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Where we started

We started life with £500 in the bank and a worker employed for 3 hours a week based in the centre of Solihull. Our vision? Excellent leisure services for people with a learning disability to give parents and carers a well earned rest! Turnover at the end of this year was £18K and we employed 5 members of staff. Our name was Solihull Leisure Opportunities. Our first logo was:


Janet Down joined as Senior Co-ordinator of SoLO. We took over Open Door—a provision for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities and Icebreakers—a community provision for adults with moderate learning disabilities. We set up 2 Performing Arts Projects for younger people. We provided 7 different services for people with a learning disabilities, employed 15 staff and turned over £43K. We held our first Disco at Christmas—a great success and the first of many!

Our volunteer fundraising group started (and is still running if you want to join—it is great fun!) Time Out parents group joined the SoLO family to provide an afternoon chill out time for their teenagers with severe learning disabilities—a partnership which has stood the test of time! We also linked up with the local Gateway Club which took our services up to 9, and our turnover to over £50K

We took over the management of the summer playschemes and saw SoLO double in size almost overnight. We employed 50 staff, our volunteer base grew to 80 and our turnover £135k. Most importantly, we were able to provide excellent opportunities during the summer for children with severe learning disabilities—which subsequently got rated by Ofsted as Outstanding We received a grant from the Big Lottery which meant that we were able to increase our services by 4 additional groups and the planning began!

Teen Open Door began with a parents management group to ’kick start it’. It provided a much needed opportunity for teenagers with severe learning disabilities to meet up with their friends after school.   Our summer schemes increased to include integrated activities for older children, our turnover doubled again to £221K and our staff increased to support the additional demand. South Arts had a weekend away, Open Door held a barn dance—lots of fun activity happening!

Our Service User Reference Group met with 7 members attending the first meeting. We ran a major fundraising cycle ride on a 26 seater bike (we haven’t got any more sensible as the years have gone on!) and we enrolled on the Investors in People Programme which we went on to achieve in November. We started getting involved in other work and carried out some research on behalf of the Russell Commission on volunteering for people with a learning disability. Plans for a drop in which gave adults with a learning disability the opportunity to meet with their friends, were started. Our turnover reached £263K, and we were now running 19 different leisure schemes.

Night Owl started based at Sheldon and adults with a learning disability living around the area had somewhere safe to go to meet up with their mates. We started supporting the person centred planning service in the borough and were instrumental in recruiting 20 facilitators (some of whom are still active in the borough)Plans were underway for the development of a further drop in based in Chelmsley Wood. Huge blow towards the end of this year—we were unsuccessful in replacing our Big Lottery money and sadly had to make redundancies.

Despite our loss of a major funding stream the previous year, SoLO went from strength to strength. We did not reduce any projects, but worked hard to replace funding from elsewhere. We reported on the delivery of 3000 leisure experiences to 280 children and adults with a learning disability. Remarkably our turnover increased to £267K, and we added another project to our portfolio! This was, in no small way, due to the amazing efforts of our staff and volunteers with the encouragement of our wonderful members. Part of our fundraising approach was to send the General Manager over the side of the John Lewis building (with about 25 others!) We also ran our first, very successful Ball.

Our volunteer photographer, Tony Greenfield, won a national award which captured a learning disabled member having the opportunity to showcase her talent within one of the SoLO’s projects. SoLO is about giving everyone opportunities to succeed. Our Disability Awareness Training started to gather momentum this year and we were delivering to groups of up to 250! Our service portfolio increased to 23 as we took over some leisure schemes from a local charity that closed down—ensuring that the people they had served so well would not lose their leisure opportunity. Consequently, our staffing increased to 80 and our turnover for £304k.

We started the year with a new name—Solihull Life Opportunities. This tied in with our new business planning which was to continue to deliver high quality social and leisure activities, whilst providing respite, but also to develop additional activities that would increase the life changes of people with a learning disability. We modified our Logo—to be more colourful (because we certainly are!) we employed a Children’s Manager and we won a significant contract to deliver more children’s services. This was particularly exciting as it enabled us to provide under the shortbreaks banner and introduced a brand new service called Access All Areas. We bought our first minibus (with the support of our members who raised the money) and we held our first members ball. We provided 5000 leisure experiences for 426 children and adults with a learning disability, employed 80+ staff, involved 120+ volunteers and turned over £499K.

