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Acting locally in the Covid-19 era

Covid-19 has been like a viral version of globalisation. It’s the import and export of a deadly virus that pays no respect to national borders. So what’s local community action got to do with an international pandemic?

At a national level, of course, we have needed to mobilise the public sector, most notably the NHS. At a personal level, social media has provided ways for us to communicate with friends, family and colleagues across continents. But has the pandemic either stimulated – or stifled – local community action?

At one level, helping a neighbour with shopping; waving through the window to someone in isolation; sticking up a poster about a Mutual Aid scheme; all represent important contributions to our local communities. We could think of these as individual civic acts. Alongside this, mobilising our contacts with voluntary, community and co-operative organisations in our towns and villages has also been crucial. Local community action has an important complementary role to play in the current crisis but it also faces challenges.

Vulnerable people hardest hit

First, it’s important to note that community groups were already providing frontline support to people before the crisis. For example, they may have offered support or advocacy to people who were homeless or living in overcrowded temporary hostels; to undocumented migrants who encountered barriers to accessing health care; and to people on low incomes who relied on food banks to survive.

Second, it’s worth recognising that local groups have encouraged the associational life that is so important for mental wellbeing and local engagement. Over the last months most community centres have necessarily remained closed. These were places where people might learn yoga, drama or juggling; or organise and advocate for local needs; or provide places to socialise and meet friends. These are not frontline emergency services. But they may be vital locations for fostering mutual support and wellbeing.

Practitioner Voices

Let’s take two examples. At one community centre, in a densely packed neighbourhood in the south, volunteers have been regularly cleaning the garden as a convivial social space. Janet, one of the trustees, pointed out that the centre’s normal activities had ceased following government guidance several months earlier but ‘we have kept the garden open for local residents with strict rules on social distancing’. They rely ‘purely on room hire and fundraising activities’. At present ‘there is no income coming in’ and ‘we don’t get grants’. 

Meanwhile, a community centre on a new-build estate, have been operating an independent food bank. Sam, a committee member, underlined that health, housing and food were ‘the most basic aspects of life’. In this locality, ‘most people coming to food banks are on universal credit’ and, according to Sam, they are ‘self employed on low incomes that aren’t sufficient to cover their costs’. Their policy was that there would be no means test. Meanwhile, donations of money are preferred – rather than odd combinations of non-nutritious items – so that quality food can be distributed.

For him, the reason that Covid-19 had been such a disaster was because ‘for many people affordable secure housing, sufficient nutritious food and decent access to health services was already not part of their world’.

These two vignettes illustrate some modest but important examples of responses to the effects of Covid-19 by local community groups as well as indications of their own organisational fragility. Certainly, Public Health England’s (2020) [1] examination of the pandemic points to the higher risk faced by older people, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups, as well as for those living in deprived areas or in medical and menial employment roles. Local community action groups work closely with many of these groups.

The Outlook

It seems a different era since headlines on the 31st January 2020 read ‘First case of Corona virus confirmed’ [2]. For analysts such as John Gray [3], the arrival of the virus did not represent ‘a shift to small-scale localism’ however he argued that ‘…the hyperglobalisation of the last few decades is not coming back either.’ Gray’s analysis holds echoes of Paul Hirst’s [4] ideals of a local or regional associationalism that sought democratised private and public agencies.

The important support roles of local community action can easily be overlooked. Their multiple voices need to be heard in any post-Covid reappraisals of our social and economic structures. Their practical, social and convivial roles remain a vital contribution at the local level.


[1] Public Health England (2020) Disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19, London: PHE publications.


[2] Burgess, K. (2020) ‘First case of Corona virus confirmed’, The Times; 31 Jan, 2020.


[3] Gray, J. (2020) ‘Why this crisis is a turning point in history’, New Statesman; 1/4/2020.


[4] Hirst, P. (1994) Associative Democracy. New forms of economic and social governance. Cambridge: Polity Press.

NB Names of those interviewed are anonymised at respondents’ request.

