Com­ment Char­ity be­gins closer to home than you think...

Birmingham Post - - FEATURE -

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


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