Look, Mum! Volunteering!


A great piece from Gethyn on the volunteers 15 minutes of election fame

Originally posted on the voluntary sector alchemist:

Wasn’t it great to see volunteering getting a little walk on part in the General Election campaign? There you are just minding your own business and then, without warning it’s an ‘Oh no, it’s US!’ moment.

A bit like those football fans you see on TV; the game enters a lull, a bored cameraman pans to some folk staring absent-mindedly into the middle-distance before – Wow! There we are! Live on stadium-cam! Cue elbowing their mates, throwing hands in air, waving and screaming.

And then, almost as soon as it’s begun, it’s over. And all we can do is text our mates to ask if someone can screengrab it off Sky+.


For this election at least volunteering has now had its 15 minutes. Which is a damn shame, because a deeper public debate might have revealed much more about the kind of Britain we actually want to live in than most of what’s dominating the electoral news cycle.


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Countdown to Cambridgeshire Community Fair 2015 begins


CCVS will be there – loads of opportunities to find out what goes on in voluntary groups across the county, as well as a chance to learn from some inspiring workshops

Originally posted on Cambridgeshire Community Fair:

The first-ever Cambridgeshire Community Fair will be taking place on Tuesday 2 June 2015 at the Burgess Hall, St Ives.

The Community Fair is being organised by local rural development charity, Cambridgeshire ACRE and aims to help communities think about how they can fund, build and do more in their own villages and towns.

The event is being run as a drop-in style event from 3pm – 9pm, in the hope that as many people as possible will be able to attend for at least part of the event. It’s completely free of charge to attend and no booking is required – just turn up on the day.

Set up in four key zones – Fund it, Build it, Do it (social action) and Do it (social enterprise) – attendees will have the opportunity to join a wide range of talks and workshops by local experts, covering…

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The £10 million poisoned chalice – and the rush to drink anyway….

alms to the poor

Once upon a time the overlords of the people decided to reward hard working communities with a small pot of funding, a friendly fairy godmother saw this and happily agreed to double this money and help communities to spend it wisely. Despite the overloads only setting aside the minimum amount of funding, this still amounted to a small fortune as far as the people were concerned. They wondered at what amazing work they could do to make people’s lives better, to improve learning and to reduce poverty. For to them £10 million was a truly wondrous bounty.

Then reality kicked in and everyone realised it was European funding. They came to realise that it was not going to be that easy for the people to get their hands on the cash…..

By now many of you will have heard that the latest round European funding has been announced, and you may even have found the calls for proposals on the government website. You may well have heard that the Big Lottery is matching funds. You may well have attended meetings to find out more, and you may well be thinking about how you can use some of the money. I believe that we need to stop and think about some of the issues before we all enter the bun fight / beauty parade.

(My thanks to Big Society Funding who are our regions recipients of lottery funding to promote the ESF funding to the sector for some of this information).

What are my issues?

  1. This is not a done deal yet. According to the government website “We expect the ESF and ERDF Programmes to be agreed by June this year.” That said it will more than likely be signed off by the new government unless something very strange happens at the election.
  2. This funding is for the Greater Cambridge, Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (GCGPLEP) area. This covers a very wide area. Whilst projects will not have to cover the whole LEP area they will have to work across a significant part of it, possibly with a greater focus on Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and Rutland as they are not in other LEP areas.
  3. The Big Lottery is indicating they want to see minimum grant sizes from £1/2 million (although this may well have been doubled according to the last meeting I attended). This means that most voluntary organisations will not be able to lead a bid or bid on their own.
  4. There is an expectation that voluntary groups will form partnerships to bid for the money with lead partners who have the financial muscle to take on significant funding. Given the need to cover large areas, and the complexity of managing this type of partnership I can not see partnerships with more than five or six members being feasible.
  5. Lead partners will be expected to be able to show they have the financial history to manage this type of funding. This may well preclude newly formed consortia bidding without the need for a lead partner.
  6. This is still EU funding so the reporting and risk issues will not disappear. According to Big Society Funding Big Lottery will take on some of the risk and will ensure that this money is a grant. There will still need to be usual record keeping and monitoring as the lottery will have to report back.
  7. There is only £9,928,620 available across the whole region for 6 years. When you think about this it is not a lot.
    If you remove 15% for management costs which will go to lead partners this leaves £8,439,327.
    If this is split evenly across all LEP districts (which it won’t be) this would be £703,277 a district.
    If this runs over the five remaining years of the ESIF programme it means £140,655 per district per year.
    Suddenly the funding does not look as exciting. Larger organisations would be better off putting in a Reaching Communities application that would be more focused and easier to manage and report on etc.

