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Garry Jones's Blog

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

Wed 30 Oct 2019

Trust in Charities and why the Charity Commission is so off the mark

In recent weeks there has been another raft of critical opinion from the Charity Commission, largely via its Chair, Baroness Tina Stowell. It hopefully passed you by and doesn’t affect your opinion of charities or indeed your own organisational self-esteem too much. To expand on my Twitter comments @suschief I want to say a few words here about why this is a poor strategy by the Commission, poor execution and totally misses the mark.

This repeated commentary largely relies on this 2018 Commission report.  If you have time to read it, you will actually see that trust in charities has gone up since 2016 and that charities remain one of the most trusted of any institutions; though overall trust is seen to be down in the longer term and remains of concern to the public, mostly linked to negative media and publicity about charities in recent years (something the Commission seems intent on contributing too?!?)

I have to say there are serious questions as to the method and statistical significance of the results in this report. If this is to be the basis of what seems to be their flagship ‘campaign’ then it needs to be a much broader and sounder (and independent) evidence base of the supposed problem. At this juncture I would also remind readers that Baroness Stowell isn’t the independent regulator she is supposed to be, walking straight out of the revolving door from being a Conservative Peer and former Cabinet Member into this job, against the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee asked to endorse her. Indeed they stated she wasn’t fit for the job… she was given it anyway.

So, where exactly is the supposed trust problem? If we accept there is an issue, or at least that further building up of trust in charities is good, whatever its current status; surely there are two obvious next questions: which of the 160,000 charities are and are not trusted, and why? Are there significant differences based on geography, theme or size of charity? I strongly suspect so and certainly the negative media ‘scandals’ have been overwhelmingly dominated by a handful of large corporate national charities. But analytically, what are the main reasons people give for trusting or not trusting charities? I see little of this analysis and in particular, it practically never seems to provide any direction to the Commission Chair’s public speeches on the matter. Instead she repeatedly says ‘charities’   - what all 160,000 of them?

More fundamentally though, can Trust even be regulated? The current discourse is really shallow. It doesn’t recognise that Trust is not something any of us can directly create, not charities and not the Commission. Trust is an emergent property of complex systems (people and organisations), influenced by a very wide range of factors, many of them subjective and irrational. I would argue Trust is as much, if not more, an emotion or feeling, as a thought or fact. The Commission can strongly effect some of these factors through regulation and those are the things they should concentrate on: transparency in reporting, the registration process itself, compliance with legal duties, punishment for abuse of the law etc. They have some way to go on these things!

Still, I genuinely wouldn’t mind them giving a view on our behaviours as a sector, if it were done, with us, instead of about us. The public discourse from the Commission on this is too dominated by a top down approach, telling us off and telling us to do better. Where is the attempt to work with us? Charity Leaders are by far the best placed people to influence this agenda as they are the ones who have most control over their charities’ behaviours. There seems to have been very little effort put into working with us. When I questioned this approach with the Chair, at the NAVCA AGM last year, her first response was to say ‘try not to take it personally’. For me this speaks volumes about the Commission’s relationship with the local (small) sector vs the corporate charity sector. For us lot, we work in this sector, not solely or even primarily because of a transactional employment relationship. We do it because we care and we almost all go well above and beyond. This means that telling us we are not trusted, feels personal, and if it feels personal, then it is!

This brings me to my main point, which is that this trust debate detracts from the real issue – public misunderstanding. When you do delve into the data you find massive misunderstanding shines through and surely if you are to trust something, misunderstanding it, ain’t a great place to start. Just one example of many; a large proportion of the ‘public’ think Charity Chief Executives shouldn’t be paid. Not shouldn’t be paid a lot, no, shouldn’t be paid at all. This must mean that for those people there would be something to mistrust in any charity boss who got paid even the minimum wage. The public understanding of what charity is and charities are is a very real and factual thing that the Commission absolutely could do something about, if it chose to change its ‘campaign’ to one of public education.

