premises – the Bloom Building in Birkenhead.

Eva Wilkes, from Neo Community Café, looked back at how she began this vital community charity in Birkenhead from literally nothing, and how it has grown, particularly thanks to the efforts of so many dedicated volunteers.

Scott Jenkinson, who runs the Youth Shedz charity in North Wales, took guests on his own personal journey of how, after years of addiction and living on the streets, he turned his life around and is now helping so many young people find their own voice and independence.

And Jo Davis, from Designs In Mind in Oswestry, talked how about how that charity uses art to challenge stigmas around mental health, bringing along Pip, who explained just how the organisation has transformed his life since he first randomly walked through the door ‘in a very dark place’, a year ago.

“Designs in Mind hasn’t just changed my life, it has given me a new one,” said Pip.

That was very much a recurring theme throughout the day, of how the charities and community groups within the room have made such a dramatic and much-needed difference to the lives of people across Cheshire, Merseyside, North Wales and North Shropshire.

There were two separate phases of workshops at which delegates were encouraged to take an active part in discussions, around subjects including resilience, volunteers, investing in young people, tackling mental health through social prescribing and shared reading taster sessions.

A lengthy feedback session then saw the leaders of the workshops reporting back and sharing the discussions so everyone in the room was given a flavour of the topics covered.

Then followed the awards, which had attracted entries well into three figures across four different categories, followed by a special award, made at the judges’ discretion from all the applications.

Steve Morgan, Chairman of the Foundation, said:  “It was another wonderful and inspiring day.

“We held our first annual conference last year, which I thought was great, but this was even better, and has set the bar even higher for future years.

“I think all of us tend to get so busy and wrapped up in our day-to-day activities, that we forget that other people out there have issues very similar to our own.

“Charities will often experience the same situations and  the same frustrations, and getting together at this conference is so valuable in sharing stories which we can all relate to.

“It was after last year’s first conference that we decided to bring back our awards, and we were really impressed with the quality of the applications.

“The judging process, which included some online voting, took a lot of time and effort but we really enjoyed seeing how much incredible work is taking place at the grass roots levels of so many communities.

“We had over 100 applications and I think any one of them could have won – they were that good.

“I would also say that every single one of the charities that came along to our conference are winners, because of the work they do and what they put back into society.”

The ‘Outstanding Individual Award’ was won by Diane Clark, CEO with Passion for Learning CIO in Chester, a charity which recruits volunteers to help children to read and learn.

Understandably, a clearly shocked Diane was very emotional after the announcement.

“This means more to me than anything, because without the Steve Morgan Foundation, we would be nowhere,” said Diane.

“They were the first people I met that really understood what I was trying to do when I was working out of the boot of my car!

“Without the Steve Morgan Foundation, we wouldn’t have reached the thousands of children that we now reach, and that is why nothing means more to me than this.”

The Best Entrepreneurial Charity or Social Enterprise award was won by RainbowBiz CIC, with Neo Community being named as the Charity or Social Enterprise making the greatest local impact.

The Priority Youth Project was named as the best charity or social enterprise changing young lives,  while the Open Door Centre was awarded the prize for the Best Volunteer Team.

The awards, which included prizes of £5,000 for the winners and £1,000 for the runners-up,  were presented by Steve and his fellow trustees Sally Morgan, Ashley Lewis and Rhiannon Walker.

The conference and awards was organised chiefly by Jane Harris, the Steve Morgan Foundation’s Director of Regional Grants, and Gosia McKane, the Development and Projects Manager, while the photography on the day was carried out by Keyhole Productions, whose director Kris McDonald was named the ‘Best Young Entrepreneur’ at the Steve Morgan Foundation awards back in 2010.

There was also a fantastic performance from the Kim Community Choir, part of the Kim Inspire charity which provides high quality mental support to people from the local community.

Their standing ovation was another highlight of a day of so many highlights which saw delegates refreshed and re-invigorated by the sharing of experiences and learning of new information.

Steve himself admitted he had felt the same excitement and emotions as he closed the awards, with the words which probably echoed what everyone else was thinking: “Roll on next year!”


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