Paul Streets: The devil of the Civil Society Strategy lies in the delivery

We should applaud the supportive tone. We should welcome the commitments to smaller charities. But we should equally question the lack of concrete proposals, writes our CEO Paul Streets.

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This blog was originally posted in Third Sector on 10 August 2018.

The long-awaited Civil Society Strategy  has been published. There’s much to welcome, especially its tone. Even in the ministerial foreword the strategy recognises the “pressures civil society is under” and the “extraordinary job” it does alongside the role of government as an “enabler”, citing the strategy as “the beginning of a process of collaboration”.

As Lloyds Banking Group’s corporate foundation, it is good to see the recognition for cross-sector support in addressing societal issues, and the important pressure of ethical consumerism.

Crucially, there is a recognition of the importance of giving charities more of a voice, allowing them to feed into policy and taking steps to strengthen their confidence around campaigning. The strategy sets out promising plans around new guidance on commissioning for small and local charities and also around new approaches to strengthening social value.

It is broad in scope, encompassing civil society as inclusive of all activities whose “primary purpose is social value, independent of state of control” and, critically, the role of government more broadly in enabling that. While charities are at the heart of a strong civil society, as Lloyds Banking Group’s corporate foundation, it is good to see the recognition for cross-sector support in addressing societal issues, and the important pressure of ethical consumerism.  We see first-hand how valuable a truly responsible approach to business can be – not just in terms of funding but in skills transfer and in-kind support. Public, private and social sectors need to work better together.

And it is helpful to see supportive acknowledgement of the role of civil society from other government departments, having long called for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport to influence the approach to the voluntary sector across government as an exemplar.

The breadth and scope of the strategy risks the government appearing as a convenor, rather than the central actor it needs to be. So while it’s a good framework, the devil will be in the delivery.

But this scope and breadth is also its weakness. It risks being everything and nothing.

Without concrete action on issues such as commissioning and joint working, there is a risk that this is simply warm words. We will watch with interest to see what replaces the community rehabilitation companies contracts under Transforming Rehabilitation given recent commitments by the Justice Secretary David Gauke: a critical litmus test for whether DCMS has the clout it needs.

The strategy recognises the need for “new approaches in communities that have not benefited from growth” but it fails to translate that recognition into tangible and targeted action to address the most marginalised people and places. This is a critical issue for small and local charities working right at the coalface.

And while it hints at the potential significance of dormant assets and The UK Shared Prosperity Fund, small nuggets are offered rather than the wholesale and targeted significant investment where it is needed most.

We have elsewhere highlighted the critical need for the sector to rethink sustainability post-austerity but doing this will require commitment and clarity of purpose and not just from the sector but from government. Without this there is a risk that what could be large amounts of money are frittered away on disconnected piecemeal approaches. We need to see these opportunities as we did the post-war Marshall plan, an opportunity to restructure the support we provide to the most in need in society and to the poorest places – alongside more effective welfare provision, which doesn’t get a mention.

The breadth and scope of the strategy risks the government appearing as a convenor, rather than the central actor it needs to be. So while it’s a good framework, the devil will be in the delivery. Can DCMS translate these welcome and very broad intentions into tangible and substantive action on the ground?

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Paul Streets: The value of small is far bigger than imagined

A visit to the buzzing Hive Avon in Bristol brought home the value of small charities, writes our CEO Paul Streets.

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This blog was originally posted in Third Sector on 31st July 2018.

The Hive Avon works with people who have learning disabilities and their families in Bristol and surrounding areas. It is based in an unprepossessing building some way up a hill beside a shabby garage on the outskirts of Bristol. It has one full-time staff member, a couple of part-timers – including the chief executive – and about 30 volunteers. It has an income of about £100,000 a year. When I visited earlier this year it was celebrating its 50th year and was buzzing with people and ideas for how it could do more.

The research is clear: small and local charities make a real difference to individual lives, they help local economies and are often the glue that binds communities together.

The charity’s Bringing Independent Lives Together programme brings together parents and their disabled sons and daughters in separate structured sessions to tackle the tough questions about how ageing parents help their children to plan for a life after they’re gone. It’s challenging stuff. The first parent-focused session starts with discussion on what happens when they die and the consequences for their children, some of whom might be in their fifties, but still live at home.