So if the work you do fits the proposed criteria of Barriers to Work, Financial Inclusion and Social Isolation and Poverty; and you are up for partnership working; and you feel you can manage European funding (even with the help of the Big Lottery and a lead partner) then you need to find out more.

I suggest that you look at the following websites.

I suggest that you read the GCGP LEP strategic economic plan as it sets down the priorities for work in this area. (or maybe the summary)

I suggest that you complete this pro forma to register your interest that Big Society Funding are collecting and sharing.

I suggest that you attend one of these events

CCVS will keep attending meetings and are there to help with any questions you might have, or to try and link you up with partners. We would dearly have loved to see the lottery involvement translate this funding into a small grants programme but that was never on the cards. We would have loved to see the funding going to groups that were working at the grassroots making a real impact, and while some of you will benefit from this funding it is not for everyone.

Remember we are there to help you identify suitable funding opportunities so do drop us a line.

One month into the New Year and I have been to a LOT of meetings

meeting 2

January is over, I have already failed on most of my New Year Resolutions and I have been to a lot of meetings. These meetings are important and as a CVS it is our role to go and represent the sector, but I do wonder what would happen if we were not there. Would the world stop turning – NO; would you stop providing services – NO; would the statutory organisations who generally call these meetings stop having them – NO; would the sector get forgotten about or marginalise – MAYBE; would the sector be misrepresented and misunderstood – MAYBE; would the sector be assumed to be able to do ‘stuff’ for ‘nothing’ – YOU BETCHA’

This is not the first time that this thought about the value of meetings has made me think What would happen differently if these meetings did not exist? It is important that we keep evaluating what it is we do and why; here at CCVS we are currently in the beginning stages of looking at what our strategy will be in the future, so once again I questioned why so much of my time is spent sitting in meetings with lots of important people talking about stuff.

For info the meetings I have attended in January include

  • The Fenland Health and Wellbeing Partnership
  • A County Council Communications and Project Board Meeting
  • The South Cambridgeshire Local Health Partnership
  • The Fenland Community safety Partnership
  • A City Council Prevent meeting
  • The City Council Local Health Partnership

At all these meetings the work that voluntary sector groups do is integral to the work, priorities and targets of the statutory partners; sometimes this work is recognised and the groups involved are obvious, hardly ever are the efforts of the groups rewarded with funding and support. Often the work of many groups is not thought to be contributing when it is, both directly and indirectly – and that is a big part of my job. I am there to remind people of all the wonderful and diverse work that the sector does; to point out that this work needs to be resourced; and to highlight the fact that just because a lunch club does not see itself as providing health benefits it is doing so in many ways – by reducing isolation and loneliness, by serving nutritious food and by noticing when someone unexpectedly misses a session and popping round to check they are OK.

I am good at getting the sectors profile raised; I have learnt how to sound a little less like a stuck record when reminding people that we do need money; I have helped some people who did not understand the sector understand it better. This is all good but in the long run in this time of austerity will it bring in more funding and more support and better opportunities for you to engage? A recent blog by Joe Saxton for NFP synergy railed against voluntary groups spending time lobbying politicians, my response to that was that at a local level we were not and that we are continuing to get on with helping people and doing our thing. I do however believe that we are affected by the things that happen in politics both nationally and locally. We have to make people aware of:

  • the work we do,
  • the impact of their decisions on those that we work with and support
  • the issues that are affecting the lives of people in their constituency/district

I will continue to speak up for the sector but you need to as well. I will continue to attend meetings so that you do not have to and can get on with your important work. But at the same time CCVS relies on your input to give us a bird’s eye view of what is happening on the ground. So my challenge to you is to let me have your insights and stories, what is great about what you have done? What are the burning issues? What ways can we join up with strategies that are in place and what ways can we ensure we drive agendas in the future?

As an incentive I will donate £5 of my own money to my new favorite campaign,harrisons fund

Harrisons Fund for the first five VCS organisations in Cambridge, South Cambs and Fenland that get back to me with their stories and ideas of how we can drive change and show statutory partners the difference we make.

