Can You Help Vulnerable People?

Burslem Jubilee Logo

Burslem Jubilee Project has been working since 2014 to help asylum seekers & refugees. People who have fled war, persecution and torture and travelled in difficult and deadly circumstances to places where they are not welcome to find a refuge.

Refugees passing a child across barbed wire

BJP work in Burslem, are totally volunteer led and run and are a helping hand to those in need by providing: ESOL lessons; physical comforts in the form of food, clothing &c; a safe place to visit; activities to help them integrate into the community and, with partner organizations, advice on a range of topics. Please look at their website at www.burslemjubilee.org for more information on what they do.

BJP are looking for volunteers to join their team and I am helping them to spread the word, so if you are interested in helping them then go to their website or use their contact details below (or contact me). If you are not interested, then please share this post to others.

In addition to ‘general’ volunteers they are looking for specific posts such as:

Click on the links for rôle descriptions.

Full training can be given for these posts. If you would like to know more then email Sheila Podmore on pody38@yahoo.com or telephone 07958 250281 for a chat.

For Big Society Not Small Society

I attended training on social investment recently and it was interesting. Big Society Capital was set up in 2012 with funding from dormant bank accounts in England and from four of the UK’s largest high street banks. Big Society Capital invests in intermediaries, who then invest in charities and social enterprises to tackle social issues across the UK. The investment consists of loans of between £500,000 and £15 million.

All good you might say. Money sitting there doing nothing should be put to good use. And I would agree. But who is going to going to make use of this money. With a minimum ask of £500,000 and, remember, this will have to be paid back (quite possibly with interest) only the large not-for-profits will think of taking advantage of this.

There are two points that concern me here. The first is that there is nothing here for the small organizations. Looking at the statistics collected by the Charity Commission for September 2018 looking at yearly income we see that charities with an income of less than £100,000 represent 79.72% of all registered charities and receive 3.08% of the sector’s income. Charities over over £5,000,000 income make up 1.35% of the sector and receive 72% of its income. These figures do not include the thousands of small not-for-profits who are not registered with the CC.

We are hearing that small organizations are recognized as doing wonderful work and provide excellent value for money. I just wonder how much good some of those millions could have done to support the smaller organization in its grass-roots work. It might give a small break from the constant struggle to keep the money coming in.

My second concern is than the set-up is around loans. As I wrote before no small organization, especially run by volunteers is going to take up a loan when the repayment is so unsure. It also occurs to me that a private enterprise model is being forced into not-for-profit services. The models are not the same, the circumstances are different – we sell our services to people who cannot afford them at any cost effective price. I know that as a sector we can improve the way we do things – we owe it to those who use our services – but it should be remembered that we are the not-for-profit sector; the Third Sector, the VCSE sector – whatever words we use. We are not the private sector and never should be.

Great Place and a Great Idea

Like many people I shop a lot on-line. It is quick and it is convenient and there is plenty of choice. As such I rarely go to my local town, Newcastle under Lyme. I have lived there for much of my life and it was the place to go to buy. Nowadays, I will go for a restaurant or a pub of an evening and not really pay attention to what is happening to anything else.

So, I was surprised when I went recently to see several changes. One of which was ‘Cultural Squatters’. This used to be a shop that sold expensive electrical equipment: televisions, music, video and so on. Now it is run by a community interest company as café. It has mismatched tables and chairs, some sofas and provides food with vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options, cooked on the premises. Mrs W had a vegan curry and I had oatcakes with cheese, onion and mushrooms – a favourite of mine. The curry was good and the oatcakes were absolutely the best I have had in a long time. It was a great way to relax with all kinds there (and very good serving staff) with toys for children, free ping pong and pool. Best there was a welcoming dog who did the rounds to say hello.

They have one rule #BeKind and it seems to be a good rule. See there website (http://culturalsquatters.uk/) or better still pop in when you are around the area.

A Suggestion

Vivaldi

I, like lots of people I imaging, when working sometimes like to have music playing in the background. One I like to play is a collection of baroque adagios, relaxing and yet stimulating. There are some pieces of music that just grab me and demand ‘stop what you are doing and listen’. This piece by Vivaldi is one of them. Try it. Click for follow the link, close your eyes and listen. This music will take hold of you heart and squeeze – LINK.

