Taking the time to listen & learn from charities we fund

Emma Beeston, Our Grant Manager (West of England) explains why taking the time to visit the charities we fund and build long-term relationships with them is an invaluable learning tool.

One of the best bits of my job as a Grant Manager with Lloyds Bank Foundation is that I get to visit with charities after they have been awarded a grant. These ‘monitoring visits’ come in different forms. They can be used to make sure everything is on track with a grant; or to offer any support needed; or they can sometimes be necessary when things are not going well. And they are also a valuable way to learn about the work we fund, listen to the charity’s experiences and meet with those they support.

I want to share one recent visit to Bristol-based charity One25 and what it taught me.

One25 support sex workers to exit the streets and build positive lives away from violence, poverty and addiction.  I joined their outreach van on a night shift. Before I headed off with the volunteers, we had a briefing which ran through the list of vulnerable women and missing people to look out for that night. This was a sobering list of people deeply affected by drugs, abuse and mental ill health.  We then spent the next few hours circling the streets of inner city Bristol. It was dry but cold and the volunteers handed out hot drinks, food and socks to the women that flagged down the van as well as personal alarms, condoms and toiletries. Each woman getting on the van was acknowledged, offered help and encouraged to attend the charity’s drop-in.


What really struck me was …

  • Just how vulnerable these women are – one woman had no money and was working in order to buy tobacco; another was living with an abusive partner and could not be contacted by phone for fear he would find out.
  • How amazingly committed the volunteers on the van are – this is not easy or obviously rewarding work. Some nights they may not see anyone. And the contact with women can be very brief or cut short when a client is spotted. Yet the van is out week in, week out in all weathers.
  • The importance of small charities – no business would do this. The van has to go out and be where it is expected every night whatever the weather and whether or not the team sees eight women or none. It takes hard work to recruit and train up volunteers, to sort out rotas, to keep the van stocked up with donations. The van is a long-term investment with precious little immediate ‘return’.
  • The importance of being there – the women working on the streets have complex needs and chaotic lives. One25 can’t make women access help. What the volunteers can do is remind these women that they are valued, have options and that support will be there whenever they are able to take it up. Yes, the van is there to give out whatever is needed from needles to umbrellas but really it is driving around with the message: ‘we care about you’.One25_CYMK_300dpi

As their Grant Manager, I already knew what One25 do. I have read through their accounts and business plans and met with staff and been in the drop-in. But from joining them on the night shift, I now have a deeper understanding and appreciation of their work.

It is important to take the time to visit the charities we fund and build long-term relationships with them. They are our partners in delivering our long-term aims and through these visits, we can offer more support and deepen our understanding of the challenges small charities face and the issues affecting the most disadvantaged people in society. This learning can shape our future direction and inform decisions.

It is important to take the time to visit the charities we fund and build long-term relationships with them.

If you want to work with us to create lasting change for people facing multiple disadvantage, we open to new applications for our Invest grants on 22nd May. Apply today.

Follow Emma on Twitter: @emmabeeston1


How can charities approach election fever?

Duncan Shrubsole, Director of Policy, Partnerships and Communications sets out top tips for how charities can respond to the General Election. @Duncanshrubsole

The General Election we were promised would not happen has now been formally launched by the Prime Minister with a blistering speech in Downing Street. What does this mean for the voluntary sector and where should we focus our efforts over the next five weeks and beyond?

First there are some under-reported but important practical implications:

  • Loss of current policy – Whilst the Homelessness Reduction and Istanbul Convention Bills made it onto the statute book before the election, other legislation, such as banning abusers from cross-questioning their partners in the family courts, that charities have long been campaigning for, has disappeared. Will they come back? Sadly given the scale of the legislative challenge we face around Brexit there is no guarantee. On the non-legislative front, policies we and others have been working hard with the Office for Civil Society around improving public service commissioning practice, particularly for smaller charities, has been put on hold – just as it was making real progress! We must not give up and must all be ready to push these priorities back on the agenda again once a new government is formed.
  • Lack of focus on local elections and metro Mayors – The General Election has overshadowed the local council and Mayoral elections this week viewing them only through the prism of national politics. Yet policy and spending decisions taken by local councils are key for most charities and these new Mayors have the potential to drive forward change and catalyse new approaches – charities must therefore work hard to both be high on their agendas and to make the general case for the importance of good devolution.