No I do not want my office painted – but give me some cash!

Some thoughts on the CCVS annual conference 2014

bus banner

All too often the relationship between the business sector and the voluntary and community sector (VCS) is a series of unproductive and transient communications. The VCS view all businesses as being incredibly wealthy and therefore they have a duty to fund our work, and business all too often sees the sector as a source of ‘team building’ or feel good factor opportunities – when groups of unqualified people come and paint/build/clear something. We want to move beyond this and the recent CCVS annual conference ‘Working with Business’ was the start of a long road to developing real partnerships and relationships.

Firstly do not get me wrong, for some organisations groups of willing bodies descending to complete a task can be useful, and to be fair if there are any painting and decorating or office fit out firms out there who want a team building day then our offices could do with your help – but the bottom line is if I want the office decorated I want a decorator. I am also saying that businesses who want to give money, but nothing else, would never be turned away; again CCVS has an almost infinite capacity to use your unrestricted donations so send me your cheques! I do however believe that both sectors can get a great deal more from working together and we need to encourage, enable, and nurture this.

Our conference produced a few notes from the breakout sessions, but these were very much set up to be networking opportunities for those there rather than about feeding back information that would never be used. We also have some great slides from some of the presenters and these include many tips and ideas. Check out both on the website.

I took a lot of positives from the conference, but the bottom line is that there is a gulf of understanding and often language between the sectors. Despite this I was struck by the desire to close this, to learn more about how to work together and what is going on and the opportunities for building real relationships. To this end we at CCVS will commit to a number of actions.

  • We will develop training for the VCS about how to make your pitch and how to approach your contacts
  • We will work with partners including Business in the Community to find ways to bring the sectors together to facilitate that contact
  • We will find ways to promote the diversity, ingenuity and sheer wonderfulness of the VCS to local businesses so that they can see the depth and variety of organisations that they can work with.

Finally, we will look out for any decorators who want to do team building so that we can utilise their professional skills and expertise, as well as their enthusiasm and desire, to support the many causes that exist out there – most notably the cause of giving my office a good makeover!

Reasons to be Cheerful – one, two, three

The sky outside is wet and grey, the taxman’s taken all my dough and money’s too tight to mention but I’m not down.

The voluntary sector continues to surprise and delight me in its ability to meet the needs of the diverse community out there, in its ability to adapt and survive and swing with the punches and its ingenuity in using new technologies to reach out and make a difference.

So what has brought on my burst of positive thinking and is there any basis to it. A recent report and blog post from @Karl Wilding from @NCVO has been the catalyst for this. They have produced The Road Ahead 2014 which looks at the environment that we as a sector are operating in. Karl blogs about this as part of series of blogs linked to a book produced by Civic Exchange called Making Good: The future of the voluntary sector. To be honest Karl’s take is one of the more optimistic in this series of essays and chimes with the feelings that I get from working with groups at CCVS.

Without a doubt the money available from statutory sources is drying up, this is highlighted in the NCVO work and we see it here in Cambridgeshire. The Barnet Graph of Doom is held up as proof that things are going to get worse (Google it to read the arguments for and against). We do know that the City Council have cut their grant budget from £1.19 Million to £900K, that the County have got to find another £32Million in cuts and that the CCG was one of those that was deemed to have significant financial problems. None of this bodes well for the voluntary sector BUT only 20% of those responding to our survey thought funding would reduce next year – rampant optimism, rose-tinted view of reality or simply that many groups do not receive ‘government’ funding. The sector is embracing new fundraising methods, like online funding, crowdsourcing, and impact bonds. On top of this it continues to raise money the old way through events, traditional fundraising and grants. Last year the PTA at the infant school at which I am a governor raised around £17K through hard work and putting on events supported by the parents and children. Money is an issue but as the NCVO almanac shows us the sectors income has remained pretty steady for the last few years.

ncvo graph

I believe that the sector will continue to find ways to raise the money it needs and more importantly will continue to find ways to more effectively use that money. Here at CCVS we are hoping to kick-start a better relationship between the business sector and the VCS that is not about just money but also about the sector doing things more efficiently. Reason to be cheerful One.