A year of increase – services rose to 5,500, staff to 59 paid and 106 volunteers, income grew to £589,000 and we created a surplus of £89,000 (happy days!) Personalisation was still in its infancy but government cuts were looming. On the basis of a surplus position and with the strong possibility of individual budgets, the trustees designated £30,000 to develop a new activity programme for adults with a learning disability – Daylight was the result of this at the end of the financial year.

This year saw a staggering growth in services offering – almost doubling our output (10,000 during the year) within only a 30% increase in staffing levels – we really achieved ‘more with less’ before the term became popular! We were one of the first charities in the country to get the enhanced IIP accreditation. The Plan4U team were awarded a 3 year contract and the Person Centred Planning Services grew. Fundraising went to new heights with a mega abseil raising £5,000 and seeing almost 100 people drop down the side of Fort Dunlop.

A year of consolidation, following the huge growth in the previous year but also a new development for SoLO – the Personal Assistants Service. This grew out of the demand for good quality PA’s with an organisation prepared to take the pain out of recruitment, screening and employment for parents who were in receipt of individual budgets for their sons and daughters with a learning disability. SoLO partnered with a national organisation to run a Transition Event for parents to help them understand the pathway through to adulthood. For the first year our income was less than our expenditure due to the investments into new services. Our fundraising efforts literally ‘walked on hot coals’ to help raise additional income.

Our first year of capital investment seeing the acquisition of a purpose built base in the south of the borough to meet the growing needs of our daylight programme. This was also an example of the partnership work that SoLO embarked upon with other agencies providing social care within Solihull. SoLO led on a refurbishment programme at the Fire Station and co-located with the Solihull Carers Centre to provide a range of activity programmes for children and adults with a learning disability. 300 staff and volunteers delivered nearly 17,000 leisure experiences to almost 700 people with a learning disability. Our turnover reached £700,00 with a small deficit.

Another exciting year when SoLO finally left the St. Andrews Building, which had been its home for 15 years to a purpose built base to house our core staff and run activities from.  The new building – 38 Walnut Close – is completely accessible to all disabilities and includes a sensory room, activity area, adapted kitchen, changing places toilet as well as a large garden.  It has been an absolute joy to see our members help shape the place.   With the capital work our turnover reached over £900,000 which was the result of some amazing fundraising, although we still ended the financial year with a small deficit.

We purchased Walnut Close – this was a  huge step for us and one that meant a huge fundraising campaign to raise the £150,000 needed.  However, this was a sensible decision as the funding we generated to purchase the building would not have been gifted for anything else than capital spend.  This secured the future of Walnut Close as a venue to Daylight and also freed up £15,000 a year of revenue expenditure in lieu of rent.  The year also saw an increase in delivery (35% growth) that outstripped our increase in expenditure – so the organisation continued to do ‘more for less’. Fundraising hit a new height with our first London Marathon Runner raising over £11,000!

The start of a new daytime programme called Evolve for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities to engage in meaningful day time activities.  Also, we commenced a feasibility study into branching out into supported living for adults with a learning disability funded through central government grant.  The Personal Assistants Service extended to offering overnight breaks.

We gained new funding from the Sustainable Fund to develop general infrastructure and to carry out feasibility into supported living for adults with a learning disability. This is something a number of parents of teenagers had requested from us as we had been involved with their sons and daughters from a very early age. We were able to argue, successfully, for the continuation of our adult social care funding which has enabled over 250 adults with a learning disability who do not meet any eligibility criteria for funded social care to have a regular night out with their friends. A Social Return on Investment Report was carried out on this service and we clearly evidenced for every £1 invested in this service, we delivered £12-£14 worth of social benefit. We opened our first supported living home at the end of this year. Our CEO was awarded with the MBE for services to people with a learning disability in the West Midlands.

Our first tenant moved into his own home with support provided by our SoLO Supported Living Team. We also opened our second supported living home in the North of the borough and work has been ongoing to help the three tenants to move in. The second tenant for our first home also has been supported to move in. We were recognised, through the year, for outstanding contribution to the community by the Solihull Chamber of Commerce and we won the Brummies Award for Community Project of the Year. Our CQC report was Good against all Standards. A really positive year, but with the backdrop of reduced adult social care funding and a determination to continue delivering to the 250 adults with a learning disability we have faced huge challenges for us moving forward and have responded to these challenges with an increased drive to bring in funding from charitable trusts, corporate partners and events. Childrens Services increased with a successful funding partnership bid with the Youth Investment Fund/Big Lottery – this programme focused on the Meriden Adventure Playground under the YAS Consortium (partnering MAPA, Urban Heard and Gro-Organic).

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