Paul Streets: Bright Futures NE – one of many charities offering help to the vulnerable

Such charities provide invaluable support where local services have suffered under austerity.


 

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You will find Bright Futures NE almost at the end of the Metro line in Chichester, South Shields. It’s run by the impressive duo Helen and Nicola. They are ex-local authority youth workers, casualties of the collapse of youth service provision, losing their old jobs but moving on to set up the charity in 2011, focusing on local young women. It’s an unusual dual-leadership model, but it seems to work for them with their “ying” focus on services, and “yang” focus on the organisation.

I arrived the day after Sajid Javid announced his £500m investment in youth services. Welcome, yes, but tragic when considered against a decade of savage cuts. A report by the YMCA, which was backed by the Local Government Association, found that more than 600 youth centres and 150,000 youth places had been lost in the past couple of years alone, further evidence that local authorities have been forced to cut youth services.

Bright Futures works in an area where half of young people live in poverty and still reeling from “Operation Sanctuary”, triggered in 2014 when a 21-year-old woman with learning disabilities told police she had been a victim of sexual exploitation for years. To date the investigation has uncovered more than 800 victims of grooming and child sexual exploitation in Newcastle and Northumberland, and they are likely to be the tip of a growing iceberg.

Much of the public focus has been on the prosecution of a crime, but little thought has been given to the support needed for women retraumatised by having to retell their experiences. Only one in 10 mental health trusts fast tracks victims of such exploitation for help. When they do, they usually offer a standardised talking therapy package.

The work we fund focuses on support to those local young women affected. Alongside one-to-one and group work, Bright Futures reaches out to local schools, teaching pupils about healthy relationships. It is in demand for its expertise and knowledge, receiving many referrals.

It’s symptomatic of the failure of statutory services that an initiative called Operation Sanctuary provides anything but sanctuary to those affected. Some will find justice, but the tragedy is that many prosecutions have failed on technicalities. Very few survivors will receive the vital support they need to pick up their lives again, having relived their experiences in court.

The third and final report in an All-Party Parliamentary Group inquiry into Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, published last month, focused on what survivors go through when seeking support and justice. The findings showed the stark reality survivors face when appearing as witnesses, from the lack of support to the traumatising experience of being left in waiting rooms with their alleged abusers.

In the meantime, Nicola and Helen continue with their irrepressible enthusiasm in just “getting on” against odds that would daunt and overwhelm most, including rising demand from statutory services – which are delighted to refer but not to fund – and on an issue that shocks and disturbs us all.

Bright Futures is a model for what small charities do at their best: tackling issues most of us don’t know about or choose to ignore. Sometimes we demand action for a day or two after it hits the news, before moving back into our own lives. This charity provides practical, hands-on support to those who will live with it forever. As one person said: “Without Charlie [a project worker] through the last few months, I wouldn’t be where I am now. She helped me feel that I wasn’t alone.”

‘How small but vital charities can campaign for change during the 2019 general election’

Following a recent event organised by Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales about how small but vital charities can campaign for change, Influencing Officer for the Foundation Lydia Rye writes how small charity leaders can make sure their voices are heard during this election. Read her blog below:  


 

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Lydia Rye, Influencing Officer for Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, speaking to small charity leaders at an event on how charities can influence

So the countdown to Christmas/Hanukkah/your annual leave is on and with it, it’s only 16 days until the general election. Yes, another one. Political discourse doesn’t exactly scream ‘the season of peace and goodwill’ or bring a sense of festive cheer but I’m here to tell you to join in. Because it matters to your small and local charity.

This one more than most. You might feel like that’s not true, that it’s all about Brexit and that in the midst of all the Christmas prep there just isn’t time to get involved. Yet it is during an election when politicians start listening to those of us working in the third sector. When people vote, Government must listen – the last few years are clear evidence of that with politicians of all parties still reeling from the shock of the 2016 EU referendum.

Elections provide one of the rare opportunities to level the playing field – one person, one vote. Regardless of background, education, mental ill-health or even whether or not you have a permanent address, every registered British or qualifying Commonwealth citizen gets a vote in a general election. It’s one of the few times that the balance of power can really shift – my vote is equal to that of a rough sleeper or a chief constable. Think about it. At no other time do we all have an equal say. It’s wild that we dismiss voting so often as an inconvenience.

Small but vital charities working with some of the most marginalised in our communities can empower the people they support by helping them exercise agency and their right to vote. We should always be thinking about how we support people to build power, not only over their own lives but as active members of their communities.