I love the way that the sector is embracing new technology and especially the power of the internet. Far from making everyone more insular it seems to be generating more ways for groups to come together. Recent awards for charity CEOs use of social media highlight the positive impacts that can be gained by being engaged. Locally we are seeing the rise of meetup groups such as the one helping VCS organisations to improve their social media skills. We are also seeing the rise of people coming together to ‘do good stuff’ with events like this local un-conference. Nationally charities are utilising apps and games to get their message across; they are using quizzes and parody sites to connect with new audiences. All this on top of the rise in online and mobile giving and the continued innovation in website design and the use of video. Reason to be cheerful Two.

The sector continues to come up with ways of working and with projects that make a real difference. The K9 project who use “the unique bond between humans and dogs to provide a range of services to people of all ages. From children and young people who are not benefitting from conventional education to adults who want to change their lives for the better” are doing wonderful things and have some really inspirational stories about the difference they make. Bluesmile, a “new Cambridgeshire children’s charity that provides counselling and therapy for pupils in schools between the ages of 3 and 13 during a critical window of opportunity for change”, has seen a need and found a way to tackle it. The Cambridge branch of Food Cycle “serve a delicious lunch at The Centre at St Paul’s Church every Saturday to a range of people from the community.” As one volunteer states the charity is ticking all the boxes “You’re doing something which is really positive to the environment by using surplus food, you’re meeting new people, talking to new people, getting new skills, and you’re also giving something back to the community”.

I could continue to list the organisations that inspire and amaze me, all of which are run by dedicated staff and volunteers but I think you get my point – and you probably have your own favorites. Reason to be cheerful Three.

From where I sit everything is awesome the sector looks amazing and is Rising up to the challenge of  working in this ever changing world in which we live in.

“A bit of grin and bear it, a bit of come and share it

You’re welcome, we can spare it….

….Reasons to be cheerful one, two, three.”

What the Health is going on?

Hands up – it has been a while since any reports on attendance at health meetings, so this blog is designed to rectify that and to draw together some general thoughts on health related issues and the voluntary sector.

So what is going on – the big news is that the new provider for adult services has been announced. UnitingCare Partnership, which is a consortium of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust with Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, are the lucky winners. They will have a duty to work with voluntary sector providers and we will need to keep a close eye on how the sector can get involved and especially how smaller local providers can be supported.

Another big announcement saw the publication of the Public Health Annual Report This can be viewed here. This report sets out the different health issues facing the county broken down by district. The report will inform much of the future work across the council and CCG and should be regarded as a source of information for VCS organisations.

Other big health news includes

  • The Better Care Fund which is a government plan for allowing local areas to reform health care. It looks to move funding from acute to community health provision. The County Council are responsible for this and have put in their initial plans to government. This has been a long and difficult process and the sector have been involved to some part, but expressions of interest for projects have not been taken forward despite the time and effort put into preparing them. More information can be found in the papers from the latest Health and Wellbeing Board here.
  • The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group CCG have been developing a Five Year Plan. More information can be found on the CCG website. There is ongoing discussion as to the role of the VCS in this and it is important that we keep an eye on how providers can get involved. The fact that this area is one of the countries ‘financially challenged health authorities’ probably precludes lots of money for grants to support projects, this does not mean that some funding should not flow into the sector.

These notes follow attendance at the following meetings (if papers are available follow the links)

So what does all this tell us about health and what the voluntary sector can do?

There seem to a whole raft of positives for the sector in all these new initiatives. Firstly everyone is expressing their love for the work that we do to ensure healthier communities; secondly there is a real narrative that services have to move to a more preventative nature, this is great for the sector because as a rule it is where the bulk of our work is situated. Thirdly there is a move to a more person centred, local style of service, again right up the sectors street. There are undoubtedly going to be opportunities for sector providers to play a role in the new ways of working but things are not all rosy – given that there are severe financial constraints, given that commissioning does not generally favour the small, localised and specialist services that a lot of CCVS members provide, and given that acute services can not be stopped and will continue to demand greater funding despite the desire to work more preventively.

Finally we must recognise that change brings about a certain amount of introspection and this has been evident in those organisations responsible for funding health and wellbeing; hopefully, although there are still changes happening, both the CCG and the County Council are looking out more and more. I believe that it is important that as they start looking out they see a confident and professional VCS waiting to take up the opportunities that arise. There needs to be more joined up thinking about how the sector delivers and this is starting to happen, and there needs to be projects that clearly align with the priorities that have been articulated.