While Brexit is obviously central, it is vital that the General Election provides the opportunity for a genuine national conversation about how we tackle the big issues that affect people’s lives, against a backdrop of social, economic and demographic pressure and huge pressures on the public finances. If the parties, politicians and media won’t do this, the voluntary sector must step-up and fill the void.

Both individually and collectively, charities should be actively raising awareness of the issues/causes/people and communities we were created to serve and challenging the politicians to explain locally and nationally how they will respond.

So here are my five suggestions of how charities – both large and small – should respond:

Encourage those you work with to register to vote
 particularly those who are vulnerable, marginalised, young or old, homeless or fleeing abuse. Helping people exercise their right to vote can be an important step towards re-engaging with society and in turn helps get the issues they face aired.

Engage your local candidates
–Proactively raise your issues with all prospective candidates. Invite them to visit, go to a hustings or host one. Speak, write to or engage candidates via social media. Tell them about the issues you work around and ask how they as an individual MP would respond and help – what would they do to support your cause or service? There could be over 100 new MPs and many will likely continue to champion the organisations and issues they come into contact with during the campaign once elected. If you’re concerned about how as a charity you can campaign, NCVO has a useful guide.

hands-1139098_960_720Shape the agenda – Manifestos still have a week or so to be finalised and so all the major charities should be working all their back-channels hard to try to land their asks but, irrespective of what the final documents say, all charities should proactively seek to shape the agenda – for example landing a major news item, whether nationally or locally, helps force the issues into the election discussion that day. Use your reports, compelling stories of the people you support and any particular timely hooks to get heard.

Prepare for the new Government – Elections always mean new programmes, policy and people. Charities should be using the time until 9 June to prepare for how they’ll engage with new MPs locally and new Ministers centrally. And whilst the last year should teach us nothing is certain, if the polls are correct, for the first time in over 25 years the Conservatives could be governing alone and with a substantial Parliamentary majority. That means if charities want to win support for their cause they need to be able to frame it in ways that will appear to the centre-right.

megaphoneSpeak up for the sector itself – beyond our individual  issues and causes, the voluntary sector needs to speak up for its overall purpose, role and value. This election will set the agenda for the next five years. It’s vital that as a sector we set out a vision of why we exist and what we do and can achieve.

Helpfully, there are blueprints ready to help. NPC’s report The ‘shared society’ needs a strong civil society, Julia Unwin’s speech launching the new Inquiry into Civil Society that we are proud to support, or indeed our own Facing Forward report, all set out the importance of the sector and highlight the frameworks, infrastructure, funding mechanisms and policy-making arrangements needed to best harness our expertise, particularly for smaller, local charities.

Perhaps the best way of summing up the importance of voluntary sector was made most recently by another group of our politicians, the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities. They said:

“Charities are the lifeblood of society. They play a fundamental role in our civil life and do so despite facing a multitude of challenges. Yet for them to continue to flourish, it is clear that they must be supported and promoted.”

Whilst their Lordships are not standing for election, we hope the party leaders heed their call. But ultimately it is up to us as a sector and as the voice for disadvantaged people, to ensure they do.

The sector cannot remain silent about small charities in post-Brexit Britain

This blog first appeared on Third Sector on 19th April 2017.

I recently visited a local charity that supports young mothers in a small Midlands town to meet Jen, the chief executive for 17 years and David, the chair (I have changed their names). They work from two houses and support vulnerable young women and their babies with nowhere to go. One houses six women and a further six will be arriving in the new house soon.

The “new” house smelt of wet paint. David and his (volunteer) wife had finished decorating. At the weekend decking was laid in the garden by Jen’s (volunteer) husband as David hacked down the neglected garden. The rooms were finished with donated toiletries, fresh towels and new bedding.

We sat in the charity’s tiny, shabby office, which has closed-circuit TV to ensure the women are safe. Jen told me that many of the girls were amazed to find sheets on the beds: they’d never had them at home. The girls have to be clean: free of drugs and alcohol, and off the streets. It’s the only way to keep them safe. The policy is no men (or, rather, boys – most are under 20) overnight, but fathers are encouraged to visit during the day.

Jen told me that many of the girls were amazed to find sheets on the beds: they’d never had them at home.

Over the years they’ve worked with dozens of young women and their babies, helping them to develop the skills they need to hold down rent and other bills until they are ready to move to their own homes. Without their dedication, most of these women’s children would have ended up “looked after”, costing the state thousands.

