By Ellie Lee, Volunteering Development Worker and Amy, CCVS Volunteer. November 2021
Recently, we, (Amy and Ellie) organised the first online session dedicated to supporting people with disabilities to find out about volunteering.
In preparation we produced some stylish slides to help us remember what we wanted to say and to remind us to introduce ourselves. (It would not have been the first time I, Ellie, failed to introduce myself and just started to talk! 😊)
During the session we explained our roles, Ellie’s as the Volunteering Development worker at CCVS and Amy’s as an incredible CCVS volunteer who has been with the project since it was born. Ellie talked about how she supports clients, inviting them to a 1:1 interview, to help them untangle doubts about volunteering and encourage them to explore different opportunities.
Amy did a great job of explaining how important volunteering is to her and talked about all the roles she is currently undertaking. She volunteers in an EACH (East Anglia Children’s Hospice) charity shop in Cambridge, she assists at two Tai Chi classes, she helps organise the Funky Club (a night club for people with disabilities), and of course, she is a valuable CCVS volunteer and helps Ellie organise events such as the volunteer Walk and Talk and online sessions. Amy also produces articles and media content. Keep an eye out for Amy’s future blogs for more details of her volunteer roles.
We met some very enthusiastic people at our first online session, some of whom are already volunteering, and some who want to begin to get involved with local community projects.
There are many different options for volunteering and attendees shared experiences, and inspiring reasons for getting involved. We discussed the many benefits of volunteering, how rewarding it can be, and how it can improve confidence and skills. People often think that very specific and professional skills are required, but we also discussed how everyone has skills to offer, even though they may not be aware of them. Lived experience, empathy and enthusiasm make a good foundation.
We encouraged everyone to think about how to start their volunteer journey and had a conversation about breaking it down into manageable steps. By the end of the session, we were able to point one participant in the direction of one of our lovely local charities, and by the end of the day a meeting had already been arranged.
We’d like to thank everyone who joined us and for their enthusiasm and interaction.
We were both very happy with the first trial session, and we are looking forward to many more!
I have lived in Cambridgeshire for over 30 years and work with local, UK and international companies which have the health and welfare of people and animals as their core principles. Before becoming a charity trustee, I volunteered on an ad hoc basis for like-minded groups. Taking on a trustee role formalised the support I gave to various charities and showed me that I wanted to contribute on a more solid basis, using my career skills to benefit others.
It was time to give back: I wanted to be involved in a local charity. The Cambridge Council for Voluntary Service (CCVS) offered the perfect opportunity to do this, educating and supporting small and evolving charities in the area.
I am also a trustee for StreetVet. The charity’s team take their experience out to people living on the streets, delivering veterinary care and support to them and to their pets, thus benefiting their combined well-being.
Becoming a trustee is a relevantly straightforward process so long as one realises the responsibilities this entails. It is important to engage fully in the charities’ activities and to understand the importance of decision-making and support for the team running the day-to-day work.
As a trustee for CCVS, I have gained greater insights as to the support needed in my locality and how I could use my skills in strategy, decision making and communications to support the CCVS team. I really enjoy the engagement I have with them. During the pandemic, the role of trustee presented no problems as the meetings are virtual and we have continued as before. However, it is lovely to meet face to face as this brings a different dimension to our meetings.
CCVS are very successful in delivering education and support to other charities and members. We have made significant changes in the way we deliver this support. This has proved invaluable during the pandemic..
If you are considering becoming a trustee, it is important to think about the time commitment, responsibilities and legal implications involved. Overall, it is a very fulfilling volunteer role.
Something I have learned working with people with additional needs, mental and physical health issues, and those who are facing isolation and hardship, is that they are the real experts of their condition. They are resourceful and use everyday creativity and innovation to manage and overcome their difficulties.
They might not be aware of their potential and finding the right support often means they are finally able to explore possibilities they could not see before. Once they see that, they are capable of really making a change, for themselves and for others too, involving people with similar experiences on their journey.
