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Mon 15 Apr 2019

April sees Support Staffordshire enter its 6th year in operation. So, in late March we celebrated with our 5th birthday party; more of which below!

The last five years have seen us merge together (7 organisations!), moulded our new services, collaborate, share, pool resources, convene new and different conversations, reach out to our members and beyond, and look in at ourselves to see where we can improve and develop. Importantly we have done this together as one organisation with the shared ethos and aim of empowering our communities to grasp hold of the opportunities and decisions around them, to improve the lives of, well, us – because as most of us are local people, it truly is our community that we help to shape through Support Staffordshire’s advice, guidance and practical support.

There have been many challenges over those five years. The practicalities of delivering our services. The taxing and occasionally emotional pressures of problem solving with you, our member organisations; as you’ve faced ever more demand and frequently diminishing public resources. It’s hard when member organisations shrink or even windup; especially when we’ve been there on those journeys with you.

We have also navigated some big changes in how we work, taking on South Staffordshire in 2017, and a renewed rural focus from the Community Council last year. In January we established a new presence in Newcastle-under-Lyme for the first time, reopening the Guildhall, working closely with the borough council.

Over the last five years we have handled more than 3,000 volunteer enquiries, signposting and supporting a wide range of people to opportunities across the county; with at least 1,200 of them taking up long terms volunteer roles. In so doing, we have supported 731 organisations to newly register over a thousand volunteer vacancies. Thank you to all our volunteer advisers, and our volunteering officers, without which we couldn’t offer this important local service.

In five years we have supported over 2000 people at 987 member organisations, through 2665 support sessions; with a huge range of subjects and we know that there are community centres running, playgrounds built, older people’s luncheons being eaten and much more, happening today because of our advice and help. A crude but nonetheless impressive measure is that our funding advice has seen you secure over £10 million of inward investment into Staffordshire in that period and in reality we know it’s much higher as we’ve only been counting it half properly for the last couple of years. We are more pleased to say that in our feedback surveys some 98% of you would use our services again and would recommend us to a friend. Thank you to our growing band of Connectors, Volunteer Funding Advisers and to our Locality Officers, Social Action Officers, Rural and Landscape Partnership Staff; and our Development Consultants for making good our membership promise.

Of course we also support around 70 members a year through the provision of office and meeting space; including some 17 permanent tenants in Lichfield, Burton and Leek. Our merry band of office, finance and central support staff and volunteers make our buildings friendly and our services helpful to all our visitors; so a huge thanks to them for everything that support staff do behind the scenes to make all this happen.

Last but certainly not least, we pride ourselves on our collaborative and partnership based approach, founded on our member engagement at our popular locality forums – we now run 32 of these each year. We have had more than 1,262 attendees at these and the number grows year on year. They allow us to speak from an informed position and give a strong mandate when making the case for change with statutory partners.

Our partnership work includes a massive range of projects, statutory and partnership boards, informal networks and collaborations that remain hidden from public view most of the time; but which we know make a difference to the resources, policies and practices that affect the sector and our communities. We are especially proud of Team Staffordshire, a cooperation led by Support Staffordshire, between all the VCSE umbrella bodies and with frontline representation that has brought £4.6m of BBO money to the local sector in Stafford and South Staffs, and has formed the basis of our collaborative work on social prescribing which we hope is coming to fruition.

Of course, none of this is possible without great partners and we want to say thank you to all of our local councils, the peak district national park, NHS bodies, police, fire, local colleges and universities, SASSOT, the Community Foundation and our close local partners at SCVYS. Also our near neighbours VAST, the office for civil society in Birmingham, and our national bodies NAVCA, ACRE and NCVO for all your support over our first five years.

Despite the challenges, it has been truly inspiring to see our membership grow, year on year with new and fresh enthusiasm and ideas to tackle the challenges that you see in your own communities. I know that the drive and passion of individuals that walk through our doors week in, week out, is what keeps our team motivated to keep supporting you to turn those dreams into reality.