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Garry Jones's Blog

Mon 14 Sep 2020

The weather this week can’t seem to decide if it’s going back to summer or moving onto a crisp cold autumn. It remains a funny time for us all – just as many plan returns to work, so the national picture has shifted and returned us to greater restrictions.  You could be forgiven for feeling despondent and confused. If you are unsure what to do about your group’s plans, or still struggling with remote/digital options, then please get in touch, we are here to help and support you – even if that just means listening.

Two weeks today I and a couple of Team Staffordshire  colleagues finally have our slot with Staffordshire’s MPs. We have discussed all manner of items that we could readily discuss with them, but with just half an hour on the agenda we are keen to keep it focussed. We will be asking them what they are personally going to do to ensure the heightened awareness of the voluntary sector’s important role is maintained and mainstreamed (so any of you who are reading, there you go, you have a heads up). We will let you know who attended and what they said in the October E-news.

In the meantime here are three other IMPORTANT things to do in September:

  1. Start drawing up your ideas to apply for up to £2,500 from the new #DoingOurBit Community Grant Scheme – this new investment from Staffordshire County Council is for any VCSE organisation that helps vulnerable people stay connected and independent – we have worked with the council to make this as painless as possible and will let you know the application route as soon as we have it! (And just for clarity, yes this is on top of the People Helping People Fund - the one you apply for via your local Cllr).
  2. Do our Survey – we are continuing to advocate for more local investments and to shape our support around what you need – click here to tell us how things are for you right now.
  3. Know a mutual aid or neighbourhood support group that isn’t sure what to do next? Encourage them to access our support for ‘Good Neighbours’ and we can help them to consider their options, scale back, re-organise or establish something for the longer term.

Take care all, Garry

Filed under: Support Staffordshire  

Fri 14 Aug 2020

Ok so its starting to wear a bit isn’t it now? We are all a little weary for sure. We need a break (PLEASE get one, as we need you all refreshed for what lies ahead) and we are all wanting to get back to seeing our friends and colleagues, I mean really see them. So, instead of dwelling too much on the new (not at all) normal, which is really very abnormal but becoming routine; I decided to just tell you about some stuff we are doing this month. I’ll leave the more ranty stuff til the new local politicians have settled in (welcome new cabinet at county council) and the MPs are back from their hols in September. In any case there is a lot of really good stuff happening!

VOLUNTEERING   

We know its getting tougher to recruit than it has been in recent months, so the volunteering webform mobilised overnight for Covid response has been mainstreamed on our website here and we are also sharing new opportunities and volunteering news with those who sign up through 8 new district newsletters. We have been working with the county council to bring you Do-it Staffordshire, a local version of the national volunteering website, with lots of additional functionality. Existing VCSE organisations using our volunteer brokerage service will have already received a personal invite to claim their ‘profiles’ which will be migrated from the Do-it.org website. All members will also be contacted to take up the offer shortly or can email volunteering@supportstaffordshire.org.uk. Our Senior Volunteering Officer, Zoe, is taking a well earned break but Do-it enquiries will be answered and Zoe will be back soon to help out any members who need assistance in volunteer recruitment.

DEVELOPMENT  

Support Staffordshire now has 996 members, so we will soon be having a little celebration of our 1,000th member. We’ve been in touch with about 40% of you directly during Covid, with funding the top enquiry and supported you to bring in over 1¾ Million Pounds in that time, a huge boost to Staffordshire communities. We are currently planning our FREE training for the autumn (funded by Staffordshire County Council), so any suggestions are very welcome to consultancy@supportstaffordshire.org.uk. We are also delighted to have just been awarded over £60k from the National Lottery Community Fund, to offer support to mutual aid groups that want to grow into Good Neighbour Schemes, supporting their communities with tasks such as travel, shopping and social activities. These can be start up orgs that began in Covid or projects of existing organisations, so if we aren’t already aware of you please contact us again at consultancy@supportstaffordshire.org.uk.

COLLABORATION 

I’m also really excited to report that this month we will begin a new kind of collaboration with Hednesford Town Council, working in partnership to offer a Community Officer resource to the people of that ‘parish’. Many town and parish councils have played a key role during Covid, so if you aren’t already a Support Staffordshire Parish/Town Council Associate and want to know more then email membership@supportstaffordshire.org.uk, and if you’d like to discuss ways we can collaborate such as Hednesford have then drop me a line directly garry.jones@supportstaffordshire.org.uk.