We charity workers, are people who have dedicated our professional lives in helping others, giving them the support, but also the choice and the trust that they need most. We believe in their abilities to rise above challenges, because otherwise we would not do what we do.
Every day I see the impact of hard work with clients. I see them embracing a journey which improves the quality of their lives, fights isolation and loneliness, improves skills. I feel proud. Having somebody fighting their corner, the battle is not as bad with an ally. I also see that one of the fruits of that work is for clients to want to give back in a way they received help. They want to volunteer, to be an active part of the community they belong to. They want to use the strength that you helped them to build, to help others. And I personally believe that we should encourage them to take that path as far as they can, because they can really make a difference.
Many groups already understand how having people with lived experience of the issues their clients face, on the board of the trustees, is an incredibly positive asset for the organisation. They can deeply understand the needs of the people the charity wants to help, assessing how things are done from their perspective, but also appreciating the work that everyone is doing behind the scenes. Most importantly, they can bring a creative, innovative, problem solving attitude that is a powerful features for a trustee. They will be the advocates, the champions and the example to look at for your service users.
Undertaking such a role can be incredibly rewarding, but also challenging. The board of trustees and staff should value and recognise the unique knowledge that comes with lived experience. This, although different from professional knowhow other board members might have, is just as important. It will be a sustainable and efficient way to make sure the group is achieving the best possible results, with a board of trustees that really can represent the heart and soul of the group.
This week is Trustees week and now more than ever I would like to thank all those who are giving their time and sharing the knowledge and skills of their lived experience in Trustee roles in our groups. I would like to encourage those who have not yet recruited trustees who can really empathise with their clients, to consider the option.
In September 2020 Support Cambridgeshire were commissioned to carry out some quantitative research into how the sector and statutory partners had adapted and worked together during the period of lockdown as part of this we talked with:
19 groups made up from a range of countywide, small and newly formed community groups and charities;
representatives from 6 district/city hubs and the county hub.
We carried out some basic desk research into reports and research carried out by other local and national bodies, we combined these findings with our first-hand experience in working with organisations during the period March to September 2020. This included learning from networking events, from requests for support and from catch up calls with colleagues. The report forms part of a wider document that is available here.
We have witnessed thousands of individual acts of kindness, some small some big, but all important, and all of which have contributed to the fact that people and communities in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have weathered the crisis up to this stage as best as possible.
It has been a surprise the number of bridges we have seen built. Organisations and statutory partners have reacted in ways that would not have been envisaged without the catalyst of a global pandemic.
Adaption – By the time local government looked up, activity was happening on the ground. Organisations, communities and individuals were the first and the quickest to react to the needs of people across the county. In the main everyone recognised this and went along with it. Statutory partners were able to adapt as they developed their own services and what emerged was a set of co-produced solutions that were different in each area and that built on the infrastructure that existed locally.
Relationships – These have proved vital and are the oil that allowed the machine to function. Where they were better and stronger we often saw better and more co-ordinated responses, but we have also seen new relationships formed and new partnerships entered into.
Very often how well things worked was down to who knew who. This highlighted the importance of connectors – individuals who bridge communities and organisations and can bring people together. It also highlighted the fact that it is essential for statutory partners to engage with local organisations and to build connections and trust.
Equality – Not everyone has been impacted by the pandemic in the same way. The virus has shone a light on issues of inequality; it has amplified inequalities of all type including digital, health, ethnicity, income or any other indicator. We have seen those suffering these inequalities facing additional pressures and barriers to staying safe or healthy, or access services. Much of the work of organisations has been to look at how they can reduce these barriers with their client groups to ensure people are best able to ride out lockdown or other restrictions.
What we learnt
Our overriding lesson was that there was no one correct response to the pandemic. Responses were not perfect, they were sometimes messy, confused and complicated, but organisations and statutory partners innovated, adapted and worked tirelessly to help and support people. Errors were made and these were addressed in positive ways as all organisations found ways to adapt and survive.
