Gingerbread Groups – a huge success or a bit of a disappointment?

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  • #31067 Report

    Mike_71
    Participant

    Gingerbread’s group search suggests there are lots of groups all over the country. But I wonder how many of those are actually active, and how many members these groups have on average.

    Would anyone from Gingerbread care to share any stats? I’m interested in the number of active groups,  the average number of active members in those groups and how often they meet.

    Most people filling in the form to enquire about a group seem to never hear anything back. Yes, yes, I know that groups are run by volunteers but when you don’t get a reply even weeks later it’s likely the group’s not active any more.

    My suspicion is that Gingerbread puts a lot of effort into trying to get these groups off the ground, but sees very little success. Or the group starts off okay and then quickly fizzles out. Also, it may be the case that very few people actually attend any group and that many of the groups are virtually dead. This is what I gauged from a little bit of background research sending enquiries to several groups, checking out Gingerbread activity on Facebook and doing a bit of further digging (Google Alerts, monitoring of social mentions etc).

    I would love for Gingerbread staff to get back and say that I’m wrong, that I’m missing something and that there’s a thriving group culture going on somewhere (which I seem to have completely missed).

    How many of you posters / readers / members are in a group? And what’s your group like (in terms of number of members and frequency of organised activities / meetups)?

    #31074 Report

    Ramblinjon
    Participant

    Hi Mike,

    Not being gingerbread staff I can’t provide any of the information that you’ve asked for, however I do know that the charity is in the process of a complete overhaul in the way the charity engages with its member/potential members. Part of that restructuring is how to better engage and support the groups.

    Gingerbread are being very proactive in involving non staff members in how best to move forward, they are listening to people and will incorporate as much as possible any suggestions and comments.

    I have met a few of the group organisers who I found to be very passionate about their groups and the roles the groups play in helping and supporting single parents.

    I am sure that any constructive criticisms or suggestions that you may have will also be taken on board.

    Mark

    #31076 Report

    Mike_71
    Participant

    Hi Mark, that’s very encouraging. If the charity management is looking at making improvements I’d be happy to engage with them and provide my input if they want it. I’ve had a fair bit of success organising online communities and have built forums that grew to hundreds of thousands of members and millions of posts so I do understand some of the challenges. I do also run Meetup groups – a local, social one and a large London group that meets every week IRL (2000+ members with 50-100 attending every Saturday event).

    However, Gingerbread restructuring, and its likely impact, is tangential. My queries are about the here and now.

    I do not doubt the group organisers are very passionate. How many of these group organisers have you met and how many members are actually in those groups meeting up regularly? (Because that, after all, is the litmus test.)

    I notice you’ve not provided any numbers. Would you care to share your own story in terms of the size of any group/s you attend and the frequency of meetups?

    Because my suspicion is that not much is happening with groups. There is hardly ever any chat here in the forums referring to GB groups (which is another indication that, well, the whole GB groups thing is more of a concept than a reality on the ground).

     

    • This reply was modified 4 months, 2 weeks ago by Mike_71.
    #31080 Report

    Mike_71
    Participant

    Many of the groups – that I have contacted receive no responses yet remain active on the gingerbread system – perhaps due to not being well monitored

    If Gingerbread do not monitor replies to form submissions, if, that is most disappointing. So there are possibly hundreds, maybe thousands, of single parents sending enquiries through the form on Gingerbread’s site who are sitting back and waiting and waiting for a reply …and getting nothing?

    That’s awful!

    Gingerbread, of course, provide a disclaimer on the form page saying that the enquiry will be sent to the group organiser and that group organisers are volunteers so may take time to reply. In other words, if you don’t hear anything back, ever, don’t complain to us, it ain’t our problem.

    #31082 Report

    Ramblinjon
    Participant

    Thanks for the responses.

    Mike, I’m sorry that I don’t have all of the answers for you, my primary focus with gingerbread is as a long term forum user, however from the way I understand it is that groups are given support and encouragement to up, the groups then largely move away from the main core of gingerbread and then communicate through a WhatsApp group, on going support from gingerbread staff is available but the groups are volunteer run. I understand what you are saying though and will definitely ask the staff to take a closer look at your concerns and how the issue can be rectified.

    Anonymous, you are absolutely correct, getting the message out to single parents is definitely a problem which hasn’t been properly dealt with in the past which the gingerbread staff have acknowledged. It is one a the larger issues which are getting looked at the moment.

    I assure you both that your points are being addressed, it is early days in the process but thanks to the staffs positive attitude towards hearing the members criticisms and suggestions there will be some really good changes coming up.

    If you’ve any suggestions please don’t hesitate to either contact the staff yourself or bring up it here. I have no problem if you wish to private message me where I can pass on your thoughts.