Because I like It

I stumbled across this on Facebook. It is a favourite piece of mine and this was a different vesrions. I was enchanted,enervated and delighted. Please follow the link to this and watch. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

The Piano Guys Play Bach Cello No 1.

Determination

I have seen various posts written by individuals and on behalf of organizations with sentiments of ‘happy new year –  a fresh start’, ‘let’s make resolutions’ and so on. All very positive and uplifting. I must admit that I dwelt on the negative as I looked at the year past (and further) and speculated on the coming year.

Austerity is all set to continue as we are divided into the deserving and the undeserving – if people are poor it is their own fault -they do not work hard enough, they cannot manage their money – they have too many children – are they really disabled. People who are fleeing for their lives are just coming here to scrounge because we are a soft touch – ridiculous rumours posing as facts tell of the easy life they lead here. There are too many immigrants, they are taking all our jobs (and women presumably) and, though no one want to say it (because I am not a racist) they are brown. All these perceptions can be dispelled by a small amount of research, but those who point this out are not heard. As for Brexit…

Instead of protecting the weak our newspapers and politicians encourage us the tear and claw at them.  We are kept divided and dividing, though politicians are then surprised that their pleas to ‘come together as a nation’ fall on deaf ears.

Of all those who volunteer in their community and get no material gain I have a question ‘why continue with trying to make life a better place?’ I can see the attraction. It is less effort and less of a trial. By and large I don’t even see evidence of a smug self satisfaction, usually it is a ‘matter-of-factness’. The answer I have is simple: determination. It runs like this.

  • There is a problem that needs solving.

  • Somebody must do something.

  • That person is me.

As I wrote, its simple. But profound. What would life be on this planet without people like that?

I do not want to imagine.

Celebrating Community Interest Companies

A community interest company (CIC) is a social enterprise company where the profits it makes go back into the community.

This could be providing money for a good cause or offering free or low cost services. CICs offer all kinds of goods and services and the purpose of a CIC is that it serves a social purpose – it could be employing ex-offenders and getting them back into society or delivering youth services or day care and respite for people with learning disabilities and their carers.

The main drive behind a CIC is the good that it does rather than making as much profit as it can. Though the more profit a CIC makes the more people it can employ, the more people it can help.

Here are some interesting facts about CICs;
They came into existence some 13 years ago.

There are over 14,000 CICs registered.

28% of CICs are based in the most 20% deprived areas of the country.

84% of CICs employ over half their staff locally.

71% of CICs pay the living wage to their employees.

55% of CICs actively seek to employ people disadvantaged from the labour market.

48% of CICs are led by women and 58% have a female majority workforce.

30% of CICs have at least 1 BAME director (compared with only 5% from commercial small and medium organizations).

For me CICs show that there are ways of doing business that treats people fairly, cares for the environment and cares for our communities.

If you would like to know more about CICs then see the Office of the Regulator of Community Interest Companies website at
https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/office-of-the-regulator-of-community-interest-companies.

Or, if you prefer the personal touch contact me for a chat.

Words, Words, Words

Some years ago I started a Facebook page after encouragement from work colleagues. After a while I realized that I hadn’t much to say. Now, those who know me would contend that I am definitely not short of an opinion as I often have to point out the blindingly obvious to them. My conclusion was that the medium was not conducive to the things I would venture to say. I could not convince myself that the mundane items that were up for discussion would benefit from anything I could add – why add my banality to the rest?

Later I was tempted to try again as Mrs W pointed out that there was more there than looking at pictures of food that people were eating and that it was a case of choosing carefully. Additionally, if I was to undertake a business then neglecting what could be a powerful tool to promote said business would be silly.

So, back again I went and as well as a personal site there is one for Blue Key. For personal use I am convinced. There are plenty of useful sites out there providing snippets of information that fit your tastes. Thus I follow Huffpost, Another Angry Voice and others to get a view on event different from the main stream media. I also have fun because there is frivolity to be had for those who delight in puns, for example.

