Comment Charity begins closer to home than you think...
Voluntary Organisations Civil Society Almanac indicates income into the charity sector has almost climbed back to pre-2008 levels.
Above all else, this demonstrates service providers are much more robust than they’re given credit for.
Yet it’s a bitter-sweet feeling. In the past ten years, demand on charitable services has increased dramatically so, despite all the hard work, this still represents a net downturn in resources.
Most worryingly, it’s smaller charities that are struggling the most.
Years of running on a shoestring have meant it has become harder for them to compete for public service contracts to deliver services.
As a result, a great deal of local knowledge, expertise and community cohesion is being lost.
At Birmingham Voluntary Service Council we work with our membership to advocate for the fundamental role the voluntary sector can play in a resurgent Birmingham.
It is hard to quantify precisely what our sector is worth to Birmingham. For example, it is nearly always charities and community groups who can reach out to people who find it hard to engage with government bodies.
Often we can rely on relationships we’ve build over years and even decades, meaning we’re able to innovate to deal with pressing community issues, often well before the Government realises there is an issue.
The irony is that, as local government budgets are squeezed, funding to local groups is one of the first things to be sacrificed – yet both local and central government are relying on the sector more than ever.
We celebrated our centenary in 2016 and, two years into our second century, the work we do is not a million miles away from the work we began in 1916 as Birmingham Citizen’s Society.
Now, as then, we work to help people to build and benefit from a fair and equitable Birmingham.
Crucially, we recognise this vision can’t be realised without a wide range of people, agencies and entire sectors pulling together.
We are therefore delighted to see charities placed at the heart of the West Midlands Combined Authority’s task forces which are looking at tackling homelessness and growing the social economy.
Hopefully, this is just the start. We are currently working closely with local authority and health partners and others to reposition Birmingham’s voluntary sector at the very heart of an energetic, thriving, sustainable civic society.
And we will be pressing Birmingham as a whole to celebrate its voluntary sector and volunteers in key upcoming civic events, such as the Commonwealth Games.
Resilient charities and community groups are undoubtedly worthy of greater time, attention and investment – as is an innovative infrastructure to support the development of the wider third sector.
Let’s hope that, as Birmingham enters what promises to be an exciting and prosperous next stage in its history, the movers and shakers, investors and even ordinary citizens don’t forget the glue that holds our city together – its charities and community groups. Brian Carr is chief executive of Birmingham Voluntary Service