governance

When we are not working

Over the past couple of years we have been having conversations at changes about establishing some sort of charitable arm. Our rationale for this was to have a consistent and dependable route through which some of the strands of our work could operate and to capitalise on the sustainable nature of the work that clients have commissioned in the past. By this, I mean things like the Women Take Part learning programmes and Voice and echo in practice. Over the years, we have trained up many people to be able to engage with – and in some cases – to deliver these frameworks, working in empowering ways and making a difference. In our minds, a charitable organisation could provide a structure through which these could continue, without dependency on a commissioning process and under the guidance of a Board comprising some of those very people who could take them forward.

The waters are very muddied for consultants to do this sort of thing and there is a lot of suspicion around, about this being just a matter of semantics so that private agencies can reap the benefits of both private and charitable sectors for their own ends. In fact, this is something that has concerned us for quite some time, as our competitors have increasingly changed to become Community Interest Companies or Social Enterprises.

Ultimately, we decided that a charitable arm was not for us and would not achieve what we were trying to do. We still haven’t worked out what might but keep checking us out – you never know! In the meantime, our conversations have turned more toward a structured recognition of the voluntary work that we do in changes’ time. One of our aims when we got together in 2005 was to be able to undertake voluntary work i.e. literally to be able to afford to do so: meaning time rather than money.

At the moment, in particular, this is keeping us very busy indeed! At the national level, Sue is Chair of CDX which is currently going through the motions of winding up, Sal is Co-Chair of Urban Forum which is experiencing major change. Both are drawing increasingly on Trustees. Locally, Jill is involved in her local neighbourhood planning group and Sal is on the board of AgeUK Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin.  Here is a bit from each of us about what we are up to, why we got involved and what this voluntary activity adds to our work at changes.

Jill: At present my voluntary work is mainly with my local neighbourhood planning group. We are a small group of residents aiming to talk with people and groups in our area about future plans for this part of the town. We were chosen to be a neighbourhood planning ‘front runner’ and, of the five in Shropshire, we are the only community group as the rest are either parish or town councils. I am also involved in a ‘Friends of the Library’ group. I decided to get involved in the neighbourhood planning group for two reasons; firstly, to get to know a different group of people in the area where I live and, secondly, to find out what’s going on locally and  influence decisions collectively. I’ve found it so useful from a changes’ point of view to have a grass roots experience of how aspects of the Localism Act filter through layers of local government and to be able to link this to my understanding of Localism policy and strategy. This local involvement also reminds me about how inequalities are reproduced in community groups – how gender, age, class and so on, shape people’s expectations of involvement – and how community isn’t always a benign force for the collective good. It’s a timely reminder that personal is political.

Sue: I am currently Chair of CDX, a national independent organisation that promotes and supports community development in all its guises. It’s a membership organisation that seeks to build networks and to influence policy makers to understand the value of working with people in local communities so that they can transform their lives.  I’m involved because this is what I believe in passionately and thought that I had something to contribute, partly because the underpinning values and principles of community development are also at the heart of the work that we do as changes.

From the point of view of changes it means that we keep up to date with what’s going on and, keep our connections in the real world of community development and also in the real world of those who want to use a community development approach to their work but are not sure how. We are continually thinking about how to demystify ‘community development’ and encourage people to adopt ways of working that are empowering for everyone. I’ve only been on the Board of Trustees for about 18 months and sadly that time has seen a complete pulling out of any funding for CDX from national government, and banishment from the national tables where discussions happen that are supposed to influence government policy. We don’t know what the future holds for community development networking but, watch this space and we’ll let you know

Sal: I am in my 6th year as a trustee at Urban Forum and have been Co-Chair for a rollercoaster 2 years, following a spell as Acting Chair and 3 years as Vice-Chair. I got involved because I wanted to get a different insight into the national scene and because I thought I could offer a different sort of input to the organisation – bringing my community development experience in. One thing that happened quite quickly – and to my surprise – was an interest in Board relationships. This includes how Boards function as a whole, how to encourage an active board, how to utilise the skills of those on the board and the relationship between the board and CEO – and staff. This interest has continued and spills into my voluntary activity at AgeUK Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin where I am currently looking at the different ways that we could share information about trustee strengths in a way which makes this information useful – not only to the board – but to the organisation more widely. The value to changes feels enormous. As with Jill and Sue, this on the ground experience in a non-paid role provides its own unique reality which then feeds what I do at work. I wouldn’t be without it.

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