Many people with learning disabilities who live with their parents don’t make basic life decisions for themselves, such as when to get to up, what to wear or what to eat. Hive talks parents through what they can do to help their children become more independent. Some of those who access Hive’s projects are hidden from statutory services because their needs are not acute. They don’t have social workers, they have no personal independence plans and nor are they on housing lists. Instead, it’s all “been kept in the family”.

Adults with learning disabilities who’ve made the break to live independently provide useful role models at this time. This sharing of lived experience, fears and hopes is critical, but it is possible only through the hard work of the charity. About 250 families receive support from Hive, and it is vital stuff.

Small Charities Week took place between 18 and 23 June. It was an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the work of the thousands of small charities such as Hive. But welcome as it was to have that focus for a week, too much debate and policy in government, and within our own sector, focuses on the much fewer, much larger charities.

Small charities need all our help to enable them to do and be their best. That’s why they need to be at the front and centre of the government’s forthcoming civil society strategy.

That’s why the research The Value of Small, commissioned by the Lloyds Bank Foundation but done independently by academics, is so important. Published during Small Charities Week, it concludes that size does indeed matter and there is something clearly distinctive in who small and local charities work with and how.

The research is clear: small and local charities make a real difference to individual lives, they help local economies and are often the glue that binds communities together. Yet there is a critical mismatch between the benefits, distinctiveness and value of small and local charities and the way commissioning is undertaken. Eighty-four per cent of local government spending on charities is now going to larger charities as they shift from grants to ever-larger contracts. This is despite the clear benefits of small charities to local communities and economies.

Small charities need all our help to enable them to do and be their best. That’s why they need to be at the front and centre of the government’s forthcoming civil society strategy.

So, are pessimists better at risk management?

As part of our work to help develop the charities we partner with we’ve been working with Lloyds Banking Group to develop a new Risk Management Toolkit to help charities plan for those things that could go wrong. Kay Cameron, Volunteering Programmes Manager tells us more.

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Avoid those organisational banana skins.

I’m an optimist. The prospect of devoting time to scrutinise all the things that might go wrong doesn’t hold much appeal. If, unlike me, you’re of a more pessimistic persuasion perhaps this idea fills you with glee. Well … maybe not glee.

Risk management has an image problem. It can seem dry, laborious and too rigid to apply in small charities.

Risk management is a key aspect of charity governance. Understanding the risks your charity faces and managing those risks will support planning and inform decision making. A strong risk management system enables you to ensure effective and safe practice and equips you to make the most of opportunities to secure your charity’s future.

So, are pessimists better at risk management? Not at all. Good risk management requires the best of both mindsets. Harness the resilience of the optimist and the caution of the pessimist and you’re on to something.

So far so good, but just because something is worth doing doesn’t make us want to do it. Risk management has an image problem. It can seem dry, laborious and too rigid to apply in small charities. That’s where the Foundation’s new Risk Management Toolkit comes in. It’s been developed with Alyson Armstrong and Sue Cooke of Lloyd’s Banking Group, both seasoned risk managers. Even better, they’re longstanding Charity Mentors who have supported their matched charities in developing robust risk management strategies. The toolkit demystifies risk management, providing small charities with right sized, practical step by step guidance.

The Risk Management Toolkit may help you to take the first steps towards a more rigorous approach or give you a benchmark to review your existing practice.

Do you need more convincing that a risk management system will benefit your charity?

Let’s debunk a few myths:

“Risk management is unwieldy and complex. It’s all about incomprehensible spreadsheets.”

No! Well … it involves a table (you can use a spreadsheet). But it shouldn’t be incomprehensible.As with any management process, the tools need to work for you, not the other way around. The Risk Management Toolkit walks you through five simple linked steps from identifying your risks through to monitoring the process. It may be true that the size and content of your risk register will reflect the size and complexity of your operations, but the process should remain straightforward and manageable.

“Risk is inherent in what we do. We can’t manage risk away.”

