Working in local partnerships


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Gaynor Richards of Neath Port Talbot CVS at the Wales Volunteering Conference 2014.

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Working in local partnerships

  1. 1. Shaping the Landscape Volunteering Conference Gai ddiolch un gyntaf am y gwahoddiad i fod yma heddiw. Thank you for the invitation to be here today. I have been asked to bring a local perspective, mine from Neath Port Talbot, on my experiences of building credible relationships with Local Government and other agencies and shaping the local landscape through local partnerships. As an Infrastructure organisation Neath Port Talbot CVS has a number of key functions in order to support and develop the local Voluntary Sector. Volunteering is an integral part of the work we do and sits alongside our role as a community development organisation and our role in joint planning and representation of the Third Sector. Building stronger, healthier and more active communities is facilitated through the process of community development work, of which volunteering is a fundamental and strategically important element. 1
  2. 2. If we were to study shaping the natural landscape we would see how ice sheets moulded mountains and valleys and we would follow the journey of water from springs and streams to rivers and estuaries. Discover how tides, waves and wind continue to shape our coastlines and how the forces of wind and rain change the natural landscapes every season. Just like natural forces change the natural landscapes, I believe that policies at national and local levels that are changing the local landscape and shaping how services are planned and delivered and how the landscape of volunteering is shaped, changed and developed by responding to policy changes. In the past, it was thought that individuals volunteered strictly for altruistic reasons and some still do – the good Samaritan that goes out of their way to aid a stranger - to lend a hand for the greater good of mankind and how important that is to us as a society. The landscape is however changing and we know that from our day to day work that 2
  3. 3. people volunteer for a range of other, and equally important, reasons. For whatever the reason, volunteers shape our vision for our communities, people who put their time and talent to help create the kind of community people want. Volunteers undoubtedly contribute in every way to what Welsh Government is striving to achieve through its Programme for Government, whether through volunteering projects, promoting positive health messages, enhancing and increasing an individual’s skills to improve their employability or career prospects; community involvement, leading to more active, safer communities or working with some of our most vulnerable members of society, helping them to get their voices heard. Volunteers work tirelessly to inform, improve and literally save our landscape for future generations, along with the countless number of groups and organisations contributing to our cultural heritage. 3
  4. 4. As an Infrastructure organisation, Neath Port Talbot CVS values enormously its relationship with the Welsh Assembly, Welsh Government, WCVA and with our many and varied statutory partners, and also its strong relationships with the local Third Sector. Our relationships locally is one that rests upon integrity, trust and mutual respect. Trust is one of the biggest factors for successful relationships – whether that be professional or personal. Neath Port Talbot CVS, on behalf of the local Third Sector, has built up a credible relationship with partners over many years and in 1997 was the first Local Authority area in Wales to develop a Compact between the Third Sector and the Local Authority. That was followed a year later by the first Compact between the Local Authority, Local Health Board (then Local Health Group), NHS Trust and the Third Sector. Those Compacts set out principles of how we work together and firmly recognised the strengths and distinctive contribution of each partner. 4
  5. 5. Building credible, trusted and effective relationships that last, takes time, energy and commitment. It was not easy initially but we were very fortunate that there were key people in Neath Port Talbot who recognised the value of the Third Sector and the contribution it can make to the long term economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the area, its people and communities and the role community action and volunteering has in building resilient communities. There were different stages to developing the credible relationships that we value and that we have today: 1. Rapport – we needed to have the dialogue – why did we want to work in partnership? (our Compact was, in fact, before the Welsh Assembly recommended Local Authorities to work in partnership with the Third Sector) so we didn’t do it because we had to – we firmly believed that together we all achieved more for our communities. 5
  6. 6. 2. Trust - We needed to trust each other and acknowledge our distinctive contribution 3. We needed to be able to influence – We needed to understand the political environment in which we needed to build alliances and we needed to understand ‘how’ and ‘who’ to influence. 4. Persuasion – we needed to be able to persuade our partners that we were able to deliver services and outcomes to individuals and communities in a way that others couldn’t – and that we were in fact best placed to deliver some things for the local population. We successfully built relationships and established credibility and were able to influence decision making for the benefit of the wider community. We were able to shape the local landscape and Neath Port Talbot CVS became recognised as one of the key partners in local decision making alongside the Local Authority and Health. 6
  7. 7. Over recent years the work of the Local Service Board has involved more partners and the Neath Port Talbot Local Service Board has a signed Memorandum of Understanding which sets out the principles of partnership working between the Local Authority, Health, CVS, Police, Fire and Rescue, RSL’s, Probation, the Local Further Education College and the Private Sector. This development has changed the local landscape yet again and we now work on different projects with different agencies – Across the South Wales Police area we are currently working with the police force and the Police and Crime Commissioner on a ‘Compact’ with the Third Sector. They are particularly keen to develop relationships around volunteering. I believe we have gained credibility by delivering – “results speak louder than words”. We have a reputation for being reliable – something we value enormously – we have worked hard to gain that reputation. 7
  8. 8. We have been able to shape the local landscape by combining practical as well as strategic responses. Locally, the landscape is changing as all partners try to operate in an environment of continued budgetary constraints and increased demands. With limited resources all partners are keen to ensure that resources are targeted to best effect, helping everyone deliver on their own strategic priorities whilst meeting the needs of individuals and communities. It makes it even more important then, to have a shared agenda to achieve the best possible outcomes for people. Times are tough and will continue to be so for some time to come but fortunately the third sector is not known for giving up easily. On the contrary, it is at times like this that its reputation and ability to be innovative and responsive to current and emerging needs becomes critical. 8