Chancellor Philip Hammond probably doesn’t know how local charities like this are helping to reduce our deficit and improve productivity.

At the coalface of the voluntary sector, Jen and David aren’t discussing Brexit or welfare cuts, but whether the rooms will be ready in time. They get on with what is needed, too busy to look beyond this to a future that’s about to hit them, and the young women they support, even harder.

At the coalface of the voluntary sector, Jen and David aren’t discussing Brexit or welfare cuts, but whether the rooms will be ready in time.

Local charities do this day in, day out. They don’t look for gratitude or reward, but they deserve our respect and action. For many the future must seem overwhelming.

That’s why we launched Facing Forward, which is targeted at small to medium-sized local charities. With it, we have tried to set out in one place the political, economic, social and technological changes coming their way for which they need to face forward, providing practical advice on how to do that.

Now that article 50 has been invoked, it’s more important than ever that, as a sector, we get on the front foot for the changes that will affect millions at the margins of society, people who are largely forgotten and ignored.

it’s more important than ever that, as a sector, we get on the front foot for the changes that will affect millions

We can wish the result had been different or we can move on and shape what comes next. Yes, it carries huge risks. But it’s good that the National Council for Voluntary Organisations has started to turn our minds away from the result of the vote to the consequences and, dare I whisper it, the opportunities.

Can a replacement for the European Social Fund better target communities in need? Can employers be incentivised to invest in local people with poor skills and education who are a long way from the job market?

Others, such as the business, agriculture, university and defence lobbies, are at the door of Downing Street now. The voluntary sector cannot remain silent or we risk our issues and the concerns of society’s most marginalised being eclipsed.


Those of us with national roles and influence must use our voices nationally, but we need to draw on the voices of 165,000 small local charities that touch the lives of millions daily. They are society’s mining canaries, singing sobering songs of reality on the ground in our communities, but they have the potential to shape solutions for Theresa May’s shared society in post-Brexit Britain.

Neither we, nor Philip Hammond, can afford their silence.

Paul Streets, chief executive of the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England & Wales.

How can small charity Chief Execs ‘face forward’ in 2017?

Sarah Mitchell, Chief Executive of Carers Network, a small charity funded by Lloyds Bank Foundation describes her journey from crisis to sustainability.

warning-146916_960_720When your internet’s gone down, your finance worker is off sick and the phone’s ringing off the hook – who has time to think about getting past the crisis and plan ahead? As charity CEOs in a fast-moving world the brutal truth is we just can’t afford to roll from crisis to crisis, we have to face up to the future before it’s upon us.

Carers Network is a small charity (with a turnover of less than £1m) supporting and advising unpaid carers across central London. We rely heavily on local authority contracts for our funding and we had no experience of fundraising from different sources.

When I joined the charity in 2014 we were hit by many of the same problems  small charities across the country face: problem suppliers, problem contracts and staff sickness. Everything was urgent. Over the years, I’ve witnessed other small charities responding to urgent demands until they were either subsidising their services from their reserves or veering away from their charitable aims.

The daily fight for survival means that small charities struggle to anticipate the changing needs of their beneficiaries and the changing environment they operate in.

Too often they get left by the wayside.

To prevent this happening to Carers Network, I reviewed what we did well and not so well, and crucially what our beneficiaries needed us to do. I then established a really practical three-year strategy-  it was a framework rather than a detailed plan, and it helped me, the trustees and our beneficiaries and staff, agree common priorities and a sense of a shared direction.

This strategy helped me identify new areas of work and development for our charity, including a merger with another local organisation. This both strengthened our service offer and provided a big cash injection into our free reserves.

Unrestricted funding like this is incredibly beneficial to small charities, it gave us the breathing space and flexibility to employ a fundraiser to kick off our first ever fundraising programme.

This meant we could experiment with and understand how different fundraising elements could work for us.

The strategy also helped me to prioritise work on measuring our impact. We secured funding from Big Lottery Fund’s Local Sustainability Fund which has transformed our approach, enabling us for the first time to capture the impact of our work.

Three years later and Carers Network has gone from strength to strength. I shared some of our progress at the launch of the Foundation’s report Facing Forward: How small charities can adapt to survive.