Risk management isn’t about eliminating every risk. Even if this were achievable or desirable, it’s unlikely that you’d have the resources to make it happen. Despite the prevailing environment of uncertainty, exposing risks to the light helps organisations to feel more stable. What risk management can deliver is the opportunity to regularly take stock of your risks and agree realistic responses to reduce these to acceptable levels. It’s not an exercise in crystal ball gazing, and it won’t predict the unpredictable, but you can apply your insights and experience to uncover those risks that you can prepare for. After all, forewarned is forearmed.

“It’s not a priority and I don’t have the time.”

‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’ Benjamin Franklin may not have called it risk management, but his point still applies. By formalising your approach to risk management, you can better safeguard your service users. Increasingly, funders, commissioners and partners are scrutinising charities’ risk management capabilities, so a strong framework may pay dividends in growing and sustaining your work.Robust risk management is never the domain of a single person in an organisation, its everyone’s business. While there is a need for someone to take the lead and coordinate, risks associated with any activity are best identified and managed by the people delivering that work.

While it’s true that risk management isn’t a one-off activity, by embedding risk awareness into everything you do you can streamline your approach. And, in the end, by investing in risk management you save time by avoiding and minimising the problems that arise when things go wrong.

“An informal approach will suffice. If it’s not broken, why fix it?”

As organisations – and as individuals – we routinely manage risk when making day to day decisions. By formalising the process, however, you’re installing an early warning system. You gain an organisation-wide lens on your aggregate risks and you can apply a common approach to managing these risks. A risk management framework gets all your staff and projects steering in the same direction. People know what’s expected of them and have the tools and information to deliver. In some settings, formalising the process will require a cultural shift, but the arguments for taking risk seriously are persuasive. Risk management gives people more – not less – control over what they do.

Are you persuaded? Whether you’re new to risk management or further down the road, it’s worth reading the Risk Management Toolkit. It may help you to take the first steps towards a more rigorous approach or give you a benchmark to review your existing practice. Optimists and pessimists will find it equally beneficial.

 

Paul Streets: Small charities are key to local partnerships

Research by the Lloyds Bank Foundation shows that small charities bring a distinctive offer and approach, writes our CEO Paul Streets.

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This blog was originally posted in Third Sector on 18th June 2018.

At the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales we’re launching a new five-year strategy, Reaching Further, which is all about partnership. Maybe it doesn’t seem like such a radical idea that funders should do their best to work in partnership rather than, as is often cited, just handing out cash. But truly overcoming the power dynamic and living out partnership, rather than just aspiring to it, is I believe still a bold move and a radical change, because we and many other funders and sector bodies just aren’t there yet.

Because they’re small there’s a short chain of command, so they can act faster, often responding more quickly than others to moments of crisis.

The need to “be a partner” has crystallised for us in the past few months as we’ve digested the findings of research we commissioned, and are launching alongside the strategy today, into what makes small charities distinctive. From the research we now know for certain, with tangible evidence, that what they bring is a distinctive offer and approach, and they occupy a unique position in their communities. These things set them apart from others addressing social issues. If we – not only the Lloyds Bank Foundation, but more broadly as a sector – can mirror the approach small and local charities take to supporting their clients, we’ll end up with a really strong and robust third sector.

The research identifies a number of distinctive attributes around who charities work with and how, and which could be considered akin to partnership. The four in-depth area level studies showed that they offer a safe space and a familiar face – somewhere local enough for people to turn to easily, where they will find people they can relate to.

It’s not just about what small and local charities do but the way they help their clients, starting with them as people rather than matching their problems to a standard model. Because they’re small there’s a short chain of command, so they can act faster, often responding more quickly than others to moments of crisis. And having waded in, those charities are often able to go the distance because they are more flexible and have less rigid outcome targets, like those that are often in place with larger providers.

But we can only do so much, so it’s our hope that in Small Charities Week, as we celebrate what makes small charities unique, we can all do more to model partnership so that those smaller charities thrive alongside larger ones.

Lastly, small and local charities are seen as the glue that holds communities together, joining the dots between different service providers, knowing the unspoken context that makes different clients’ cases unique and making things happen to help people rebuild their lives even when that’s not straightfoward to achieve.