VOICE

Despite the operational challenges we’ve found it crucial to keep engaging members during this period, in fact we’ve done even more of it, with over 200 of you attending our forums online. Thanks to everyone who contributed to our Covid survey too, which has helped shape thinking for us, the councils and has been fed into national evidence. I know there are a lot of surveys around at present including this important one for all residents from the county council so please try to add your voice if you have 5 minutes. As such I’m reluctant to launch another one but we may try to put out something short in the weeks ahead to check our understanding of your current challenges. We know funding remains up there with the ongoing costs of cleaning/hygiene and PPE plus lower beneficiary numbers at any one time, but so does the practical matter of getting together at all for many of our smaller member groups with vulnerable participants and organisers! If you don’t think you are being heard please talk to our locality staff near you or email me directly garry.jones@supportstaffordshire.org.uk. We do have finally have half an hour in the diary with the county’s MPs after four communications to them with little response (Theo Clarke MP aside). A small group of Team Staffordshire partners will be meeting them in late September. We will be pressing the need for much better VCSE consideration in economic recovery plans alongside our shared fate wrapped up with local government, not least adult social care reform, which is as urgent as ever.

That’s a snapshot, much else going on too.

Thank you for your ongoing dedication to your communities and for being part of this wider movement of all of ours.

And take that break!

Garry Jones

Chief Executive

@SuSChief


 

Wed 15 Jul 2020

I find myself in a pensive mood this week and full of conflicting emotions. On the one hand I'm feeling proud and uncharacteristically, almost patriotic. I've been catching up on reporting and trying to get those sorts of things back to normal. Those reports evidence numerically that we've had an extraordinary time.

Having been in touch with over 300 member organisations from April to June, directly supporting about half of these, we've undertaken around three times our usual volume of work. We have also continued to build on covid response work,offering support to mutual aid groups who wish to explore becoming good neighbour schemes and have just held a second network meeting for some of the voluntary sector lead organisations involved in response.

Together they alone made over 5,000 weekly shopping deliveries, over 6,000 prepared meals and almost 3,000 prescription collections. Beyond that we estimate tenfold more support was offered at a very local level, and this was richly diverse from bereavement support to relief from domestic abuse, action on mental well-being and help to alleviate poverty. Much of this goes on uninterrupted today and is going to be needed for many months.

I honestly couldn't be prouder to be a cog in the local VCSE and wider public response and on this occasion that very much includes our public sector colleagues, at local councils in particular.

And yet, in recent weeks I've also sat in briefings and meetings with national charities and national statutory bodies where I've endured what I can only term excuses for things being less than satisfactory, followed by explanations of how they will be improved from here in, when often the best thing would be a fundamental rethink or to simply stop.

This has included national volunteer schemes, national funding programmes, and national support structures that have all failed to greater or lesser extents. And the failure is obvious to me and my counterparts, with the common factor being top down imposition.

The rationale for carrying on is usually predicated on the assumption that a. They were doing their best in a difficult situation, b. They have helped and we should be grateful for that and c. Local couldn't have coped without them.

The sheer audacity of some of these claims has been staggering to me and the eye watering waste of money that sits behind them is just as infuriating when I see effective and efficient local organisations week in and week out that would run on a fraction of the investment.

Yet the messages that I and many local sector colleagues keep feeding in, and again I include in this local authorities who are experiencing similar frustrations (if more privately and politely); well they just seem to glance off those who have any real say in the matter. If our local MPs are listening then it's certainly not to me. With the exception of a decent chat to Theo Clarke MP for Stafford, the other 8 Staffordshire MPs have failed to reply to any of my 3 letters to each of them in any meaningful way.

So, yes I'm pensive this month and won't finish with my usual call to action or key point in summary, because I don't have an answer to this one as yet... But one must be found, so postcards please....

