Houses of Parliament Trip – Local Residents’ Reactions

Houses of Parliament

As part of the Love Your Neighbourhood Campaign, 39 North Herts residents attended the Houses of Parliament and met with Sir Oliver Heald. We spoke to local residents to capture their experiences of the day.

“I was fortunate indeed to join in your well organised trip today. The whole time was so enjoyable.  It exceeded my expectations and I wish to thank you all very much for your care.” – Michael Balls

“I had a great time and it was really lovely to see the inside of such halls of power.”  – Oonagh Sherlock

“Today was wonderful and very informative. The event was well organised and the main thing was the opportunity to address our questions to Sir Oliver Heald. We can get a feeling for how local MPs address our local needs. Speaking directly to an MP was the highlight of the day.” – Phil Trivedi

“The day was well organised and I had a fantastic time. It certainly exceeded my expectations. The highlight was looking inside the House of Commons.” – Hansa Nariapara

“The guided tour was very good and I enjoyed learning about the history. It was very interesting.” – Dorothy Gabriel

Visit the Love Your Neighbourhood website to find out about the campaign.

Volunteers’ Week – Time to say thank you

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Every year, over 15 million people volunteer every month across the UK. They often go unnoticed as they go about their work not asking for thanks or recognition, however, without them many organisations and services would not exist. From the 1st – 7th June it is Volunteers’ Week, an annual campaign which celebrates volunteers and the contribution they make to their communities. It is the perfect opportunity to recognise those who put their time, energy and enthusiasm into helping others, whether it’s visiting an older person and breaking isolation, helping a charity in their office or supporting young people.

Savita Mason, Volunteer Centre Coordinator said “If anyone is interested in volunteering and would like to find out what opportunities are available to them they can contact the North Herts and Stevenage Volunteer Centres for a chat. We will also be at the Market Square for the Hitchin Health and Wellbeing day on Saturday 6th June so come and find us to get more information.”

“Volunteers week is a great time to begin volunteering and to use your spare time to help others. It is a way to give something back, but it’s also an opportunity to benefit from new experiences, make friends, gain skills and have fun.”


Mark Packer recently had an appointment with the Volunteer Centre as he was interested in finding a volunteer role, he said “I approached the Volunteer Centre to look for a place where I could volunteer as I knew they would have information about the wide and varied roles available in Stevenage and would be able to help me. I believe going to them saved me a lot of time as I would not have known where to start looking. After meeting them I was quickly referred on to an organisation I was interested in. I have now started my volunteer role with Stevenage Shopmobility which I find really rewarding and would encourage anyone else thinking about volunteering to contact the Volunteer Centre.”

The North Herts and Stevenage Volunteer Centres are projects managed by North Herts CVS. If you are interested in volunteering you can search for and register your interest in roles online at or can contact the North Herts and Stevenage Volunteer Centre on 0300 666 0596 or email


Have you been to the Houses of Parliament?

North Herts CVS is hosting a coach trip to the Houses of Parliament, from 9am to 3pm on Monday 8th June, with the aim to provide a great day out for North Herts residents and connect people with Parliamentary democracy.

With the general election high on the agenda it is a perfect opportunity for local people to find out more about Parliament, its function and role in today’s society.


On 8th June, visitors can enjoy a one hour tour of the Houses of Parliament and participate in a brief question and answer session with local MP, Sir Oliver Heald.

Michal Siewniak who is responsible for community development said: “We hope that our planned activity will help to address the issue of civic engagement, enthuse residents to get involved in democratic processes, intensify the dialogue between institutions and voters.  Finally, we hope that it will help to build a platform for community activism.”

This Houses of Parliament trip is an initiative which is part of the 100 Day Love Your Neighbourhood campaign, hosted by North Herts CVS. The campaign, funded by North Herts Local Strategic Partnership, will commence in June and deliver a wide range of events across neighbourhoods in Hitchin and Royston.

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Local residents can expect a series of exiting activities over 100 days, all aimed at making a positive difference within the community.

The activities will include advice about healthy living, home security, children’s’ fun days, the opportunity to join North Herts Time Bank and more on how to make your neighbourhood bloom.

Places, which can be booked now are limited and allocated on a first come first served basis. The cost is £10 per person.

For more information or to book your place please email or call 07825 021746.

The Dragons’ Apprentice Challenge: What do our charity partners say?

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It has been over two months since we officially launched the 2014/15 North Herts and Stevenage Dragons’ Apprentice Challenge. We asked some of our charity partners to share their experiences of the Challenge so far. Here’s what they have to say.

Sande Nuttall, Up on Downs

Team Mercury of St Francis’ College are hard at work organising an auction at a cricket club to sell beanie hats with the logo of their charity. They hope to entice their target audience with live music and an auction within the school. Sande Nuttall of Up on Downs said, “It’s an interesting process and very enjoyable to meet the young people and hear their ideas.”

