Martin Martin Gollan, Support and Development manager

Last night the North East Together Network held yet another interesting and thought provoking event, this one on the future of volunteering.

The evening’s key note speaker, George Thomson CEO of Volunteer Scotland, set us off with a series of reflections, ideas and actions arising from a ten week study leave taken last summer. During his ten weeks, George travelled up and down the UK from Bo’ness to Oxford by way of Sunderland, Liverpool and all points in-between.

His journey brought him into contact with a wide array of academics, voluntary sector leaders and others as he deliberated the meaning of public value and its connection to volunteering, community spirit and grassroots leadership.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering reports of Britain’s social mobility postcode lottery, George Thomson’s findings were of a middle class and corporate capture of volunteering and an absence of active volunteers from poor and marginalised communities.

George offered  examples of the increasing popularity of volunteering at high profile civic events such as Cheltenham Festival and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations, where volunteers were asked to do what had previously been paid work.

Drawing upon these examples and conversations with people living in socially and economically marginalised communities Thomson’s proposition is that volunteering is becoming gentrified. Like all gentrification processes the result is to exclude through various barriers, including language and practice, people from particular backgrounds or communities.

The challenge therefore becomes how to make volunteering and community activism more relevant to those communities currently excluded and to extend its reach beyond an articulate and mobile middle class or corporate sector.

To begin to meet this challenge George has developed the community bubble, a space, which could be in a bar or a café but in Glasgow this summer is an actual branded Community Bubble tent where people can meet and talk about their communities, activism and how to effect change.

In the table discussions that followed we were invited to consider what the future of volunteering could/would look like. Here a (resolvable?) tension appeared. Specifically between the requirement on organisations to have the necessary policies, procedures and systems in place to check, place and monitor volunteers as against a potentially farther reaching, inclusive and more flexible, informal volunteering that simply offers the opportunity to do something.

Those processes, procedures and systems come in part from the need to ensure volunteering is safe both for the volunteers and beneficiaries. However there can be demands from funders or commissioners to have systems in place as a condition of funding or a contract. In practice these conditions can create bureaucracy that in turn can put people off volunteering. 

Newcastle CVS will shortly be producing a paper that considers the effect public sector procurement can have on governance and practice within voluntary organisations. Using recent examples from the voluntary and private sector the paper ask if a strategy based on delivery of public sector contracts can have negative impacts for individual organisations and the sector as a whole.

But back to the networking event, it was clear that we were not going to crack this particular nut in 20 minutes on a Thursday evening. Just how difficult the challenge might be and how far we are from finding answers was made clear when on leaving the event there a poster in the lift was spotted advertising opportunities for ‘paid volunteering’!

Sally  Sally Young, Chief Executive 

For the last eight years I have been asking local voluntary and community organisations their views on how life is for them and for the people and communities they support.

I’ve just written up the report (GaN Canny 2018) after 168 organisations responded from Gateshead and Newcastle. It is both uplifting and bleak.

Uplifting in that despite a difficult year, some organisations are thriving - a third had more income than the previous year; two thirds of organisations had developed new services and initiatives in the last year, and many wanted to offer more in the next year.

Bleak because more organisations reported harder times for local communities – particularly with the impact of welfare reforms and the withdrawal of some public sector services. Some organisations were losing funding, staff and volunteers, whilst seeing demands for their services (up two thirds year on year growth).

Most local charities are set up when someone sees a need, something is going wrong, someone wants to offer something differently that isn’t part of the ‘State’. So a group of people come together voluntarily to see what they can do. They get a bit of money – it could be from fundraising from individuals, a charitable trust or the Council and they set something up. Sometimes the cause needs paid people to deliver it, sometimes equipment or a building, sometimes lots of volunteers (who need support, training and management) and it gets bigger. It might become a charity, recruit (volunteer) trustees, get more funding, expand its reach and employ people and then residents and communities rely on it and see it as an essential part of the social fabric.

The report highlights a number of challenges; not surprisingly funding and sustainability are the most pressing issues for local organisations, regardless of their size. At the same time, organisations have had to rely more on unpaid volunteers. Volunteer recruitment and retention is reported as the second largest challenge.

But more important are the issues faced by the people the organisations support. The people and communities using these services and facilities provided are experiencing increased poverty, mental illness and austerity, impacted by welfare reform, Universal Credit and personal debt. At the same time, many public sector services are harder to access due to changing criteria, different locations and charges.