 

Filed under: Support Staffordshire  

Mon 15 Jun 2020

Over the past 3 months we have faced unprecedented challenges as a voluntary sector. We might sum this up coldly as having seen, and indeed met, a massive surge in demand for our support, at the same time as having lost existing income from fundraising, trading and occasionally contracts or grants. At the same time we have of course faced the perhaps even greater challenge that the nation has largely shared, being cut off from family and friends, experiencing additional stress and anxiety and worrying about what the future holds. Our capacity as a nation to come together in communities, through existing voluntary organisations, charities, community groups and through new ones has never been so harshly tested and never proven itself so well prepared for the challenge. I make this somewhat bold claim, because our sector didn’t have anything like the resources available to it that central or even local government had – we made do with what we had and harnessed who we had. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t perfect (far from it) and it hasn’t always been a success, but when we look back as we are now beginning to do, I think we as a nation can be rightly proud of our volunteers, community groups and charities during this period. I for one am willing and happy to share this brief and limited amount of reflective congratulations with local government and other agencies such as police, fire and more. They have on the whole worked their socks off, made good decisions and worked very collaboratively across boundaries and across sectors (they can do their own PR on this, but I shan’t deny them the credit they deserve). Alas, the same cannot be said of central government.

I didn’t and don’t expect central government to be perfect either, especially when the challenge faced is to a degree new and untested. At such a time I have some sympathy with the notion that we all need to support government and show confidence in shared public endeavours; collective doubt can be dangerous. However, what I do expect from any government of any political colour, is for them to learn and to do so quickly. This is not the attribute I would ascribe to our current government. They were less prepared than we would have liked with the lockdown itself and preparing the wider system (social care, hospices and more) with PPE for example. They compounded this with a national Shielders scheme that was quick to be announced and slow to roll out. Many will be oblivious to the fact hat local government (councils) picked up the pieces and ensured that all such residents had food – and to this day they are still feeding some that government promised to feed. That scheme was full of basic errors such as wrong addresses and out of date information. Central government changed its mind twice in late March about how local food hubs would operate, throwing councils and partners into unnecessary disarray.

Closer to home, just when charities were seen as key local partners to reduce the burden on the state, Central Government subjected the sector to weeks of delay in assurances over funding (unlike the quick move to assure business and employers). Then when they did act, the package was smaller and far more bureaucratic than expected. Some of that £750M ‘emergency’ funding still hasn’t landed locally, caught up in Whitehall red tape! In recent weeks, local property grants practically dropped into small business accounts without them asking, have seen charities subject to pages of competitive, ‘prove it’ forms, for less than half the funds. The Prime Minister was quick to be associate with the NHS First Responder volunteer scheme; much less open to discussing the 3 week delay in roll out that followed and the many technical and conceptual issues arising; whilst locally we got on and supported the majority of residents ourselves (councils and voluntary groups).

And more recently, still not learning, the government rolls out schools returns without discussing with schools, track and trace without discussing with local public health teams and changes guidance on wearing of masks in hospitals, you guessed it, without discussing with hospitals. I will stop here, believe me, I could write twice as much.

I’m hoping I will get the chance to meet local MPs in the coming weeks or months (a previously hard won meeting was cancelled in April). And whist it is tempting to talk charities and money (as those are real issues), I have decided that I need to rise above sectoral priorities on this occasion, because we have a far deeper issue here. The disconnect, the disregard, the lack of recognition, respect, understanding even of local governance in the widest sense. Government certainly (parliament questionably) just doesn’t get it – their simplistic top down directive approach, in a Covid-19 era, quite literally costs lives, and they need to learn and change and do so quickly.

Fri 15 May 2020

Good day all and I hope it now goes without saying – thank you. I don’t need to say any more than this really, but it does need saying and it needs to be heard. As a Staffordshire Resident with most of my family in this county, I am so grateful for everything that is being done by every volunteer, community group, charity and social enterprise. And I am proud that Support Staffordshire and partners have played our part so a tiny self-indulgent thank you to the team here too, you’ve been ace.

Now, I want to talk impact and recovery. Thank you everyone who responded to our Covid-19 Sector Survey, we had a great response and this has enabled us to paint a strong picture of the situation in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, and to input this to national datasets (anonymised). So here is what we know from your responses combined with local intelligence.

