Smallwood’s COVID-19 grants in action: CLASS/Community Savers network

25 May 2021

Our series of case studies of organisations that have received essential funding from our COVID-19 grant-making continues with Community Led Action and Savings Support (CLASS) and two of the women-led savings groups who received support.

CLASS received £15,830 from our COVID-19 Frontline Women’s grant, in partnership with The National Lottery Community Fund, to cover staff costs that would enable the groups to continue their crucial support online.

CLASS is a small charity that was established to support the development of the Community Savers network which has groups across Great Manchester and Sheffield. Two of their women-led savings groups that have been supported by Smallwood Trust over the last few months are Mums Mart and Arbourthorne Social Savers (formerly Sheffield Social Savers).

Mums Mart began after a local mum broke down in the school playground struggling to cope with making ends meet and never having an adult conversation except at the school gates. Mums got together and started having monthly meals which then inspired the idea of monthly markets to raise money to take families away on trips. In 2016 Mums Mart started up a new savings scheme and are now working with residents to co-finance the renovation of an old caretakers apartment into a women-friendly meeting space and launching a new food membership club (Community Grocer).

Sharon from Mums Mart explains, “The main purpose of the meetings is to have a safe space for women to come and sit together, eat together and say what they want. There is no stigma attached as there’s always someone who has experienced the same and there’s no judgement. Our youngest is 23 and our eldest is about to be 80 so we encompass that whole range.”

Arbourthorne Social Savers only came together in February 2020 by a group of mums with kids at Arbourthorne primary school who got together and visited some other savings groups inspiring them to start up their own savings club. As Georgie states, “More and more mums come in every week and we’ve quickly become a family. Some of these ladies are people I’ve passed before at school but never spoken to and we’ve created a bond that I never knew existed.”

Creating a new culture of saving

Sophie, Development Manager for CLASS, highlights the importance of savings groups given the common misconception that saving is something for people with money, “There sometimes isn’t a culture of saving and that’s why the savings groups really work because you would never travel to the bank to save a quid but you would take that to your savings group. You’re only saving a small amount of money but over time it becomes that buffer and that resilience.”

However, with the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the globe and forcing the UK into lockdown it was clear what the biggest impact to CLASS was: “Our whole model (adapted from an inspirational grassroots movement called Shack/Slum Dwellers International or ‘SDI’) is very dependent on women meeting each other. Before COVID, we had about two new groups being formed a year, but reaching new communities has been a real challenge for the savers network over the past 12 months.” Sophie (CLASS) explained.

COVID-19 Frontline Women’s grant

CLASS applied to our COVID-19 Frontline Women’s grant, in partnership with The National Lottery Community Fund, a process which Sophie (CLASS) described as “easy to apply for” and quickly used the funding to equip a member of each savings group with an electronic device to help give “people the confidence to have meetings again and to also develop their digital skills.”

In fact, they were essential for Arbourthorne Social Savers who were formed only weeks before the pandemic hit. Georgie points out that “without the digital tablets we wouldn’t have happened. The entirety of our lifespan has been on Zoom.”

Sophie (CLASS) added, “No one would have guessed in February 2020 that we’d have a savings group start up and run entirely online!”

Whilst Sharon from Mums Mart provided an example of one of the other practical uses of the digital tablets, “One lady came in really worried about being fined £1000 for not doing the Census Form but, thankfully, one of our members helped her to do it in ten minutes.”

Mums Mart also worked around the clock providing food parcels and support for their members with some of the help from their funding.

Women in leadership positions

Given the crucial work CLASS, Mums Mart and Arbourthorne Social Savers have done during the crisis, Sophie (CLASS) illustrates why it’s so important that women are given leading roles in organisations trying to tackle gender equality, “When women are leading, different kinds of approaches and initiatives get developed. In Wythenshawe, a lot of the community spaces are either really masculine such as heavy weights gyms and boxing academies, or they have a very formal, institutional feel, a bit like an office. There’s a lack of comfortable spaces that say ‘this is a space that women can enjoy and make their own’.”

“When women are in leadership positions they make decisions that are good for women and families. And usually decisions that are good for women and families are good for communities more widely.” 

For information about CLASS and the Community Savers network please visit: https://communitysavers.net/ and @CommSaversUK on Twitter.