The purpose of the consultation was to create an accurate picture of the issues facing the Voluntary Sector in Haslingden and Hyndburn, and to generation ‘action points’ as to how the Government could support the sector.
Section One: What are the main obstacles faced by voluntary sector organisations in Haslingden and Hyndburn?
The value placed on the CVS and concerns about co-ordination of groups
One thing which came out of the event very clearly was the value that each of the organisations present placed on the work of Hyndburn and Ribble Valley CVS. As a central point of contact, with the ability to share skills, resources and to advise others, speaker after speaker praised the CVS and highlighted the ongoing need for it to continue its work.
Karen Morris of the Community Foundation for Lancashire stated her organisation’s appreciation of the CVS, and as an organisation which funds the charitable activities, works with the CVS to identify small groups to target funding at.
A number of participants highlighted the need to share resources and space – and noting the value of a coordinated and central point of contact. However, what was clear, was that there was a desire and a willingness amongst those present to share the resources that they did have. For instance representatives of the Women’ Centre said that they regularly share buildings and skills, while St James’ Church noted that they have a stock of volunteers and meeting space available.
Sharon Burch, of Ynot Aspire made the point that “together” the voluntary sector is a “formidable force”, however there needs to be an active forum, through events like this, to keep up communication levels and momentum in the sector.
Representatives of the Church and Oswaldtwistle Rotary Club raised the issue of the lack of an updated, centrally available register of local charities, which would enable fundraisers to get in touch with charities, and voluntary organisations to get in touch with one another, to arrange resource, space and skill sharing.
Funding was obviously one of the issues which was raised repeatedly, and in many ways ties in to every other theme that came up during the consultation. Whether it is access to meeting rooms, or the cost of clearing red tape, groups are really feeling the effects of austerity and budget tightening across the private and public sectors. There is also the issue of the capacity of smaller charities to jump the hurdles necessary to bid for funding, however this will be raised in the next section.
Irene Lowther of Rishton Pre-School noted the significant hurdles that her organisation faces in covering the costs of volunteers, due to the fact they work with children. These costs are to a degree unavoidable, however the financial ‘gap’ which the checks create mean that the organisation is in a bad way financially. Malcolm and Jean Sommerville of Laneside Residents’ Association in a written submission paint a similarly sad picture for the medium term survival of the Association.
Perhaps one of the most concerning funding issues raised, particularly given the views expressed in the room about the value of the CVS, was when Dorothy Shears, representing the CVS announced that as things currently stand, the funding for the CVS could dry up in September, meaning it would no longer exist. This could have serious ramifications for the wider sector in Hyndburn which relies on the CVS.
Another issue raised by the Community Foundation for Lancashire noted that they often have issues getting donors to cover the “core costs” of what is required to run a voluntary organisation, the kind of things which have no visual, or a less tangible impact. So whilst funding is also an issue for the ‘delivery’ end of the third sector, it is clearly a concern for the donors/funds coordinators.
As well as funding itself, the sustainability of funding was an issue that was raised and discussed a lot during the meeting. The ability to plan financially, over a period of time, requires a sustained and predictable income of money – when it is taken away or reduced unexpectedly, causes problems that go beyond simple balance sheet issues. This was a point made most succinctly by Andrew Walmsley of Haslingden Community Link.
Playing the game right
Many representatives present raised the issue of the growing power of charity consortia and larger-scale charities, and their ability to more successfully bid for funding. Ultimately this is pushing smaller groups out of the market and leading to ‘market dominance’ by a few of the bigger players who have economies of scale and institutional knowledge. However there is concern that these actors do not know the community in the same way, and are unable to deliver services in the same way.
As Rob Flanagan of Ynot Aspire pointed out during the meeting it is not just charities – large companies like G4S are now tendering for youth provision contracts. This is not local groups, with local knowledge, delivering local services. Their motives for involvement are very different, and the outcomes will reflect this.
Wahiid Malik of AWAAZ echoed this point, noting that the bigger “high street” organisations are institutionally better at navigating the various hurdles within the system.