There are three simple ways as charity leaders that you can help to do that this holiday season:

  1. Register people to vote: You can’t vote if you haven’t registered. This takes 5 minutes online or on paper that can be easily printed for people your charity supports. There are all kinds of myths about who can and can’t vote – put simply if you’re a British or a qualifying Commonwealth citizen, you can vote. You can check if your nationality enables you to vote by clicking here. You don’t need a permanent address, survivors of domestic abuse can register anonymously and voting isn’t impacted by the Mental Health Act which means that no one is disqualified on the grounds of mental capacity. Likewise people with a criminal record can vote or if they’re on remand (though not if they’re currently serving a prison sentence). One charity we help fund and support, Migrants Organise, have also pulled together some great material in different languages for supporting migrants to vote in this election.

 

  1. Get the vote out: Will you be seeing clients on the day? Can you help people get to the polling station as part of their regular casework? If not, if people you are working with have more chaotic lives or are less mobile then what about supporting people to apply for a postal vote? This can be sent off in advance of polling day and guarantees that people are able to exercise their right to vote no matter what might crop up unexpectedly on the day.

 

  1. Get to know your potential MP: You could be working with your MP for the next 30 years so it’s worth getting to know them. We’ll be writing another blog about this as part of our election series but put simply – get in touch, invite them to come and visit you and those who use your services, and let them know what matters to you and how they can help.

 

To find out more on how your charity can make an impact on voting, have a look at Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales’ new guide: ‘What to expect when you’re expecting a general election’.

This resource takes you through step-by-step how to engage in the run-up to the election. You can find out more about registering to vote and all the extra options available for those with additional needs at www.gov.uk/registertovote. The deadline to register to vote is 11.59pm on 26 November and applications for postal votes close at 5pm on 26 November if you live in England, Scotland or Wales.

No matter who you vote for, it matters when you vote. It matters that people who are normally shut out of the decisions that impact them are heard. So vote. And share with us what you’re doing to promote voting in your organisation using #SmallVitalAndVoting.

‘Top 5 lessons for charity mentors’

Chris Tucker works for Lloyds Banking Group’s Risk Division and is also a charity mentor. When he’s not working for the bank, he is helping and mentoring charities funded and supported by Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales. Read his blog below on his top 5 lessons learnt as a mentor: 


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I’ve had the privilege of working with two very different charities in the last four years through Lloyds Bank Foundation’s mentoring programme. Firstly for Trailblazers who help rehabilitate young offenders and now Choice in Hackney who support disabled people to live independently. By working directly with small charities, we can help them make an impact in their local communities. Here are the top 5 lessons I’ve learnt as a mentor.

1) Go with the flow

Some people might like a structured agenda, but I’ve found that the charities I help prefer a more informal style and so we simply go with the conversation on the day. You’ll probably have a few topics that come up each time anyway like funding, so you’ll always have a few triggers and handrails there if you need something to focus conversations.

2) Let them be the judge

As a mentor, there is a common risk that you think “what do I know?” or “what can I possibly tell them?” Some aspects of impostor syndrome can easily slip in. The key thing for me is to firstly back yourself; you have plenty of experience and skills, and secondly let the charity decide and be the judge of the value you are adding.

3) A chat can be a result in itself

Early on in the relationship, I would worry that we’d had a good chat for an hour or so but we weren’t achieving enough. What are the desired outcomes? what are the action points? I was almost applying a Lloyds Banking Group meeting mindset to these conversations. It took a while for the penny to drop for me before realising that often the mentee has no time to talk things through, to think and plan, and kick around ideas on a day-to-day basis. So having an hour to do that with me once a month or so is actually very useful for them.

4) Someone has been asked the question before

In my first mentoring meeting, the charity said they need help to find a new treasurer as the outgoing one was still a bit bruised by the breakdown in relationship with a previous accountant. I thought ‘what have I got into here?’ I had never been in a situation like this. But the reality is that it’s highly unlikely you’ll be asked a question that another mentor hasn’t heard before so use your network. Connect with more experienced mentors through Lloyds Bank Foundation and Lloyds Banking Group for guidance.

5) You have more to share than you realise

Depending on your background, you will have probably employed more people than your mentee or have more experience managing change, projects and risk. A lot of the skills and knowledge Lloyds Banking Group mentors might take for granted can be highly valuable for a charity which will know how to help service users and clients amazingly well but may be less well-versed in some of the disciplines and practises mentors are familiar with. Never underestimate the knowledge you can share.

5 Years of Funder Plus: Lessons on how small and local charities can grow and thrive

Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales recently held events in London and Manchester with consultants who support charities the Foundation helps fund. The work the consultants do is part of the Foundation’s Funder Plus programme which provides a range of non-financial, tailored support to help charities thrive.