From disused bus stop to community hub

Stainsacre is a Yorkshire village 2 miles from Whitby where transport via bus has stopped due to cutbacks. This has had a big impact on the people living there causing some to relocate. As a Totally Socially Development Worker and Stainsacre resident, I wanted to get the community talking about solutions to the transport issue, but where could we meet when there was no obvious place? If I tell you that we first met at a bus stop, surely you would be intrigued to know how this came about and where we are now.

Why a bus stop?

I was walking my dog and walked past a disused stone-built bus shelter. It occurred to me what a great little space it was and made me wonder if people would meet me there to discuss our local transport issues. I asked my mum (and fellow Stainsacre villager) to come along for moral support to help me start a meet-up. We started by cleaning out the bus shelter to make it a place that one wouldn’t mind passing an hour or too. We added cushions, chairs, stools, fairy lights and a trolley full of tea, coffee, cake and biscuits. Then we made a basic leaflet and spent three hours walking around the village talking to people about our intentions and posting the leaflet through doors.

At the first meet-up, 20 people arrived. In fact, they came early and left late! People discussed how the lack of transport had effected them and people they knew – some of who were now stuck in the village or facing a long walk (often pushing a wheel chair) down unsuitable paths or roads. It was a really happy event and we decided to do it all again and meet once a month.

Unexpected results

In terms of progress in dealing with the transport issues, many solutions have come out the meet-ups – not just the one! For example, small pockets of people have begun to share taxis, a conversation with the local community transport organisation was held and an offer made, and some neighbours help each other out by giving lifts to town or doctor’s appointments.

Our monthly meet-ups have become more than a way to solve local transport issues now. Parish Councillors have made a good connection with the group and are now a huge part of running it. It’s used as a way to feedback from council meetings to people who were unable to attend and to ensure that people are able to have their say and their views are taken back to the parish council meeting. Organisations focussing on health and security, such as the Fire Service, have also shown an interest in attending. It is seen as a great way to access the views of a group of local people and get knowledge to them.

The community has become generally more connected – people now know each other and, in some cases, by their actual name not just “the egg lady”! At the meet-ups, those attending talk about many things such as the history of the village and their past. They swap vegetables and books. Some of the elderly people have begun to mix with people they didn’t before and it’s become a gathering to look forward to. As people began to know one another, they decided to host in their own homes (not just the bus shelter) and assisted those who might struggle to do this. In one instance, a meeting host struggled to walk, so his neighbours made the tea and helped him to set up. What is great is that people from nearby villages have also started attending, often with a view to setting up something themselves or to feedback to the group because of their own community connections.

As a result of the unexpected popularity and success of the group – now known as the ‘Stainsacre Social’ – the reason for meeting up has widened to not just be about finding a permanent solution to transport, it now aims to connect people in order to form their own solutions to wider local issues. Looking forward, the group would like to formalise and work on other things like running a village hosted event. Who knows where the Stainsacre Social will go next!

Taking a risk and not having an initial ‘outcome’ has been liberating. It is very much the Totally Socially way! People create their own aims and form their own solutions based on the knowledge and skills they already have. They have their own strengths and ideas and they should be allowed to try these out and, if necessary, fail and learn for next time. Being part of the Stainsacre Social has been great on so many levels. As a resident I now know many more people, some well enough to offer a lift to the local shops. On a professional level, it’s great to see that people only need the seed of something new in order to mould it into something far better themselves.

The Totally Socially project is funded by The National Lottery Community Fund and run by Coast and Vale Community Action. For more details, please check out Totally Socially on Facebook or

Strong roots with funders make community gardens blossom

Culpeper Community Garden took part in our Duty to Care? research project. We asked them about their recent experience of working with trusts and foundations.

Tell us about Culpeper Community Garden

Culpeper Community Garden is a city park and environmental project in the heart of Islington created for the community, by the community.

