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Rt Hon. Francis Maude addressed a lively crowd from a wide range of charities at the Oasis Centre.
Francis Maude MP stated that there are Government plans to recruit and train 5000 community organisers, with the aim that local communities will have a structure for themselves, and one that is not dictated to by Government either national or local.
In the following question and answer session, those from local faith and community groups were given the opportunity to probe Francis Maude MP, including Chair of the evening and Charities Parliament Director Pete Brierley challenged Francis Maude MP on his own involvement in volunteering.
Also adding their thoughts on the following panel discussion was: Steve Chalke MBE (Founder of Oasis) and Dr Luke Bretherton (Senior Lecturer in Theology and Politics at King’s College London).
The message ringing loud and clear in all directions at the moment is cuts, cuts, cuts. Rarely have I met up with friends in recent weeks without somebody worrying that they’re going to lose their jobs. Then one way or another, the conversation usually comes around to people’s opinions (usually strong ones) on housing benefits (which it seems Boris Johnson and David Cameron can’t even agree on), child benefits and so on.
Of course we all know the charity sector is hardly going to escape the impact of all this, with cuts in government funding, competition for grants getting tougher and people having less money to give to support charities. Yet, the need recently has probably never been greater than it is now for the services the charity sector provides and for churches to step up and play their part. Trying to put a positive spin on things, the current climate does present a wonderful opportunity for the church to live out its mandate to show the love of God to a world in need, if we’re willing to take it. Perhaps it’s time for the church to be a little imaginative and creative and in doing so, point the world to hope in the midst of the doom and gloom.
I’m often amazed when I think about the resources churches have to offer – buildings for one thing, where communities can gather and activities can take place. People, with big hearts and a willingness to engage, who want to help. A huge history of making a social impact, and having a prophetic voice in times of crisis. And importantly, a message that says money, possessions, consumerism and power is not the path to satisfaction in life, but that there is another way. What’s more, there are some incredible charities out there offering fantastic and successful interventions to specific problems that churches can support or work with – Foodbanks, providing food to those going hungry, Christians Against Poverty, providing debt counselling and helping people handle their finances, to name just a couple.
Of course we know that these ministries need finances to operate, but given the need for them more than ever, perhaps churches and individuals need to be thinking about what else they can cut back on to continue to be able to support and provide these vital services to communities. Perhaps it’s time to prioritise a little bit more carefully. It’s probably also time to think about how we can give in ways other than money. In our ever pressured society, time is often one of the greatest commodities we can give.
It’s surprising too, how if we use just a little imagination we can make the money and resources we do have go further. Maybe it’s no bad thing if we’re challenged to re-examine, as individuals and organisations, just where our money is going. I heard of a group in a church recently that agreed to live off the equivalent of benefits for 6 weeks, giving the rest away to local charities serving their community. Several thousand pounds were raised. Such initiatives not only raise vital money, but also challenge those involved to learn to live more simply, reflecting on what they really need.
I for one really hope the government will continue to do all it can to support the charity sector. Sometimes simple things really do make a difference. Theresa May, for instance, has been urged not to start charging volunteers for CRB checks, something I would strongly agree with. We need the government to make it as easy as possible for organisations to take on volunteers, and for those who want to get involved to be able to. But in these times the message seems to be that we’ve all got to play our part. So perhaps the challenge to churches and charities is to think carefully about what we prioritise, how we can best use the resources we’ve got and to be creative: to re-imagine different possibilities and ways of engaging with the needs of those around. And as individuals the message is clear too – what can we give? Whether it’s our time or the money we do have, or buying an extra tin of beans to donate to a local foodbank. How might we be being called to re-imagine how we use what we have got to better serve those around us?
Mission Year Project Manager
Archbishop Rowan Williams attended Charities Parliament last week (23rd July) to address the question of how churches should respond to the Big Society. The event got some good coverage in the media, see some of the articles listed below. There is also a short clip of the Archbishop and the podcast of the entire event, in case you missed it.
The undefined, little understood election catchphrase ‘Big Society’ is, it would seem, the hope for the Voluntary Sector of the future. With the promise of new measures implemented by Autumn the government has announced that they will be giving greater scope to social enterprises, charities and cooperatives, with new roles given to the sector for the running of public services.
Enhancing the role of the Voluntary Sector is good news. I hope that it will be combined with an increased willingness to listen to and invest in the sector. The coalition government said that radical reform of public services are needed and voluntary sector organisations were one means by which to improve outcomes and reduce the national debt. Certainly we can demonstrate positive outcomes: Outcomes with a local flavour, long term outcomes, outcomes for the whole person and not limited to the outputs of an isolated service. But is it really an appreciation for our enhanced outcomes that is informing this change in strategy?
I suspect that the overarching motive is a financial one. The change that is being described is an opening of access for Voluntary Sector organisations to bid to run public services, “Barriers to involvement will be identified and measures will be implemented,” the statement from Number 10 said.
I used to run a supported housing project for young homeless people. The service was an 18 bed medium support project. Its residents were 16 year olds exiting the care system, 18 year olds leaving young offender institutes, young people who were highly vulnerable and had experienced a lack of consistent care in their lives. As a manager of a voluntary sector organisation my priority was on the quality of service we provided. To quote the 2002 Government report, we were committed to providing ‘more than a roof’, we wanted to help nurture the whole person, to increase aspirations, to increase opportunities, to assist in them becoming socially mobile, motivated and achieving, to signpost them as they sought to build positive relationships, engage with local networks, become independent, and fundamentally, to ensure that the home we were providing was a safe and thriving environment for them to live in. Our primary driver was best quality, this is not always synonymous with best price. Increasingly I saw services handed over to the provider who would run it for the smallest price, too often price seemed to win out over quality.