Reflecting on our journey, I can see how this report and the tools it presents would have been a really useful tool for any Chief Exec. So if you haven’t already, have a read and in the meantime here are my top tips for small charities who are ready to face forward in 2017:


Having a framework plan/strategy is essential. Facing Forward includes some great questions to ask and details planning and analysis tools to help assess organisational strengths and weaknesses.


Lifting my head from the day to day responsibilities was crucial to our development. The prompt questions in the report could kick off discussions with trustees about possible opportunities and pitfalls ahead

Being open-minded

As CEOs we must be alive to new ways of delivering, to mergers and collaborations and to the clues in our beneficiaries’ behaviour. Listening and observing and being open minded about how to get the best for the people your charity supports is vital.

A sense of humour!

I always tell my team that if you don’t like change then the charity sector is not the place for you. They think I’m joking. But our work is all about change, change for the better, and it’s up to us to seek out new opportunities and to think positive for the sake of our teams and our beneficiaries. Having a thick skin and a good sense of humour is absolutely essential!

Sarah Mitchell - Chief Executive of Carers Network

Sarah Mitchell is Chief Executive of Carers Network.

You can follow her on twitter: @s_j_mitchell

Seven steps for sustaining #smallbutvital charities

Charlotte Ravenscroft, author of Facing Forward reflects on how charities can start the road to sustainability. 

I recently had the pleasure of launching Facing Forward: How small and medium-sized charities can adapt to survive, a new report commissioned by the Foundation.

Written as a practical, accessible resource to help pressurised, time poor CEOs or trustees of small charities plan for the future, it’s the culmination of several months of conversations with small charities and an in-depth understanding of the issues they face.

It feels timely to be focussing on sustainability, given there are so many uncertainties about the future. For me, sustainability doesn’t simply mean sustaining funding levels, it’s about sustaining our mission and the personal and collective energy the small charity sector brings to the table.

What really struck me through the conversations I had with small charity CEOs is the often-hidden toll that funding challenges are taking.

Although in some cases charities’ income may have held up, it is not uncommon to hear that their workload has doubled, that they no longer have any say in service design, or that staff are working many unpaid hours.

Despite these challenging times, small charity leaders are among the most inspirational, caring and dedicated people you will ever meet.

Michelle Hill and Sarah Mitchell, Chief Executives of TLC: Talk, Listen, Change and Carers Network respectively, shared detail of the very real challenges they’re facing on the frontline.

For government and funders grappling with the social challenges of our time, these ought to be exactly the kind of people they put resources behind, those who are making a big difference with only a small amount of support.

Of course, charities need to adapt and Facing Forward was written for you. It starts by drawing together analysis of external research and sets out ten trends that are likely to shape the future. But offers much more.

So here are the seven practical steps we’ve set out to support charity leaders – both CEOs and trustees – plan for the turbulent times ahead:

Seven steps for strong and sustainable charities

  1. Understanding sustainability

It’s natural that charities think firstly about sustaining their own services, but sustaining outcomes for your beneficiaries might sometimes mean considering a different path: campaigning, merger, or even closure. Everyone involved in your charity will have their own perspective on this, but it’s ultimately for trustees to decide its future.

  1. Make time for planning

A major Charity Commission review of charities in financial difficulty found planning ahead – including with staff and trustees – was the critical factor in charities’ survival. Too often, charities leave it too late and only seek help at the point they’ve run out of viable options.

  1. Assess your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats

Taking an honest look at your organisation (why are we here, what can we offer that others can’t?) will lay the groundwork for your plans. This can involve a simple SWOT analysis or you could use one of the free diagnostic tools highlighted in the report.

  1. Match income to activities

Ask most small charities and they prefer grant funding (ideally core funding). But with grants in short supply, a good starting point is to segment your organisation’s activities using NCVO’s Money/Mission Matrix. This will prompt you to consider which activities could potentially generate income in future and which truly require ongoing subsidy.

  1. Exploring income options

Armed with your self-assessment, you could then look to learn from other’s experiences of making different income streams successful. For example, how to get started with digital fundraising, or how to negotiate contracts. The report contains advice and links to resources that could help when exploring new income options.

  1. Digital capability

The future is here, the future is digital. Charities cannot afford to overlook the rapid pace of technological change and its implications for their clients and their own services. Start by looking at 12 digital questions, an excellent resource from Zoe Amar Communications and the Charity Commission.

