Membership Spotlight January 2015 - ACCOL

By Ben Andrew

Every month we feature one of our members and ask them what their organisation is about and what they have been up to. This month we spoke to Sherril Donaldson, the Business Development Director of ACCOL.

 

ACCOL (African Caribbean Community Organisation Ltd) is an organisation who focus on the welfare of people of African Caribbean descent in Coventry. The origins of this organisation go back to 1998, when a group of black professional workers would regularly meet to create links between the city's black community and the City Council. They became the African Carribean Community Organisation Ltd in 2005, after becoming a Company Limited by Guarantee. Since that time, they have been doing great work in their community, despite rising demand for their services and the challenge of working with limited funding.

Sherril Donaldson spoke to Voice for Change about how hard it has been to adapt to the funding cuts that they faced in 2013, and what the greatest struggle has been for their organisation.

“There's a very long list to choose from but the biggest struggle has actually been staying afloat. We faced complete funding cuts in 2013 so had to change the whole structure and mindset of our organisation. The directors that were there were used to being a bit of a talking shop because generating an income really wasn't an issue while we were receiving government grants. Reaching the mindset that ACCOL is now a business that needs to operate as a business has been very hard. I needed to have some very difficult conversations with people.”

Despite facing such hard hitting cuts in funding, Sherril remains optimistic about the year ahead.

“I am feeling positive, I'm ever the optimist myself,” she says. “It's not about the thousands of pounds in funding, it's about using your time effectively and reaching out to as many people as possible. This year has been about staying in the game, changing the organisational structure and actually generating some income. If we keep on the right track, I know we can carry on making a difference in 2015, and connect with as many people as possible.”

One area that ACCOL have been focusing on increasingly in recent years is connecting to young people in Coventry. “Reaching out to young people in BME communities has always been a priority for us. We are holding regular events at the moment which aim to get young people involved, often based around music. We have initiated a project called Young Vibes which offers several strands of activity. The activities include; The Young Vibes Party, an end of term party night aimed at Under 18s with the youngsters doing everything to make the event happen including DJ ing; Street and Break Dancing classes; the Duke of Edinburgh Award programme; a drumming project, and regular employment and training conferences."

It isn't just young people who ACCOL reach out to, however. Sherril stressed the importance of connecting with all parts of the BME community in Coventry, old as well as young. One way that they do this is through their quarterly magazine.

“It is very popular,” Sherril says, “we produce 1500 hard copies and we run out every quarter. But that's still only a modest proportion of our total readership, because many people access our magazine online. There's no way of knowing how high our quarterly readership is but we can see that it reaches a wide audience. We do membership spotlights on important local figures in the community, and have a section keeping readers informed about what's going on in the coming weeks and months in the local area. The magazine also has a reader's corner where readers can respond and give feedback on what they are reading, and this has already been proving popular as well.”

 

This magazine is another example of the good work that ACCOL are doing on a day to day basis for their local community. Despite being a major part of helping BME communities in Coventry for a long time, ACCOL only became members of Voice for Change quite recently. Sherril explained what made her decide to join up.

"When I saw that conference at your AGM, I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to actually go down, meet some people in London and see what role we can play. Because Voice for Change is the underpinning of what I'm talking about, and I would love to develop a relationship which can increase our profiles at both ends. You guys down in London could keep us informed about what's going on in your area, and we will do the same about activities in Coventry. If we share good practices, research findings and work like that, two and two could equal ten.”

It goes without saying that we are delighted to have ACCOL as members. In a time when we are all hearing the same stories of funding cuts facing charitable organisations around the country, their story of restructuring and adapting in the face of these changes, is an inspirational one for us all.