Thoughts of The CEO

Local and National infrastructure is more important than ever for the charitable and voluntary sectors.

One of the unexpected take homes from the challenging and frightening times we find ourselves in is how important local support and development organisations are and how we must not lose them! Infrastructure is often undervalued, but it is nevertheless essential. The importance of infrastructure in the form of road, rail or broadband is well understood – but the voluntary, community and faith sector also needs infrastructure. Without this they are like cars without roads, trains without tracks, smartphones with no signal. Trade unions have the TUC and Trades Councils, businesses have the CBI and Chambers of Commerce; even churches understand the importance of infrastructure and are organised into Diocese.

But while voluntary and social action is almost universally acclaimed (despite not having the resources it needs), support for voluntary sector infrastructure has sometimes been in question. Local infrastructure charities exist across the country to give support to local voluntary, faith and community groups, foster contacts between them and provide them with a voice. Often these are known as Councils for Voluntary Service (CVS) Voluntary & Community Action (VCA) or Volunteer Centres. Between them, they support and connect 160,000 local groups across the Country. Their charitable purpose, local footprint, universal offer and accountability to their users give them a unique sense of place, local network connections, good will, understanding and expertise.

There has been both local and national, academic and other research into the value and impact of VCFSE infrastructure. This will often point to the conclusion that "accessing infrastructure is associated with positive outcomes, including a substantially higher likelihood of success in grant applications and bidding for contracts". The survey also found that overall 77% of users reported being very or satisfied with their local infrastructure support.

Like everyone else, these local infrastructure charities have been impacted by years of austerity and changing trends in how support should be delivered and received by front-line organisations and some have been forced to re-examine their futures or re-shape and downsize their offers. Many have weathered the storm and continue to support local voluntary and community action despite all of this.

So why do we need infrastructure? Well as NPC said “for groups the benefits are obvious: access to information, advice, training, and even professional services that cannot be provided in-house. Effective infrastructure bodies are also a channel of communication. They can act as conduit between the voluntary and statutory sectors, feeding intelligence both ways and helping the two to work better together. This is crucial at a time when local authorities are stretched and increasingly looking to the voluntary sector to pick up the slack. Some charities may have capacity to do this sort of engagement for themselves. But smaller organisations—which make up the bulk of the sector—often lack the time, resources and, frankly, the interest. Effective infrastructure can do this on their behalf.

For communities, the benefits are indirect; they stem from the effects that a vibrant, confident, well supported voluntary sector can have on individuals and neighbourhoods. When the statutory and voluntary sectors work well together—avoiding duplication and smoothing out user journeys between different services—everybody benefits.”

So the idea that during the current Covid-19 crisis that the VCSE sector role and the role of infrastructure as part of that has once again come to the fore and is never more needed, might not be a surprise to some. What is surprising is how when infrastructure is invited to play its role fully during a crisis we see how much it matters both to local groups and the public sector partners we work with. There are so many examples across the Liverpool City Region of CVS and other VS6 members making a real difference in the way groups can deal with the crisis ; influencing the Metro-Mayor on resources and his policy approach, encouraging public sector funders to adopt a supportive approach, working with funders across sectors to get money out to support emergency work, convening partners to share information and experiences, co-ordinating volunteering efforts, maintaining a dialogue with resilience arrangements to connect the sector and its work.

This crisis has demonstrated that it is not the beginning of the end for local infrastructure, these are resilient organisations with roots in the late 19th century, and they have survived by constantly changing with the times. During the Coronavirus crisis we have been able to see what infrastructure is for and as we build back better, effective local infrastructure will be needed more than ever.

Sally Yeoman, CEO Halton & St Helens VCA and Vice-Chair VS6, Liverpool City Region Infrastructure Partnership

 

Get In Touch

Halton & St Helens VCA 

Halton Office: 01928 592 405
St Maries
Lugsdale Road
Widnes
WA8 6DB

St Helens Office: 01744 457100 
2nd Floor Beacon Building
College Street
St Helens
WA10 1TF

Email: info@haltonsthelensvca.org.uk

About

Halton & St Helens VCA is an infrastructure organisation that provides advice, information and development support services to voluntary, community, not-for-profit and faith organisations and volunteers in the Boroughs of St Helens and Halton.