Frome Visit Nov 2019

Graham drove a 600 miles round trip in order to DISCOVER FROME, hosted by Patrick Abrahams of Frome Men’s Shed. Why???

18 months ago Patrick contacted us because there was a desire to start a Frome Women’s Shed. Should they? “Yes”, said Graham:-). It was soon after that Graham saw mention of Frome as a place with an exciting and effective wellbeing programme spearheaded by Frome Medical Centre. It has as a programme with more than 1000 Community Connectors, volunteers who befriend and help others. Started in 2014, the headline outcome story was of reduced emergency ambulance trips to the main hospital because of low level community interventions.

There is a similar account of work in Fleetwood, Lancashire.

Link to the earlier post on Frome here if you wish.

Graham was intrigued by the Frome story and after Patrick visited Littlebeck Shed during a late summer holiday, Graham decided to ask Patrick if he could spend a few days in Frome seeing things first hand. Thus on Wednesday 13th November Graham drove into Frome. He discovered far more than he expected!

This is Patrick. He planned a very busy schedule of visits to see voluntary actions in Frome.

Frome is a little like Whitby, with narrow streets – some cobbled – and a parking problem. Frome has the feeling of being a little remote from bigger centres like Bath, Bristol and Wells. A bit of the Whitby way!

First off was a shop called SHARE. Graham was a bit perplexed because it had the air of a charity shop but with no clothing.

It was in fact an “affordable” hire shop for a wide range of equipment. A £12 annual membership fee and then small sums per item borrowed. Aimed at those without the need to have and the space to store. Many of the items are donated.

The project was the first eye-opener for Graham. It is a registered charity set up under edventure, a Social Enterprise Training scheme set up by the very inspiring Johannes Moeller. A German who had lived in UK for some years and was passing through Frome a few years ago on the way set up his “idea” in Bristol or Bath. However, he was persuaded by those with other “ideas” to stay in Frome and develop social enterprises there.

Key to this seems to have been the supportive environment he found, principally a Town Council committed to building up Frome for the good  of the local residents. It was around the same time that what became known as the Compassionate Community project kicked off by the Medical Centre (and Dr. Helen Kingston). It was also the time that Patrick expressed his interest to start a Men’s Shed in Frome, which the parties simply encouraged him to get on with as a very important contribution.

Thus, at this first stop Graham began to see several good forces at work that were collaborative and not competitive or in strong silos.


Second stop, the toilets. Well the old toilets. Housing a “Community Fridge and Larder”

These convenient units had been turned into a further set of sharing spaces. A larder in which non frozen food food can be placed for people to take. Saving food waste from Sainsbury’s and Gregg’s. A variety of beneficiaries apparently, including some street homeless. Alongside, a tall fridge for fresh foods (like fruit & veg). Then there was a spare unit. How about a clothes “bring and take” wardrobe (also helping street homeless.

At the end (with Patrick standing there) was a catering outlet – a small one man business. From India, but very much feeling at home in Frome. Very friendly people everywhere with quite mixed origins. Appreciating each others contributions. Atmosphere.


The locals are very friendly. It was National Kindness Day!  The cook (at Lunghi Babas) is Mahesh

Then, still in the afternoon of Wednesday (phew!) a visit to the Welsh Mill Hub.

Two or three large warehouse type buildings that had gradually been turned into smaller business units of various sizes. Privately owned (a very nice landlady!) but aimed at supporting local business and voluntary organisations, including edventure. 65 separate initiatives with skills that can when needed support each other in small ways.  See the “Our Community” photo below.

It is here that Frome Men’s Shed started in a space which they outgrew (now used by the Tech-Shed but no connection). These days Frome Shed has a downstairs clean space (not by a woman’s standard) and an upstairs machine shop with all the big stuff.

This is a Lantern in the making for the Friday Lantern Parade. Some a high as 3 metres and being made in many places across town individually and in teams.

Next Food at Five, a meal at one of the regular evening venues in different parts of town. This one at the football ground.

Some of the produce left over from the stores again or about to go out of date. Cooked up for anyone who chooses to come in. Free to anyone without means to pay or by donation. A very eclectic mix of regulars and newcomers (some long term residents but appreciating company). This is run by Fair Frome – They “Fair Champion” greater financial, educational, social and health equality for people living in Frome and the surrounding areas.

Kirsty Harris (centre) cooked up a feast .