The comments and concerns about general health and wellbeing are higher than in previous studies, such as “More people than ever before in our working memory are being refused public services (health and social care), have less money and fewer resources, and there is a visible impact on loneliness and isolation and a growth in general mental distress. At the same time we are getting fewer resources than before to deal with this.”

Some of the comments are bleak – particularly from the organisations supporting young people and asylum seekers and refugees, as they see life through the eyes of their beneficiaries. "The ‘hostile environment’ policies mean that refused asylum seekers are increasingly pushed away from accessing mainstream services and underground making them increasingly vulnerable. Destitution is a huge issue which is complex and looks set to continue if not get worse. The third sector pick up pieces around this, but refugees are eligible for benefits so shouldn’t be facing destitution in the first place.”

But the value of these organisations can’t be underestimated “(We) helped them to turn their lives around, some returned to school/college/work. Increased health and wellbeing. Stabilised condition, preventing deterioration of health. Increased ability to manage their health condition / symptoms / circumstances that exacerbate or trigger their self-harming behaviours. Increased understanding and knowledge of Eating Disorders, symptoms, causes, underlying reasons. People being able to recognise and identify ED in others and support to find help to find and use early interventions / help.”

I’m sometimes accused of having a negative perspective; maybe it’s because I support organisations in crisis, but I’m always amazed and humbled by the amount of good that is done by people who just want to Gan Canny.

Read GaN Canny : The views of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in Gateshead and Newcastle

Share your thoughts online with #GaNCanny18

Sally  Sally Young, Chief Executive 

Most people will have been repulsed at the events that took place last week at the President’s Club. Let’s be clear, this is nothing to do with charity and all about men behaving badly. But this episode has given some charities an ethical dilemma about what to do with the money.  Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity and others have been criticised in the Daily Mail and other media outlets for returning the donations.

Having spoken to a few charity leaders, there are clearly different perspectives on this and each organisation needs to decide its approach, based on its ethics and values.

Some people believe that as the money has been raised for charities they should take it. Our fundraisers and volunteers work so hard to raise funding, so how does it appear if we refuse it? Does it make their efforts seem in vain or that charities don’t need their donations?  What happens to donations paid back? Can the donations be paid back?

A different perspective is that this could call into question the organisation’s own principles and alienate its supporters. It could act as encouragement for others to put on events like this if they believe charities will accept the donations regardless

We don’t always know where our funding comes from – the advent of funding platforms and giving digitally means we don’t necessarily know the names of our donors.

The Charity Commission has issued a sensible statement that “it is up to a charity’s trustees to make the difficult decision as to whether they should refuse a donation. They must make this decision on the basis of the best interests of the charity. That will include weighing up any issues around how the funds were raised, which may include reputational concerns, against the financial impact on the charity of turning the donation down. Different charities may legitimately come to different decisions, and trustees can approach the Commission for advice if they are unsure about their approach.”

So the message is that it is sensible for all charities to have clear policies on accepting or refusing donations. Charities should think carefully about whether it is worth damaging their reputation by accepting such a donation. It’s important to ensure that donations fulfil the charity’s mission, are not in conflict with its values and do not present a risk to its reputation or independence.

So my personal view is that charities can’t just take money from wherever it comes just because it will help them to pursue their cause. They need to look at the organisation offering the funding and how it is raised and decide if that is consistent with their values and mission.

pic of vicki  Vicki Harris, HAREF Network Coordinator

We’ve had a really busy and interesting time delivering workshops to 300 4th year medical students at Newcastle University. Working with the Regional Refugee Forum (RRF), we have run 16 workshops using HAREF facilitators and members of the RRF. The aim of the workshops was to give the students ‘food for thought’ about meeting the health needs of people seeking asylum in the UK.

A big thank you to the facilitators and the RRF group members for their hard work and input, especially those sharing their personal experiences and are either still in the asylum process or have been through it.

We’ve had great feedback from the students:

"I didn’t fully understand the difficulties of the asylum seeker process relating to health care."

"In future I will take time to understand your patient, their background and possible difficulties they may be facing.

We hope these workshops will have helped these future doctors to think about the needs of some of the more vulnerable people in our communities.