1.    The majority of the voluntary sector has kept going

Around 2/3 of the sector is still operating, either with reduced services, adapted services or enhanced services – you are playing a critical role in supporting people and stemming demand into critical statutory services. About a third have mothballed – generally these are the smaller groups, whose activities are based around face to face meetings and to an extent engage with more vulnerable and therefore isolating people. It will be interesting to see the national stats as I half wonder if the active voluntary sector became a far more significant part of the economy and perceived makeup of society during the crisis. We will no doubt be pushed back into the shadows from a central government perspective but be in no doubt that the voluntary sector stayed calm and carried on.

2.    There is a slow but steady re-emergence for those who have been closed

Most of those who have closed down are planning to reopen using digital or good old phone/mail – this is taking some time to plan and implement but at present only a tiny handful have or see themselves as giving up entirely. And I hope it goes without saying that we are here to help you, yes you, not just other people. For assistance with digital or wider adaptation please get in touch.

3.    Funding really matters in this regard

Of those who are closed, funding is almost as strong a factor as isolating for health reasons. Almost half of these felt there was nothing out there to help them in recovery, though a third had applied for financial help and were awaiting the outcome (more below).

4.    You are supporting huge numbers of people in diverse ways and on the whole this has increased significantly

Half of you were supporting more than 5,000 people. This is a staggering figure for largely volunteer run groups, and may in part be explained by the increased throughput of people needing one-off help with food or medicines. But just consider that for a moment! Over 70% of those still operating had seen an increase in users of at least 50%; again a staggering figure that is testament to the diversification of your support offers in this time. A third had helped their service users with food and a similar number with befriending/checking-in calls. For me this is a wonderful story of how the sector, almost universally, plays a hidden social role in people’s lives – when your ‘headline’ services were disrupted, you automatically wanted to check your usual visitors/customers/friends were ok and where they needed help, you gave it.

5.    There are gaps or spaces where demand is outstripping support

But it’s not all positive, as more than half reported your experience that in key areas, you or wider services couldn’t keep up with demand. Specifically you are concerned about people at risk of abuse or otherwise being very vulnerable, including homelessness and extreme poverty. A smaller but significant number were seeing demand for mental health support go unmet. Importantly you felt this was affecting a much larger than usual number of your service users. This is really important as it indicates that vulnerable people will be present in a dispersed manner, not in what we might think of as traditional places – that means support to alleviate poverty, enable people to get away from abuse and access to mental health support will need to be equally accessible, or even dispersed – the response cannot be as if it were like before with underfunded bottlenecks such as traditional referral routes. Remember 2008 and how food banks emerged to combat failings in poverty alleviation of the benefits and local authority systems? The same could happen here if existing support structures are not resourced and given the freedoms and flexibilities they need to act now. We will need flexible and cross-sectoral resources that encourage partnership and collaboration (more below).

6.    The furlough scheme is crucial to some, irrelevant to many

Half of you have no staff, a third only have part time staff. For many the furlough scheme is irrelevant. Even where you have employees, you cannot furlough them because you need them to keep on delivery support. As such, just 23% had furloughed any staff at all, and most hadn’t furloughed a majority. This week’s news that the scheme will change from 1 August into a more flexible scheme which allows part time arrangements will be welcome as a result, but we still don’t know the detail. The crucial issue here is the trade-off between expenditure and income – you may get a furlough payment, but other income may be lost if it is dependent on that worker to earn it and unlike most of the private sector, your work (demand) isn’t tightly coupled to your income – that is to say, your income may dry up whilst your work increases. This just isn’t true in the main for the private sector, where either products or services are made/delivered in proportion to the income earned from them. This critical difference for the voluntary sector still has not been understood by central government and for me is a key learning point that must be accepted in the analysis and planning for any reoccurrence.

7.    Income is expected to crash

It is very, very hard to forecast, but your current estimates show respondees expect to lose over £5million in the next three months. Scaled up across our local sector, we reckon this equates to £19.5 million in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent. The biggest losses locally are expected to be from community fundraising events, sponsorship and similar activities (26%) – please get in touch if you want to chat through ideas to take these online or remotely – there are some great ideas out there you can adapt. A further 18% attributed losses to memberships/subscriptions that you expect to lose, or (another 18%) conversely that you didn’t feel it was right or appropriate to carry on charging for services in these times. 17% reported loss of income from buildings (this is Support Staffordshire’s biggest concern incidentally) and in this regard government grant schemes have been poorly communicated, confusing and variously interpreted by local authorities. Our message here is don’t take your first response as read – question, provide more information, appeal and ask us for help if you need to. The schemes do apply to many charities. 11% noted changes to grants or service level agreements – we sincerely hope this was due to delayed starts for projects or pausing of grant applications that you had planned for positive outcomes to. If anyone has had an existing grant or agreement cut during the crisis please get in touch, so we can help you to fight this.