We’re one of the oldest community-run open spaces in the UK – set up back in 1982, we offer 46 plots for local people and organisations to socialise, garden, access green space and improve their wellbeing. Our two part-time staff members organise events and training aimed at supporting vulnerable people on anything from gardening and art workshops to building insect hotels.

What has changed about your work over the past five years?

Over the past seven years, we’ve seen a new ‘normal’ funding environment emerge and with it a new set of challenges. Local mental health services have been cut and some of the key people we worked with have been made redundant, which means that there is more demand on our services from vulnerable people who have nowhere else to go. Added to this, both new and long-term funders are asking us to ‘up our game, grow and improve’ our impact and assessment. Other long term funders have decided to stop funding us for the present, no doubt because of increasing demand from other organisations for funding, and not because we are not an excellent project.

However, one grant making trust has been working with us in new and exciting ways, approaching the relationship as a partnership. We have a long-term commitment with the Cripplegate Foundation, who know us well and act as a reference for other funding by bringing groups in to see how a good project operates. At the moment they’ve offered us a two year grant, but the intention is to work alongside us for 10 years as a partner.

Have you changed anything about the way you work – and how you work with trusts and foundations – in response to this?

We’ve put in place some key measures to respond to this change of landscape. We secured a one year staffing grant from the Cloudesley Charity in 2017 to support the increased needs of our beneficiaries and continue to partner with four local organisations who bring vulnerable groups to the garden, like those with learning disabilities or the socially isolated. We are now making more funding applications for specific areas of our work. 

Diversifying our income has had to become one of our main priorities, so we’ve reached out to other community organisations, such as the skip garden at Kings Cross, to understand how they generate income. We’re looking into a number of options and starting to think about how we could tap into local assets – like recruiting more local people as friends of Culpeper and forming corporate partnerships with local businesses. We are raising more income from letting our facilities for social events to other organisations. We’re also turning to current and former funders for thoughts and advice.

What could trusts and foundations do differently to make your life easier?

Above all, unrestricted funding would make the most difference to our work. We’re attempting to build fundraising skills with both garden workers and trustees, but this isn’t always easy. Garden workers are often too busy with hands-on delivery, and trustees are passionate but aren’t necessarily skilled in governance or fundraising.

Most importantly, we’ve noticed an increasing pressure to prove that we deserve funding by demonstrating the difference we make, only this is distracting us from making an actual difference. Trusts and foundations are entitled to measure the success of the projects they fund, but this needs to be streamlined and appropriate to avoid wasting valuable time.

We also spend a lot of time and energy drafting endless applications, which could be put to better use elsewhere if relationships with funders were stronger and more transparent. Take Cripplegate for example: they’ve offered us funding through Islington Giving and proactively came to us, so we can be more open about what the challenges are. We feed back to them about issues or needs when they come up, and they can take this into account in their funding.  

Strong relationships, good fun and an awful lot of cake

Rotherfield St Martin took part in our Duty to Care? research project. We asked them about their recent experience of working with trusts and foundations.

Tell us about Rotherfield St Martin

Rotherfield St Martin is a 14-year old community-led organisation aiming to combat isolation and loneliness.

We’re a club for some 225 older citizens from a rural village in Wealden, that offers a range of activities and support – on anything from ‘Knitting & Nattering’ through to volunteer driver schemes and health therapies. We’re run by 100 volunteers who work hard to foster an open and supportive environment underpinned by strong relationships, good fun and an awful lot of cake.

What has changed about your work over the past five years?

In the past few years, we’ve noticed two key changes in our environment that affect the way we operate.

First, the statutory sector is increasingly turning to the voluntary sector to fill in the gaps left by its model of care. This means that we’ve had to develop our networks and become more deeply rooted in our local area – we’re now partners to the District Council, the NHS and other collaborative stakeholder groups, but we still often find ourselves running upstream to resolve issues quickly.

Second, what’s happening with some of the big charities is causing a ripple effect. We’ve noticed a concerning change in people’s attitudes towards charities in general, and a few very public cases have led to higher expectations of transparency and professionalisation.