But, then there is the tryany of words. I write tryany as I feel as if I should be declaiming (must declaim?) to the world, if only to show my existence to potential customers. Regarding the whole internet as a way to connect I still find myself thinking, ‘what have I to say that will be of interest?’. Looking at this blog it can be noted that I am not exactly verbose so why not? The publication of material is free, the audience is not guaranteed but I cannot be corrected or edited – I write as I wish with no one dictating content or context or opinion. Part of it, I must admit, is that though being grey in beard and having no fear of computers, phones and so on I am not of the generation that has grown up with this facility and thus I find it an effort to overcome the reticence to opine. In my grimmer moments I imagine that I am so accustomed to keeping quiet when faced with managers and their egos (and fear of reprisals) that I have lost courage to utter, speak and give forth my voice.

The hard place (near to the rock above) is ‘what if I write something that is going to upset someone?’. I have heard it said that employers look at the social media of prospective employees and even distrustful if someone does not have a profile somewhere. Certainly when writing a previous article I gave thought that the public sector may not like some of the sentiments expressed and would I be erasing future opportunities with contracts with some council.

And the conclusion: it is a nightmare, you are damned if you do you are damned if you don’t. The downside for the world at large is that there may be more coming from this author as I attempt to shout out ‘I am here!’.

Being ‘Charitable’ Is A Royal Pain…

Whilst recently composing an essay for a qualification gave me the opportunity to write down some musings of myself, and others, about the constraints that we in the not-for-profit sector work under – those  expectations of the public and funders (grants funders, donors, public sector bodies) as to how charities should behave and their consequences.

Honesty and integrity are writ large across public expectations – the work being done is for the public good and in a ‘good’ way. Reputational damage can be accrued in a variety of ways. Examples of poor conduct would include; employing a firm to collect donations which takes 80% of the money collected; forming a partnership with a corporate sponsor with a dubious reputation. Caution is thereby encouraged and matters can proceed very slowly.

Another element to the charitable ethos is that charities are expected to not hold onto their money. Money is there to be spent on helping people and not to be sat upon. Grant trust funders and government grants will only allow a certain amount of ‘reserves’ – at most six months – before the not-for-profit is not eligible for funding. For many organizations the reality is that reserves are non-existent apart from those necessary to close the organization and many do not have this. This, again, can lead to organizations being very risk averse.

Given the uncertainty of funding, especially repeat funding the turnover of staff within the not-for-profit sector can be high. From the individual’s point of view the time to start looking for a new job on a three-year contract is the end of year two at the absolute latest. It can be common for the last six months of a project having staff shortages and other employees covering on top of their work. This will impact on planning time available and delivery of the project itself.

The average committee member or trustee is a volunteer. For 80% of trustees they will a performance rôle in addition to strategic management (with no paid staff to call upon). Their average age is between 55 and 64 and 60% have a professional qualification. Most are men and white. Thus there is not a great deal of diversification in the composition of a management team. Certainly they will lack the perspective of anyone, young, black or minority ethnic, female. Committee or trustee members are usually chosen by word of mouth and their experience of the rôle of strategic decision maker is limited, if at all existent. Anecdotally the author can state that despite offering training in project planning, business planning and good governance for 16 years the take up is always limited. The reasons for this can be lack of time or complacency – ‘we know what we are doing’.

To summarize; the not-for-profit sector has always been a ‘hand-to-mouth’ sector. Organizations can feel as if they are lurching from one crisis to the next. Through this is viewed as ‘unprofessional’ by some, notably the public sector and its volunteers and workers as being muddle-headed, do-gooders who need the guidance of those who know better. I would suggest from the brief discussion above that the sector is, indeed, ‘hand-to-mouth’ but that the internal and external factors that rule it will ensure that it remains so and perhaps it is a miracle that we are able to do what we do under difficult circumstances.

 

 

 

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Without any fanfare this afternoon a large envelope dropped through the letterbox onto the carpet. Seeing an A4 envelope is usually exciting as you know it is not going to be bill or a bank statement, the one asking you for money and the other confirming how little money you have.

Contained therein lay a certificate of incorporation for a CIC. I must allow to a small thrill as I saw the tangible evidence of my venture. On reflection it is not much to look at: I had expected a little more colour, a dash of red perhaps, to underline the serious of the undertaking. But no, monochrome black on sepia paper. I am grateful, at least, for this last as it retains somekind of gravity for me rather than the plain white paper.

 

It does at least, demonstrate my committment to the principles of social enterprise and provides a milestone on this particular journey. And now, I can be called Director!BKCIC certificate of incorporation_0001