One more visit. To the Tech Shed. Then to bed. A long time since leaving Whitby at 7.30am!

Back into the Welsh Mill for the evening. A group of guys involved in technology. A project they are working on collectively is air quality monitors to hopefully be put up in Frome at different places. All wireless technologies for communications and “Chinese” components in the instrumentation. Pretty laid back.

But the real magic was in some of the guys we spoke to. As Graham opened up with his life story and hiccups, so did they. There was a strong sense amongst these guys that the rat race and sacrifices they had made for high salaries were realised to rob much from relationships and the quality of life. This was one of the most humbling of visits and it was so Shed like for that.

The two screen shots are an example of how the group has adopted engineering/software development tools. An idea for some is put in with a brief description. Others then can access as thoughts come and addendum notes added. Shared development space. Graham liked this for a new idea he is working on. Simple idea.

Another edventure project.


The story of Frome’s independent civic streak. It seems to be an exemplar that others doing voluntary work have followed.

Day Two dawns. And first off to the Men’s Shed!! A bus man’s holiday.

The first Shedder is re-caning a chair. A new challenge for him at 92!!! A great man to talk to. The threesome are rifling through boxes of old tools they have been given. Many are cleaned up and sent on to a charity to equip people in developing countries. To start small businesses.

The biscuit tin is a money earner of small change. The table is a centre for chat.

The gallery at the bottom are the 15 or 16 edventure projects that have resulted. The way it works is that a group of about a dozen young adults come together (from anywhere, not just Frome) to work on the next edventure seed project over a 10 week period. Facilitated workshops for discussion and generating ideas and approaches. Absolute freedom to think out of the box. It is the way founder Johannes works himself. Think, plan, act.

Not surprisingly some of these young people stick around to add to Frome life.

See Patrick’s Frome Shed presentation to the Singaporean delegation here.

The next venue was the Frome Medical Centre and the work Graham had envisaged seeing. But so glad to see all the rest and that areas need multiple success stories that interact and spark.

At the Medical Centre there was also a delegation from Singapore – senior staff and nurses. Patrick and Graham joined the table to see a presentation by Dr. Helen Kingston and Jenny Hartnoll who is the day-to-day coordinator of the work that has been undertaken over the past 5 or 6 years since they were given their head to do something novel.  And it has worked!

Dr Helen Kingston (centre) and Jenny Hartnoll to the right. Not Patrick!

The slides will be coming and I will then take one or two to explain the mechanics of the Compassionate Community. So watch this space. Here are slides but also a paper, courtesy of Frome Medical Practice and Patrick:-

2.-Dr-Kingston-PPT ~Jan-2018 

Reducing Hospital Admissions - Compassionate Communities

The following act is quite revealing! Wednesday was national Kindness Day. The practice decided to buy bags of fudge for the projects they work with and Jenny  had the job of traipsing around the town. So it is not all about methods – unless kindness is considered one (!!!)

One of the significant developments that Health Connections did to start with was to assemble a database of “healthy” activities that patients might go to. That the health professionals could have on their laptops and refer to during consultations, details of which could be printed out immediately and given to the patient. Suggestions, not prescriptions, although the clear prescription was to “do” something to help themselves if possible. It reached about 2000 activities! Too many to handle meaningfully (wood for trees!). Therefore, the decision was made to focus on affordable, accessible (often voluntary led) activities. Patrick’s Frome Shed is an example, of course. A health spa is not:-).  Health Connections maintains this database itself to try to ensure it is as accurate and up to date as possible (obviously helped by the atmosphere of support there is in Frome).

The final slide shown had 4 squares. No text.  The first one showed a spark – it could be a new idea or a further development. Possibly from a new contributor.  The second was a network of sparky nodes! The new idea is included in the network so that the author and idea are incubated also by others and integrated. The third shape was a heart. It represented what the close inter-working produced – TRUST. Openness and sharing. WOW!  The final shape was a square again with many random dots that could have been amoeba. This was to represent the fact that intentions and plans must always be considered to be in a state of flux.

Here now is that slide:-

The Singaporeans were as one might expect very friendly and were coming up to Leeds the following week to study developments there.

It was a great privilege to be the and to hear Helen’s account of things. No hierarchies. People and groups appreciated for what they are doing. Encouraging “risks” (but not with people’s lives!!).  Something not quite working was not the subject of a blame culture but of a “together we can get it right”.