Despite these clear benefits, at the moment there’s a critical mismatch between them and the way national and local government buys public services. The move from grants to contracts has transferred resources from smaller charities to larger. Indeed, 84 per cent of local government spending now goes to larger charities. With this knowledge, it’s imperative that we call it out and call for commissioning reform.

When it comes to more everyday grant-making, being a partner is about offering small and medium-sized local charities more money, for longer and more flexibly – funding the heating and lighting costs, not the shiny new projects. We need to trust their expertise to use our cash in the most effective way, because they’re the ones answering to people dealing with tough issues every day.

But we can only do so much, so it’s our hope that in Small Charities Week, as we celebrate what makes small charities unique, we can all do more to model partnership so that those smaller charities thrive alongside larger ones. We need to make sure we’re nurturing those charities that are the glue of local networks. By partnering with others that share our vision, the sector can achieve more than any of us could alone.

From today you’ll notice a “slash” across our new branding. That slash signifies our recognition that, without the charities we fund, we can achieve little. They’ve set the bar, but now we, across the sector and in local and national government, need to play our part to reach it.

Paul Streets: Llanelli charity is best cure for merger mania

Threshold DAS shows it’s not true that small local charities lack innovation, are inefficient and need to be merged, writes our CEO Paul Streets

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This blog was originally posted in Third Sector on 31st May 2018.

Mergers have their place, but I’m frustrated by the small charity merger mania that usually emanates from those in national positions. It’s here again after the think tank NPC recently published a report. The report is good, well-balanced and shows the benefits of mergers. But it has allowed others to jump on the merger bandwagon, somehow suggesting we should seek out merged charities like good pubs.

I recently visited Threshold DAS, a domestic abuse charity in Llanelli, Wales, which dispels all the myths about small charities often churned out by advocates for mergers. It shows that, sometimes, independence is key.

Threshold DAS is a beacon of hope and energy dealing with domestic abuse, one of the toughest issues we fund. Its name comes from the concept of “no threshold” being acceptable.

Llanelli is five hours from London, at the end of a slow, rickety train journey from Cardiff. It’s anything but prosperous: shabby streets, small shops just about surviving and high unemployment. Fish ’n’ chips for a fiver in the empty fish bar. It’s the rugby team, the Scarlets, that sets it apart from similar towns.

Threshold DAS is a beacon of hope and energy dealing with domestic abuse, one of the toughest issues we fund. Its name comes from the concept of “no threshold” being acceptable. As we chat over tea and Welsh cakes in front of a wall full of news cuttings – including the headline “8-year-old rings 999 to tell the emergency services ‘Daddy is headbutting Mummy’” – Vicky Pedicini, the chief executive, tells me about her work. She started out as a volunteer after a social work attachment instilled a desire to be hands-on. Twenty-one years later she’s running DAS, overseeing 29 staff and 30 volunteers, as the charity has transformed structurally and in every aspect of service delivery.

It isn’t right that organisations such as DAS are left jumping through hoops to survive and avoid merging. It’s delusional, disconnected madness.

No longer solely a refuge, it now supports male survivors and perpetrators as well as working intensively with women. Pedicini explained that it changed tack because “women wanted their men to change” and were “disengaging because we couldn’t offer anything that tried to keep them together”. She stressed that, although abuse can never be excused, its work is nuanced because “every man we have worked with was also abused, or witnessed abuse, as a child”. Often its work with perpetrators leads to couples splitting up because women feel safe to leave. DAS offers mediation services to enable “better exits” and minimise the damage to children.

Its counselling supports women with no awareness of what a “normal” relationship looks like.

In relative terms our funding could seem insignificant – just 3 per cent of its total spend – but it’s gold dust because it goes towards core costs while other funders will fund only “innovation” and contracts don’t realistically cover overheads. It isn’t right that organisations such as DAS are left jumping through hoops to survive and avoid merging. It’s delusional, disconnected madness.

The next time someone tells me small local charities lack innovation, are inefficient and need to be merged, I’ll offer to take them with me on the slow train to Llanelli. The proof of their evolution as service providers is there for all to see. I’d challenge anyone to take me to any large organisation that has gone through as much change and growth in services and yet retained intimately connected humanity at the top.

 

Opening Up to Mental Health

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L-R Stephen Noakes, Alastair Campbell. Baroness Fritchie, Brian Dow, Neil Layborn, Johnny Benjamin.