Team Mercury have been inspired by their charity which supports the families of children with Downs’ Syndrome in Hertfordshire. The team have got involved as helpers and attended meetings to get a feel for what their charity does. Sande said, “I have high hopes for our lovely team. As young people themselves they have really tuned into the children and played brilliantly with them.”

“It’s a small time commitment and very refreshing to be with a new group of people with a different perspective – as well as lucrative.”

Pictured below: The Beanie hat created by Team Mercury with an interpretation of the Up on Downs logo embroidered on it.


Joan Lomas, Just Sing!

Just Sing! Community Choir exists to promote the health and social benefits of singing. Joan Lomas told us she is very grateful to be included in the Challenge for the second year running. Last year’s Apprentice team raised £700 which helped enormously towards the running costs of the choir. This year they have been matched with Team Caterer & Co of the Barclay School. They intend to hold a dodge ball tournament and musical performance as part of their business venture.

Joan said, “The Challenge is a great way to raise funds, provide students with some real life experience and help to raise our profile at the same time.”

“I’d definitely say apply and get involved. It’s great fun and really interesting to see what the students and Dragons come up with on your behalf. Everyone needs to be enthusiastic, up for the challenge and get involved.”

Pictured below: The choir with their apprentice team last year.

Just Sing with Power of Seven

Gerry Reilly, Dr Hadwen Trust

Team Onslaught of Dragons of the Priory School ditched their textbooks for the day and held a stall at their school’s Christmas Fair. They sold Christmas cards, a variety of cakes along with their charity’s soft toy mascot ‘Hadwen’ to raise funds for Dr Hadwen Trust, the non-animal medical research charity. The team have also set up a text donate facility and are planning a pie and mash quiz night on the 10th January at the Priory School. Tickets for the event can be purchased by emailing

Gerry Reilly told us he has particularly liked being actively involved with his team and Dragon. Fortnightly planning meetings have proved to be lively and productive. He said, “We have enjoyed our involvement with our team, their enthusiasm and watching their ideas flourish and plans develop.

Pictured below: The team went to a lot of effort to sell their products and promote awareness of their charity.


Linda Cudmore, Carers in Hertfordshire

Team Luna of St Francis’ College are well on their way to get the show on the road. They are planning to make programs for their school play ‘Bugsy Malone’. They have also produced calendars which feature interesting facts about their charity. All proceeds will go towards the charity to help improve the lives of carers. A calendar can be purchased from our offices for £8.

Since the launch event Linda Cudmore has met with her team to explain how Carers in Hertfordshire provides supports to thousands of carers so they can focus on their own health and wellbeing.

Linda said, “We have met twice to talk about what makes someone an unpaid carer and the fact that our youngest carers are eight years old. This really resonated with the team.”

“I have enjoyed talking to the team and working with them to understand and raise the profile of unpaid carers.”

Pictured below: The calendars feature lovely artwork and facts about the charity.

Team Luna calendars

If you would like to find out more or participate in the next Dragons’ Apprentice Challenge please email or call 01462 689400.

Have you got what it takes to be a Dragon?

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Now in its fourth year, the North Herts CVS Dragons’ Apprentice Challenge is back, and with it comes the hunt for local ambitious business people to step forward and take on the role as Dragons to mentor budding entrepreneurs in an innovative competition. Businesses of all sizes from sole trader to global corporation across North Herts and Stevenage can participate.

The Challenge promotes skills development and entrepreneurship for young people and provides a wonderful boost to schools, businesses and the local community. The project works by recruiting teams of lower sixth form students from local schools who are then matched with a mentor (Dragon) from a local business in their task to turn £100 into £1,000 for a local community group or charity through a business venture.

The challenge will start in September and will run up until March. Taking on the role as a Dragon is a fantastic opportunity for business people to demonstrate their CSR credentials, provide mentoring opportunities for young people and make a difference to the local community.

Over the course of the Challenge, Dragons will be asked to commit to a minimum of three meetings with their Apprentice team and charity partner, advise and support their team on business related matters, and in producing their Project Business Plan and Final Report.

Last year Team Carbon of St Francis’ College were proclaimed the overall winners of the Challenge for raising the most money for their charity. Team Carbon was one of seven, shortlisted from local schools across North Herts and Stevenage.

The team were successful in raising £1,503.05 for the Time Bank Garden Team, under the support and guidance of their Dragon, Steve Grover from Hertfordshire Timber & Building Supplies Ltd.

They managed to raise the funds by hosting a very successful Fish & Chip Quiz Night and by creating bags of assorted chocolate thins and selling them at a range of events.