    #31084 Report

    Ramblinjon
    Participant

    Mike, I’ve been thinking further about your comments and I think I shed a little more light.

    There is 1 group coordinator at gingerbread and 48 active groups, if the group coordinator is linked into to every group WhatsApp group then that could amount to the coordinator receiving a huge amount of message alerts every day, 99% of them not relevant to the coordinator. However perhaps group organisers could be in closer contact with the coordinator regarding whether the group is still active etc. Also it might be an idea if on the group contact page it could be pointed out that if there’s no response from the group within a certain time then the coordinator should be notified.

    I’m just guessing/throwing out ideas in this message but I’m sure an official response will be forthcoming.

    #31088 Report

    Hi there

    Thank you for your comments and questions.  It is useful to hear your experience.  We would openly acknowledge that Gingerbread has gone through a period of significant change in the last couple of years, and we are now in a position to think about where we want to be, and develop plans to take this forward. We have a Change Framework which you may have seen on our website. https://www.gingerbread.org.uk/what-we-do/about-gingerbread/our-mission/our-change-framework/ This was developed in partnership with single parents and other stakeholders, and is the start of our future journey.

    Currently we have 47 active gingerbread groups across England and Wales and these groups are run independently and organised by volunteer coordinators.  As they are currently run independently, we do not keep stats on how many members attend meetings or events, but this is something we are currently exploring.

    We are in the process of developing our peer support offer as we have been awarded funding by the National Lottery Community Fund to redesign and co produce our peer support service.  The intention is to produce a roadmap for a scalable, accessible and multi-channel support service that has impact on single parent’s’ wellbeing.  Part of this will be to look at how we can support single parent groups, and peer support more generally, to be more sustainable and responsive to need.

    We have surveyed forum users, group members and group coordinators for their views and suggestions on our current service and received over 700 responses.  We have set up an advisory and a co-production panel.   We are about to embark on our first round of group testing which will take place in different group locations before December.  The development project will run until October 2020 and we will then be exploring how to pilot our new offer.

    It has been useful and valuable to receive your comments.  I will be forwarding these to our Lead Service Designer and I hope my communication has given you a better insight into the work that is taking place at Gingerbread.

    Mike_71, thank you for saying you would like to engage with us.  I will be in touch with you by private message.

    Kind regards, Justine

    #31093 Report

    Mike_71
    Participant

    Thanks to both of you for your replies.

    Ramblinjon, you speak like you work for GB but then claim that you don’t. I’m a bit confused as to what your involvement is. But that’s not really the core of my original query so I shall skip past that.

    if the group coordinator is linked into to every group WhatsApp group then that could amount to the coordinator receiving a huge amount of message alerts every day, 99% of them not relevant to the coordinator.

    I know how busy Whatsapp groups can be so I completely get this concern. But you seem to have assumed significant activity in these groups. The truth may well be that these groups are vast deserts of nothingness with tumbleweed blowing all over them. Do you or GB have an evidence to the contrary? From your comments it appears that GB may not even know which of these groups are still in existence!

    The near universal lack of responses from group leaders tells its own story. And it’s a narrative that doesn’t exactly match the picture you seem to have in your mind about how useful these groups have been to the single parent community.

    Also it might be an idea if on the group contact page it could be pointed out that if there’s no response from the group within a certain time then the coordinator should be notified.

    That is lacking in elegance and, once again, dumps the onus on us, the users! You think the average user is going to keep checking everyday and have their diary secretary flag them in two weeks so they can write to GB to tell GB that the group has not responded?! Jeez.

    This is 2019. Stick a tracking pixel in the email you forward to the group leader. Or have the group leader reply through the GB site itself so GB have a record of when they responded and what they said. It should be GB taking responsibility for ensuring every single parent who is desperately seeking contact with other local parents is actually getting a reply to the form they completed on the GB site. Automation could be used to flag only those enquiries which do not get a reply within a pre-specified length of time and GB can then follow up with the relevant group leader.

    Back to my original question: My takeaway is that, as I originally suspected, GB groups aren’t working as a way of connecting single parents; groups have been an abject disappointment (to parents, but perhaps also to GB staff).  The number one sentiment I observe in posts here, apart from practical queries involving housing and financial settlements, is loneliness and a desperation to meet other single parents. It would seem that GB’s only contribution to that need is GB groups. And, as we’ve seen, that ain’t working.

    While GB may be doing stellar work on the phone lines, campaigns, lobbying, PR, whatever else – I don’t know, I haven’t dug into any of that – posts on the forum suggest there is one major need that is not being met.

    Justine, thank you for your message, I shall reply to it shortly.

