Champions Round Table
The royal wedding recently shone a light on charities and voluntary organisations, as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle requested aid for a list of seven charitable organisations instead of wedding gifts.
The charity sector is big business – literally. In 2017 alone, 83% of people in the UK used a charitable service. There are more than 160,000 registered charities in England and Wales alone and many, many more informal charitable groups.
Charities provide many essential services, from education to health and social care to community centres and sports clubs. They care for our heritage, bring people together in their communities as well as providing the public with ways to directly support the causes people care about through donations and volunteering – and this is all evident in Chesterfield.
There are numerous charities based here, representing a wide variety of causes and providing vital services, including healthcare, transport and practical help and advice to people in need.
This month, the round table organised by Destination Chesterfield in conjunction with the Derbyshire Times, put the spotlight on the charitable and voluntary sector in the town. Hosted by the Chesterfield Canal Trust, representatives from the sector came together to discuss the wider value the charitable and voluntary sector brings to Chesterfield.
JB Jane Bentley, St Thomas’ Centre
JD James Drury, Executive Director at Chesterfield Borough Council
AM Anna Melton, Volunteer Board Member at Young Enterprise North Derbyshire
RA Rod Auton, Publicity Officer at Chesterfield Canal Trust
DS Dom Stevens, Destination Chesterfield Manager
AB Ashley Booker, Head of Content at Derbyshire Times
How important is it for charities, voluntary and commercial organisations to work in partnership and collaborate?
AM: For Young Enterprise it is vital that companies are involved as well as we rely on business people to go into schools and mentor young people. Alongside this, financial support is really important as it is the sponsorship of events by businesses that enables us to hold the various finals and awards events for young people who participate in the initiative. Young Enterprise is all about giving young people a real taste of work and running a business, so collaboration with the business community is a must.
JB: In the past there have been situations where several charities or voluntary organisations have targeted the same audience with very similar asks. By collectively sharing ideas and working together things can work better and more effectively.
AM: As a person who wants to donate you can feel really torn. If there’s a local and a national charity for cancer, for example, who do you donate to? If similar charities and volunteer groups came together locally, it would be better for the people wanting to give their time or money.
JD: We’re getting a lot less money from central government that we got seven or eight years ago. We’ve had to find different ways to deliver the right outcomes to the communities and that means we are working more closely with partner organisations, including the voluntary sector, to get these outcomes with less resources.
I think that some of the financial pressure that the voluntary and public sectors have been under over the last few years has forced a different approach by charities and volunteer groups and this is a real positive.
RA: We have to step up our appeals and work more closely with the community to raise funds. That’s the way things are, but it does work and it’s important that everybody helps each other.
AM: Volunteers are absolutely essential to charities and it is expensive and time consuming to raise money. People think that if you’re a charity, people just throw money at you, but you really have to market yourselves hard
DS: Often businesses think that the support needs to be cash, but actually in-kind support is hugely valuable too. If you can give services or skills to help move a project forward, it may not cost the business much other than a few hours of time, but it’s worth lots and lots to a small charity. Those links of partnership are vitally important.
RA: We have wonderful offers from local businesses that have highly skilled staff and we need to really pick up on that. We are always looking for things that we can do with local businesses and schools to create and maintain those links and also get young people interested. Matching what we can offer with what companies would look to do for their Corporate Social Responsibility is key.
AM: I work a lot with the Youth Hostels Association (YHA) and they rely on thousands of volunteers to ensure they can channel the money they do get into helping benefit young people. YHA has very strong partnerships with companies small and large. The company may give their staff for a volunteering day where they go and decorate a youth hostel. I have seen first hand the massive difference this makes to a charity. It also makes a difference to the people volunteering. I’ve done it myself – you feel great.
RA: McDonalds came and did a huge litter pick and painted a bridge on the canal for us last year – it was amazing. More than 30 people came. If you were to work out the labour cost we’d incur by funding that ourselves, it’d be huge – completely impossible.
AM: As a small business owner myself, I’d be more than happy for my staff to spend half a day volunteering. It’s a great team building exercise and a way for us all to put something back into the community.
How can the charitable and voluntary sector effectively raise its profile and influence people to ensure they meet the needs of the local community?
DS: We did a Champions event at the beginning of the year and I was amazed at the amount of work going on out in the communities. There’s such a huge amount of good work going on that’s often not shouted about. Making sure that businesses and the public know about the great work this sector is doing is so important.