Steve Grover said: “I was drawn to the Challenge as I thought it was an excellent way to engage local schools with real businesses whilst helping the community at the same time with fundraising. I think that I learnt as much from the experience as the girls in my team did. I would recommend this to any local business person.”

At the end of the Challenge all of the teams will be invited to present to a panel of SuperDragons at a Final Awards Ceremony, and be in with a chance of winning a number of awards.

If you would like to take part in this year’s Challenge as a Dragon please contact Neena Raj by Tuesday 15th July on 01462 689400 or email for further information.

Volunteer and give back to your community


Are you looking to do something new? Challenge yourself? Meet more people or perhaps improve your skills? Then Volunteering may be the answer. Volunteering is a great way to get involved in your local community and support those in need. Volunteers are a lifeline for charities, without them many would not be able to continue their good work. Using your time to do something to help a charity can be extremely rewarding, it can help boost your confidence, is fun and looks great on your CV too.

Honor Wood started to volunteer at Stevenage Haven, a shelter for homeless people, 18 months ago as a Lunchtime Helper. She said, “After retiring I wanted to stay active and give something back to the community. I was particularly passionate about homelessness and wanted to do something small that would be helpful. I decided to volunteer as a Lunchtime Helper which involves preparing and serving lunches to the residents at Stevenage Haven. One aspect of the role I enjoy is interacting with the residents and making sure they’re OK. I also like the friendly atmosphere and the structure volunteering gives to my week.”

She added, “If anyone is thinking about volunteering, I would say just go for it. It is important you find a volunteer role that is suitable and interesting for you.”

Savita Mason, the Volunteer Centre Coordinator said, “This is where the Stevenage Volunteer Centre can help. There are many different roles available for people to get involved in. You could volunteer with children, support older people in the community or perhaps help an organisation with administrative tasks and get involved in marketing or fundraising. The Stevenage Volunteer Centre is here to help find the right volunteer role for you. You can contact us to arrange an appointment to discuss the opportunities available and can also view them online at

The Stevenage Volunteer Centre is a project managed by North Herts CVS. If you are interested in volunteering please contact us by calling 01462 424307 or by emailing We are based at In Town Training in Stevenage Town Centre and are open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9am to 4pm.

The Herts-made Project at International Women’s Day

My name is Anne Taylor. I am a Development Worker, supporting community groups in North Herts and Stevenage.

A couple of weeks ago I went along to the International Women’s Day celebrations in Stevenage Town Centre. It was a perfect day for it, all blue skies and sunshine, though there was a chill in the air. It was organised by The Stevenage World Forum for Ethnic Communities. Funding for the event came from Herts County Council, Stevenage Borough Councillors and the World Forum itself.

It was good to catch up with some of our member groups. For example, The Herts-made Project is a fledgling group of women working hard to make a living from selling beautiful hand-crafted goods. I was delighted with the lovely necklace and bracelet I couldn’t resist buying! I was also tempted by some lovely hand-painted vases and jewellery boxes produced by one of their members.

Another member group taking part was the Irish Network, who were just one of the organisations putting on a wonderful and colourful display of national dance.

There were plenty of tasty snacks also on offer. I especially enjoyed a home-made scone packed with fruit, from Carers In Herts.

There was lots of information about issues affecting women. Blood pressure checks were offered and taster vouchers for Stevenage Leisure Centre.

Kate Belinis of the World Forum said: ‘International Women’s Day was a huge success, enjoyed by all those present; women, young people, families and the many voluntary and public organisations who gave up their Sundays and supported the event’.

Support your local charities by sharing your professional skills

Skills Share Herts is a new ground breaking project developed by the Volunteer Centres across Hertfordshire. It matches employees and unemployed individuals that have professional skills with charities that require expert advice or help with short term pieces of work. This may include helping an organisation to create marketing materials, build a website, develop a database or it may involve providing advice on HR policies or assisting them with their business plans.

Skills Share Herts provides a way for charities to access professional and business skills which could help to improve the management and delivery of their services and gives companies the opportunity to show that they are supporting their local communities. It provides a means for companies to develop, measure and promote Corporate Social Responsibility and also provides opportunities for staff training and allows employees to gain valuable skills and experience whilst helping a good cause which can boost their morale.

It is also great for individuals with professional skills who may be unemployed. It gives them the chance to develop themselves, improve their CVs and career prospects as well as giving them the opportunity to gain access to new networks and create links in the community that they otherwise may not have made.

Skills Share Herts operates by using an online social networking platform. When employees or individuals register themselves they can create a profile for themselves and state what skills and experience they have and what they might be able to help with. Charities are also able to register their volunteer opportunities that require professional skills and browse the expertise on offer. Both parties are able to communicate with each other directly through the site.

