The voluntary sector has become increasingly significant. The government wants to save money so they are encouraging volunteering. That doesn’t mean there is much money about; state handouts are harder to obtain, and there’s little sign that the obstacles caused by administration are being reduced, as promised.
I need to declare an interest. For some years I was a trustee/director of the Suffolk Association of Voluntary Organisations (SAVO). It was a worthwhile infrastructure organisation designed to serve the 5,000 (as identified at that time) voluntary groups in Suffolk. Everyone worked hard, although far too much time and energy was spent raising funds to keep SAVO itself going.
SAVO trustees identified some 16 different organisations providing infrastructure support in the county. There was a clear need for change, and with others I cajoled government, trustees and senior managers into considering amalgamation. Luckily that initiative coincided with the government’s plan to support voluntary groups, and so funds became available to engineer change.
Yesterday saw the public launch of Community Action Suffolk: http://www.communityactionsuffolk.org.uk, let’s call it CAS, which is designed to replace the previous hotchpotch of support.
This was the first of several launch events planned across the county, and Felixstowe buzzed as those interested in community organisations gathered at the Community Hub in the grounds of the Orwell site of the Academy.
Voluntary organisations need funds, volunteers, training, advice and a range of services, and to network with other organisations. These are all areas in which this fledgling organisation plans to work. They are not really a start-up as most, if not all, of their staff came from the existing groups. Even so it is early days as they create a workable structure.
There are many tasks to complete, their mission statement points to their vision; suggesting that Suffolk communities are stimulated, empowered and strengthened through an effective and sustainable voluntary and community sector. A mission to strengthen and champion community action in Suffolk by supporting the voluntary and community sector in its work with values that focus on collaboration, excellence, resilience, equality, accountability and transparency.
Starting and then running a small voluntary group can be daunting. You want to help, to serve and have a desire, a vision, to help your community. Immediately it can seem that barriers are placed in your way. Issues that reach beyond your campaign; governance, finance, ensuring that your message is heard, training, finding volunteers are all areas that need expertise, which you may not have.
We’ve seen many changes in our society. Third-party organisations are now being recruited to provide a range of services. The law of contract, which company structure to adopt, how to manage staff, including volunteers, all become issues if your group is to play its part in this new world. There’s now more need to publicise work undertaken. Now we have social enterprises, many of which have become major players, playing their part. This brings a political perspective that should probably become a major task for CAS, as an infrastructure provider. They will need to get involved with seeking funds, creating teams that can work together, providing help to apply for contracts, and then maintaining the businesses that are created.
It’s a tough world that CAS is entering. It will have to react quickly, to represent their members in many ways, and to ease charity and community groups into a rapidly changing environment.
Hopefully they will be able to provide the support that is clearly needed. They will need help themselves, and should be prepared to widen their perspectives, to appreciate that expertise is available and can be accessed, but that traditional methods are no longer appropriate. The edges between state provision, charitable support and commerce are now very blurred.