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.
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
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
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
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.
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
2. Trust - We needed to trust each other and acknowledge our
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.
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
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
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
- We are also working with a number of Bowls clubs - so we are
already seeing the volunteer landscape changing – volunteers now
It is important to engage with the political representatives and
understand the political environment in which we operate – we have
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.