Over the past few years government have had to acknowledge that public services cost. At a moment where recovering the nations finances take primary focus it is understandable that the state is looking to save money wherever it can. This is why the Voluntary Sector would do well to be cautious. Opening procurement processes to ensure the Voluntary Sector is enabled to take a bigger role is well and good, but in an environment in which tenders are awarded based on best value the voluntary sector must resist the allure of winning contracts and expanding their reach at the price of compromising the quality of their service delivery in order to reduce costs. If we give in to this temptation, the Voluntary Sector may well be known for its part in building a failed and fragmented society rather than a stronger Big Society.
The Voluntary Sector does not exist to compete on price with government in the delivery of services, we exist to be a prophetic voice, speaking out to protect the rights and wellbeing of those facing disadvantage, we speak to government not for government. At this time Id suggests the Voluntary Sector should be proud of its ability to deliver, but as increasing opportunities are presented, approach them with a dogged determination to preserve quality, not seek to win contracts at any cost. A truly strong society requires investment in public services and investment in community projects, let’s be the voice reminding government of this, not the donkey who bears the burden of diminished funding for key services.
Nancy Doyle is the Faithworks teamleader
Yesterday I was reminded of the time I sat in a mud hut in Southern Angola conducting interviews with a local colleague called Martin, when he turned to me and said “Charlie, you know what they say, a new broom sweeps quicker but an old broom knows all the corners.” Read the rest of this entry »
The Secretary of State for Health took the stage in front of a full audience including Age Concern Lambeth who had cosponsored the event, L’arche Lambeth and other health organisations from South London and across the UK. Mr Burnham admitted that Labour had not done enough to help the elderly across Britain but, addressing the Third Sector, he pointed to a way forward: “Make me an offer. Tell me what you are bringing to the table. Then we can start a dialogue between the department of health, the voluntary sector and faith organisations.”
After Mr Burnham’s speech, he was harangued by a voluntary sector that seems to have previously been shut out of the debate but could potentially offer a brighter healthier future not just for the elderly, but those with disabilities and others that are vulnerable too. Those present acknowledged the need for more partnership in going forward, and the recognition that innovation so often lies with those working at the grass roots.
The Rev Steve Chalke MBE put his finger on the pulse when he told the Secretary of State for Health that the church and the voluntary sector has a part to play to fill in the gaps of a patchy healthcare system. “What can we do to get more involved?” exclaimed Chalke.
Andy Burnham responded to the demand for promoting partnership between charities and government. “We will have to draw on the voluntary sector well to get the country through this problem… If we don’t act now when will the chance come again?”
If a spirit of partnership develops between charities and government, the first obstacle will be how to fund more services for the elderly. Should it come out of general taxation, or should it be a voluntary sum paid by the elderly? One thing is certain if we leave social care off the agenda we will be left with yet more problems in our NHS. The more preventative work that can be done the better!
If nothing else, Andy Burnham’s pledge to consider partnership should encourage more proactive input, in South London and beyond, from the Faith and Third sector.
Coming home from work today the standards headline jumped out at me. I mentor a young woman currently on a gap year with Oasis UK. Threesixty is an intense year, she gets up early to work the breakfast shift at a community coffee shop, she experiences inner London schools as a volunteer learning assistant, she works with some of the least privileged young people in London, runs holiday clubs, befriends an isolated older person and the list goes on. It is not an easy year but it is a rich education that takes young people out of the context in which they’ve grown up and been schooled and shows them life in a different place. I’d recommend it to anyone, it can set you up for adulthood with a social conscience, community awareness and a richer understanding of how life is experienced by many people less privileged.
I am a big fan of the gap year but even the best gap year doesn’t replace the need for university.
I didn’t have big aspirations to go to university. I left school after A levels and got a job in Starbucks. It was the belief in me of a teacher, and her encouragement to me to apply for university which changed my plans. I ended up going to oxford and studying theology – one of the arts subject referred to as a waste of time in the Standards article.
University broadened my horizons, increased my employability and gave me new social experiences, but more importantly studying an arts subject, and specifically those incorporating history, so damned by the article, reminds us of the importance of learning, not just from the immediate experiences of society today but from the experiences of our collective past. Remembering is crucial. In remembering we re-member, we put together the experiences of the past, and reflect on them and learn from them. Although vocational courses, recommended in the article may have more natural linkage to employability, if our employability becomes the only driver for education, we will become a poorer society. We must remember, we must reflect, we must allow literature to help us think in new ways; philosophy to challenge our intellectual infrastructure; theology to prompt consideration of the role belief, tradition and story telling has in our world views; art history to reserve the place of visual art to push boundaries and raise taboo questions.
The charity sector is built on the aspirations of individuals to make the world a fairer, more equitable place. This aspiration is not built simply on aspirations of career progression, but on the vision of a transformed world we see through literature and religion; the evidence that injustice can be overturned, that we see in studying history; the challenge of great minds that we gain from philosophy.
The articles writer was right, Gap Years do give an unrivalled opportunity to gain a broader experience of life in today’s world, but it is blind in its failure to also assert the need for people to study the arts, to hold onto the lessons of history and translate them into the present so that they can inform and educate the work that we do and the action we take in the future.
Nancy Doyle – Faithworks Team leader