Have you changed anything about the way you work – and how you work with trusts and foundations – in response to this?

In this context, and following a change in CEO, we’ve gone through a process of organisational development and formalisation: we’ve changed from an unincorporated organisation to a CIO and put in policies around safeguarding to ensure we protect ourselves against this backdrop of increased transparency and accountability for charities.

Another challenge for us is income generation and fundraising – particularly as we work in a village of 4000 people and there is competition with other community groups. At the moment we very much depend on independent fundraisers, but trusts and foundations also fit well within our culture and long-term approach. They can see we’re growing and strengthening ourselves, which bolsters existing relationships and allows us to pursue those funding avenues. We’re also looking at other ways to generate income – like legacy funding or a regular giving programme – but for now we’re focusing on building strong, long-term relationships.

What could trusts and foundations do differently to make your life easier?

For us, stable, multi-year funding would make the biggest difference, as it would create some space for longer-term thinking and enable us to develop a sustainable funding model.

It would also be helpful to have a closer local-level dialogue between the public sector and the people delivering services on the ground – it’s positive that public agencies are looking to work ever more closely with us, but they need to understand that small charities only have enough in reserves to keep going for 3-6 months.

Finally, independent funders need to realise what a crucial role they play, as this could lead to making the application process quicker and easier, which would make us stronger and more resilient.

Managing our community asset in an era of austerity

Katherine Low Settlement (KLS) is a multi-purpose charity in Battersea, South West London, which provides services to build stronger communities and enable people to challenge poverty and isolation. We have 32 paid staff, 8 trustees, and around 230 volunteers involved in delivering services for children and families, older people and refugee communities.


Who we are: ‘Collaboration, participation, care and kindness’


KLS was established in 1924 in memory of Katherine Low who is believed to have been a suffragette and philanthropist (no one knows for certain) who tackled issues around poverty in South East London. When she died, her friends used philanthropic funds to buy the settlement in Battersea – an area with rising levels of poverty and social inequality from the era of industrialisation.

‘[Our values of] collaboration, participation, care and kindness are the same, but the services that we offer have changed to reflect the needs of the local communities we work with.’


We’re now a ‘pillar’ in the community, offering affordable rents and providing start up support for local groups and agencies, which in turn has developed a substantial staff and volunteer base that widens our social impact in the area. By having these roots, e.g. having trustees that reside in the local area, we have established trusting relationships with our community and secured its involvement in decision-making.


How we have maintained the Settlement’s financial health in an era of austerity


Our current financial health is stable and prosperous, but we have faced periods of economic uncertainty in the past due to dependency on funding sources; feeling the impact of austerity; having full responsibility of the maintenance and upkeep of the freehold; and not, until recently, utilising the space to maximise the unrestricted funds gained. Consequently, we have had to make difficult decisions, including having to sell off other assets that were previously part of the Settlement (two buildings located nearby) to keep the charity afloat.


In recent years, we have strived to turn this around and become financially sustainable by bringing in new leadership; reassessing the use of the asset and utilising the space; and developing a healthier financial model. Three key aspects were influential in developing the Settlement’s financial health:


  1. The diversification of income
  2. Profiting from owning the freehold
  3. Reputation and values


Diversification of income: In the last six years, we have made a conscious decision to move away from being dependent on income revenue and develop an effective contingency plan to fund building maintenance by diversifying the range of income sources. We have now developed a balanced funding model, consisting of earned income and a portfolio of charitable trust grants, and worked to maximise the use of the asset, resulting in a significant shift from 26% to 80% occupancy. This shift has generated unrestricted income that we have invested back into the charity, which in turn has heightened our independence and allowed us to subsidise typically unfavourable aspects to fund. For example, core costs, maintenance and repairs, and room renovations to become multi-purpose spaces, whilst also providing affordable rent for community groups. This new funding model has also influenced a shift in practice by implementing regular monitoring of our finances; a separate finance committee; a monthly finance report; and the Director focused on fundraising.


