Chipping Norton opens unique one-stop shop for anyone in need of help or a lift up in life

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Chipping Norton is known the world over as an area packed with the wealthy and elite. Now an incredible group of volunteers has launched unique one-stop shop for anyone in need of help or a lift up in life.

This week The Branch Trust, Chipping Norton (CIO) opens its doors to its ground-breaking community hub – The Branch.

The building offers support, mentoring and signposting advice to West Oxfordshire residents and crucially, provides space for voluntary and statutory organisations as a central base, addressing rural isolation.

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The charity held an open day today (Tuesday) and another takes place on Sunday (June 30) during Chipping Norton Town Festival between 11.30am - 4pm so supporters and residents may see the space and discover what kind of services and programmes will be on offer.

James and Emma Kennedy whose vision of a community hub offering a wealth of services and support has opened this weekJames and Emma Kennedy whose vision of a community hub offering a wealth of services and support has opened this week
James and Emma Kennedy whose vision of a community hub offering a wealth of services and support has opened this week

It comes after four years’ renovation of the former NatWest bank in the Market Place. The Branch was first formed during Covid year, 2020, providing Chippy and surrounding villages access to services and support for issues such as debt, domestic abuse, loneliness and lack of opportunity.

The state-of-the-art hub will be home to Connect Café (a regular drop-in offering craft, connection, and advice) and will host a range of programmes to support residents by offering debt services, nurture sessions, domestic abuse support and young parenting groups.

It is the brainchild of St Mary’s Church vicar, James Kennedy and his wife Emma, who is CEO.

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Mrs Kennedy said: “We are so pleased to officially open the doors to our brand-new community hub.

The reception area of The Branch, the community hub, opened in the refurbished NatWest bank building in Chipping NortonThe reception area of The Branch, the community hub, opened in the refurbished NatWest bank building in Chipping Norton
The reception area of The Branch, the community hub, opened in the refurbished NatWest bank building in Chipping Norton

“The Branch initially grew out of networks established to encourage collaboration between statutory and voluntary services to find solutions for common local challenges.

“Families and individuals in West Oxfordshire face a huge number of barriers, from rural isolation and income deprivation to rising levels of violent crime and domestic abuse.

“In fact, income deprivation in this area is in the bottom 30% in the country and attainment and skills among the worst 10%, according to the Government Index of Multiple Deprivation figures 2019.

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“These figures highlighted a real need for a charity like ours to collaborate with others, including Citizens Advice, OXPIP and Oxford Discovery College to provide support, guidance and advice to anyone struggling,” she said.

“This is the realisation of a vision that began with St Mary’s Church many years ago, to create a central hub from which to serve the needs of the community. We’ve been working and making a difference for the last eight years but now, through The Branch, we are able to take that to the next level and deliver even more support and bespoke services.

“We’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time and would like to thank all our donors, corporate sponsors and partners who have made it possible.”

Every detail of the interior design has been carefully considered, with input from over 50 local community groups, carers and professionals, providing an accessible and dignified space for all.

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Since renovation began, the charity has been active in the community. During the pandemic, it delivered more than 46,000 meals to isolated and vulnerable individuals in Chipping Norton and surrounding villages. It has also completed hundreds of mentoring and support sessions for young people.

Campaign director Georgina Orchard said: “It was founded to break down social barriers, help individuals and young people unlock their full potential and create opportunities for learning and development.

"The Branch has become an innovator in addressing the needs of those in rural communities, which includes 61% of the population of West Oxfordshire, pulling services back into the town.”

The Branch has a community kitchen with 10 mini kitchens, just like you see on MasterChef or the Bake Off. Each week, in sessions led by a community chef, young people will learn new skills like eating healthily and budgeting. These young people will have opportunities to share their new skills and cook meals for different members of the community to enjoy.

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Young people are full of potential and may need to build skills to help them unlock that potential, whether it is mentoring, working on interpersonal skills, strengthening their maths and English, introducing new experiences or building self esteem. The Branch is committed to helping each young person discover their talents by creating the opportunities and experiences. They will help them discover their gifts and work with them to take the next steps into training or employment.

The Branch has formed partnerships with voluntary and statutory organisations to bring services back to Chipping Norton and work in new joined-up ways.

They include Asylum Welcome, Christians Against Poverty, Cottsway, Chipping Norton School, Chipping Norton Health Centre, Citizens Advice, Community Albums, Diocese of Oxford, Keystone Mental Health and Wellbeing Hub, Kintsugi Hope, MIND, North Oxfordshire Community Foodbank, Oxford Discovery College, Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board, Oxford Parent Infant Project (OXPIP), Oxfordshire Community Foundation, Social Prescribing, Sofea St Mary's C of E Primary School, The Theatre Chipping Norton, Thames Valley Police, Thrive, Time For Art, and West Oxfordshire District Council.

Among the initiatives on offer are Equipping for the Future, which includes Branch Out and Cook, Branch Out Music, Apprenticeship Ready, mentoring, homework clubs, maths and English lessons, early intervention groups including family fireside, young parent group and family nurture, Oxford Parent Infant Project and the Full Circle intergenerational project.

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Mental health groups include mental health peer support, MIND, NHS Keystone hub, young carers’ group, art as therapy, well-being groups, signposting services including Citizens Advice, life skills courses, debt support, budgeting courses and Connect Cafe with a help desk. Specialised support features include support for parents of children with additional needs, domestic abuse recovery, English language lessons and Ukrainian support.

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