Putting the Voluntary and Community Sector at the Heart of Our Work

Last week I spoke about this at a national conference and thought others locally may also be interested in hearing my thoughts (blog from Richard Jackson, Chief Officer of VAL).

View of Leeds

Supporting the Sector in Leeds to thrive and in turn supporting Leeds communities to thrive has been a clear stated ambition of Voluntary Action Leeds for the last four years. Why only four years?  – essentially because five years ago we did some research and were clearly told by the local Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) that we had lost our way.  

The challenge placed in front of VAL was to become more accountable and owned by the VCS in Leeds – and not just to say this but to demonstrate it through our day to day work - whilst also helping to ensure that the VCS was treated and behaved as an equal strategic partner in key initiatives and developments.

Since then our trustees have challenged themselves (and staff) to lead Voluntary Action Leeds into becoming a city, community and third sector-led resource – aiming to put organisational needs second in all instances. With this aim always in mind, we continue to evolve along with our relationships and partnerships locally, regionally and nationally. We have also agreed a set of principles to underpin this approach:

  • Working in cooperation, and not competing if it can possibly be avoided.
  • Encouraging others to help support the local VCS where possible, and not being territorial about what we do.
  • Delivering all of our services in partnership.
  • Being values led.
  • Encouraging and supporting others to take on a leadership role on behalf of the city and/or VCS rather than doing it ourselves.
  • Ensuring we remain accountable to our membership and the wider VCS.
  • Being open about where we need to improve and accepting help from others in making those improvements.  
There have also been some very practical things like:
  • Focusing our resources on developing a website for the wider third sector (called Doing Good Leeds), and no longer having our own website or E-newsletter.
  • Encouraging and supporting the development of collaborative work especially around tackling specific issues; including things like the development of the Refugee Donations Sorting Centre in Richmond Hill or supporting the development of new networks and forums.
  • The re-development of our base at Stringer House into a welcoming and well used resource. (BTW if you’re in Stringer House over the next couple of weeks then drop in to see designs regarding our next phase of development)
  • Working with others to try and develop a coherent structure at Leeds City Region Level.
  • Working with partners to increase the amount of strategic funding that comes into Leeds.
  • Engaging consultants to carry out an independent Equality Impact Assessment on us and publishing the results.
One key area of practical development has been the willingness to invest our resources in new ideas like:
  • supporting people leaving prison to take up volunteering
  • the upcoming launch of a funding advice service in Leeds (initially for a year from April).
  • Investing in building the relationship between the private sector and VCS groups – focused on skills sharing.
  • Piloting the Quality for Health programme which aims to help VCS orgs meet the quality requirements of health commissioners.
  • Further development of the Engaging Voices programme which works with local VCS groups to help marginalised communities to be heard.
Leeds has about 4,000 voluntary and community groups; each year we work with about 1100 of them and operationally, the aims of this work haven’t changed substantially. However, the cultural shift in VAL and the impact on how we do the work has been substantial and for me, the trustees and the staff team it feels absolutely the right place.  As outlined in the recent blog by Chris Hollins (VAL Chair), there’s more for us to do. Areas where we need to continue to work on are:
  • Being prepared to campaign with and on behalf of the local VCS
  • Improving our ability to listen and respond – especially to marginalised communities.
  • Improving our ability to respond to emerging needs both within individual groups and across communities (like the recent flooding).

Lastly, it’s probably important to point out that VAL isn’t ‘cash rich’, we have very limited resources and 3 to 5 months of reserves – but we have an incredible staff team and trustee board – a group of people willing to be flexible and respond as required, meaning we can marshal our resources where they are most needed. As always, I’d be really interested to hear any comments or thoughts about this blog or any aspect of our work. Also if you’d like to join us on this journey maybe as a trustee, director of our trading company, or partner then I’m happy to have a chat — 0113 297 7920, richard.jackson@val.org.uk or use the Comments box below.

Richard Jackson, Chief Officer, Voluntary Action Leeds.    

Comments (2)

  1. Jon Beech:
    Mar 04, 2016 at 01:21 PM

    It's always good to hear a CEO speaking candidly about the things they believe in, the challenges they face, and how they hope to address them.

    You need a big heart to serve the interests of multi-million transnational NGOs at the same time as nurturing teeny-tiny community groups who aren't even quite sure if/how they wish to organise themselves into a formal body.

    One will have lobbying and campaigning (and fundraising) power far in excess of anything you can provide: the other might not even know how to contact their local elected member - let alone how the local Council sets its priorities. And yet VAL has a role to support both, as well as helping others appreciate what they each have to offer.

    It is wholly right that VAL steps back, and facilitate, rather than "do for" - to see their role as grounds-keepers, rather than fielding teams thelmselves.

    But VAL's commitment to equality and equity means that it still has a role in making sure the voice and opinions of the teeny-tinies are heard. The professional players have the time and money to train, buy decent kit, and even have a mini-bus to get them to fixtures. Meanwhile, the amateurs* are too busy holding raffles so they can buy boots, to attend the meetings about building new changing rooms.

    So, having stretched the metaphor almost as far is it'll go, I think your recent work on developing an equality framework is a great step in the right direction.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, and for inviting comment.

    *in the truest sense of the word: the ones who do it for the love

  2. kathy faulks:
    Mar 07, 2016 at 11:13 AM

    Proud to work for VAL

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