Owning the freehold: By owning the freehold, we could access charitable trust grants, such as a Heritage Lottery grant, which fund building renovations. Owning the freehold has not only provided economic benefit, but also had an emotional impact – we have a sense of security, confidence, and autonomy. We are not operating in fear that a landlord might abruptly end our lease or increase rents. Instead, this sense of security enables our staff to invest in the Settlement, both emotionally and financially, over the last 95 years.


Reputation and values: The initial purpose of tackling issues around poverty and social inclusion continues to be a driving principle for how we use the asset, although the approach adopted depends on the needs and circumstances of local residents at that time. Our longevity has played an important role in surviving turbulent times by demonstrating a strong value base and commitment to supporting the local area. This has built long lasting, trusting relationships and a positive reputation with our community and local organisations, who in turn have then been committed to, and invested in, the running of the Settlement.


We are the pillar of the community that has been here donkeys’ years. Community work takes a lot of effort, a lot of trust, it takes a lot of time… We are that rock in the community, a community anchor. People know we are here, and people can decide when they want to use us. By having an asset, having a freehold, we can continue thinking like that and continue to be part of lives of local people because we have the asset.’


Sticking to our roots and preparing for the future


The nature of owning an historical asset means that over the years it has undergone renovations – different extensions have been built, and various repair works taken place that have not always been of a high standard. As we are now in a healthy financial situation, we’re currently striving to renovate the asset and ensure there is accessibility for all to use the building. The weight of the task could arguably justify the Settlement looking to move to new premises, however, the longevity, embedded values, and relationships built has encouraged us to stay where we are and invest in our current asset.


‘We have had discussions with trustees when looking at redeveloping the building, one of the options was to sell up and move away, to buy something that was purpose built. That would suit our needs, our current needs, but no, there was a unanimous decision our roots are here in Battersea, the trust and reputation of KLS is here, and we would have to start all over again.’ 

To find out more about the work of the Settlement, you can contact Aaron via or 020 7223 2845 

Katherine Low Settlement were one of the organisations we spoke to for our research with Sheffield Hallam, which aimed to create a national picture of community asset ownership.

Drowning in jargon? Squeaky ducks may be the answer

Given all the attention we are paying to co-design and co-production these days – some of the language we are using around health and care is not helping. In short, it has become a barrier to getting things done. People are put off and alienated, even avoiding opportunities to attend meetings and events for fear of not knowing what’s being talked about (or of not having the time to translate!).

What’s the problem?

Now more than ever we are faced with a blizzard of acronyms, whizzing past us at pace with often little or no opportunity to question (or at least feel safe to) or better understand what is actually being said.


Through the national Building Health Partnerships: Self-care programme, cross-sector partners are working hard to address the problem – and are being guided by community leaders and lived experience patient representatives who are helping us all get better at the way we communicate and get things done.
One of the more fun ways we are keeping people on their toes with language, for participants and presenters and facilitators, is to have a few squeaky ducks on each table – for squeaking when abbreviations or language needs to be explained a bit more.



One thing I have noticed is that the number of ducks is diminishing but the use of language is improving!

Getting it wrong, then right

In a recent invitation co-produced for a partnership session in the South West, one community leader fed back that the wording was too statutory, academic and high-level and that it may not attract the smaller, very grounded voluntary and community groups we are so keen to involve and give a voice to.
For example; let’s take the term Sustainability & Transformation Partnership – what is that? If not known then groups may be excluded.


‘Who cares what ‘programme’ this initiative is part of, isn’t it the outcomes, differences or impact that the idea or development wishes to achieve that is the hook to get a range of players (and different players) to engage?’

Some more examples from the North East

Some concerns were raised about what we call things and what we are really trying to do here:


‘The terminology ‘self-care’ could be a barrier in itself’


‘The language of social prescribing pushes activities into medical language’

A new language altogether?