Clare Rance, Grant Manager for the South West Region attended ‘Opening Up to Mental Health’ – an event hosted by Lloyds Banking Group and their Charity Partner Mental Health UK in Bristol

Breaking the stigma of mental health

Last week I was lucky enough to attend Opening Up to Mental Health – where Lloyds Banking Group had invited former Downing Street Communications Director and mental health campaigner Alastair Campbell to share his experiences of mental health issues and highlight how important it is to talk about them openly, in the workplace as well as in a personal context. Alongside Alastair and other speakers our Chair, Baroness Rennie Fritchie talked about some of the 200 charities supported by the bank’s four foundations around mental health issues in 2017 with grants totalling £8 million.

For me the most powerful moments of the night were hearing about real people who have overcome mental health issues and had the courage to share their stories.

The evening was informative and inspiring. Alastair Campbell emphasised the need to accept that just as we all need to look after our physical health, we all to remember our mental health too.  As a communications expert, he talked about the need to for people to, “break down the stigma and taboo around mental health – a lot of it is about communication.” He also stressed the importance of employers in supporting good mental health among staff as they do with physical health: “I think employers in their own way are just as important as government in this” he added.

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Click here to watch the #GetTheInsideOut film

It’s clear that this is something that Lloyds Banking Group have been working hard to do; to change attitudes towards mental health within the bank itself. They’ve delivered mental health awareness training to nearly 30,000 staff, fostering an understanding work environment for all colleagues around mental health issues. Stephen Noakes (LBG’s Regional Ambassador for the South West) shared the bank’s ambitions to go further with this, breaking the stigma of mental health for good through their #gettheinsideout campaign.

Real Life Experiences

For me the most powerful moments of the night were hearing about real people who have overcome mental health issues and had the courage to share their stories.

With the help of a stranger who stopped, talked and found a connection with Johnny, he stepped away from the edge

Brian Dow, CEO of Mental Health UK led a conversation with Johnny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn, two people who had first-hand experience of mental health issues. Johnny described how ‘his world suddenly ended’ after receiving a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis, he left hospital and found himself on Waterloo Bridge contemplating taking his own life.  With the help of Neil, a stranger who stopped, talked and found a connection with Johnny, he stepped away from the edge.  They now work together to raise awareness about mental health and launch Rethink UK – a new initiative to support people in financial crisis because of mental health issues.

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Stepping Out Theatre Company

Our Chair, Baroness Fritchie shared the story of Emma – who turned to Stepping Out, a charity that received £73,500 from Lloyds Bank Foundation, who use theatre to support people with mental health issues. Emma’s history of self-harming and deteriorating mental health led to her admission to a psychiatric unit, but with the help of Stepping Out she has been able to grow more confident and express her feelings through writing and performing. Since being part of Stepping Out she has written a play which was performed in the Edinburgh Festival – which she describes as a “dream come true”.

As I reflected on Stepping Out, just one of over 150 charities we fund around mental health issues, I felt proud to be playing a part in the movement to get people to ‘open up’ through my work as a Grant Manager. But it shouldn’t just be part of my day job. The event allowed me to take time to reflect on experiences of enduring mental health issues within my own family, and the tireless work of family members to campaign for better local services. It’s made me think about what I can do to campaign for positive change in the way we view mental health, and to take inspiration from the tireless efforts of small and local charities across England and Wales who are a lifeline for so many.

From the town hall to Whitehall, five ways to keep your charity’s priorities at the top of the agenda this election season

Dogs at polling stations#DogsAtPollingStations was a huge trend last General Election – but how can we make sure local charities’ voices are the hot topic in next week’s council elections? 

A year has passed since we were in the throes of the General Election, and right now parts of England are in the final stages of local council elections. For charities with their heads down focusing on coping with rising demand for their services and battling cuts and the challenges of commissioning, elections can seem all a bit removed. But engaging in the political and democratic processes is really important; indeed it can help to make a real difference. So in the final weekend before votes are cast, take a moment to think through how you can influence those around you for the better:

  1. Tell Your Charity’s Story

If you are in an area with elections, hopefully you will have seen some form of activity from your local candidates and parties. If you get the chance, engage them in a conversation. Tell them about your charity, the services it runs, the people it helps and the role you play in the local community. If you have the opportunity, go along to your local hustings and ask the candidates what they will do to tackle the issues you work on and care about (and don’t forget to mention the charity you are from!) Candidates remember conversations they had on the election trail and of course if you manage to solicit a statement of support then you should certainly remind them of it if/when they are in office!