Sally Sally Young, Chief Executive

Lord Beecham, our Vice President, recently described Universal Credit as “the poll tax of our time”. Sir Jeremy has been a serving Councillor in Newcastle upon Tyne for over fifty years. Benwell and Scotswood, the ward he represents, is among the poorest in the country. Newcastle was one of the first cities to pilot Universal Credit two years ago. Universal Credit is rolled out to Gateshead this week.

Last week the leader of a significant local charity asked me how much time should his organisation’s staff spend in supporting clients around welfare reform and benefit issues? It is not an advice organisation, they are not contracted to provide benefit support, they don’t have external funding to deliver this, yet their service users / beneficiaries are very vulnerable and can’t get this easily from elsewhere. They have built up trust relationships with staff, they don’t want go elsewhere.

Another organisation noted they were now spending three and a half hours with individual carers to support them with form filling, as opposed to the usual ninety minutes. This is clearly having an impact on the number of people they can support

When we think about Benefits advice and support, we naturally think about the incredible work done by Citizens Advice - their staff and volunteers. But Citizens Advice is coming under tremendous pressure - the demands on their services increase, but in a number of instances their funding is reduced. It is getting harder to recruit and retain volunteers as the messages they often have to give to clients aren’t good.

So there are real tensions for many charities especially when so many of us (including ourselves) have the “relief of poverty” in our charitable objects. We are faced with the daily misery of supporting people who have been sanctioned, or who have had their benefits substantially reduced or who are waiting unacceptable amounts of time to get payments. At Newcastle CVS, Advocacy Centre North, set up a welfare advocacy post, initially through crowd-funding and now through charitable trust funding. The post went live in April and already has a substantial waiting list.

When asked earlier this year about the key issues that voluntary and community organisations in Gateshead and Newcastle were concerned about in relation to their clients, Universal Credit emerged as a key issue.

Clearly many local people, community organisations and charities have had to respond creatively to the challenges of poverty caused by Universal Credit. In Newcastle, the West End Food Bank (the largest in the UK) estimates that 60% of their users are there because of benefit problems (waiting and amounts). The Gateshead Food Bank has on some days almost run out of food.

The House Commons Work and Pensions Committee is collecting evidence for its latest inquiry. As Patrick Butler writes in the Guardianthese submissions, from claimants, landlords, local authorities and charities, reveal a remarkable consensus: that for all its theoretical attractions, in practice Universal Credit is a bureaucratic nightmare and financial disaster for too many of those who have to engage with it.

The personal misery, mental health distress, increase in debt, rent arrears and eviction, relationship breakdown and the massive increase of food bank use are being captured by many organisations.

So Universal Credit is over-bureaucratic, punitive, and isn’t working with minimal evidence of behaviour change – surely a case of rhetoric and dogma trumping sense and being humane.

Martin Martin Gollan, Support and Development manager

For some children in Newcastle and Gateshead the return to school last week will mean from Monday to Friday they can expect a regular hot meal. During the six week summer holidays, the West End Foodbank ran a holiday club which provided food for 40 primary school pupils. Each week the foodbank feeds around 400 school children.

Northumbria University’s Healthy Living Lab recently carried out a nationwide survey of holiday clubs that provide food and other assistance during the summer holidays to children from low income families. 

“The holidays can be a stressful time for many parents” says Professor Greta Defeyter who leads the Healthy Living Lab. During the summer holidays families can spend an additional £30 to £40 per week on food and for those on low incomes their choices can be limited to low cost food, often high in sugar, fat and salt.

In August, Newcastle CVS asked, through the Our Gateshead community website and e-inform bulletin, if voluntary and community groups in Gateshead or Newcastle were providing free hot meals or snacks to tackle holiday hunger among local children.

We didn’t receive a very large response to our question. One response was from the West End Foodbank, with the figures above. Others told us they were providing food but that were responding holiday hunger very specifically within the local area where they are based. These respondents felt certain that they would not be able to cope with the additional demand likely to result from making it more widely known what they were offering.

This is probably a fair assumption. Preliminary findings from the Holiday Club Survey were recently been published and reports a sharp rise in the setting up of new holiday clubs. Although clubs offer a range of activities, including arts and crafts, physical and educational activity and cooking classes, the majority seem principally to be a way for providing free hot or cold meals for children from low income families, who might otherwise go without.