     

    #31101 Report

    richard_s
    Participant

    Definitely agree that loneliness and isolation is one of the biggest challenges and potentially where Gingerbread could make a real difference for many single parents.

    I am lucky to be in an area (Norwich) where there is an active group that does hold meets, and I have greatly valued being able to go along to them and meet other single parents. Of course you’d always like there to be more going on.  But it’s hard when there’s a reliance on a single local volunteer; perhaps the model needs to be looked at.

    Justine – Gingerbread might be interested to look at a charity called Get Me Out of The Four Walls, in Norfolk, whose ambassadors host an impressive number of events for parents and children on a weekly basis.

    #31103 Report

    Ramblinjon
    Participant

    Mike, I really do understand your thoughts and I also know that they are being addressed.

    As I’ve said before I am nothing more than a forum user, I am not on the payroll. I expect nothing financially for my comments. I’m here purely to help folk. I am however part of the  co production panel to help gingerbread move forward in helping single parents with regards to gingerbread. It’s important to me that if a mum or dad needs help then they can get that support. I am passionate about the help that gingerbread can provide.

    I am rather technicaly challenged so can’t answer your queries but now that the staff have approached you if you are willing to work with them I’m sure youĺl get the answers you want.

    #31111 Report

    Mike_71
    Participant

    richard_s, thank you for your reply. I’m relieved that there’s at least ONE parent on this forum who’s a member of an active group!

    Mike, I really do understand your thoughts

    I don’t believe you do. Please don’t patronise me.

    But, yes, I’ve had a DM and I’ll be meeting with Gingerbread and sharing my thoughts. I’ve been through some material on the Gingerbread site (and the Change Framework Report here) and my initial impression is that GB has some great people but is too hidebound in bureaucracy, red tape, management speak. Perhaps that’s because of the consultants they’ve engaged!

    Take this quote from the link above: From 2019 onwards, we will now be looking at how we respond to these learnings by delivering our new strategy.

    Huh?!

    It’s your typical management gobbledegook. And I should know, I’m a management consultant.

    Learnings? You mean, like, “lessons”? You can’t noun-ify a verb and take further liberties to plural-ise that non-noun. See? It’s annoying when people just make words up as they go along, isn’t it? Further, the words onwards and  now are superfluous in that sentence. The whole sentence is so convoluted as to lack any meaning to the man on the street. Or to me for that matter. And I speak fluent BS!

    That’s just one small example. The rest of the copy isn’t immune; it’s riddled with stuff like in the example above. It reeks of copy that one would cobble together to try and impress investors, funders, bankers …and, perhaps, those who award grants. 😉

    Nothing wrong with wanting grants, of course.

    But nothing on that page, and very little in the “Change Framework Report”, speaks to me as a single parent. The “Change Framework” exists, apparently, not to improve the lives of single parents but to help GB become a “learning organisation” (whatever that is). It’s navel gazing at its best.

    GB have surveyed single parents and they know what single parents want. They cover this on page 8. Here’s the #1 thing they claim that single parents want them to do:  Increase their advertising and promotion.

    Yeah, right! 🙂 The forum is filled with threads of single parents crying out for GB to do more advertising (for which GB will need bigger budgets and more grants / awards of course).

    But, to GB’s credit, they do recognise the issue with groups. Given that frank acceptance, I’ll forgive them using the euphemism of  “challenges” to say, effectively, that groups ain’t working. 🙂

     

     

    #31117 Report

    Welshdad
    Participant

    Just a thought if using WhatsApp as a medium for groups that are affiliated with Gingerbread.  While the development of a propriatory communication platform by Gingerbread is something that I understand to be underway and a welcome project, and the moderators in the past have voiced concerns over the use of their name by other projects due to possible misunderstandings and concerns of accountability and safeguarding etc..  It is worth mentioning that the use of WhatsApp as a medium enters into a terms of use and privacy policy with Facebook, not with Gingerbread as any data including the content of any conversations etc would be the property of Facebook and all the affiliated organisations it shares its data with (Cambridge Analytical etc., and anyone able to extract this readily available data)   Now if some people are comfortable with that, that is fine but the distinction has to be made and once any data shared is on a Facebook group it is by definition then outside the jurestiction of Gingerbread and any efforts staff make to safeguard are in vain so any data or conversations shared within these groups should be considered public domain as with this (currently open) public forum. While this forum is moderated to the best of the staff’s ability its open nature means that immediately content is posted it is for the world to see and shows up in a google search etc.  WhatsApp (aka Facebook) takes this to the next level and not only shares the content of messages etc, but all metadata (information collected passively) such as contacts in phone book, location, phone call data, all details on Facebook profile, the lot. All linked by a single phone number in the case of facebook.  While I understand people use Facebook and WhatsApp it is important if any of what moderators say regarding safeguarding is to be taken seriously, that any transference onto that as a platform even in “private” groups should be considered outside of Gingerbread’s jurisdiction and any assurances of safeguarding thereafter cannot be made.  This is a prime example of the need of a platform /app managed and owned by the charity itself where data sharing is limited to those who the userbase agrees to on signing.  As the staff say it’s an exciting time in terms of new developments and interesting to see how this challenge of putting people in touch while limiting data exposure and ensuring safeguarding will be addressed.  Certainly a problem to solve but also a great opportunity for ideas of how to do this.

