Fortitude, tenacity and consistency: celebrating seemingly unremarkable people and organisations doing remarkable things in the Voluntary Sector

Paul Streets, CEO at Lloyds Bank Foundation

As we mark 30 years of funding small and medium-sized charities, we’ve developed an Awards Programme that celebrates and showcases their important work. We recently announced our regional winners across six categories. The differences between these categories, programmes and pitches is both interesting and refreshing: it reflects the diversity and richness of what people do with the support we give them. Two categories that particularly shone for me were Unsung Heroes and Against The Odds. Each one remarkable.

The first a set of stories about individuals. Volunteers who have been the bedrock of organisations – sometimes as founders, sometimes just in being there to do whatever, whenever. People who been through their own personal hell, come out the other side and have then accomplished more than they might ever have achieved without adversity by choosing to use their own journeys to help others. Often people who have turned adversity into a personal asset which they have shared with others.

In July we had a reception at the Senedd where we announced the Welsh winners (pictured above). The ‘Unsung Hero’ for Wales, Sarah Baker from TOGs Centre talked so positively about how her son’s Angelman’s Syndrome had been such a positive driver for her. If you could paint a kind of aggregated pen picture of such volunteers it would be one of fortitude, tenacity, consistency – often over years and years – and massive optimism that people can come through whatever life throws at them. In some respects seemingly unremarkable people doing remarkable things.

If you could paint a kind of aggregated pen picture of such volunteers it would be one of fortitude, tenacity, consistency…seemingly unremarkable people doing remarkable things.

The second set of stories about organisations and what they’ve done to pull through …sometimes more than once – uncomplaining, often in the face of big cuts or losing big contracts – which they report without anger just as facts – to find a new way forward. Boards and CEs refreshed. New money sought. New purpose and direction found. The twinkles shine through the text. A pen picture that would echo collectively that of the individual Unsung Heroes.

I am struck by the juxtaposition between those stories and the vision George Osborne set out in the July Budget and in launching the Spending Review. The government has argued that even after five years of austerity, cuts of 25–40% in a whole range of key public services should still be possible. Things feel just about OK, so why not do more?  After all, it is argued crime is down – despite cuts to the Police they have managed. Allegedly the public report high satisfaction with public services.

And indeed that’s probably true for many people. The odd extra pot hole perhaps. For many of us we’ve still got secure jobs, homes, the dustbins get collected, my local library is still there, my trains have even improved and will do even further as I crawl past the billions being spent to improve London Bridge, and my parents have had fantastic care through the NHS.

Now of course there has long been a divide between those who “have” and are OK and those who “haven’t” and are far from. The welfare state, public services and the voluntary sector have always, separately and together, been part of helping to narrow the gap and help the “have nots”. But the money to do so will remain in short supply.

The recent NCVO Financial Sustainability Report projects a £4.6bn shortfall in voluntary sector income in the next few years – largely driven by a reduction in Government funding. At one level that’s only about 10%. Sounds doable. But if you read below the headline figures, there has been a significant redistribution of the sector’s spending power from smaller to larger organisations. In the last few years the small/medium-sized charities we fund have seen a 30% cut in Government funding. The next few will likely see something similar…so over about six to eight years they’ll likely see any government funding they receive roughly halve and the challenge of winning increasingly competitive public service contracts means what flows to them may well be even lower.

Charities have been positively likened to cockroaches in their ability to withstand a nuclear war and continue. But we want good charities to not just survive but thrive.

Charities have been positively likened to cockroaches in their ability to withstand a nuclear war and continue. But we want good charities to not just survive but thrive – Our Against The Odds category demonstrates that. But these are the best, alongside the other 121 charities which won or were highly commended at a regional level. There are 36,000 small/medium charities working in health and social care alone – around 160,000 in total.

Foundations have a vital role to play here as the level of grants we provide now matches that from Government – leaving us as one of the few remaining sources of vital unrestricted funding. Whether we like it or not as Foundations that gives us extra responsibilities – to think about the accessibility and distribution of our grants across the country and against need.

But we also need to find a way to speak these truths about the sector to power. Maybe Central Government has no money anymore, but it can recognise the vital role of the sector in reaching those who are not seeing any light at the end of their tunnels.

Maybe Central Government has no money anymore, but it can recognise the vital role of the sector in reaching those who are not seeing any light at the end of their tunnels.

It does have the power to seek for the money left to reach the right places through the right ways. But for that to happen it needs a narrative for the sector which is sadly absent.

Too often the voluntary sector is allowing its story, purpose and achievements to be told, or indeed mis-told by others. It is striking that no-one is telling a positive story about the sector and in particular what small and local charities are doing day-in day-out to help the people who need it most to get back on their feet and rebuild their lives. But these charities cannot have a voice if they don’t exist.

These charities cannot have a voice if they don’t exist.

If I sound angry I am. But anger has always been a big personal motivator in my work on different ‘lost’ causes through the years.

And all hope is not lost.

If we honestly believed this Government didn’t care – as some in the sector have said to me – then perhaps it would be.

But David Cameron has been noted as a person driven by a motivation for social reform. George Osborne’s commitment to a higher minimum wage is a clear sign that this government can take ideas from across the political spectrum and be influenced by evidence and effective campaigning (Living Wage Foundation and all who have supported and worked with it take a bow).

Yes, we need to hold the Government to account… but most of all we need to work with them to find a way to ‘socially reform’ which can work for those who know better than they ever will: our Unsung Heroes battling Against the Odds.

It is them we betray if we keep quiet and continue to wring our hands because it’s oh so difficult…

…if they had  done the same and not responded to the call to help their fellow citizens we’d have no charities and no-one to give Awards to.

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