  1. Sustaining ourselves

Back to where I began. Charities depend on the people who lead them. Supporting each other and ourselves is vital to future success; trustees need to be particularly mindful of this when putting more on the plates of already-stretched CEOs. A new book The Happy Healthy Nonprofit has great practical advice for charity leaders and Mind, the mental health charity has also produced guides on wellness at work.

For more tips and resources you can download the full report here.

We hope that you find this a useful starting point for your own ideas and keep us posted, we want to hear how you’re getting on @CharRavenscroft @lbfew #smallbutvital

Char black and white


Charlotte Ravenscroft is Director of Evidential Consulting and former Head of Policy and Research at NCVO

The values that shape who we are

Our values set us apart from other sectors, but we seem to have lost our way, writes our Chief Executive Paul Streets. This blog first appeared on Third Sector on 13th March 2017.

I recently delivered a lecture at the Directory of Social Change Awards and my comments on the subject of values clearly resonated, generating plenty of twittersphere traffic.

Our values set the voluntary sector apart from others – but somewhere along the way we appear to have lost our way. Our hard-won model of local action and national advocacy is slowly being eroded.

With so much political and economic upheaval, there’s never been a more important time for us to re-focus our efforts on our values. But what does that mean in practice? For me, it’s about mirroring our own behaviour on the relationships we build with those we serve. Relationships that start by building trust with those that society has largely disenfranchised or forgotten.

There’s never been a more important time for us to re-focus our efforts on our values.

Take the relationship between large and small charities.

Our shared goal should be to ensure that services and support are provided to everyone who needs them. It shouldn’t be about who can accommodate the upfront costs and risks associated with commissioners and contracts. And that means making tough choices.

Charities – large and small – considering if they might displace a better placed local provider before they decide simply to step in and compete. Charities exploring collaboration or offering support to local players. It could even be as simple as pointing the local provider out to commissioners – who should surely look local first – but often don’t seem to.

By competing to displace other providers, we’re effectively reducing the sum total of support available to those that desperately need it.

It means we get what commissioners can afford, rather than what is needed. Evidence from NCVO shows that in most cases capacity does not map acute need. It’s what we at the Foundation call ‘Triple Jeopardy’. The areas of the highest need often have the smallest voluntary sector infrastructure and are those places that are most acutely affected by public sector cuts.

The areas of the highest need often have the smallest voluntary sector infrastructure

If our sector is focused on national advocacy and local action, we would actively work together to expose this and lobby for change.

This means robustly challenging policy makers and commissioners. But if they are our sole source of income, our ability and credibility to make those challenges is compromised.

National charities are far better placed to campaign against this, as are our trade bodies – especially where they have largely independent income. There are sectors not far from this model. Health is a good example. Many of the large health charities have always seen their role as complementary to public provision – often through local groups – and yet have also worked hard to hold the quality of that public provision to account. Its national advocacy and local action at play.

We need to replicate this model to the benefit of the most disadvantaged in Society. Charities like  MIND, The Refugee Council and  Women’s Aid do.

Paymasters generally like to call or hear their own tunes. And sometimes the carrot of contracting has displaced the stick of campaigning.

The impact we as a sector have isn’t dictated by the size of our balance sheets. In fact, some of those charities putting issues on the map are the smallest, like Unseen UK and the profile its generated around modern slavery.

unseen uk

The impact we as a sector have isn’t dictated by the size of our balance sheets.

Real social change starts from the bottom up. With real people at the heart of the thousands of small local organisations and groups who work tirelessly day in, day out.  Building on their local action should be our default option and might just help us return to the ‘values that differentiate us’.

You can reach Paul on Twitter @PaulStreets_ or read a full transcript of his speech here.

Social change has the power to make a difference to real lives

On 23 February 2017, Our Chief Executive Paul Streets delivered the keynote speech at DSC’s Social Change Awards. You can read a full transcript of his speech below.

It’s an honour to be here. And it’s a privilege to be asked. But I cannot tell you how hard it is to prepare! To be given a subject like Social Change. And to know that Debra (Allcock, DSC Chief Executive) has asked you and told you that you can talk about anything to do with social change!

As most of you here know Debra – you’ll know that means plenty of scope for lateral thinking!And yet I have been engaged in social change in one way or another for more than 30 years.So I thought I’d share with you some insights and reflections on Social Change from those years!

Let me start in the present.

