Tweet about this on Twitter Email this to someone Share on LinkedIn
logo-ivar

How can small charities be heard?

We recently hosted a conversation for small charities with those who fund and support them, to explore their social change role over the next 12-18 months. This was partly to build on our recent publication of Small charities and social change, a study which describes the approaches of 11 small charities to advocacy; and partly because through our work in response to Covid-19, we’re hearing a lot about the need to strengthen the sector’s collective voice: ‘We have to have some real conversations. We’re lots of voices, collective voices, but we’re being drowned out with all the noise’.

The pandemic has presented many and varied challenges for small charities – and uncertainty is now part of the new normal. Alongside this, we have all been affected by the events that followed the killing of George Floyd – the protests, the debates, the anger, the pain, the calls to action. Profound questions are being asked about diversity, equality and inclusion – these need to be front of mind as we turn our attention to the process of recovery and renewal out of the crisis that we have been living through.

We were privileged to hear from four people with different experiences of social change: Raheel Mohammad, Director of Maslaha; Christopher Stacey, Co-Director of Unlock; Debbie Pippard, Director of Programmes at Barrow Cadbury Trust; and George Barrow, Civil Servant at The Ministry of Justice.

Seven things stood out from their reflections and the discussions that followed:

  1. ‘Covid-19 has pulled back the curtain and demonstrated the number of people that have been marginalised’ by previously unfair and closed decision-making processes. Small and medium charities undertaking social change work have to look at ways in which they can link up with other groups who are led by and/or represent individuals and groups whose voices and experiences are going unheard.

 

  1. ‘Majority white-led organisations do not have the specialist knowledge or expertise to understand how certain social issues affect communities of colour.’ Work to unpack and respond to the experiences of communities of colour must be led by or run in partnership with them so that it ‘registers emotion, vulnerability, heritage, culture and religion’. If this social change work is being carried out ‘through partnerships between black and brownled and white-led and organisations’, it is most effective when based around something tangible: ‘it’s in the action that you open up new parameters and new horizons’.

 

  1. Ensure that you are actively and demonstratively accountable to the individuals, groups and communities you are advocating on behalf of. We must avoid being the creators or perpetuators of ‘artificial examples of good practice’, only putting forward solutions for policy and practice that are based on the genuine experience and voice of those you represent Always ask yourself: ‘Do you know what good looks like?’ for a particular group or community.

 

  1. Collaboration is essential, particularly between large and small charities. Larger charities are often more likely to have a seat at the table and have their voices heard, and they have the time and capacity to engage in decision making processes. But small charities tend to have the proximity to lived experience and in-depth knowledge of how policy and practice plays out on the ground.

 

  1. We must continue to work both inside and outside of the system. For example, building relationships with local and national government, but also being willing to mobilise and challenge where necessary. Recognise that it’s about understanding what is the most appropriate and effective strategy for the change you are seeking to influence at a given point in time.

 

  1. When attempting to influence central government policy or legislation, there are three things it is useful to keep in mind. First, develop personal relationships with key civil servants, or work in partnership with an organisation who can build or has these relationships. Second, work together in loose networks: ‘If you’re all on the same page we do get the message’. Third, understand that government moves slowly, so being able to commit and be in it for the long term is important. Small charities also have a very important role to play in being able to bring the ‘corporate memory’ on certain social policy issues and previously tried and tested solutions.

 

  1. More funders need to commit to funding social change work and understand what it takes to fund this kind of work. Be willing to fund over an extended period of time, stick with social change processes for the long term, and allow those doing social change work the freedom and opportunism to act in a responsive and adaptive way. More work may need to be done with trustees of trusts and foundations to help them to understand the importance of investing in social change work alongside service delivery.

 

You can read more about how and why small charities are challenging, shaping and changing policy, practice and attitudes here.

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 www.cavca.org.uk.