South Cambs still a safe place to live

The South Cambridgeshire Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership (papers available here) met recently for its bi-annual stakeholder event, and it is official South Cambs is still a safe place. Not as safe as previously reported where South Cambs was reported to be the least crime ridden (?) of all its comparable districts, but still generally safe. It appears that things were never quite as safe as had been indicated as there were anomalies in how crimes were reported, but things are back to being recorded correctly, and whilst this does show crime rates will have climbed, it is not crime that is going up, just the crime reports.

I hope that is clear, because to be honest I am not sure what real difference it makes, the real test of how safe a place is to live is how safe people feel it is and this can often have no bearing on the reality of the number of offenses that are committed, reported and solved. For those of you who have a morbid curiosity about the number of offences committed where you live check out county information on the Crime and Community Safety Atlas, or national information on www.police.co.uk.

What I can not say is if either of these are based on the old recording method or the new one, but my understanding is that for more serious offences there will be little or no difference. As soon as the figures that were used in the meeting are verified and published I will post a link.

The meeting also heard an update on the community trigger which is a new power relating to reporting Anti-Social Behavior (See a previous blog What’s wrong with a good old fashioned clip round the ear?) The South Cambs trigger will replicate that of other districts across the county and will need three reports in a six month period to be eligible for activation (Find out more about the national pilots here). I am a bit disappointed that districts have not followed Brighton and Hove’s example of having a much lower trigger point (check out the website), but as things move forward then there is no reason that changes can not be made. Whatever happens then we need to make sure that reporting is easy and not time consuming; again there are lessons to be learnt from the pilots.

Who knew food could be so unequal?

Food is not really something I think about much, my wife is an excellent cook and does the food stuff at home, this includes much of the shopping and the planning. My job is to eat, make my share of breakfast and packed lunches, and occasionally visit the local shops. (In my defence I do most of the cleaning and ironing).

But food is a real issue and not just in the difference between what we eat and what those in the developing world eat (see the Hunger Notes 2013 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics), but in what goes on in a relatively wealthy City like Cambridge. That was the theme of the latest Cambridge City Diversity Forum.

Food, Glorious Food was held on 23rd June at the Meadows Community Centre and saw a number of food related presentations followed by a collective exercise to produce an interactive food map of Cambridge. In no particular order we heard from a number of different projects that help to alleviate food poverty and ensure that food is used in a sustainable way.

Foodcycle in Cambridge

They are the local branch of a national movement that

 “serve a delicious lunch at The Centre at St Paul’s Church every Saturday to a range of people from the community. The Centre is at the heart of the community and helps us to reach out to people in the local area. We also work in partnership with local organisations such as the Cambridge Love Food Hate Waste campaign. Each week we collect surplus produce locally from Sainsbury’s, the City Food Bank and Lensfield Road Farmer’s Market and then we turn these ingredients into exciting and nutritious meals for our service users to enjoy”


Cambridge Edible Garden

Their face book page says they are

“A new edible garden project at Murray Edwards College in Cambridge for students, University staff & the local community. All are welcome!” and that they “In short, we grow food on-site and then we eat it. Simples”

Cambridge Foodbank

Web http://cambridgecity.foodbank.org.uk/

Part of the national programme of Foodbanks Cambridge City Foodbank  works from 5 distribution centres across the City. In short

“Food is donated

Food is sorted and stored

Frontline professional agencies identify people in crisis

Clients receive short-term emergency food”

Cambridge Sustainable Food

They are

“a broad new alliance of organisations promoting healthy and environmentally sustainable food for all.”


So all in all it seems that there is a fair bit going on in the City when it comes to food sustainability and equality. The second half of the meeting reinforced this as all those present wandered round the room adding projects that they were aware of to giant maps of the City. These will eventually be digitised and we will share the results with you once we see them.

Once again the voluntary and community sector are coming up with innovative and practical ways to solve a problem not of their making. These solutions do not cure the disease that sees some people with not enough to eat but they go some way to alleviating some of the symptoms. As a sector (and as individuals) we need to look at how we can eliminate this imbalance.  Cambridge is a wealthy City but this does not mean everyone is wealthy, but surely it is not too much to expect that no one goes hungry!