Consultants across England and Wales shared their experiences over the last five years of what charities need to do in order to develop.

Harriet Stranks, Director of Grants at Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, reflects on the event below: 


 

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Harriet Stranks, Director of Grants at Lloyds Bank Foundation

The small and local charities we fund are facing increasing pressures because of rising demand and ever-shrinking budgets. At the same time, many of the infrastructure organisations that used to support them – local Councils for Voluntary Services, national sector and membership bodies – have had their own capacity cut, their services merged or even disappeared entirely. That’s why Lloyds Bank Foundation decided in 2014 to offer additional developmental support to charities we fund.

Over the past five years we have delivered capacity-building support to over 800 grantees in partnership with over 100 independent local consultants and providers – piloting and testing new ways of working. But we are always looking to see how we can improve the support we offer to small charities. Over the summer, we brought over sixty of our consultants and suppliers together at events in London and Manchester to look to the future of capacity building.

We shared our collective experiences of the emerging needs and challenges for small and local charities and discussed how the Foundation could respond.  The issues broadly fell into two categories; developing people and keeping up with external changes.

Developing People

Consultants described a significant lack of investment in leadership training. Charities prioritise their budgets to deliver services; training was and still often is seen as either a burdensome legal necessity or as an expensive luxury. Many charity leaders came up through the ranks and are service experts, but there is sometimes a lack of understanding about managing the back-office functions of the charity; marketing, operations, finance and people.

The professional development of small charity leaders is critical as they are intrinsically tied to the success of the organisation. Funders invest in credible and competent people, so it is essential that leaders have the confidence to be decisive as well as the technical skills to deliver. They need space and time to think and plan, and peers and mentors to help them overcome challenges. Emerging leaders also need investment – to develop the ability to delegate well and ensure the charity continues to have energy and vitality.

Programmes for change need to take everyone in the charity, including trustees, with them on a journey of development and learning. Recruitment of skilled trustees is also a huge problem and often charities had boards which needed to be refreshed with new voices. Consultants also observed that many trustees and CEOs were planning for retirement and reiterated the need for investment in emerging leaders. This ensures the charity can make realistic progress, ultimately create cultural change and a longer-term legacy for its work.

Consultants recognised there is a widespread increase in demand for services for people at crisis point and staff across small charities were suffering from stress, affecting their mental health and wellbeing. Lots of charities told us and our Funder Plus consultants about burnout and higher staff sickness rates. This is an enormous challenge for the sector and needs to be recognised. Charities need to start having open conversations with staff about their mental health so they can get the right support.

The biggest need we identified was financial literacy. Leaders and trustees can often struggle to make data-driven decisions. This means that many charities ended up in crisis because they failed to act quickly enough. Charities need to start having conversations about mergers and partnerships much earlier.

Keeping up with external changes

Beyond the ongoing uncertainty around the economy and Brexit, consultants predict the wider operating environment will be volatile for small and local charities.

IMG-20190829-WA0003We heard how charities often don’t understand how to make the most of technology. Many small organisations are not being savvy enough when it comes to exploiting social media and new IT systems. There is a serious skills gap in the sector and it is leading to inertia because charity workers are sticking with bad digital systems rather than switch to a new system. This type of systems transformation takes a lot of time and energy which takes people away from the frontline, therefore it continues to sit on the backburner.

Many charities want a better website and digital channels but often they don’t have a clear enough ‘vision, mission and values’ which means they struggle to clearly articulate the ‘what, why and how’ of what they do. The absence of which leads to wasted resources developing an online presence that fails to cut through.

The charities we and our consultants support found it hard to keep up with the pace of change and keep abreast of legal changes affecting both charity compliance and changes in the welfare system. This affects their ability to support clients with accurate up-to-date information.

Charities frequently find themselves in the uncomfortable position where they are competing with other charities, and more recently, the private sector, while also being pressured to establish partnerships and collaborate on services and contracts. Collaboration can be a force for good, creating better responses to common issues and helping to reduce costs, but forced collaboration causes distrust and fragmentation in the sector.

How will the Foundation respond?

These are all major issues, and not ones the Foundation has the resources to solve alone! By sharing insights from experts in the sector on the major challenges ahead, we can begin to help charities try to overcome these challenges, enhance their skillset and thrive.

Our funder plus programmes will also need to adapt to meet the challenges of the future. At our events in Manchester and London we asked our consultants to make recommendations for how we should respond. Over the next year, the Foundation will continue to review the range of support we offer – in 2020 we’ll particularly focus on digital capabilities like CRM systems and the resilience and wellbeing of leaders and frontline staff.