JB: In terms of trying to raise the profile I think it’s more about collaborating with the community and making sure that you know what the needs are, not just what your perception of their needs are.
JD: We have been working on holiday hunger clubs with schools a lot recently, but it’s not just the council doing that, we are working alongside partners. We have to look at how we can inspire and empower members of the community to make the positive change, then move on to the next target area and continue making positive changes.
JB: Sometimes, as a charity, one of the biggest hurdles is knowing where to go for help when you are essentially running a business and haven’t done so before.
AM: Running a charity is hard work as well. It is a full-time job and that is easy to forget. You have to operate commercially to bring in the money to benefit people.
DS: Charities still have access to the small business support that is out there – you are still classed as an SME. We want voluntary organisations to grow and succeed just as much as the private sector.
JB: I’m at the beginning of this with my charity. We’re opening up a coffee shop in Grangewood where we want to really work with the community to offer what they need. Asking the area what it needs and working out with the people who live there how best to achieve that, is far better received and more effective than telling it what it needs.
AM: People also need to know how they can access help and support from charities and also donate. My family wanted to donate some furniture to a charity recently but we didn’t know how to find one that would directly benefit. A central directory listing and profiling all charities and volunteer organisations would be beneficial.
DS: NDVA (Derbyshire Voluntary Action) have that available. It’s a membership organisation but they should be able to point you in the right direction.
AB: We do a weekly places and faces feature across two pages in the Derbyshire Times. It features organisations at a grass roots level, and we find something different every week that often we weren’t aware of before doing the research. It’s incredible how people create these organisations off their own backs for the good of the community.
Is there a role for schools to be more involved with the sector?
AM: Absolutely, but time is a big issue for teachers at the moment. One of the challenges Young Enterprise is facing at the moment of recruiting schools to take part. Schools and pupils want to get involved but teachers simply don’t have the time to do it.
DS: That’s an issue we face with Made in Chesterfield, too. Schools do not have the time to get out and have those incredible learning experiences.
AM: Getting somebody into a school to talk about engineering just doesn’t have the same effect as going into a factory and seeing something being made and seeing how the process really happens.
DS: The Gatsby Report around careers guidance in schools, should help to combat this a little bit. Employability skills should become more of a focus, which Young Enterprise would feed into nicely.
RO: Hollingwood Primary School did a 10-week unit of works about the canal, Staveley Works and Barrow Hill. They’ve been down here several times, we’ve gone to them, and they’ve been amazing. The Chesterfield Cultural and Educational Partnership have created that link and they do some incredible work to get young people out and about and busy in the holidays.
JB: Speaking as an ex primary teacher I know that getting out into real situations speaks far more. Most children don’t remember numeracy or literacy lessons, but they do remember going to the canal, pond dipping, actual experiences. Charities and voluntary organisations are a hugely effective way of doing this.
How important is the voluntary and charity sector as part of the local economy?
JD: We recently ran a Holiday Hunger Club that ensured when there is a school holiday period, children still get fed.
JB: When we open the coffee shop it will be mostly run by volunteers. However, we will be setting up a Volunteers’ Contract, to ensure there is commitment from people to working with us. It’s designed to give people a sense of purpose, a route back into employment and help develop routine and good practice which will translate to eventual paid employment.
AM: Giving unemployed people the chance to ease into work, getting them work ready, is a huge opportunity given by the charity and voluntary sector to the economy, not only locally but nationwide.
DS: The National Citizenship Scheme is a good example of this happening locally for younger people. Ashgate Hospicecare is taking on apprentices through their programme of activity, too. There are lots of opportunities around where people are beginning their careers through the charity and voluntary sector.
AM: It can be a great way to combat boredom and loneliness in people who have retired, too and also as a way to gain experience in a sector ahead of a career change.
RA: Many of our volunteers are retired and regain a sense of purpose through their voluntary work with us.
DS: The events run by local voluntary and charity organisations are great for the wider profile of the town. The boat trips on the canal, the Sparkle Night Walk for example, are different and quirky and get people talking about the town and what you can experience here. Ultimately it puts money into the local economy. If somebody visits the canal for a boat trip, they’re likely to stay out for lunch, perhaps visit a pub on the way home. If somebody goes into the town centre for an event, chances are they’ll pop into a shop, café or restaurant. The voluntary and charity sector is an essential part of the local economy, financial and socially.
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