Finally, via Twitter, I have received a very strong counter argument against my statements that this approach is ‘unfair’. My friendly adversary argued that the Commission should be able to criticise charities and to do so very publicly and that we shouldn’t cry ‘unfair’. I’ve given this a lot of thought and I agree with him up to a point – they should criticise us where it is merited. But where I come from, if something is unfair, you can say it and you shouldn’t have to take the blame for things you didn’t do. I re-read the list of supposed charity scandals from poor fundraising practice, excessive chief exec pay, horrendous lack of safeguarding and the impacts, kids company and other high profile collapses, supposed duplication of ‘too many charities’, and charity shops proliferating on the high street. I concluded, our Charity has nothing to do with any of these and I couldn’t think of any of our member orgs locally who had either.

So yes, it’s unfair and I will keep saying so. Follow my rants and occasional insights @suschief

Fri 11 Oct 2019

I recently celebrated 5 years with Support Staffordshire, 7 as an employee in the CVS world and 14 overall (previously as a volunteer/trustee) but you might not know my first career was in nature conservation. I have worked with 3 Local Wildlife Trusts and worked and volunteered for the RSPB twice as well as short spells in both the private and statutory sector – what’s that got to do with anything I hear you say?

Well, my bit was education, volunteering and community engagement and I loved my work. But one of the main reasons I left was a nagging doubt that we could ever really change anything whilst too many in the leadership of that sector essentially viewed people as the problem, instead of the solution. Personally I hit a glass ceiling, where my face didn’t fit and I vividly remember being told that social inclusion wasn’t the job of environmentalists… how times change.

Yet, I suppose I have thus far failed to really marry up my love of nature and passion to conserve what we have left, with my current career in the world of people and social challenges – where the challenges are so great in their own right and my own work is under constant pressure to balance the books and keep our services going for all that use and rely upon them. I still feel there is a deep disconnect between environmental justice and social justice in too many communities and with too many decision makers and influencers.

But Greta Thunberg’s recent UN Climate Summit speech reminded me that I should keep trying. Personally I can probably feel quite smug – I am a vegetarian, don’t take flights, don’t buy much stuff, have a renewable energy supplier, recycle etc. etc. I do a lot of car miles and tell myself I can’t afford an electric car (not that this is a solution in itself anyway) and that in a rural county I have little choice but to drive (which in many ways is true). I have vowed to use less baby wipes, but you know it’s really hard when your 2 year old runs at you with his sticky fingers when you have an important meeting that morning!

Greta reminds us all that our generation and our parents have ‘stolen her dreams’ and then have the audacity to come to young people ‘for hope’. How dare we indeed. Of course, her message is targeted with precision, not at the everyday Joe, but at the national politicians, financers and media moguls who could actually make the gear shifts we need. I feel pretty confident that Joe public would actually respond well, if supported and enabled to change behaviour as a society, rather than feel they are making lonely sacrifices whilst the rich and powerful keep jet setting and burning fossil fuels at will. It is no coincidence that the abuse Greta receives on social media (its immense and vile) largely emanates from white, middle aged, well-off, western, angry, men. This is a young woman standing up for what she believes in and I for one think she must be one of the bravest people I have ever come across, as well as being right.

So, at Support Staffordshire, we have made two tiny steps in the right direction: Firstly, we have written climate change into our new Business Plan – no we don’t really know what we are going to do about it; but it’s there, so it can’t keep being ignored. Secondly, my colleague Jill Norman is convening a conversation with a cross-organisation group of staff, to see what we all think we can do about it. We are a small organisation, tiny by world standards, and could easily say there is nothing we can do without the USA and China on Board. But actually, we all have to do something, only in that way will we reach a tipping point where more people than not ‘get it' – that the social, political, economic and technological fabric of society, worldwide, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment and there is no ‘away’ into which we can throw our climate emergency.

 

Filed under: Support Staffordshire  

Wed 11 Sep 2019

So, I have avoided the topic for months, but it seems there really would be little point this month, in me talking about anything except….. Brexit.

However, I hope to give a different and perhaps more positive take, whilst also walking the political tightrope that Charity leaders must.

