New funding boosts church-backed charity WEvolution

An innovative Church of Scotland backed charity that has helped people in some of Scotland’s poorest communities start their own businesses is set to expand with help from a £225,000 grant from the Scottish Government.

WEvolution gathering
The WEvolution gathering was held in Glasgow on 16 March. Pictured (from left) Noel Mathias, Jyoti Mhapsekar, Marie-Therese Martin, Mental Health minister Maureen Watt, Rev Martin Johnstone.

Glasgow-based WEvolution has pioneered the creation of self reliant groups in Scotland, already helping 250 people through a business model imported from in India.

The charity brings together small groups of people who all contribute a small amount of money each week to get a business idea off the ground. Once a business is underway the group can apply for a small loan to help their enterprise grow.

Some of the self reliant groups started out using use skills they already had, while others have learned new skills. So far the groups have created enterprises that involve sewing, photography, woodworking and laundry. Now plans are underway to train people in bike repair, plastering and electrical wiring.

And a new line of WEvolution products may be on display in high streets before the end of the year.

Empowered communities

Scottish Local Government Minister Kevin Stewart said:

“We want to see a Scotland in which everyone can play a full part in society, with empowered communities able to shape their individual and collective futures.

“I’m delighted to be able to confirm this funding for WEVolution – a fantastic organisation which helps support some of Scotland’s communities with the greatest potential to change to follow their dreams and grow their own businesses.

“It is a great example of our policies in action – which are giving people more control over decisions that affect them, making it easier for local people to develop their own economies, wellbeing and environments.”

Maureen Watt with women
The Scottish Government's minister for mental health meets women from self-reliant groups:(from left) Jyoti Mhapsekar, Marie-Therese Martin, Maureen Watt, Trishy Gannon and Karen Stevens

High Street ambitions

Noel Mathias, WEvolution’s managing director, said the new funds will allow it to work with an additional 150 people.

“I am grateful to the Scottish Government which has stood by us as we work alongside people trusting they will benefit the community and the country in the long run.

“This funding will help us grow the movement and take it to a lot more people in the regions where we work: Glasgow, Inverclyde, Renfrewshire and Dundee.

“We now have a WEvolution product line — a tote bag, makeup bag and keychain— and we are talking to potential retail partners who are interested in stocking WEvolution products.

“So we hope that our products will be on display in high streets across the country before the end of the year.

The announcement came at a WEvolution gathering in Glasgow which attracted attendees from England, the Netherlands, Wales and the USA, as well as from across Scotland. In fact, interest in WEvolution has been so strong that the charity is already working with groups in Manchester, Pontypridd and Rotterdam.

Maureen Watt
Mental Health minister Maureen Watt and her staff meet WEvolution members at the WEvolution gathering.

Fluff and Fold

Members of WEvolution's self-reliant groups told the gathering about the difference it has made in their lives.

Jacqueline-- 'Jake'--Crawley helped start WEvolution's first-ever self-reliant group in 2011 at St Paul's Church in the Provanmill/ Blackhill area of Glasgow. The mother of three was a single parent working as a part-time cleaner when seven women came together and heard how self-reliant groups could work.

"Everyone put a £1 in the pot and we bought vegetables, bread and eggs. We made a pot of soup and some sandwiches and opened a wee lunch club."

After 20 people showed up for the first lunch, offered for free, the group began a weekly lunch club and bingo session for just a £1. The lunch club generated a small income for the group and became a valued social event for some of the parish's pensioners, Jake says.

"We covered the cost of the food and the rest goes into our fund. It has now paid for chairs, tables, crockery -- all the equipment we need. We also use it for bus trips and lunch trips.

"It's good for families and good for the community."

Jyoti Mhapsekar at WEvolution
Jyoti Mhapsekar speaks at the WEvolution event. Behind her are (from left) Elaine Reed and Jacqueline Crawley.

Today the St Paul's lunch club is still going and attracts from 25-30 people a week who pay £2.50 for the meal. And while Jake is still involved with her strong group of friends, she has now branched out into a laundry business 'Fluff and Fold'.

"I always had the idea to run my own business, and there was a wee empty room downstairs in St Paul's and the church kindly gave us the room. So three years ago, WEvolution gave us a loan to buy an industrial washer and dryer. We paid off the loan within a year and I think in another year, I will be able to be self-employed at the laundry.

"It's brilliant. I like doing the work and I like working for myself. There's a satisfaction when somebody brings stuff in dirty and you give it back clean."

Jake says being involved with the group has also done wonders for her self-confidence.

"You meet a lot of people and you go out socially with the group, so it gives you lots of confidence."

From small seeds...

Mr Mathias said he had been working for the Church of Scotland's priority areas committee when he realised the self-reliant groups model could work in Scotland. He said:

“WEvolution started from a Church of Scotland group who visited India, seeking new ideas to help our most disadvantaged communities. Thanks to the support of the Church, we have gone from strength to strength and are now an independent charity.

“We now share our resources, experience and insights with our partners and we mentor them. So many people have contacted us and want to know how they can bring self reliant groups to their communities and we want to make it easier for them to buy in.”

“WEvolution now has plans to scale up significantly across the the UK. We have just learned that we will be getting support from the International Centre for Social Fundraising, which will allow us to build our Self Reliant Group model into a social franchise that people can use across the UK.”

WEvolution Board chair Liz Cameron
WEvolution Board chair Liz Cameron OBE is the director and chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce Ltd.

Mumbai to Maryhill

Also at the gathering was Jyoti Mhapsekar, who pioneered the self reliant group model in Mumbai, India, bringing together women who make their living from rubbish dumps to negotiate waste management contracts. She said:

“I’m honoured and I feel very happy that WEvolution has been inspired by the courage and the hard work of our women.

“Our women are some of the poorest women in the city. We call them rag pickers. They came together to secure waste management contracts. But even though they are so poor they smile. They smile despite their struggles.

“The model will vary in different places because the circumstances are different. But wherever women build their own lives from their own efforts they become more confident and that is very important.”

Find out more about WEvolution

Find out more about the Church of Scotland's work in priority areas