8.    Volunteering has been massively disrupted – positive and negative

Disruption is the only word I can think of to summarise here. Whilst almost 80% were continuing to use volunteers and many reported increased levels of volunteering, some two thirds cited older volunteers self-isolating and hence unavailable to volunteer. 20% said this was part of the reason they had closed/mothballed. Whilst we know the usual high demand, low supply in volunteering has flipped on its head in the past two months, we can also start to see nuances around the available experience and skill sets of volunteers and the willingness of different organisations to take on new volunteers in times of crisis. You should all be aware by now that Support Staffordshire can broker volunteers aplenty at present, but we can also help you rethink your recruitment, roles, and management of volunteers to take on more, different and remote tasks, so as usual, drop us a line.

9.    Recovery is now

My final point is about recovery. A large portion of central government directed funding and we are told all of the additional government money to the National Lottery Community Fund MUST be spent on the emergency and is taking weeks to flow to the front line. I fear that Whitehall jobsworths are busy designing processes to support a crisis that has moved into recovery and needs flexible finance now. Let me be clear, I’m not asking for money to just be dished out, transparency in crisis is more necessary not less, but I am asking funders to relax over what funding is ‘for’ – let the sector tell you, ask for supporting evidence, openly publish what you have invested where, make clear you will in due course be checking it turned out to be so (or of equivalence) but stop trying to categorise a system that is under ongoing disruption like you would usually do. And if you can’t manage this, then just give it all to the National Emergencies Trust who will devolve it to Community Foundations. Ours have been brilliant in getting money out quick with the right balance of trust and accountability, and dare I say, they have stretched the rules they have been given to breaking point, but not broken them.

Recovery started yesterday and it evolves each day, so whether it is funding, volunteers or wider support please do not hesitate for a moment to be in touch for a sounding board as often as you need.

Take Care (Be Alert)

Garry

 


To read the full survey summary click here

Wed 15 Apr 2020

It has been the most testing, bizarre, emotional, challenging, tiring month, but I have also never been more proud to be part of our local voluntary and community sector.

In a matter of weeks, we have seen our members dramatically reorganise themselves to respond to the pandemic, undertaking new and challenging tasks, recruiting more volunteers, spending their own reserves, forging new relationships, supporting the vulnerable and marginalised, to stay at home, to protect the NHS, and Social Care, and ultimately to save lives.

We want to say a huge thank you to every organisation, every staff member, every volunteer, every trustee, who in whatever way they have been able, has supported this call to action, in our communities across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent. The work goes on, but I for one feel far more assured that we can weather this storm, with the ingenuity and commitment of all of you. In particular I want to personally thank the VCSE lead organisations in every district that have been working with ourselves, the county council, district councils and NHS partners, to ensure we have clear and accessible routes to divert less urgent demand away from critical statutory services where possible. I also want to thank all the foodbanks and similar organisations who are stopping that demand from arising in the first place – you are wonderful.

I spoke to the Guardian newspaper on Good Friday and they were truly astounded by the goodwill that communities have shown across the country. From the amazing new mutual aid groups, helping neighbours on their patch, to the ¾ million NHS responders, of which you may be one. In Staffordshire we have seen 1,500 new volunteers come forward to Support Staffordshire, at its peak a 4000% increase on our usual expectations; and that’s around ¼ million new volunteers across our CVS/volunteer centre colleagues in England. We have referred on over 2/3 of them already, but please get in touch if you want more!

We have also been working with partners to get funding up and running and accessed, in particular friends at the Community Foundation. If you need any support with applications or wider work around sustaining yourselves at this time, please pick up the phone to us. If you don’t know who to speak to call us on 0300 777 1207.