For the last 4 years I’ve been running the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England & Wales. It’s been a Road to Damascus experience. We fund about 1,000 small local charities working with people who experience a range of multiple disadvantage. In the last 4 years

I’ve visited and spoken with hundreds of them. And I have been amazed by what I’ve seen. They deal with the most difficult social issues we face. Domestic Violence, Homelessness, Offending, Gangs, Sex working, modern slavery. They reach places and people that most of us would seek to avoid.

It’s easy to be rose tinted as a bleeding heart liberal – and they’re not all perfect – but, for the most part, they do a truly remarkable job. Often with the most limited of resources.
They achieve transformations in people lives that most of would regard as impossible and few of us would ever attempt. And I have been wondering how and why?

Whilst they tackle different issues I have come to the conclusion that,

  • at the heart of what they do,
  • and at the start of what they all do

They establish trust. Trust with people who neither trusted by, not trusting off, Society – and a State – which has largely either failed them, targeted them or censured them. Whether its Prison, the Police, Social Services, the DWP or Housing.
So I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what that means and reflecting back on my past lives. To make sense of it I want to share five stories with you which may at first seem disconnected but that might help get us to some sense of what social change is.

I’ll start in Africa almost 30 years ago with the Malawi Council for the Handicapped (MACOHA) supported by Sight Savers They describe themselves as – ‘torch bearers in disability mainstreaming’. One of the programmes they support works with blind farmers. The concept might seem a bit odd, but Macoha provides seeds and training. And they are pretty good at farming. One reason they’re pretty good is because they farm at night when it’s dark. It’s their choice. Pretty logical decision really. It’s hellishly hot during the day and cool at night.

My second story is about DAFNE. Now Dafne isn’t your aunt or a beautifully pungent bush.
It stands for Dose Adjusted for Normal Eating. Snappy title really dreamed up by a few clinicians. DAFNE was stolen from Germany by Diabetes UK. She started with an understanding that most people with diabetes lived in fear of their insulin. It controlled their lives – and especially when and where they ate.

DAFNE turned all that on its head with her strapline ‘eat what you like, like what you eat’.
She brought groups of people with diabetes together as peers to do just that with clinical support and advice. So they went for curries. They ate ice cream and cakes. They ate whenever they wanted. And they learnt that insulin could help them lead the lives they wanted – rather than the other way round.

I remember speaking to a women who had lived with diabetes for years after she had been through the first programme. Let me call her Moira. I asked her what she thought and whether it had worked and she told me: “amazing, last night for the first time in 23 years I went to the cinema with my kids and ate a pizza with them”.


The metric we normally used for diabetes control was HBa1C – blood sugar. Not pizzas.
So – we developed metrics to measure success with people with diabetes. And two of the key ones were ‘it enables me to eat what I like, when I like’ and ‘it enables me to have sex when I want’. So – these were two of our key outcomes. Since then – largely through Diabetes UK and its members – DAFNE, or similar peer/clinician led diabetes programmes, have been offered to tens of thousands of people with diabetes. And the clinical data tells it all. It might start with sex and food but it ends with improves blood sugar control. It reduces complications. It saves costs. But most of all it improves quality of life. Dramatically. And lets Moira eat her pizza with her kids.

My third story is as significant as DAFNE and again its health. But it doesn’t have a clinical ending. It’s the story of all the ‘ectomies’ that are performed in modern medicine.
Prostatectomy, hysterectomy…even Coronary bypass.. There are heaps of them.
We have legions of surgeons trained to intervene and remove and fix bits of our bodies.
Over the last decade there has been increasing interest in what’s called ‘Shared Decision Making’.  In some ways, that’s a bit of a misnomer.

The guru is Professor Al Mulley in New Hampshire. Al talks about moving from clinical preference to patient preference. And the evidence is remarkable. When people have a proper conversation about risk and benefit they often chose not to have the operation at all. It’s especially effective if that involves conversations with ‘peers’ – people who have been there and done it themselves.

Lived experience matters.

The best example I know comes from Arthritis Care. It’s a lovely story. Of an elderly lady with mobility problems. Let’s call her Doris. She was referred by her GP to an orthopaedic surgeon who wanted to do a knee operation. With all the difficult path towards rehabilitation and the cost that would have entailed. But when Arthritis Care asked Gladys what it she was unable to do it was the gardening. So – they scrapped the surgery and built her raised flower beds so she didn’t have to kneel or bend.
My fourth story comes from one of my first visits at the Foundation to a homeless programme we fund in Redbridge called the Healthy Living Project linked to the Baptist Church. I was amazed when I arrived to find that they were offering young homeless men massage. When I asked I was humbled to be told: “They love it and it enormously therapeutic, remember these men are only ever touched violently”.