On the whole organisations in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have faired reasonably well. Whilst both CCVS and Hunts Forum have had to help organisations find solutions to difficult problems brought on by loss of funding or other areas, we have not seen large numbers of closures and the groups we work with have avoided large scale redundancies. Whilst organisations have lost funding, seen demand increase and had issues with volunteers not being available, we have not seen the large scale issues reported by Groundwork in their national research.
Organisations are worried.
We asked organisations whether they could continue to deliver essential services, especially during periods of further lockdown. The overriding answer was yes, but not with the capacity of first-time round, burnout is an issue as are availability of resources and volunteers with the right skills and experience.
Funding is a crucial issue. In an immediate and short-term response funders and councils have stepped in coupled with government grants or furlough payments to enable organisations to adapt services and meet demand. However, there is a growing concern about future funding. There is acknowledgement that many funders have overspent in the crisis, that local councils will be even more cash strapped than before the crisis, and that we are entering into a protracted recession. In addition the restrictions necessitated by the crisis have severely impacted on organisations ability to fund raise. We will never know if locally the sector has lost the £34.5 million predicted. But numerous national research reports say that the sector has lost anything up to £10 billion nationally.
Local is good…
Each district responded differently in response to the very different characteristics of their area and to the organisations active in the location, to geography and to the relationships that were in place and that developed. This tailored response from the local authority was welcomed by all organisations; but it did make it harder for those working across multiple districts to ensure they were plugged in to all the right places.
However, this approach has meant that not all communities have had the same support or services, resulting in a bit of a postcode lottery. Often, we have seen more activity in more deprived areas and this is born out by the groundwork report nationally.
Centralisation nationally probably caused as many problems as it solved, this included ‘Boris boxes’ and the national volunteer scheme. We did not see these issues replicated between county and district functions and organisations working at the different tiers. Essentially things worked well between local partners from all sectors.
Embrace change but maintain the focus
Client services will look different going forward even once the pandemic is behind us. Much of the move to digital delivery will be combined with a return to face to face work for many charities. There is likely to be changes to where and how people work and there is a universal desire from many statutory partners to continue to use video for many of the meetings they convene.
Communication has been key, and especially social media. Facebook and WhatsApp have been pivotal in the setting up and development of groups; they have also played a key role in allowing communities to keep in touch. This change from one central communication path to many creates a challenge in the future for organisations and statutory bodies communicating key messages. They must also ensure they meet the needs of those not able to access digital communications.
Organisations have faced challenges in maintaining the day to day functions of service delivery and not moving away from their mission. This is a particular issue for small organisations who have had to alter their services but who have few resources and little time to spend on this. These organisations will need support to enable them to embed essential changes to meet the demands of the new normal.
Much can be learnt from the pandemic, from the impact it has had on organisations, and from the way that we have seen the best and the worst of society Locally we would like to see the best of this practice encouraged and built on. This will allow real change to come from relationships and partnerships that have flourished due to Covid 19.
Keep reducing bureaucracy
There has been a significant reduction in bureaucracy during the pandemic. Organisations, funders and statutory partners have worked together to implement new services to ensure that people have been given the support they need. We want to keep this new way of working that has seen a more outcome focused rather than output focused partnership. It has been recognised that this is already starting to slip as partners regress back into their old ways of working.
A more equal partnership
We want to continue, and build on, our journey shoulder to shoulder. This means continuing to develop a more equal partnership built around common values, trust and transparency, and an investment into co-produced solutions.
Local is good
Communities have stepped up. They have recognised their needs and have worked with new or existing organisations and structures to ensure the needs were met in the most appropriate way. We want to see more weight given to local knowledge, to social value and to community investment when deciding on how to deliver services.