I want to conclude this month, with a brief word about the national government response to charities, and I must point out that this is always used as a convenient short hand to mean – support for our beneficiaries, who are many of the most vulnerable in our communities. To start I was dismayed at the effort and time it took to make the case, over 3 weeks before anything was announced. The funding (£750k) was of course most welcome, especially for hospices who are as much at the front line, as NHS and social care colleagues. But it’s simply not enough. The delay and the small scale of the response says something deeply concerning about central government /charity sector relations – we are clearly not well understood, not sufficiently valued and too readily dismissed. This is a troubling state of affairs when we know that every charity that goes under will be twice as hard to restart and many fold more expensive to be replaced with statutory services. Yet central government simply must not believe this.

My colleague at CFG, Caron Bradshaw wrote a fantastic piece late last week, in which she says: ‘Charity isn’t gentle. It’s messy and hard and difficult and painful…[The Chancellor said] he couldn’t guarantee he could save every job. I agree. But that isn’t the point - it never has been. It’s not about charity jobs. It’s about the people we serve. It’s not about preserving the institution of charity so it can carry on after this crisis has passed. It’s about ensuring that the marginalised, the vulnerable, the bits of society that are unseen and unsupported by all but charities, do not carry the greatest burden.’

And so, we at Support Staffordshire will continue to press behind the scenes as well as publicly, with local MPs and through our national bodies, to ensure that funds are distributed fairly, that the immediate crisis response (necessary as it is) does not totally crowd out the longer term response. The virus hasn’t taken away all the other issues; domestic violence, child poverty, homelessness, disabilities, mental health, employability and much more, and many will be exacerbated by it.

We need your help in this, to paint a fair and accurate and compelling case – please respond to the Staffordshire Covid-19 State of the Sector Survey.  It would be helpful if you could complete the survey by 30th April

 

Garry Jones, Chief Executive, Support Staffordshire

Tue 10 Mar 2020

Hi folks

Hope you are staying calm and well. Instead of my usual piece this month I’m just saying to read this (see link below). Really useful and practical stuff from our friends at NCVO.

If you need any help with plans or issues arising from this guidance and want to talk it over then remember we are here to help locally. 

https://www.ncvo.org.uk/practical-support/information/coronavirus

 

Filed under: Support Staffordshire  

Fri 14 Feb 2020

One of the perennial bug bears I hear from local members in the voluntary sector is how frustrating it is to see local businesses and employee groups raising funds for Cancer Research UK, Macmillan or the British Heart Foundation (to name a few), whilst they struggle to make it by to the end of the year. The amounts involved will often be a drop in the ocean for such national ‘corporate’ charities, but locally could literally save a charity or community group from closure. Even more frustrating, is that these big names probably don’t even work locally in Staffordshire or Stoke-on-Trent. And the stats back up this frustration, with a huge majority of both public donations and corporate giving, going to a short list of the top national charities, leaving the other hundred thousand or more in the shade.

The answers are not simple and this behaviour is deeply entrenched on all parts. The businesses may be deliberately seeking publicity alongside the donation, which those national brands are well placed to deliver upon. Local charities are not going to give them the kudos they seek. Locally we don’t have anything like the marketing budgets, if any at all and the more they earn, the more they must reinvest in marketing to earn even more! Locally we can't even get started.

Equally though, we aren’t making it easy for local businesses to get much out of a relationship – we don’t always market ourselves well, even locally. We often don’t tell the stories well enough, even when we have them. The employees themselves may drive the decision about what to support and its often the most emotive and personal experiences that direct such giving, where Cancer really hits home. The elderly relative supported via a luncheon club, week in and out for 20 years perhaps doesn’t tend to resonate quite so much with your colleagues… let alone the 2000 or more charitable groups in Staffordshire that you’ve probably never heard of, but are deeply intertwined in communities of place and need.

What can you do about it? Start small and try to build relationships with a small number of open ears – via your own employees, trustees or volunteers, businesses they work with, are employed by or used to be, your neighbouring businesses, and don’t forget your own suppliers, who may be so close you didn’t even think of them? Tell your own stories, use your frontline staff and volunteers and your service users or beneficiaries – video is great, photos if not, and it’s so much quicker and easier than a written case study. If it’s really all new to you, then book onto our Right Start Course covering Basic Marketing Principles, or talk it through with one of our Locality Officers near you – both are free to members.