  1. The Real Work Begins When Votes Are In

When the votes have been counted and candidates become councillors, this should actually be the start – not the end – of you stepping up a process of engagement. Contact your local ward councillors, invite them to see your work and services and leave them with a clear sense of how they could help. But also think about whether you could help them – for example you might be able to offer a space for them to hold their surgeries in, or they could refer people who come to them for help onto your support services and vice versa.

Mutual understanding and recognition of the roles you play in the community, helping local people can pay dividends in establishing relationships and ensuring councillors want to help you when you need it.

  1. Be Part Of The Plan

Election results may mean you end up with a new administration, whether a change of party, a move to no overall control or just a change of faces within the council leadership and cabinet. These new (or old) administrations will be thinking about how they can implement the pledges made on the campaign trail and seeking to set out some form of stall for their time in office over the next four years – so ensure your cause and charity are a part of their plans. To do this, try getting your local or another friendly councillor to ask what the proposed approach will be towards your issue, or indeed to the voluntary sector more generally.

Why not join with other charities in your area and push for an early motion to ensure the council operates according to the Social Value Act, or that it commits to a commissioning approach that is fair to local charities? It’s exactly this kind of approach that led to councils pledging to pay the living wage to their staff and contractors, or to exempting care leavers from council tax.

While spending is incredibly tight and will remain so, councillors of all parties go into politics hoping to make a difference. So amidst the misery of making the books balance overall, giving them something they can latch onto and pursue can end up with real results.

  1. Keep The Communications Going

It can be easy to start with an initial flurry of activity but it’s important to make sure your local councillors, the respective Cabinet member, MP, or others showing an interest are literally on your Christmas card list. Send them regular updates, including your headline annual stats, and invite them to your events. For example, if you run employment workshops, invite the leader or respective Cabinet member along to an event marking the completion of courses and ask them to give out the certificates. Seeing your work in action and the people directly helped is so much more powerful and makes it consequently harder for them to cut your funding if they have been photographed with you in the local paper!

You should always follow up with them afterwards on the issues service users and your charity raised. It’s also worth engaging with the relevant Scrutiny committees as they can be great at looking at an issue, such as mapping the provision needed in a service, before a commissioning process kicks off.

  1. Dive Into The Detail

Alongside general engagement, take opportunities to get involved in specifics where you can too – such as local stakeholder forums or consultation events and exercises. When attending events, always make sure you ask a question or make a point, all helping to get your name and work out too. And the same applies to central government – for example there are currently active consultations about the Government’s proposed approach to Civil Society and Domestic Abuse consultations. It’s really important that the view of frontline, specialist, smaller and locally based charities are reflected in these issues.

If you’re still wondering what difference all this makes, I’d encourage you to remember this:

Decision making, politics and policy should be fundamental to the work of all charities. After all, our ambitions should be to stop issues happening in the first place, not just patch up the consequences.

At the Foundation we know many of the charities we work with are already doing great work to influence, shape and shake up local policies, practice, frameworks and funding, but there is more to do, and you can do it!

Sometimes the issues charities are working on can seem all-encompassing and it’s difficult to know where to start – the good news is that you can’t really get it wrong. Every conversation with a person of influence is a positive step!

Finally, as the tragic circumstances of the Windrush immigration cases have shown this week, effective advocacy, strong case studies and good journalism can shine a spotlight on an issue that has gone unaddressed for years and rightly humiliate a Government into action.

So whether in the town hall or Whitehall, happy influencing – and over the next few months we will be thinking actively here at the Foundation about what more we can do to encourage and support you in your efforts.

Duncan Shrubsole is Director of Policy, Partnerships and Communications at Lloyds Bank Foundation. Follow him on Twitter: @duncanshrubsole and us: @LBFEW