I’m sure the Daily Mail would have loved it, but it works because it starts to engage them on a different level. They know they are somewhere that cares.

My final story is again one of the charities we’ve supported at the Foundation – Unseen UK. Unseen is only about 10 years old. It started as a local response to the problem of people trafficking in Bristol – providing safe houses and support to women trafficked into the country largely for Prostitution.

Since then its provided over 10,000 safe nights to 125 women from 37 countries. And it’s now started to provide services to men. Their individual stories are moving and they’re horrifying. Powerful individually – Unseen has used the power of their voices collectively to get the issue of modern slavery on the map in the UK. Through its work with the Centre for Social Justice it was at the heart of the Modern Slavery Act championed by Teresa May.

So – what do these stories tell me?

They tell me too that too often our thinking on Social Change starts from the wrong end.
A debate about rights, equity and justice. And we move directly from that to engage with the political process. Of course rights, equality, justice, politics and power are crucial to social change. But if we start there we lose sight of what we – as the voluntary sector – do best. At our best, we start with individuals facing problems and challenges and we listen, we listen hard and by listening we see things that others don’t.

So we end up with very different outcomes and very different services.

  • Blind Farmers that farm at night;
  • Moira and her Pizza;
  • Gladys and her raised beds;
  • Massage for homeless men and an awareness and response to the unseen horror of modern slavery.

And when we really listen what we hear challenges current orthodoxy and thinking from the ground up. That’s where the power to create real changes lies.

It gets Society to think again – because instead of numbers and statistics – it’s about people – people who could be anyone of us. Of course, sometimes that means we need to engage with the Political process – as with Modern Slavery. But sometimes what’s needed to create social change is much simpler and it’s much more local, immediate and potentially achievable if only others followed our lead, and listened too.

Can you ever imagine a commissioner purchasing outcomes that triggers payments when:
people are able to eat a pizza with their kids, improve their sex lives or help them garden, or funding interventions like massages, or god forbid insisting that poor blind people farm at night.

So let’s look at how we actually design and deliver services. And who they are designed for.

1948 and the creation of the Welfare State was amazing. Imagine what it was like before – you only need to cross the Atlantic to see what healthcare was like. Although born out of a deep sense of injustice following WWII. In essence the mentality was one of vertical hierarchy – top down paternalism.The state knew best, services needed to reach certain standards and these would be managed, purchased or commissioned from the top down…
and regulated to ensure compliance. And at the coalface – Professionals knew best with a very clear pecking order. Doctors/Police/Social Workers in the lead and at the top. The service recipient at the bottom as a supplicant.

We industrialised provision. Services were organised in much the same way as production lines. The hospital is the example par excellence. Its designed in and around professionals and their disciplines. Patients we pass, like vehicles on a production line, from one team to the next. And as with most public services people are done too, not with. Largely speaking the aim of the welfare state is equity and conformity.

One size fits all.

And it works for most of us. Since 1948 we have achieved amazing advances in health, education, housing, social and pension provision. But it fails in two ways:

First in our approach to services for the minority who are the most marginalised, vulnerable, largely disenfranchised and powerless – where our approach seems to be unremittingly top down – with the voices of those on the receiving end neither seen nor heard.

It’s the approach which led us to label families as ‘Troubled’ and have it delivered by the State in the guise of Local Authorities and DWP and then expect it to work. It’s what has led us to Universal Credit.

Second it places an over-reliance on professionals to set up the right service on in the first place.

I remember when I was at The Department of Health a mental health service user responding to our request for comment on a service by saying he ‘didn’t want to help design your service, he wanted to design his own’. Like Moira and her wish for a service which helped her to eat a pizza with the kids. Or Doris and her raised beds.

Let’s reflect on these stories and the insights I gain from the small local organisations we fund at the Foundation.

What they do and how they work shows us a new way of thinking about services and how to reach people. They don’t start with the service and try and design that through the eyes of professionals, experts or Government officials in Town Halls and Whitehall. They start with the person – and build a relationship to establish trust. Only then do they layer on the service.