Local businesses out there? Not sure where to start? One option is to get involved via Support Staffordshire. In June we hold a series of local Awards, recognising the great volunteers and organisations around Staffordshire. You can sponsor an award from as little as £150, which will bring you into direct contact with a room full of the brightest and best of local charities and community groups. Who knows where an introduction on that summer evening could lead? If you want to know more call Jennie on 01785 413162 or email jennie.stewart@supportstaffordshire.org.uk.

Lastly, don’t miss our AGM with guest speaker Karl Wilding, Chief Executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations – our biggest and best voice at a national level. It’s on Thursday, but we still have some tickets left, so book here without delay. Looking forward to seeing many of you there.

Garry Jones

Chief Executive, Support Staffordshire

Mon 13 Jan 2020

We are kicking off the new year as we mean to go on with a positive celebration of our sector – the 2020 Support Staffordshire Volunteer Star Awards are here and nominations are now open. There are a range of categories in which to nominate your local unsung hero and we will be holding special awards events in June, across the county, with 8 events in total. For the full visit the awards pages of our website. We are already looking forward to reading your wonderful stories of local giving.

At this time of year thoughts will also turn for many of our members to budgets for next financial year and tying up your current year of activities, reports and finances. Remember, we offer a friendly and very competitively priced year end accounts and independent examination service for organisations with a turnover under £250k. We are also here to support and advise you on all matters pertaining to business plans and funding for the year ahead – just call and ask for your Locality Officer.

At home we too are planning the year ahead and this year we will be embarking on a new stream of income through corporate support. For many smaller charities this is an untapped area of support and whilst most local businesses say they favour donating to local causes, when it comes to the stats, they tend to give to well-known nationals. Why? Probably because it’s easier to do so. We are planning to change that and hope to shine a spotlight on the smaller, local charities we support as a result. We want to ensure we don’t clash with any corporate fundraising our members are already engaged with, so don’t expect fun runs and cake bakes from us, but we do want to be open and honest that as public finances continue to feel the squeeze, we will have to diversify, if our free advice and support to almost 1,000 local charities and community groups is to be maintained.

Finally don't foget to book your place at our AGM which will take place on Thursday 20 February at Lea Hall Miners Welfare and Social Club in Rugeley.  We are delighted that Karl Wilding Chief Executive at the NCVO has agreed to be our guest speaker so it promises to be an interesting afternoon.

Mon 16 Dec 2019

What a week, and whoever you voted for, I expect we are all glad that politics is somewhat off the table for Christmas.

Congratulations to all our local Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent MPS, especially those new to role, and I would give a special well done to Kate Griffiths MP for Burton, who has been a great local supporter of the voluntary sector over the last five years, regularly supporting our Volunteer Star Awards – we hope you’ll continue to be an advocate for the sector.

In the new year I and colleagues from Team Staffordshire, will be taking upon an invite extended by Karen Bradley MP (Staffordshire Moorlands) on behalf of local conservative MPs, before the election. This was in reply to our open letter sent in the autumn, which eventually received several replies. The most detailed and thoughtful of these was from Jeremy Lefroy (former MP for Stafford), for which I want to thank him. We also received pretty detailed replies from all three local labour MPs, though they have each stood down or lost their seats. The meeting which we expect to be at Westminster with all (or most) of the now 12 conservative MPs, is a great opportunity to put across our priorities at the start of a new term of office. So what will be your priority? I shall write to all members in the new year asking for a clear steer on this, but start thinking…

To get you started, we should remember that even though the election has been hailed a landslide victory, more people didn’t exercise their right to vote at all, than voted conservative (just 30% of the electorate voted for the winners) – which I point out, in order to remind us that 70% of the population felt strongly enough to vote for something else, or apathetic enough not to vote at all. There remain big problems to be solved in this country and both the new government, our local governments, and our civil society has a major role to play in bringing more people together for the betterment of their communities.

For me the biggest unaddressed questions are around tackling and mitigating climate change, addressing the adult social care conundrum and addressing decent affordable housing. Each of these is of course interwoven with our ability to pay, the economy and trade, and thus of course Brexit remains crucial.

However, at least for Christmas, perhaps we can all consider what unites us as a nation, enjoy the company of family and friends and look forward to the possibilities of what the new year brings. Merry Christmas to all our members, colleagues and partners and thanks for your support and collaboration this year.

Garry