Over the past two weeks I’ve been travelling around talking to members who could spare the time and also achieve a win over traffic and travel chaos caused by the recent spate of stormy weather. As a result I write this blog from one of my many train journeys with a head full of reflective thoughts on what I’ve heard and seen and the biggest cuppa I could get my hands on!
We chose to theme our member meetings around a question, “what’s keeping you awake at night?” We’ve been exploring the worries members have about their organisations, as well as the causes for comfort they have. Then we’ve looked at the challenges in more detail - starting with internal challenges, moving on to the things outside of their control in the external environment. The sessions have ended in a flurry of post-its with suggestions of things and issues members would value support with and the types of support which would be most useful.
Members are worried about money, that there’s not enough of it, that it’s hard to get and that in trying to get enough it stifles their ability to be strategic.
Members are comforted by their legacy and history and above all by the commitment of their staff and volunteers and the success their clients and service users have achieved in their own lives.
Internal challenges included the pressure on staff time in bidding for, accounting for and reporting on funding that was hard to get. They’ve also talked about the pressures of supporting committed staff with development opportunities and job security because there’s so little certainty in terms of unrestricted income and long term staffing. Those that relied on the support and commitment of volunteers talked eloquently about recruiting, training and maintaining the right people with the right support.
Boards are under pressure from public scrutiny and it can be hard to focus on longer term strategic development when there’s so much to do internally on a daily basis. People spoke frequently of the many hats they each wore, needing to reduce staffing and take on more pieces of work to supplement reduced funding streams.
Externally the ever changing context of criminal justice policy has provided many sleepless nights. The changes have affected our member’s ability to generate income from sources they’ve relied on for a long time and have at times created more competition, reducing in the collaboration that has underpinned much of their work. And it’s not just the Criminal Justice System where change seems ever present. Cuts and changes to services that our members' clients previously relied on means that the voluntary sector is often required to provide a one-stop-shop service to ever more vulnerable service users who present with unmet need in many areas of their lives. Frequently our members are trying to run these services without addition sources of funding and often without anywhere else to signpost them to.
The backdrop of negative public perceptions, question marks over how some charities operate, or how they are funded, coupled with the difficulty of diversifying your income and trying to raise money for what is often thought to be an unpopular cause does, and will continue to present real challenges for the voluntary sector working in the Criminal Justice System.
What I’ve learned most is that the resilience and commitment of the sector, if it could be bottled and sold, could fetch a very high price. Our members don’t give up, they’ve resigned themselves to change and challenge, which certainly takes its toll and has an impact on innovation and strategic solutions to entrenched problems, but the members I’ve met are resolved to carry on, to change the lives of the people they were established to support.
The suggestions of what Clinks could do more of, the areas and types of support, were both pragmatic and practical. Mainly our members want Clinks to continue to do what we do so that they can continue to do what they do – to make a real difference to so many lives every day, year on year.