If you are interested in joining Skills Share Herts please contact the Stevenage Volunteer Centre by calling 01462 424307 or emailing Alternatively you can request to sign up to Skills Share Herts by visiting the Skills Share website.



North Herts 50 Plus Exercise Programme

If you’re over 50 and living in North Hertfordshire there’s lots for you to be getting involved in.

North Herts 50 Plus, an older people’s forum in North Hertfordshire will be starting up a 10 week exercise programme, in partnership with Herts Sports Partnership. The exercise programme will begin on Tuesday 11th March and run each week on the same day from 11am to 12pm at Jackmans Community Centre in Letchworth.

Each session will cost £4 and it is a great opportunity to socialise, meet new people and keep fit at the same time. The first 5 weeks will be based around circuit training and lead onto 5 weeks of Pilates. The sessions will be taught at the right pace and level of intensity to suit the learners and promises to be a fun and diverse programme, building strength and improving flexibility and posture.


North Herts 50 Plus exists to provide a voice for older people, and membership is free and open to anyone who is 50 or over living in North Hertfordshire. Membership benefits include being part of an enthusiastic group of older people, information and activities, luncheons and talks, as well as involvement in campaigning against inequality and discrimination.

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The group have also tackled digital exclusion and successfully run 10 week basic and advanced IT courses at the North Herts Minority Ethnic Forum in Hitchin. They also meet on a monthly basis and look forward to a talk led by different guest speakers to promote hot topics affecting them. Recent guest speakers have included Geoff Brown from Healthwatch Hertfordshire and members were informed on how to complain about health and social care. Archaeology Officer, Keith Fitzpatrick- Matthews also joined the group to share his latest archaeological discoveries.

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More recently, the group were given the opportunity to learn Everyday First Aid with the British Red Cross and gained the confidence to be able to respond to emergency situations.


For more information on or to become a member of North Herts 50 Plus please contact Development Worker, Neena Raj on 01462 689408 or email

Our members: Just Sing! Community Choir


Our member, Just Sing! is a fun, friendly and fabulously relaxed community choir based in Stevenage. Their ethos is one very much of inclusion, as there are no auditions and you don’t need to be able to read music or have any experience to join. Everything is taught ‘by ear’ so no one is at a disadvantage, even if they’ve never sung before and don’t read music. Fees are kept deliberately low, and special arrangements can be made for those who need help.

The group sings all kinds of songs, from classical to pop, from folk to rock, as well as show tunes and favourites from musicals. Everyone’s tastes are covered, and the choir have a wide repertoire, from classics like Tallis’ Canon to Fix You by Coldplay. Members also benefit from lessons all about breathing and vocal technique from their accomplished Musical Director, Penny Manser. The idea is to enjoy improving your singing whilst meeting new people and building confidence at the same time.


Just Sing! began in Autumn 2009, (then known as Singing for the Terrified) after the library staff at East and North Herts NHS Trust saw the BBC’s The Choir with Gareth Malone, and were inspired to organise a singing event of their own. Aware that many people would like to sing, but are too nervous to join an established choir (usually because they can’t read music or haven’t sung before), the event was intended for anyone who wanted to sing regardless of whether or not they had any experience.

Their first singing session as a group took place in April 2010, with Michael Price directing around 35 people to sing Ticket to Ride by the Beatles, I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables and Bridge Over Troubled Water by Paul Simon. Michael is a composer and music editor who works on film and TV scores, most famously for the BBC TV series “Sherlock”. The day was such a success that the group has grown and grown ever since, now boasting 60 members!


The choir’s first public performance was at David’s Bookshop Christmas Fayre, in Letchworth in November 2010, and since then they have performed at the Bennington Lordship, Anglesey Abbey, Wimpole Hall and the Hatfield Galleria. 

Just Sing! now meet for rehearsals every Thursday during term time with Musical Director Penny Manser, and are always delighted to welcome new members. There are opportunities for choir members to sing solos or duets at concerts, but for those who are less confident every new member is given a ‘buddy’ from the existing members to welcome them and help them get into the swing of things.


This year is set to be the most exciting yet for Just Sing! as the choir is taking part in a new project with Letchworth based composer Alison Wrenn. During the Summer they will be recording and performing 50 minutes of new songs for a community choirs songbook project called Sing For Our Planet. Six specially chosen composers will also be liaising with local community choirs, culminating in a massed choirs performance in the Summer of 2015.

New members are always heartily welcomed to Just Sing! and you can go along to the community hall at North Herts College on Monkswood Way in Stevenage to try your first session for free….the rehearsal schedule can be found on the Just Sing! website here. Also look out for updates on the website for their “Singers’ Night” in April, as well as upcoming themed workshops such as African Gospel and “Abbatastic”!

And if that’s not enough to convince you, why not have a look at some of the videos made by choir members who wanted to share the experiences with the choir?