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Shopmobility Lochaber's experience of implementing PQASSO


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PQASSO is a quality assurance system that many Voluntary & Community Sector organisations – including DPULOs – think about. Below, Shopmobility Lochaber – a DPULO based in Inverness-shire, Scotland – share their detailed experiences of obtaining PQASSO.

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Shopmobility Lochaber's experience of implementing PQASSO

  1. 1. Shopmobility Lochaber: our experience with PQASSOPQASSO is a quality assurance system that many Voluntary &Community Sector organisations – including DPULOs – think about.Below, Shopmobility Lochaber – a DPULO based in Inverness-shire,Scotland – share their detailed experiences of obtaining PQASSO.When you say the word PQASSO to people, theyimmediately think of the painter. In fact if the truth beknown, when we first heard about this quality mark,we had the same thoughts, and what does a famouspainter have to do with our organisation?PQASSO actually stands for Practical Quality Assurance System forSmall Organisations.However, when our local Voluntary Action office sent us the details ofPQASSO, we knew that it was something we had to have, if we were toprove our organisation to be a robust, properly run, fit for purposecharity.The Charities Evaluation Service, who implement the PQASSO standardand train mentors for PQASSO training, have undertaken research thathas shown organisations using PQASSO have: • more effective and more efficient organisational systems and procedures • better quality of services for users • better communication among staff, trustees and volunteers • increased motivation for staff, trustees and volunteers • greater credibility and legitimacy with funders • more creative thinking, enabling new perspectives and ways of working • organisational learning • continuous improvement over time.There has never been a more important time for you to ensure that youwork efficiently and effectively with the resources you have available.Voluntary and community organisations, social enterprises and otherorganisations with a social purpose all need to think about how to domore with less and prove their worth to funders and commissioners.
  2. 2. Whether you are a small community group changing society throughlocalised voluntary action, or a big multi-sited charity or social enterprisedelivering large government contracts, you’ll need evidence-basedmethods and tools to develop and demonstrate the value of your work.PQASSO offers you a tried and tested way to develop, with a menu ofoptions to meet your support needs.PQASSO sets out what organisations need to have in place in order toensure sound governance practices, financial and risk managementprocedures and a robust system for measuring their outcomes – andsets out a path to continuous improvement for those starting off.Organisations must be able to demonstrate the quality of their work inorder to bid successfully for public sector contracts. Once organisationshave implemented PQASSO, they can do this through the PQASSOQuality Mark, the external accreditation for PQASSO users.1We had the offer of free training on PQASSO, providing we signed up forthe first training group. When we found out the next training group couldcost as much as £700, we had no hesitation in signing up. The trainingtook place in November of last year and was held over two verydemanding and intensive days.We knew we had a lot of work to do as PQASSO is split into 12 sectionsand each section deals with different areas of the administration andrunning of small organisations like ours. Little did we realise just howmuch work was involved.We set up a working party of 4 of our volunteers, along with the staffwho had been at the official training. PQASSO is an evidence basedquality mark, so we had to start and gather all of our evidence. The earlysections deal with governance and finance, where copies of constitutionetc have to be provided. We set upon a system for numbering theevidence sheets and got our folder set up.Our groups met once a week, with regular reports being given to thetrustees at all of their meetings. PQASSO was becoming a major part ofour workload.While gathering our evidence for PQASSO, we were also working ourway through the Volunteer Friendly Awards, designing a new website,repopulating our past years database, which we lost along with the
  3. 3. website, when we were hit with a computer virus and also implementinga change of status from a Registered Scottish Charity, to that of aScottish charitable Incorporated organisation. Add to that the fundraisingevents that we organise on a regular basis, and the clients who come tohire equipment, and all the regular workings in the office and that willgive you a measure of what a big challenge we have faced and dealtwith admirably over the last 12 months.Our initial target for completing PQASSO was 6-9 months, but due to theworkload we had, we soon realised that this was being a bit ambitious,so after the 6month, we decided that if we could manage to complete itwithin a year, this would be considered an achievement.In May, we were awarded the Tom Hillier Award for outstandingCustomer Service within all the Shopmobility Schemes in the UK, InJune, we were awarded the Volunteer Friendly Award.We were the first group in the Highlands to receive both of theseawards. This was a real achievement for us considering we are such asmall organisation, having one full time and one part time member ofstaff, ably supported by a team of 12, who are trustees and volunteers.Our evidence gathering showed us that although we thought we hadeverything we needed to function properly and efficiently, there weresome areas which needed tightening up and bringing up to date.PQASSO is an excellent tool for a self health check of your organisation.By September of this year, we had progressed to a stage where wewere close to asking for an assessment, so we called a meeting with ourPQASSO mentors. They checked all of our evidence, and after someminor amendments and alterations, agreed that we should proceed withthe initial stages of applying for the quality mark.We were given the contact details for CES and applied online to them fora review. They sent us their invoice for the assessment fee, and to saythat we had a shock was an understatement. The assessment fee wasin excess of £1,000. We then had a problem of finding this money. Thisis where the ODI came into their own. We submitted an application tothem for assistance with the assessment fee and assessors expenses.We exchanged several emails and telephone calls with Audrey, whothen presented our application to the board for their consideration. Wewere absolutely delighted when we received confirmation that we hadbeen successful in our application.
  4. 4. We then sent our cheque off to CES and our assessor contacted us.Although we had gathered all of our evidence to match each section inthe PQASSO folder, we had to complete a peer review section and adesktop review section, which meant more copies of our evidence,numbered differently, but we finished it and sent it off. We had to holdour breath for a while to see if this part was up to a standard where theassessor thought we were ready for a site visit.Our assessor then wrote back saying she had reviewed our submissionand we in fact were ready for our site visit. The visit was arranged forNovember 5 - Guy Fawkes Day! At least we were assured there wasgoing to be some fireworks that day. Whether they were the explodingsky lighting ones, or ones that we made in our office remained to beseen.We were given a timetable of events by our assessor and after thedesktop review, we received the timetable for the day. We had toarrange for more than half of our committee and volunteers to bepresent at the office at set times throughout the day. Each was given ahalf hour interview slot.By the time lunchtime came and we were halfway through our day, wehad a brief chat with our assessor and she confirmed that we had noproblems so far. Long may that happy state of affairs continue.The interviews carried on through until the early afternoon and thefeedback from the volunteers was very positive.At around 4pm the assessor had a debrief with us and wrote up herreport, giving us the good news that we had passed our assessment.Her feeling was that we excelled in the sections which cover our clientsand our communication and promotion.This was a huge relief to us. We had put a tremendous amount of effortinto this project and to finally be told the work was worth it was actuallyquite emotional.We are now committed to taking our charity forward, strengthened bythe knowledge that we are looking after our staff and volunteers, butmore importantly our clients. We are also now a more attractiveproposition for future funders. Anyone who has the PQSSSO standardwill know how we feel.
  5. 5. We are the first organisation in Lochaber and indeed the whole of theHighland Region to achieve our PQASSO mark. It is a true testament ofthe work and close family-type spirit that exists in our office.1