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.

The Challenge of Changing Lives

Harriet Stranks, Director of Grant Making North, acknowledges that delivering good services whilst running a smooth back office isn’t always easy

 As a Foundation we ask charities to do the very best that they can with their funding, in good faith, to change peoples’ lives. That is a very tall order, and we know it.

The Foundation knows that charities have a really hard time keeping their head above water. We know there is an exhausting battle between doing the admin, getting the money in and delivering the services. We know that charities are very often living hand to mouth and the funding climate is changing so rapidly it’s hard to keep up.

Under all this pressure of running a charity, we ask you to change lives…to sit and listen to the man who doesn’t have anyone else to turn to, to make a phone call to the housing office to argue his case, to get him a warm coat, to help him understand he is not alone and to make his lot a bit easier, one day at a time.

If this kind of work was simple, the government would do it and we could all pack our bags and go home. Only the not for profit sector has the patience to work with people who are having a really tough time, furthermore, they do it with humility and give people dignity during moments of crisis.

We know that all of this is not easy, and sometimes it doesn’t work out – that’s ok. We trust you to do the best that you can, with the resources that you’ve got and make as much of an impact as possible, one person at a time.

That’s the reason we’ve invested money in what you do since we were founded in 1985. It’s also the reason that this year, as we mark our 30th anniversary, we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate your work with our 2015 Charity Achievement Awards.

Charity Achievement Awards

We know that the most effective work you do doesn’t always take the form of a shiny new idea or a huge scale project, but nevertheless it makes a transformative difference to your community. And given that times will remain tough, with money tight and the need for help growing, whoever is in power following the general election, we feel that recognising, celebrating, indeed shouting about the part you play as small and medium-sized charities across the country is important. We know you’re helping people get back on their feet and rebuild and improve their lives, and your role is more vital than ever.

So we’ve created six categories that we hope will reflect some of the elements of the work you do and the way that you do it:

  • Outstanding Impact
  • Against the Odds
  • Valuing Volunteers
  • Championing Change
  • Unsung Hero
  • Enterprising Collaboration

If your turnover is under £1m and you were in receipt of an active grant* from us in January 2015 or have been awarded a new grant by April 2015 you’re eligible to apply. We will look at your entries firstly within each region and from then, the winners of each category in each region, will go onto a UK-wide round alongside those from our sister Lloyds Bank Foundations for Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands.  Winners will get a small unrestricted grant and we will work alongside you to promote you, your work and your achievements.

So now is your chance to get involved. Don’t hide your lights and achievements under a bushel, tell us about them and enter the Charity Achievement Awards.

We’ve tried to make it as easy to apply with a simple online form and you can enter against as many different categories as you like.

Applications close on 1st June at midnight so don’t delay – apply now!

* An active grant may have been awarded or started some time previous to this date but should not yet have ended and the charity must still be doing work against it. For example any two year grant that started from January 2013 onwards would still be active and therefore eligible.

Harriet Stranks is Director of Grant Making North for Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales. You can read more about Harriet on our website.