13th February, 2015

The Commission on the Future for Local Infrastructure has just published its findings – and its conclusions are thought-provoking. Alison Haskins, Nova CEO, muses on what it means for Wakefield district.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Houses of Parliament for the launch of ‘ Change for Good’, the report from the Commission on Local Infrastructure. There were plenty of my fellow CEOs there from across England, all keen to hear what the Commission’s findings were and whether they had found the Holy Grail – sustainability for one of the less glamorous parts of the voluntary sector. Nobody questions the need for support agencies for other sectors (e.g. Chambers of Commerce, CGI, Institute of Directors, Local Government Association, NHS England, Monitor etc), but our sector seems to constantly have to justify crucial activity such as organisational development, lobbying, promotion of volunteering and partnership development. Local infrastructure agencies such as Nova are the glue that brings together the VCSE sector: for training, networking, partnership delivery, peer support, a collective voice.....the list is endless. Just go to the website of any of the Nova-equivalents across the country and you’ll find crucial work going on – some of it unglamorous and un-innovative (but what local groups want and need!) Other organisations are developing brilliant ways to support their local VCSE sector: think of Voluntary Action Rotherham’s now-famous social prescribing model or a similar ‘First Responders’ project in Redbridge.

The findings and recommendations of Change for Good reflect the current environment. There’s less funding around, and in different forms, so infrastructure agencies have got to change the way they deliver services. There is likely to be less direct support to organisations, more group learning and encouragement of peer-to-peer support. In the future we need to act more as brokers and catalysts rather than spending lots of time with individual member organisations. Staff skills will need to follow this approach too – less direct time with groups and more time developing ways to meet demand via on-line services; collective support provision; developing partnerships; brokering support from businesses. The way people are involved with social action is changing too – small groups are still being formed but there is also the massive expansion of campaigning and lobbying via social media. There are new ways of sourcing resources: ‘crowdfunding’; social investment; time-banks; pay-it-forward schemes. Infrastructure agencies need to be able to advise on all these innovations (or know someone who can).

And has Change for Good identified the Holy Grail of sustainability? Nope, but it has helped me think about how we use the resources at Nova as creatively as possible; about where expertise really lies in our sector; and ensuring we are tapping into non-traditional resources wherever possible.

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