Empower and invest in communities
We want to see investment into communities and the organisations that sustain and nourish them. This will help to build skills and strengths and ensure truly community led, co-produced solutions. We also need to see real power divested into local communities to ensure they are at the heart of delivering solutions and services.
Support is important
Communities and the organisations that work in them have many strengths and skills, but for them to continue to deliver they will need ongoing support and the opportunity to learn and develop – well-resourced and effective support organisations are crucial to deliver this.
Our thanks go to all the organisations we interviewed and to the representatives from the district/city hubs and from the county hub. We have not named the organisations interviewed as we wanted to maintain full anonymity.
We would also like to thank the staff from Hunts Forum, Cambridge Council for Voluntary Service, Peterborough CVS and Living Sport who carried out the research interviews, and to CCVS for collating the results.
You can read more about the impact of COVID-19 on the sector, including additional information on this report on this Sway page. We will be adding to this as new research is published and as we develop further case studies.
Support Cambridgeshire is a partnership between Hunts Forum, Cambridge Council for Voluntary Service and Cambridgeshire ACRE.
Every year along with our partners from Support Cambridgeshire we carry out a survey of Cambridgeshire charities and community groups, and every year this survey joins the list of surveys that land in peoples inboxes and flashes across their social media feeds. So why do we do it!
Guest blog from Mark Freeman the CCVS CEO and the question master.
Doing the annual survey was one of the first things that landed on my lap when I started at CCVS and it still seems to be there, but why do I bother. Here are my 5 reasons, they are specific to the work CCVS and Support Cambs does but are equally applicable for other charities and community groups.
It helps us to develop our services.
As a member organisation dedicated to supporting charities and community groups it is essential that we are delivering what is needed. A big part of knowing what groups want is found out by asking them as part of the survey. These are Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘known unknows’, in other words those areas that groups identify where they need more training or support. If we aren’t delivering these services then we will not be seen as relevant and groups will go elsewhere for support.
It is a perfect way to demonstrate need.
Funders want to know what the need is for the project you are asking them to fund. This is fare enough as they want to fund work that will solve a demonstrable issue. The survey gives us information on the needs of those we work with and allows us to develop new ways to meet those needs, it then gives us the evidence we need for the funders. Local intelligence is a real boon when answering the need question and fills in gaps that national research and information often leaves.
It gives us invaluable insights.
As well as the support side of CCVSs work there is the championing and advocacy role we have for the wider charitable sector across Cambridgeshire. We want to be able to highlight what the sector does, how big it is and what might be stopping it making an even bigger difference. The survey gives us information on this and helps us to understand the ‘state of the sector’. When we are then talking about the sector we have facts and figures that help us make our point, combine this with stories and examples and we are able to build a stronger case and tell a clearer story.
It gives us feedback on what we do.
We have to get people to fund us and this often means we have to demonstrate that we make a difference. For support organisations this is often difficult to measure and the survey allows us to collect valuable satisfaction data. It gives us an opportunity to (hopefully) shout about how well received our work is, it generates a number of nice recommendations and it shows that we are needed.
It gets me through my ‘why do I bother’ patches.
OK, maybe it is only me that sometimes asks “why am I doing this”; as I write another report, try and balance another budget or try and fix the IT/phone/building problems that people seem to assume that I have an answer for.
We are really lucky that we get some fantastic comments about the team, and the work they do as part of the survey. Every so often I simply look back through these and it acts as my very own fast charger, a couple of minutes re-reading the comments gives me the energy and the enthusiasm to keep going. If we were a shiny tech company we would get these painted on office walls, or made into mouse mats or mugs, or written on the side of busses – but I don’t have time or a budget; simply reading them every so often will have to do for now!
The survey is a lot of work, it is a real team effort to try and get people to fill it in, but it gives us a valuable insight into the local charitable sector, it allows us to do our job better, and it helps with fundraising. I firmly believe that it is one of the most important pieces of work we do every year.