Among the clubs surveyed 91.9% now provide food and 80% had always served food. The majority of clubs are run by community, voluntary sector and faith groups and the highest number of survey responses came from the North East.

Children North East has been at the forefront of highlighting the issue of holiday hunger. This summer Children North East coordinated across Newcastle, Darlington and parts of Durham and North Tyneside, called ‘A Day out, Not a Hand Out’. With a grant from the Big Lottery Fund the project funded holiday schemes in the four areas that were managed by local organisations; Meadow Well Connected, Livin’ North, Groundwork North East and Newcastle City Council Public Health team.

‘A Day out, Not a Hand Out’ is overseen by the North East Child Poverty Commission and Northumbria University will review the project to find out what makes a really effective holiday scheme.

Professor Defeyter said “There is very little research into the benefits of holiday schemes, this is the first large scale project in this country to try to understand the impact of holiday schemes for children’s health, especially a balanced diet, well-being and preparation for going back to school in September.”

Influencing public policy is a key aim for many voluntary sector organisations. Children North East and others have worked with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food and the Holiday Hunger Task Group to influence public policy and develop guidance and support for organisations.

Frank Field MP, who established the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger, has described allowing children to go hungry during the school holidays as a ‘major social evil’. In this Parliamentary he has and has introduced a Private Members Bill which would require local councils to offer programmes providing free meals and activities for children during the school holidays. How the scheme might work should become clearer in January when the bill is due to be debated in Parliament.

Councils, which might be expected to fund as well as offer a summer programme, continue to face cuts to budgets and services. In June it was reported that savings planned this year to social care budgets mean councils will be spending less on social care than in 2010 when the coalition government’s austerity programme began.

The financial position of many local authorities, particularly those in the North raises questions about how Frank Field’s holiday schemes will be paid for. The government provides funding to schools for free meals for all infants in years 1 and 2. Parents of older children can apply to their council for free meals if they receive certain benefits, such as Universal Credit.

Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland estimates that a family with two young children spend approximately £685 a year on school lunches. Provision of free school meals has many benefits for children from poorer households. CPAG in Scotland has campaigned for the Scottish Government to introduce universal free school meals pointing to evidence from pilots in Hull, Durham and Newham that free meals have a ‘significant impact in all areas of children’s schooling’ and helps tackle inequality.  

Meanwhile voluntary organisations are doing what they can with grants and donations. As one respondent told us in reply to our informal holiday hunger survey, ‘we don’t provide anything to tackle holiday hunger because we’re supporting families in poverty all year round’. 

Louise  Louise McGlen, Funding Advice Office

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In the current economic climate when competition for funding is fierce, even the most amazingly well run organisations and projects have to be prepared for rejection.

Do

  • If feedback is offered take it and be prepared to take constructive advice on board
  • Be positive, not every application is going to be successful so factor this in when planning your funding strategy
  • Note the rejection, the reasoning and how long you need to wait before reapplying in your fundraising log – you need to know what happened when making future bids

 Don’t

  • Argue with the funder no matter how frustrated you are! It isn’t easy to turn people down and they will have had a long discussion and process to go through to make decisions. Remember relationship building is all part of being successful with fundraising – leave a good impression
  • Fire off a series of new applications to other funders in a panic – take your time and be strategic
  • Give up - but be prepared to adjust your approach and your expectations

Remember Newcastle CVS can help you work out a quick plan of action and also offer a range of consultancy and facilitation options as part of our Specialist Services work. To find out more contact me, Louise McGlen This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.   

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Louise   Louise McGlen, Funding Advice Officer

4 Considerations before you start to Crowdfund for a not for profit

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People keep mentioning Crowdfunding as if it’s a magical new source of funding, rather than a tool at a fundraiser’s disposal should the particular project/item you are fundraising for be something that others would feel passionate enough about to give you money. There are a lot of good and bad examples out there and it is not a guaranteed success.

Before you start a Crowdfunding campaign consider:

#1 Why would anyone give us money?

  • Is what you propose an attractive proposition that will appeal to others?
  • Will anyone care about the cause/appeal as much as you do?
  • Have you anything to offer in return for the money (e.g. updates, rewards such as tickets, the end product)?

#2 How will we draw people to our Crowdfunding page?

Ideally you want to go viral across the internet but this won’t happen unless you make it happen.