We find ourselves in highly charged political times, where every action and reaction is an outrage, a disgrace, a constitutional abomination. I’ve become somewhat immune to these terms when they emanate from politicians, whether they have some truth to them or not; because they are being seriously overused by all parties. And this is indicative of the extreme polarisation that has resulted from the Brexit saga. Leavers and Remainers, the two opposite identities that we must each now embody. Winners vs Losers. Parliament vs the People.

Let’s rewind. Back in 2015 when the referendum was a manifesto pledge of the David Cameron Conservative Party, was the EU question prominent in most folks’ minds? Amongst the NHS, Education, Policing, Social Care, Climate Change, Housing, Jobs and Employment? I don’t recall it being up there in most ordinary voters list of priorities, let alone capable of such division. It now splits families and communities down the middle if we are to believe the media. I know some will say it affects all these things and they are right, but how many of us, hand on heart can really truly say we were genuinely, truly, very, very bothered about the EU, back then?

And even when it came to the vote, how many of us were truly ‘die in a ditch’ leavers or remainers? I don’t mind saying that I was a late remainer, perhaps 65:35 remain in the end. I like some of the ideas of leaving (even now), especially of more local decision making and more direct accountability for elected leaders. But I also like some of the ideas of remain – current trade and travel arrangements (and I’m not a frequent traveller abroad by any means, nor do I trade internationally). I also like the more general sense of being part of Europe in terms of security and solidarity on global issues. I was probably 50:50 until some of the narrative descended into racism near the end, and that personally, pushed me to vote remain. But really I’m not a remainer or a leaver; I’m a middler and I don’t think I’m the only one.

I also think it’s pretty much an undeniable fact that we all know far more now than we did back then about the EU in general, and the implications of leaving or indeed of staying. Now, I’m absolutely not saying the much trotted out ‘you didn’t know what you were voting for’, nor ‘leavers are all stupid’ that is so often characterised and leads to pointless arguments. I’m pretty sure almost all people who voted leave had and still have a very clear idea and rationale as to why they voted leave and that the majority didn’t do so solely because of promises about the NHS which have since been brought into doubt. They voted leave for very good reasons.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that we now know leaving causes a serious headache around the Irish Border, a potentially irresolvable headache, at least in the short term. We also know now that it is really very complicated when it comes to things like customs borders, especially for fresh food and some medicines (not irresolvable, but very complicated!) And these things might possibly mean some folk have changed their mind, even if most have not. At the least it brings into doubt the decision by the Cameron Government, to sum it all up in one very short and simple phrase ‘leave’ – because it’s just not that simple. I hope we can all agree that any future referendum would benefit from a little more detail in the options presented.

This brings me onto two final points, even though they seemingly contradict one another.

I absolutely sympathise, very much, with those voters who feel let down, having voted for the first time in their lives, and now finding their (leave) vote is being ‘ignored’ by the parliamentary machine. However, on balance I don’t think that calls for a second vote (or a proxy in the form of a general election) are undemocratic. I mean, what if the Suffragettes had given up at the first hurdle? If you truly want to leave, including having considered any extra information you now have, well good for you. Vote again, it will take you all of about 10 minutes and a cross in a box. That’s not so very undemocratic or demanding is it? Two votes to leave would be incontrovertible, even the most ardent remainers would have to concede.

And in that vein, and despite my underlying feeling that there are so many more important issues, and the fact that I personally voted remain, I strongly suspect that we do now need to leave. We need to leave soon, with a deal if possible, but without one if no such deal can be found (which is a pretty foggy question to me at least). Because I think the many many reasons that underpin the mood of leave, the cry for change, are driven by dissatisfaction with the status quo. People are tired, they can’t see how their lives can be better. They lack opportunity, they lack fulfilment. They lack hope. Brexit is for many, that hope.