Related to this, Dorothy Shears said of this ‘market domination’ by larger groups that it poses a real threat to the continued existence of local groups. She noted that 80% of third sector organisations are smaller organisations, and warned that “the government would notice” if they went under. If the support network provided by voluntary groups was to collapse, the fewer, larger groups would not be able to cope with the demand placed upon them, and many services would simply disappear.
Geoff Coglan of the Hyndburn Voluntary and Community Resource Centre highlighted another key issue which draw significant agreement in the room – which is the fact that Hyndburn is “in the wrong place”, with the bigger cities such as Manchester getting preferential treatment when it comes to funding allocations.
There are therefore a number of structural hurdles which smaller voluntary groups, away from the larger cities face.
Something which was raised by a number of those present, and which drew significant applause in the room was the issue of recognition for the work that charities do. As well as being motivational – for instance Dorothy Westell of the Hyndburn Over 50s Forum stated that “a pat on the back would go a long way” – recognition of the work means actually understanding the value of what the voluntary sector does. In many instances, voluntary groups are saving the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds
Gerry Burke of the Sandy Lane Gardening Group, an organisation which works with service users with mental health issues, noted that their work had reduced the re-hospitalisation of members by 50%, saving literally hundreds of hospital hours for the East Lancashire NHS Trust. This isn’t just an excellent example of a healthy civic society in action, it is saving our public services vast sums of money. This needs to be recognised properly.
Mike Rose of Maundy Relief made a related point, which is that the Government was attempting to fulfil its responsibilities ‘on the cheap’, by expecting voluntary sector groups to pick up the pieces where the Government no longer wishes to use state resources, but appears to expect it to simply work out for the best.
Sharon Burch of Ynot Aspire made the point that the Government is sending mixed messages to the voluntary sector, while they apparently want an active civic society, what groups need is continuity. The desire for an active civic society cannot be simply words and gestures, the Government needs to truly understand and recognise what the third sector does.
The flipside of this is the need for this recognition to lead to active support. Peter Holden of the Great Harwood Community Action Group stated that the involvement of elected Councillors is incredibly important aspect of fighting the corner of groups when it comes to gaining access to council land or council-owned buildings.
Section Two: Next steps and overcoming the barriers facing the third sector in Hyndburn
Continued support for the CVS and a greater amount of coordination
- It seemed obvious from the response in the room, that the CVS is an incredibly valued and important part of the voluntary sector in Haslingden and Hyndburn, and that it must not be allowed to fold. If so much of the voluntary sector is facing the problems it currently faces with the CVS in existence, then it would be very concerning if the CVS was not there to provide the supporting role which it plays.
- An idea related funding as well as a coordination of the sector, is the creation of an online space for organisations to collaborate and cooperate towards mutual aims – this would create efficiencies in terms of funding, use of volunteers and of space. This would also feed into the concerns that were expressed about the need for ongoing engagement and momentum in the sector.
- The Government and LCC could encourage schools and other institutions to share their facilities outside of school/usage hours.
Funding and volunteering
- The Government and LCC should help smaller charities apply for grants through template bids and other advice.
- The Government could re-emphasize the corporate social responsibility of companies of all sizes, as well as looking at ways to reinvigorate workplace volunteering.
- The Government should explore ways in which central or local government could act as a guarantor for small voluntary sector organisations who struggle to open a bank account.
Playing the game right
- As well as supporting smaller charities with grant bids, Government and County should be mindful of the fact that the barriers that smaller charities face in terms of the time and capacity to compete with consortia bids and bids from larger charities. The ability of a voluntary group to do good in the community is not necessarily related to their ability to bid for grants.
- Government could look at creating and maintaining an online toolkit for charities which would explicitly be aimed at fundraising, bidding for grants, and collaborating locally and nationally.
- One way in which the voices of charities could be more forcefully put across would be the creation of a Ministerial role within the Cabinet Office or the DCMS which plays the role of ‘advocate for the sector’. A similar initiative could be looked at within Lancashire County Council.
- Government should understand that the voluntary sector does take serious pressures off of public services, and that there would be genuine consequences should the sector collapse.