At the same time, we’re bringing development support closer to the heart of our grantmaking approach. We want to partner with charities with an appetite to grow and improve – alongside every financial investment, we’ll co-produce a development plan to help grantees adapt and thrive for the years ahead.

How I’m using my professional skills to help small charities

We recently sat down with John Coombs, a Bank Manager at Lloyds Banking Group, to learn more about his experiences sharing professional expertise as a Charity Mentor for Alternatives Trust East in London and how his skills have helped out in unexpected ways.


Tell us about Alternatives Trust East

It is a fantastic charity based in Newham, East London, that offers education and support groups for people in the community. The main areas that are supported includes support for parents who have just come to the UK following persecution and mistreatment in their home country, with support groups and counselling for parenting skills. There is also education on appropriate relationships and sex education in schools, and support for pregnancy choices.

I have found that charities welcome support from people with a business or retail background. Just by listening and applying a common sense approach based on experience it is often possible to add considerable value

What first motivated you to become a Charity Mentor?

I have a genuine desire to help the community and make a difference. As a Bank Manager, I feel I have the skills and opportunity to make that difference. When Paul Streets joined Lloyds Bank Foundation, he visited my Branch and I found his vision to be compelling and inspiring, and this encouraged me to become more involved.

How did you first establish the relationship and find focus for your support?

I have been a mentor of various charities over a long period of time and had a relationship that had run it’s natural course, so I asked the Foundation to find me a new charity support in the underprivileged area that I grew up in. I met with the CEO, Julia, to see if we were a good fit and it went from there.

What issues have you helped the charity to address?

The charity normally ask me for help in terms of business and finance, so looking at funds in and out of the business. Also, in maximising social enterprises including a shop, cleaning business and a café. I have also been involved in talks aimed at partnering with smaller charities to help them develop on behalf of the charity.

Have you encountered any challenges? How have you addressed these?

There is normally a challenge in some aspect of the charity as all of those working there are driven to do as much good work as is possible. I try to use my coaching experience to help to frame issues and identify solutions to any issues that arise.

How have you benefited from being a Charity Mentor?

The work helps me put some of my issues into context and gain perspective of what is important. I feel that being in an environment where I have no experience has meant that I have had to rethink how I communicate and coach. I try to help the team by helping to bring their best ideas out.

You’re new a trustee of Alternative Trust East. Tell us about that role.

I am mainly the business and finance specialist in the charity, which can prove challenging as prioritising finance is always key in a charity. I will often find myself in a position of being the ‘voice of reason’ and suggesting a pragmatic approach as many charity leaders are very much driven by purpose and passion. As the CEO of the charity is retiring later in the year, I reviewed all applications for the job , was involved in the selection process and put together an assessment pack for candidates.

Any tips for new Charity Mentors?

You can make a difference! It is easy to think ‘What skills do I have that would help? Would I be able to add anything?’ but I have found that charities welcome support from people with a business or retail background. Just by listening and applying a common sense approach based on experience it is often possible to add considerable value.


If you are an employee of Lloyds Banking Group and want further information about being a Charity Mentor, contact Kay Cameron, Project and Employee Engagement Manager: kcameron@lloydsbankfoundation.org.uk or call 0370 411 1223.

What commissioning looks like from the inside

Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales published its Crisis in Commissioning report in 2016 which found central and local government were using bureaucratic, complex and inappropriate contracting and commissioning processes to secure vital public services. The experiences of small charities taking part in commissioning processes revealed a system in crisis which left charities threatened with closure and the future of public services, including homelessness, domestic abuse and mental health support, at risk.

In an exclusive post, an anonymous former commissioner reveals what commissioning looks like from the inside. Read their blog below: 


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Nothing tells you you’re bad at your job like being disinvited from a speaking engagement by a friend. But that’s the life of a commissioner: you make a lot of mistakes and you make them publicly.

Having been a commissioner, I was struck by the examples of poor practice outlined in Lloyds Bank Foundation’s Commissioning in Crisis report and at how many of these I myself or other commissioners I know have committed. Poor practices listed in the Foundation’s report include:

  1. Unrealistic payment structures
  2. Inaccurate information
  3. Absurd and irrelevant demands
  4. Pushed out by backroom deals
  5. Penalised for quality and success
  6. Funding shortfalls
  7. Unfunded TUPE requirements
  8. Forced mergers
  9. Breakdown in relationship
  10. Inappropriate contract amalgamations and divisions

So why is this failure so endemic? Why is the job so hard?