It’s funny to recall, in a recent session at the Pioneering Care Centre in Durham, after showing The Parable of the Blobs & Squares video – the language in the room changed quite a bit and we had GPs talking about the need to be more ‘blobby’ and voluntary organisations recognising their ‘square-ish’ tendencies – but somehow this language worked better. Perhaps it helped us find more common ground. At the end of the day, that is the whole point isn’t it?

Three public sector leaders on why they work with the voluntary sector

Three public sector leaders taking part in our Building Health Partnerships: Self-care programme share why they work with voluntary and community organisations. 



Professor Mark Pietroni
Director of Public Health, South Gloucestershire


‘Working with the voluntary and community sector is a great way to deliver local solutions in the areas in which people live in the ways that they want.

More importantly perhaps, it is a great way to hear from local people and understand what the issues are and what a local solution looks like and how the capabilities of the local population can be supported to deliver local solutions. Doing this well requires a commitment to listening and change on both sides but the potential to do good things for our communities is great.’




Susan Harris
Director of Strategy and Partnerships (Worcestershire Health and Care Trust) and Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) Communications and Engagement Lead


‘As a community and mental health provider, Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust has always worked in partnership with the voluntary sector to improve outcomes for local people.

We engage with our voluntary sector partners on a regular basis and in a variety of ways, both informal and formal. For example, we are a member of the Carers Partnership which brings together all local health and care partners to work together to advance the support offered to carers and a member of staff from our local Carers organisation is involved in our Equality Advisory Group which offers advice on the impact of proposed service changes on various groups so that additional engagement work can be undertaken if necessary.
We have a contract with another local voluntary sector partner to provide the local Well-being Hub which is integrated into the clinical triage function for secondary care mental health services and they also broker a range of local community groups to deliver a menu of services for the Well-being Hub to signpost into. When we undertake service re-designs, the local voluntary sector is key to the co-production process and always feed in their thoughts, ideas and concerns. They also help extend our engagement reach by communicating proposed changes to people on their database, and inviting them to offer their views and thoughts. As a Trust, we have learnt and benefited from these initiatives and we believe it is important to recognise all the value that the sector can bring. For example, in operational services, having volunteers at our Stroke unit as well-being strategic partners offering a broader view, often advocating on behalf of patient groups and communities. As part of our Sustainability and Transformation Plan we see these opportunities increasing and the benefits of cross sector working being better understood and core to the future delivery model of health and social care across our local area.’






Tom Hall
Director of Public Health for South Tyneside


‘The challenge for a modern health and care system is to be greater than the sum of its parts.

In South Tyneside we have recognised that to achieve the best we can for our population we can only do this by working together and making best use of the South Tyneside Pound. The South Tyneside Pound is the collective finite resources we have as a system and we have to use it wisely. It recognises that there is no new money and indeed that resources are reducing, and that there is no benefit from grappling within South Tyneside over that resource, bouncing it around for no real gain. The concept of the South Tyneside Pound is important to us and our local Alliance (a model we have pinched with pride from Canterbury New Zealand). We have a mantra that says “what is best for the person is best for the system”. We have recognised that this can only be achieved through strong system leadership and we have an Alliance Leadership Team which consists of the third sector, clinical commissioners, care commissioners, care providers, health providers (including acute, community, mental health and primary care). Our leadership team is focused on four areas: role modelling the behaviours we want to see in the system, coaching the system in these behaviours, challenging ourselves and the system to act in line with those behaviours, and learning from our successes and challenges.’

IDEAL Community Action’s experience of strategic review

Nick Bentley, co-founder of IDEAL Community Action, shares his experience of bringing in IVAR to lead a ‘strategic review’. 



What does strategy mean to you?


Having a clear understanding of – who we are as an organisation; what we want the organisation to become; what it will deliver; and how we will make that happen.



Why did you decide to have a strategic review?