A man at one the homeless charities I spoke with recently said it better than I ever could:
“What I need isn’t just to come off drugs, quit alcohol and get a job. I need to know that I’m worth something – then I might want to do those other things”.

That’s why they need to start with Trust.

And because Trust is about relationships it needs to start with something that is intimate, immediate and familiar. In the current local Government parlance these small local organisations really do Think Local and Act Personal. And it works.

For services founded on a bedrock of trust like the work we fund with people who have experienced Domestic Abuse, homelessness, entrenched unemployment, mental health or prostitution. At their best, they put the person who comes through the door back in control over – at least a part of – their lives. This itself can often be the beginning of transformation in people’s lives. People whom the state and society has ignored, side-lined, sanctioned, patronised or pitied get back some means to influence their futures.

Some control. And – counter to the prevailing mantra that local organisations will all collapse or die – they are likely to be more sustainable – even in a tough financial climate – because they’re there because they responded to a need they saw, not a contract they pitched for. They’ve come from the community, designing and delivering a response to a local need – often, precisely because the state – centrally or locally – wasn’t meeting that need. They’ve made a Commitment to Serve – rather than won a Contract to deliver.
So whilst the grant or contract income may be critical to their work – they’ll be there, and they will do something with or without it. Unlike the commercial provider or national charity who will simply pull out if the contract is lost.
The problem with the current approach of Government and Statutory bodies to these organisations is that it transfers a set of logic that works for dustbins, roads, hospitals and schools – provided to everyone – where standards can be set, metrics agreed and performance managed to these small local committed providers.

If small local organisations need to put trust at the heart of their own service – we need also to trust them to know what’s best.

That means accepting that defining a contract with outcomes – and determining what activities to fund at the centre – simply won’t work. We need what Locality has called funding for ‘purpose’. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go through proper due diligence to ensure organisations are viable or ensure they are connected to the people they wish to serve, but, having done that, it does mean we should assume they know better than us how to meet need.

And for organisations where trust lies at their heart it should mean a presumption that local is critical and that small is probably best. So, if it means public services need to adopt a different approach what about us? The Voluntary Sector.

Our role as Social Changers has never been more crucial. Those we should champion are at their most vulnerable – as the impact of public sector cuts hits them the hardest.

And they live in a Society that shows all the signs of compassion fatigue.  And yet in the headlong rush for growth some of us have bought into a state vision of what social change means that is articulated in the contracts it would have us take. Swapping the voices of those we reach – for the voices of those who commission us to reach them
and determining need on the basis of what they are prepared to pay.

In so doing we have effectively become co-opted – as delivery agents of the state – rather than agents of social change. It feels like dangerous territory.

Just how far do we go to win the contract? How much are we prepared to compromise?
If the last couple of years has taught us anything it’s that we need to return to the values and ethos that differentiate us from the private and public sectors. And that means not aping their top down or market driven approaches – either with respect to those we wish to serve – or with respect to our fellow charities.

The greatest anguish from many of the small charities we support comes when they are on the sharp end of competitive and pricing practices from larger charities. Who sometimes seem happy to use their economic muscle and bid writing prowess to pitch against a long-established local charity – or squeeze them as a sub-contractor if they win. Yet at the same time proclaim their ethos and values in direct mail and PR.

OK times are tough. But if we in this voluntary sector don’t mirror in our own relationships, the value we place in building relationships with those we serve, we only have ourselves to blame if the commissioner decides they might as well go with a private provider. Or the public grow ever more sceptical of our requests for their money.

We need to redress the balance. As a sector we need to reconnect with our campaigning roots – focused on the lives of people who need us to be their champion. And that means connecting local action with national advocacy.

There are great examples of organisations that do this brilliantly.

They make a connection between those who have voice and influence at the centre through their size, scale, brand and reach and the 1000’s of local organisations, groups and people who respond to that need from the bottom up.

In them we reach a recognition of what has probably always been true. Politics & Power matter. But real Social Change happens bottom up and it happens to real people. It’s about power at a personal and human level. The power to make a difference to real lives. The power to make a difference to my own life, my family, my neighbourhood, my community or those like me.

So, as we celebrate Social Change Winners today, we should also celebrate the tens of thousands of small local organisations that know what Social Change means to people from the ground up.

They understand that relationships are what counts. They listen, they build trust and they act. And by doing that they create real Social Change. Day in/day out. In the lives they touch.