     

    #31124 Report

    Robson2732
    Participant

    A little harsh not their fault

    #31128 Report

    Robson2732
    Participant

    If you don’t agree with gingerbread leave the site

    #31132 Report

    Mike_71
    Participant

    A little harsh not their fault

    It would be a bit more helpful if you specified what you think is harsh! welshdad has taken the time to put together a detailed post on his views and opinions. Perhaps you could take a little time to explain what it is with which you actually disagree. Or even which poster it is with whom you are disagreeing!

    If you don’t agree with gingerbread leave the site

    Given that leaving is an option that is also available to those who don’t like this thread, I wonder why you made your post 😉

    welshdad, what I do agree with you on is the issue of Whatsapp and Facebook. They are absolutely terrible platforms from the point of view of privacy.

    Also, you correctly point out that any interactions outside of the Gingerbread environment are not Gingerbread’s responsibility. But, then, who ever said that they were?

    any assurances of safeguarding thereafter cannot be made

    No assurances were ever made in the first place!

    Besides, safeguarding is a red herring, a complete nonsense! This is a forum of adults. Gingerbread groups are groups of adults. What on earth does safeguarding have to do with the price of fish?

    Any protection is an illusion. What’s the point of taking group coordinators through a DBS etc. and then letting them go off and form Whatsapp or FB groups where the admin can appoint other (unvetted) admins? The DBS is a fig leaf.

    GB groups facilitate adults meeting other adults. What business is it of Gingerbread’s to do a DBS on volunteers? I’ve got a full DBS as I volunteer in a school and work, unsupervised, with children. But GB isn’t a school! Insisting on volunteers undergoing a DBS is unnecessarily bureaucratic. Whoever came up with the idea doesn’t have a clue how to motivate volunteers in communities. They probably thought, “We’ll look good if we make all coordinators undergo a DBS”.

    You don’t build community and motivate volunteers by putting barriers up and importing organisational red tape.

    The barriers GB puts up serve, mainly, not to protect children (because that’s what “safeguarding” is about); they serve to protect Gingerbread. Or, at least, management  think they protect Gingerbread. Or management think that these barriers have some PR advantage. “Look at how safe we are!”

    In reality I doubt it add anything to safety.

    The moderation of the forum is a different matter. The main purpose behind forum moderation seems to be to combat spam (fair enough) and to maintain an environment where everyone is “supportive” (somewhat stifling, IMO but, again, reflective of an organisation that’s a bit, er, controlling). Among forums I’ve owned is a forum for a niche type of business. At this forum, hundreds of members have made valuable connections, formed groups, met up in real life, done stuff, even started businesses together. Two marriages resulted from the connections made on my business forum!

    How often do you see that level of engagement / connectivity in GB’s forums? How many single parents met here and ended up getting married? Why don’t we see any real life connectivity? Because this is not allowed, and that is not allowed, and everything else is frowned upon.

    I posted a thread talking about how I have a large house and just half a family and asking for suggestions on how I could find another “half family” to be a good fit. And that post was edited, the location was removed and other changes made, because “it could be viewed as a rental advertisement”. I do not complain about the moderating decision – it’s GB’s forum, they can moderate it how they want. But that level of sensitivity is not conducive to people forming connections, helping each others, extending forum conversations into real life meetings.

    My experience has been that the moderator(s) are really polite and take the time and trouble to tell you why your post your edited. They are far more polite than I am on my forums to be honest. But what they do is time consuming work. And there are hardly any tangible results to show for it.

    Groups don’t work. But then the forum doesn’t work either. Not really when you think about it. Someone comes in, posts about how lonely they are, or how the ex is a right @&%$ or asking about money/benefits or enquiring about some problem involving kids. A few people make some sympathetic noises in reply. And the thread quietly dies and the poster often never returns. End of story.

    Someone set up a chat feature not so long ago and, typical of the suffocation that’s in GB’s DNA, it was shut down because GB lacked control of the off-site chat that adult members were engaged in.

    You can’t properly facilitate interaction if you want to control all of it!

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