Onto Frome FM radio station where Patrick has a regular hour long programme around Men’s Sheds and men’s health.

The topic was food apparently and two of the  women from the Make Project for young adults were already in full flow. Then Graham was interviewed:-). Stand by!   The Interview

Then back to the Medical Centre for a wrap up session and appreciation that we could be included in this. Yes, the Singaporeans went off with a variety of our Shed postcards and information on our Kidz work too.

Lunch was taken at the Cheese &  Grain. Part of the former market complex in private hands but with an auditorium and a cafe.

Unfortunately a meeting with the journalist at the local newspaper had to be cancelled and we were not around at the time to visit the Bridge Cafe (run by a church) which serves lunchtime meals.

Upstairs at the Cheese & Grain to a community room and KeyRing Community Support

A small group for those benefiting from some focused support. This session had a champion from the Alzheimer’s Society attend and a game of “bingo” to highlight some of the key facts around Alzheimer’s.

Next to the venue of one of several weekly Talking Cafes

The principle is simple. People just go to one of the cafes for whatever reason they have, though some come for assistance from one of the Community Connectors (Patrick is one of the 1000). It is very effective and acts as a stepping stone sometimes for people to go to an activity. Patrick might tell a man about the Shed and the guy might ask him if he goes. They meet and go.

Finally, the Make:Shed (another small edventure social enterprise)

A hive of activity AND a  shared  meal of risotto cooked in the Welsh Mill Hub kitchen. The main focus was on clay artefacts, including snowmen and an octopus. An artist was at work wiping hands of paint onto sheets. Streaking the paint on with fingers and making in one corner a discernible phoenix.


The cooks at Make:Shed were Leah Harrison (third from right) and Allen McLaren (slaving in the kitchen at this time!)




Conclusions or at least musings

A first reaction is that the kinds of things going on in Frome are happening in Whitby. The difference seems to be that the people involved in Frome are better connected than we are. Information and news seems to flow locally. Informal connections but doing serious work.

The trust Dr Helen Kingston pointed to is the eventual enabler which frees up actions by removing barriers to collaboration. There is a common spirit of wanting to do the best for the community at all levels in the small projects, larger umbrella initiatives and the “agencies”. All playing to their organisational strengths with those best placed and equipped to do encouraged to do that.

Clearly, the statutory services have the power (to control) but the clear impression is that those managing matters locally are committed to openness with key voluntary sector partners and vice versa. In turn there is sharing between sub-projects (e.g. within edventure). Projects talk up other projects.  There is a mutual pride in what Frome is doing.

There are examples in North Yorkshire and Whitby of this but it takes time to develop (elapsed time but also contact time) and it cannot be made to happen. The Frome experience is that it starts with personal trust not organisational (which follows).  It is trust between those at the level of day to day operations in different organisations who know the need for cooperation to achieve what they know is required operationally to meet people’s needs.

There are  common factors between Frome and Whitby arising from staffing and funding pressures. Councils now have much smaller  teams to do things, with officers administering work carried out by others, whether that be paid contracted work or grant aided voluntarily work. In Somerset the expenditure on children’s and youth services has been reduced dramatically resulting in closures of some services. The same is the case in Whitby (and indeed other areas).

Frome’s answer seems to have been to throw their lot into the community taking ownership. It is through some key figures (including Patrick) that this has happened with seeming success. They are key community champions with no real power other than that of their influence through personal commitment and their desire to be open to each other and to celebrate anybody’s  success because all benefit in morale. Success breeds success and barriers between organisations are lowered. A bigger community cake of service results!

It is difficult to do things on a large scale in Somerset as a whole, or in North Yorkshire. Similarly in the still geographically spread Scarborough Borough. It was achievable in Frome because it ring-fenced itself, set about locally improving its town and were, it seems, encouraged/allowed to do so.

Graham’s personal conclusion is that it should be possible in Whitby too; by Whitby for Whitby. Of course, not deliberately separating itself from others but taking community responsibility for itself. Working together (in a fairly flat structure) can help positive change happen, even with limited funds.

Overall, the message from Frome is not to live in silos. To look sideways recognising that solutions come in the way of systems, not isolated activities or organisations. It is like the food chain; Those at the top must realise that they depend on those lower down and the exploits of “edventure type” small projects. The community is the sum of its members and its members efforts, not the administration that serves it.

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