IDEAL is still run by the founders of the organisation, which, although small in relation to the number of staff (2), was delivering way beyond its size in relation to numbers and results. The organisation structure was reliant on excellent partnerships and a very dedicated team of volunteers who had come through IDEAL’s project – The Domino Effect. We understood that for long-term sustainability, the organisation needed to go through a transition in order to accommodate the growth that was occurring within IDEAL’s projects. If we did not, we were placing the organisation and its projects in danger. The timing was also important as we had several new Trustees join the board, so it was the right moment to start to really establish the long-term direction of the organisation.



To what extent did the initial interview with IVAR change your view of your organisation and the challenges it was facing at the time?


The initial interview highlighted the need for us as an organisation to clarify what we were and to develop a way to clearly communicate this to the world. It also demonstrated that the vision and overall plan rested mainly in the minds of the co founders, making it hard for a board to evaluate and assist them in the delivering of the vision.



What changed in your organisation as a result of the strategic review? Did it stick?


The review (which involved staff, trustees and volunteers) provided us with a shake up, an opportunity to evaluate where we were, which was great in regards to the organisation’s achievements but also highlighted the problems of long-term sustainability due to the manner in which the organisation was structured and run being too concentrated on the co-founders.


The review provided the starting point from which the relationship between the board and staff has grown and strengthened providing a solid foundation for the organisation to grow. It resulted in a 3 year plan, with a clear overarching vision for what the organisation is seeking to become, and which is still guiding us. We have since received funding that has enabled us to employ two FTE staff, and doubled the numbers engaging with our projects and increased what we offer. The review started a process, it was up to us to continue with it. By doing so, we are managing the transition to being a larger and more sustainable organisation.



What advice would you have for another voluntary sector leader about to embark on a strategic review?


It was a difficult process as there was a lot of emotional investment, which was greatly aided by trusting the facilitator and the process. Maintaining an open mind and allowing for conflicting views was tricky but essential. Ensuring that you choose a time when you can be fully focused on the review; it was very easy to be drawn into day-to-day operational matters.

Spotlight UK’s experience of strategic review

Michaela Riley, Founder, Chairman, CEO of Spotlight UK, shares her experience of bringing in IVAR to lead a ‘strategic review’. 



What does strategy mean to you? 


Taking a step back and looking at where you are really heading, then planning the steps you need to take to get there.

Why did you decide to have a strategic review? 


To ensure we were not just treading water and being reactive. We wanted to take a proper look at the work we wanted to be undertaking to ensure our team was set up correctly and aware of the way we had to go to achieve our goal.



What changed in your organisation as a result?


We restructured the management structure and shared out the workload slightly differently.



What advice would you have for another voluntary sector leader about to embark on a strategic review? 


It is an excellent idea, as it gives you confidence that you are heading in the right direction and set up correctly to achieve your goals.


How will I know if it’s the right thing to do?

We asked the leaders of three voluntary organisations that we have supported with merger to share their thoughts: 


Joanna Holmes
Chief Executive of Barton Hill Settlement


‘It depends a little bit on the circumstances. However, you need to trust your instincts. 

Does it make you feel excited and give you a strong feeling that bringing the organisations together creates something more for the people you serve than you can achieve separately? Can you imagine describing the new organisation to different people quite simply so that it feels like a natural fit and a positive move? If you still have doubts I would advise listing them carefully and going through them with senior staff or Board members until you are sure, as it will be hard if you are not completely convinced.’





Gillian Santi
Former Chair of the Independent Adoption Service (IAS)


‘The organisation was under increasing financial pressure and the Board agreed that merger was the best way forward.

Structured conversations with IVAR assured me that I was making the right decision and that there was a good match between the two charities.’





Laurie Rackind and Neil Taylor
Chief Executive and Trustee of Jami UK


‘If you don’t already know if it’s the right thing to do … then it’s probably not!

We had a very simple vision – to create a single service. Had our vision included anything that needed debate, then we would most likely have failed to complete the process. Whatever the challenges and disagreements (and there were plenty), we never doubted that we were striving for the right goal. Four years on, we still question how we should do things and what we should do … but we never question why we did it.’