It might be false hope (many remainers will believe so), but we need the 52% (leavers) to engage if any of these things are going to change and having hope means they are engaged – we need to grasp that opportunity, to involve them in wider political change, locally and nationally, to say ‘Brexit is done – so how are we going to tackle the problems we face’. I personally doubt Brexit in and of itself will actually address many of those issues, but it seems to now be a necessary precursor to their engagement in other solutions; and I’m absolutely certain that those problems won’t be solved whilst 52% of the population are disengaged with politics and social policy. The 48% have to do this, even if we don’t really like it, because the 52% aren’t an alien species, they are our friends, our neighbours, our families. They are us and we have a duty to them.

Fri 9 Aug 2019

We live in uncertain times and for once such a statement actually means something, as since I last wrote we have a new government and a renewed promise to leave the EU. I’d like to focus on the former if I may and flag up a minor detail of the new government – the charities brief.

In fact this is interesting in itself, as the role used to be known as the Minister for Civil Society and in hindsight we had a pretty good one from 2010 to 2014 in Nick Hurd MP. By all accounts he protected the sector from what could have been much worse during the austerity years. He was followed in quick succession by the disgraced Brooks Newmark and then Rob Wilson who subsequently lost his seat at the 2017 general election. And that’s where the role ended.  It seems as Theresa May never bothered to appoint a new one.

I mislead slightly as it was in fact merged with the Minister for Sport role when the whole team - the Office for Civil Society was shunted over to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (we still assume this makes us ‘culture’) – and whilst there was much hand wringing, the general assumption was that this was primarily to make room for Brexit at the Cabinet Office. And in fact the first such joint Minister, Tracy Crouch did after some years in the complete wilderness, bring the sector back to the fore in her much anticipated ‘Civil Society Strategy’ of 2018 – unfortunately she resigned just after this on principle and much to her credit, over the government U-turn on fixed-odd betting terminals (part of her brief) – and it worked as they have indeed since been banned. Mims Davies took up the role, not that anyone really noticed, until she fell as part of Boris’ cull a few weeks back. It was strongly rumoured that he offered Tracy Crouch her job back, but she perhaps wisely decided to put family first and declined.

So, we then got around a week of absolute silence as the charity brief seemed to fall lower and lower down Boris’ list of appointments, until assuming it had actually fallen off his list altogether (having appointed a Sports only Minister), it eventually emerged that he (or perhaps an underling) had demoted the role yet again to Parliamentary Under Secretary for Civil Society and assigned the role to Baroness Barran – a member of the House of Lords. So what does that mean?

The Lady seems to have some qualifications in our sector, having served as the CEO of Safe Lives, a national Domestic Violence charity from 2004-2017, but before you get too excited, that seems to be her only real connection with the sector in terms of delivery, having previous worked as an investment banker for most of her working life. She has also been a trustee of Comic Relief and three other grant giving foundations.  She has only been in the House of lords for just over a year, so isn’t an experienced parliamentarian either. I wish her every luck in the role and hope she makes a success of it, but for me critically, this now means that ‘our’ minister can’t even ask a question, in fact cannot actually step foot inside the House of Commons – the elected chamber of our parliament. Equally she can’t be asked a question by any of our MPs, at least not publicly.

And as such, I think this represents a true low point for our sector’s place in public life, as viewed by the government of the day. This is the most junior and side-lined role we have had to represent our interests in government in the last decade, since it was elevated to a ministerial post in the latter part of the new labour administration. And as for the Civil Society Strategy; there has been no updated content on the .gov website since it was published over a year ago.

Some will say this is immaterial, and not what really matters and they are right, its action that counts… but there is none of that either.

For me it is very much indicative of where central government sees the sector’s role in public discourse and service at present.

Voluntary sector, what voluntary sector?

Tue 16 Jul 2019

As I write we are in the depths of discussions with PCNs (Primary Care Networks – clusters of GPs, working together) about the opportunity provided by national funding for social prescribing link workers. Ourselves and VAST have pitched a bold proposition to place this service at the heart of the local voluntary sector, by employing the workers through a consortia approach. This would mean generalists working for ourselves and VAST, able to signpost and support patients to access the broadest range of community and voluntary sector services; instead of drawing upon medical services. But crucially, and growing over time, we would work with our members to harness their expertise in mental health, older people, learning disabilities, end of life care and much more; and yes this means resources and you employing the workers.

