Circle of Change: Empower’s Charity of Choice for 2020

Ben Matthews

By Ben Matthews

In Empower Life

Reading Time: 4 minutes

LoveWorks, supported by last year’s Circle of Change, is a workers co-operative offering training, dignity and wellbeing to unemployed and isolated people in North Belfast.
LoveWorks, supported by last year’s Circle of Change, is a workers co-operative offering training, dignity and wellbeing to unemployed and isolated people in North Belfast.

Every year at Christmas, the Empower agency team chooses a charity close to the team’s hearts to donate to, on behalf of our agency clients. This is in place of the usual wine and chocs that agencies normally send to clients and fits better with our core values.

For 2020, the team has chosen to donate to Circle of Change, a community group based in Northern Ireland that is tackling a range of challenges including the mental health crisis and educational attainment. .

Read on for more background to Circle of Change, why we chose to support them and the impact they’re making to their local communities.

About Circle of Change

Circle of Change is a unique group of people from all walks of life from around Belfast who come together to discuss the root causes of issues affecting their communities through the lens of their own experience – a bit like a Citizens Assembly. It is made up of people from all different backgrounds and experiences, representative of the population of the Belfast area. 

Here’s an Irish news article about the last phase that outlines the group’s approach in more detail: ‘This has never been done outside North America’ – how one foundation took a risk on a new type of fundraising.

An an interview with Tim from the group, who does a fantastic job of explaining the impact that Circle of Change is having and what the impact they are looking to achieve:

After deciding on two priority issues, the group is now working to fundraise so that they can offer grants to local groups and organisations who are seeking to address them.

Later members of the group will look at the applications, decide who gets through, visit projects and evaluate the impact they have been able to make. This is all supported by The Community Foundation.

Why support Circle of Change?

We love this project because it is such an unusual chance to to support the concept of a group like this, which is not only raising money, but giving people new skills and connecting people and communities.

Although the surface-level goal is to raise the money, it also maximises the connectedness of people involved. It is ‘knitting together the social fabric’, through formal bonds and value exchanges like volunteering, donations and grant giving – the sorts of connections that are likely to outlast the project.

It also has a big impact on the organisations themselves as this is some rare unrestricted funding, which we don’t need to tell you is a rare thing! This gives them a bit of boost in terms of feeling valued/ trusted and less paperwork.

This is only the second time a group like this has met in Belfast. It’s based on a model started in Seattle, which you can find out about on this page. We think this is a model that could really help tackle the increasing polorisation in the UK and further afield. 

You can also read about some of the projects funded last year on this page

Issues that Circle of Change is addressing

The issues Circle of Change will be looking to address this year are:

1. The mental health crisis

  • Mental health is a massive issue in Northern Ireland.
  • Northern Ireland has one of the highest rate of suicide in the UK – the consequence of a history of conflict and high levels of deprivation. 
  • As is typical the highest levels are in young men. Young women don’t turn to suicide as often but they are also suffering. 
  • They would like to fund something that catches people before they get to a crisis point and we know lots of people are doing really amazing work in this area.
  • One of which is the Jigsaw Community Counselling Centre who were funded from last year’s group. 
  • Following COVID, they are also concerned about loneliness, so will be looking at that too. 

2. Education

  • While there are some really great schools in Northern Ireland, not everyone gets access. 
  • Schools are still largely segregated by religion and (because of the grammar school system) class.
  • There are some really low levels of attainment in some parts of the city.
  • The group wants to fund projects that are integrated so that children don’t grow-up only knowing one side of their city, in terms of class or religion.

How to support Circle of Change

If you’d like to donate to Circle of Change, you can either just let me know and give me the money directly, or you can send it to the Community Foundation Just Giving page

Make sure you mark it for the ‘Circle of Change’ with your name so The Community Foundation knows to direct the funds to the Circles of Change project.

If you’d rather make a monthly donation rather than one-off, this is possible through the Just Giving link too.

To inspire you, last year’s group raised over £50,000. With Empower’s modest contribution, we really hope this helps them make an impact too.

Further Reading