  • Find out what social media your staff, your volunteers, your beneficiaries and other supporters use – draw together a promo team and give them lots of interesting soundbites and pictures to help draw people to the page.
  • Don’t forget traditional media – if you have a good story, they are likely to be interested. Word of mouth is important – make sure everyone you come into contact with knows what you are trying to achieve.
  • Cascade your enthusiasm down and keep going until you reach your target.

Remember it’s not enough to just publish on a crowdfunding site – success or failure depends on YOU!

#3 Can we make an informed choice about the platform that best suits our needs?

  • There is a lot of choice out there and you will need to make a decision about the one that is most likely to help you succeed.
  • Do your research and factor in costs and restrictions – there are useful insights on the NESTA and NCVO websites:

#4 Can you ensure donations so far don’t start at £0?  

  • Means the campaign already looks geared up and going from the offset.
  • Planning is essential so you launch at the right time to attract potential donors.

Did you know?

We offer a range of consultancy and facilitation options as part of our Specialist Services work, to find out more contact me, Louise McGlen This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.     

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 Louise     Louise McGlen, Funding Advice Officer

We are increasingly hearing from organisations that are finding the approaches that worked for them in the past, no longer a safe bet.

 4 steps to improving your chances:

1. Talk to people, especially beneficiaries/ people in your target area. Are the services you offer still relevant, offered in a way that reaches out to those most in need? How have things changed? Show how consulting others informed your project.

 2. Consider whether the way you work is the most effective approach, are there other ways of achieving results, can you demonstrate impact? If your work is really effective and achieves its outcomes, does it mean that people no longer need you? Show how you constantly review and tweak your work to ensure you meet current needs.

 3. Understand what it is you do well? How are you different from organisations that might be considered similar/doing the same thing? Assess your competition honestly and develop your unique selling point.

 4. Get someone from outside your organisation to honestly appraise your chances and help you develop an action plan, talk to Newcastle CVS.

In the recent Newcastle CVS Members Survey 53% told us that funding is the most important issue they face. Did you know that in 2016/17, Newcastle CVS supported members to raise more than £2 million in funding?

See the funding support and advice we offer in the diagram below. Contact Louise McGlen, Funding Advice Officer at Newcastle CVS to find out more:

E: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

T: 0191 235 7033

View diagram as a larger PDF

Funding Offer

hustings

Candidates and chair Simon Elliot at the Alternative Hustings 

Yesterday, Sunday 4 June, we held our Alternative General Election Hustings hosted by our friends at Northern Stage. The format of the afternoon was different from the usual hustings format because it was for voluntary and community organisations rather than individual voters. Therefore a few weeks ago we asked NCVS members to tell us, from a list of twelve, what their top four election issues are?

The top issues, selected were mental health, inequality and welfare reform, employment and work and young people. The topics would be explored in four separate workshops, led by local experts, at the beginning of the hustings event.  

The workshops were asked to agree two questions to put to candidates when everyone gathered together for the second part of hustings. As might be expected discussion in the workshops stretched beyond the group’s core issue; mental health and welfare reform featured at some point in all of the workshop discussions.

Discussion in the young people’s group’s revolved around how each party (Conservative, Green, Labour, Lib Dem and UKIP) would support existing services for young people but also protect and increase funding to those services. The working group also discussed how each political party could ensure that public services would work in collaboration with young people and the services provided for them.

The group, which included a large number of young people from Newcastle YMCA’s Space 2, discussed too the issues and challenges of providing support for people with non-physical disabilities or mental health issues and physical health and wanted to test the candidates knowledge and responses (about which they seemed unimpressed).

The working group on inequality and welfare reform took the position that welfare benefits are a right (asking during the hustings whether the candidates agreed and prompting an outbreak of heckling when one candidate challenged the assumption that there had been an increase in inequality in the North East).

For the group looking at employment and work, the lack of support for people with disabilities looking for work was a key issue. Also highlighted were the barriers put up by the benefits system preventing people with disabilities from gaining experience through volunteering. The group we keen to find out the candidates plans for more effectively supporting people with disabilities into the workplace but also what were the party’s going to do to bring more businesses and industry into the region.

The mental health working group wanted to know what the party’s would do about waiting times and ensuring that treatment is available nearer home.

For more of a flavour of what was a lively and democratically engaging afternoon have a look at our tweets #VCSGE2017.