The Charity currently known as ACTion with Communities in Cumbria was formed in 1948. On the 19th October that year a group of partners, including County Councillors from Cumberland and Westmorland and representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture met in Penrith at the first meeting of the Cumberland and Westmorland Council for Social Service. Despite the initial intention that the Charity operate across two counties, the reality was that within a few months the focus of its work was the county of Cumberland.
The Charity was born of a need for effective collaboration between the voluntary and statutory sectors if welfare needs were to be met. Of particular concern were the challenges faced by West Cumberland communities that were still suffering from the after affects of the depression years of the 1930s. There was concern too about changes affecting rural economy. These themes are reflected in the Charity’s early work. This included many activities with a social purpose, such as support older people, over 60’s concerts, craft exhibitions, holidays and a long-running programme of training for retirement.
With a more practical focus was the creation of the Rural Industries Sub Committee. This led projects intended to help rural people manage dramatic economic change, an example being the retraining of blacksmiths as motor engineers. The Charity also began a continuing programme of support for other groups, in its early days providing the secretariat for the Guild of Lakeland Craftsmen, the Churches Group for Social Responsibility and the Parish Councils Association.
Some of these early activities were to be a feature of its work throughout its life, including its Village Halls Advice Service and support, in various guises, for a Best Kept Village Competition. Also a continuing feature was its early involvement in social and community research which, in those early days, included reports on issues such as rural homelessness and the use of village halls.
With the creation of Cumbria in 1974 the organisation at last realised the aspirations of its founders, becoming active throughout what had been the counties of Cumberland and Westmorland and those parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire that were merged to form the new County.
Operating initially as Cumbria Council for Voluntary Action the organisation very soon adopted the working name of Voluntary Action Cumbria (VAC) that was to badge its work for the next 34 years.
The Charity took the opportunity presented by its 60th Anniversary to reflect upon its role in Cumbria and consult with stakeholders. It was concluded that the organisation’s focus on supporting action within communities was not well reflected in the name Voluntary Action Cumbria, which spoke more of its work in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Accordingly, in October 2008 the working name ACTion with Communities in Cumbria (ACT for short) was adopted. The Charity feels that this reflects its commitment to supporting communities to:
Over 60 years there have been consistent themes, tackling disadvantage, working with communities, advising village halls and community groups, rural services, transport, rural retail, employment, in other words constant adjustment to change.
In the course of that time one outstanding feature has been the role of the Charity in supporting the formation or early years of a wide variety of other organisations that also continue to service Cumbrian communities.
Among those organisations that have their roots in the Charity are:
Village hall volunteers joined ACTion with Communities in Cumbria (ACT) on Saturday to congratulate Thursby Parish Hall on becoming the first hall in Cumbria to receive a Hallmark Two award for good management, health, safety, security and licenses.
ACTion with Communities in Cumbria (ACT) is 70 in October and has used the publication of its Annual Review of 2017-2018 as an opportunity to celebrate the success of its approach of working with communities to make change happen across rural Cumbria.
ACTion with communities in Cumbria has been working with participants from seven village halls to design a Managing Risks Toolkit for the 300 plus halls across Cumbria.
The project aims to assist village halls to deal with the challenges of extreme weather events and other risks such as loss of income, issues within committees and other situations. It is funded by the Prince’s Countryside Fund and was awarded after Storm Desmond when a number of halls in Carlisle, South Lakeland and Allerdale were flooded.
ACTion with Communities in Cumbria (ACT) is supporting community resilience and emergency planning activities across Cumbria, as part of a 3 year BIG Lottery funded programme. This includes helping people to get together to share their experiences, think about future risks and what they might do to be better prepared.
ACTion with Communities in Cumbria (ACT) is 70 in October and using this milestone as an opportunity to celebrate the organisation’s past and also look to the future.
ACT’s Chief Executive Lorrainne Smyth says “We’ve changed our name several times in those 70 years, settling on ACTion with Communities in Cumbria back in 2008, but it is striking how little our aims, priorities and ways of working have changed since the beginning. We still rely on a core group of committed people as our staff and our Trustees and it’s still about making a difference by championing rural issues and working with communities.”
Village Halls around the country have been celebrating the first national Village Halls Week between 22nd and 26th January. Here at ACT we’d like to say a huge thank you for all the work you do in your communities and to share a few of the highlights in Cumbria and around the country.
Registered in England as Voluntary Action Cumbria. Charity Number: 1080875
Company Number: 3957858
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