Our ambition is to build a voluntary sector led team of link workers, with the right mix of knowledge, experience and connections to the huge potential of our sector. We are also resolute in our campaign that the services or ‘prescriptions’ if you will, must also be funded, especially as demand upon them grows – you wouldn’t expect a drugs company to give away its medicines for free!

I know this sounds ambitious, and I’m not naïve enough to believe we will succeed straight away.

In fact there are already signs of some PCNs, taking a more direct approach and employing mental health workers or engaging mental health charities to ‘just do’ the work direct. I can understand the temptation of this ‘route one’ approach, especially when GPs face such a demand from their patients right now. But I believe this is short-sighted, and wont ultimately achieve what the whole Health & Care system is seeking.

Instead we need a collaborative approach, which breaks down barriers and disrupts the old competitive mind-set both within the NHS and the voluntary sector. If what we are seeking is a community approach, where people look after themselves, their families and their neighbours more, we can’t start by putting more voluntary sector services into neat and tidy boxes; and which categorise patients largely by their condition. It would be regrettable indeed if the social prescribing initiative were to falter at the first hurdle by taking such an approach – medicalising what are social issues, categorising them, systematising them.

Individuals are complex collaborations of social factors; from work, to friends, to family to mental health, pets, diet, exercise, environment, parenting, relationships, education and so much more – to support those patients who are manifestly unwell by addressing one or two of this issues in isolation, completely misses the point.

So I call on GPs and the sector to work together on this; and together we can make a fundamental change.

Garry

 

Fri 14 Jun 2019

I am delighted to have been present at two of our six Volunteer Star Awards this year, which have been rolled out from a firm foundation in the east of the county. These awards have been delivered through the hard work of our local teams, supported by our countywide staff, and made possible through the generous sponsorship of local businesses and organisations. May I offer my sincere thanks to everyone who has been involved in making them happen; and there are still two to come!

Volunteers Week is all about taking some time to recognise the people in our community who give their time freely, without promise of material reward, to help the people and places around them. Some people may have volunteered all their life, some may have that volunteering has its own rewards since they retired, or whilst on breaks from school or university. Those who manage to squeeze it into otherwise busy family and working lives, especially have my personal admiration; and in that sense it’s not always about how much you do, but how valued what you do is.

Our Awards and the many events and activities that are being held by our members and partners this month are a tribute to the often unsung heroes in our community, who we may sometimes come to take for granted. It’s a time to step back and say – wow that person is really amazing – they do all that stuff not because they have to, or because they are paid to, but because they choose to – because they aren’t afraid to show they care about the people and world around them. The people who instead of saying ‘ someone should do something about that’, just roll up their sleeves and do it, often quietly, but usually doggedly.

As someone who works with organisations who rely upon volunteers to deliver services to some of the most vulnerable in our community, I am all too aware of the step up that our county’s volunteers have already made in recent years. Whether it be in running libraries, in providing community transport, in supporting older people, in running youth clubs or in hospitals, volunteers have become an integral part of our public services; and I believe those services are usually all the better for that involvement.

But we must also remember that the home of volunteering is here in the voluntary sector – that’s why it is called the voluntary sector; and those taking part do so, not because of statutory requirements or persons in authority. They volunteer because of a sense of commitment to their friends, family, neighbours, and their community.

So, Volunteers Week, is also a reminder to anyone in a position of responsibility or power, especially those who can influence central government through their MP or otherwise, that volunteering is not free. Volunteering is superbly good value for money with dozens of added value extras.

We would really welcome a renewed focus from Central Government, upon how we can all better support the existing volunteers and encourage more residents to get involved, as well as through their places of work; to ensure the future sustainability of local volunteering.

So, to the volunteers, in all your variety. You support, advise, inform, assist. You garden and build. You care and create. You are older, younger, of all backgrounds and demographics. From me and from Support Staffordshire a huge personal thank you for continuing to be the lifeblood of our sector.

In a world of ever faster and more jam-packed stuff – the gift of time remains the most precious that any of us can give.

Filed under: Support Staffordshire