Culture

Local authorities are complex. Few other organisations can consist of such a range of responsibilities and professions, from town planners to social workers. In such a context, misunderstandings are commonplace, and getting traction for change is difficult and time-intensive. Local authorities face a £5 billion funding gap and the pressure of that – varying authority to authority – can be immense. Commissioners have to create, sell, and steer their ideas through cultures that may not understand them, may not agree with them, and may not be able to afford them. It is very easy to come unstuck.

Complexity

Commissioning is not a linear process and decisions are shaped by other timelines, budgets, and a range of other decision makers, from councillors to service managers, and internal procurement, legal and property teams. No matter how prepared you are, it is easy to overlook things. In my view, this complexity can lead to commissioners making rushed and imperfect decisions. There is a lot of room for error when a process is so complex.

Data and research

Our decisions are only as good as our data, but this can be a blind spot for local authorities.  Many don’t invest enough in research and fail to utilise its full benefits. As a commissioner, you need the skills and foresight to manage multiple datasets and structure and conduct your own qualitative research. Because of the lack of research culture, if timelines are squeezed and resources are tight, research is often the first thing to go out the window.

Skills

Commissioning requires a range of skills – research, advocacy, financial analysis, collaboration. Almost inevitably, commissioners can be under-skilled for the task. As a profession it has far less training than you may think – and many of my colleagues were forced to learn through making mistakes. That’s when people can get defensive and deflective – if they’re out of their depth and they know it. What makes this deeply troublesome is that commissioners are making decisions on multi-million pound spend.

Commissioning has always been a tough job and it’s become harder. Yet I believe commissioners can be powerful advocates for social change. I’ve seen colleagues do incredible work to reimagine services, empower providers, reduce waste so spend can be better used. I’ve seen colleagues work tirelessly to improve the lives of people facing disadvantage. With the right support and funding, commissioners are an important, valuable and progressive force who can help enact change and make a difference.

‘Being a mentor is hugely rewarding,’ writes Lloyds Banking Group relationship director for National Mentoring Day

Dave Moore, Lloyds Banking Group Relationship Director for SME Banking (Leeds) and charity mentor, writes about the value of mentoring, why he does it and how it can benefit small and local charities for National Mentoring Day. Read his blog below: 


 

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Mentoring – really? How could this possibly help me and my charity?

That’s a fair question. Before I became a mentor specifically supporting charities, I had already undertaken training to develop my mentoring skills to support entrepreneurs here in West Yorkshire.

The entrepreneurs were often starting a fledgling business with terrific ideas and enthusiasm but with limited budgets to spend on much-needed guidance and commercial expertise. Nonetheless, they had a huge thirst and hunger for knowledge that could help take them to the next step on their business ladder to success.

Having spent some 40 years in the financial world learning how to support business owners to grow and develop their people and systems, I have found mentoring to be a very natural extension of what is my normal working day.

So how did I get involved in mentoring charities? I was asked by Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales if I would be interested in mentoring a small number of charities that were awarded grant funding. Lloyds Bank Foundation provides much-needed grants to support small and local charities and believed that the experience of our Lloyds Bank Managers could also be vital in helping charities maximise the value of the grants awarded. Charities indicate to the Lloyds Bank Foundation that they would be interested in exploring how a mentor may be able to support their senior team (often the charity’s director). It’s then up to us to see how we can help these charities grow and thrive.

I remember my first introduction to a Leeds-based charity supporting victims of domestic abuse. I met with their director and was amazed and delighted to see many of the challenges the charity faced were so similar to those I saw and heard about every day in the small and medium-sized enterprise and business world I worked in.

At the beginning I met with the charity’s director face to face every month, discussing many topics including the effectiveness of the board (or more accurately the need for the board to be even more effective) and often matters that had a financial aspect. For example, should the charity invest in a particular project or how should the charity adapt to the changing economic backdrop.

As a mentor, we’re not a coach but rather someone that can provide an unbiased view based on their experience to help guide and be a critical friend at times. We listen, support, challenge, suggest and introduce the charity to a wider network when appropriate. By doing this, I believe we can help shorten the time a charity takes to make critical decisions while potentially gaining a broader perspective to help with their decision-making process.

In summary, an introduction to a Lloyds Bank Foundation mentor can lead to a life-long confidante for the organisation’s director and, in my case, a permanent Trustee! Being a mentor is hugely rewarding, challenging in a good way and very occasionally frustrating. But most of all, I feel as though I am giving something back to the local community and making a difference to fantastic causes at the same time. It’s definitely a win for all parties.