  9. 9. So just a little about our role in practically delivering services. - As in most areas, we have experienced cuts in services – 9 local libraries were earmarked recently for closure but, with the support of Neath Port Talbot CVS, most have become community led services run by volunteers. We anticipate this pattern will continue and so it is vital that we are able to respond quickly to provide effective support to groups with relevant information and training around governance, legal structures, funding sources, as well as recruiting volunteers and promoting good practice in working with volunteers. - We are also working with a number of Bowls clubs - so we are already seeing the volunteer landscape changing – volunteers now delivering services. It is important to engage with the political representatives and understand the political environment in which we operate – we have 9
  10. 10. built relationships with Local Members and Assembly Members, M.P’s and Welsh Government Ministers. __________________ We have also used other opportunities to highlight and promote the Sector and volunteers, building alliances of a different kind. The power of sport for example, can help to highlight messages, inform communities and engage individuals. In Neath Port Talbot CVS we have worked with the Osprey’s Regional Rugby Team and have organised a number of volunteering days for them over the years. Last year the squad worked alongside volunteers from the Food Bank, Domestic Abuse providers, Age Concern and Friends of the Earth - It was good to see the whole squad there and we can boast that the British and Irish Lions Captain (Alun Wyn Jones) volunteers with us. 10
  11. 11. I know I may be at risk saying this in Cardiff City’s stadium, but we have a joint project with the British Heart Foundation and the Premiership Swansea City AFC Community Trust which aims to address the health issues identified in the local Health and Wellbeing Strategy by training volunteers to deliver positive health messages to people in their local communities, particularly young men with minor mental health problems, using the Swans brand as a way of engaging people in order to achieve this - Using celebrity to engage people. We are working closely with NPT Homes, the largest registered social housing provider in the area and have developed an initiative through our Big Lottery funded Community Links Project which aims to improve the health and wellbeing of older people by reducing their social isolation. Our Volunteer Centre continues to provide the conduit for people who wish to volunteer. We regularly celebrate the contribution made by volunteers and in particular young people and we have seen an increase in the number of young people volunteering. 11
  12. 12. Over the years our role as an organisation in the local return to work agenda has increased, helping to address the high levels of economic inactivity, unemployment and poverty within our communities. Through the experience and expertise we have gained, we have further extended our work in this area and for example, are now part of the national agreement with Working Links, brokered by WCVA. Volunteering has always been seen as a way of improving or enhancing an individual’s employability The impact of welfare reform has also led us to see increasing numbers of people coming or referred to the Volunteer Centre who have high support needs and require additional help to engage in any activity. Funded through EU Structural Funds and managed by WCVA we, along with other third sector organisations, have had the opportunity to deliver projects for those furthest from the work place through the Engagement Gateway Programme. 12
  13. 13. We have successfully worked with older people and those with work limiting health conditions, assisting them to overcome the barriers to employment and helping them to progress into employment or volunteering. We have placed mentors in organisations, enabling them to offer a placement to individuals who need support. We have developed excellent relationships with partners in particular Jobcentre Plus and we have recently received funding from the Flexible Support Grant to work with their customers to promote and support them into volunteering, enabling us to continue to build on what has been achieved. For many years, we have delivered a number of volunteer befriending projects on behalf of a variety of funders including Social Services, Hillside Secure Children’s Centre, the Think Families Partnership and the Big Lottery and our volunteers support some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. 13
  14. 14. We were delighted to receive a visit from Jeff Cuthbert AM, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty in March, when he was able to hear first-hand about the transformational effect of volunteering, as volunteers and service users told their own stories and how quite clearly, they were contributing to strategic agendas at a national and local level. Through our relationship with our members, the various services we deliver and our work in communities, we gain a real insight into the day to day experiences of people living in our communities enabling us to feed that information into the structures and processes available to us. In Neath Port Talbot we are in positive discussions with both the Local Health Board and Local Authority about the use of the Wales Wellbeing Bond overseen by WCVA, as an exciting vehicle to achieve real change – breaking down barriers and doing things differently – Delivering services in a different way. 14
  15. 15. Like any relationship, partnership working has its ups and downs. It is perhaps when things are at their most difficult that it becomes even more important to try and negotiate a way through what can be, rocky terrain. The coming weeks are likely to determine what our geographical landscape is likely to look like in future. Strategic relationships will have to be reconfigured in all likelihood, opportunities to shape and influence re- thought and re- negotiated. One dictionary definition of ‘landscape’ is: - ‘a distinctive sphere of activity’ – we know that volunteering – that distinctive sphere of activity – has become critical to our communities, our environment and our heritage. We have seen how Volunteers have become essential to the delivery of sport, large special events such as the London 2012 Olympics, which put volunteers centre stage when the ‘Gamesmakers’ became as popular as the athletes. 15
  16. 16. Over the past 17 years our role in CVS has been to build credible relationships with our strategic partners, we will continue to influence and shape the local landscape and will ensure that the critical role of volunteers is acknowledged and understood and afforded the necessary resources - The Partnerships that we have established and maintained over many years is more important now than ever before and together we will continue to shape the local landscape for the benefit of our communities. . 16