I’m really pleased to share the work that my colleagues and I have been doing over the past year in a our most recent annual report. So new, it’s not yet hot off the press, the 2015-16 annual report is a snapshot of the work we’ve done between April 2015 and March 2016 to support individuals, communities and organisations across Dudley borough.
‘Flush and grow’ is a great title for a project. This is what Bayer Street Allotments Association have called their new project, which will help people in Coseley grow more green-fingered thanks to a grant of £10,000 from Awards for All. It’s been both fun and fascinating to support this group of volunteers who’ve given so much of their time to the community in recent months.
One of the highlights of my time with Dudley CVS has been the opportunity to help develop and support Dudley Parent Carer Forum – Working Together for Change. Not just because they are a group of awesome people with such amazing strength, that are giving, insightful and bundles of fun, but because they are completely committed to influencing decisions that affect their lives and the lives of other parents with children who have disabilities or additional needs. It has been a privilege to see their confidence and relationships with professionals develop and to see the real tangible outcomes of these collaborations. I truly believe that this has been possible partly because of the liberating leadership model of governance that they have chosen to use.
The forum formed just over 2 years ago now and is made up from six organisations, all with three seats each, and a number of independent parent carers and grandparents. The steering group is large in comparison to some organisations but it really works for WTFC; as parent carers have complex lives, having a large steering group removes pressure to have to be at meetings but still gives us solid representation to make decisions and move work forward.
The steering group is working to a liberating leadership style which makes the best use of people’s strengths, skills and experiences. Roles, tasks and groups are allocated based on interest and skills.
The forum spent the first few meetings really getting to know each other, forming a solid team with a collective understanding and vision. The purpose of the first session was to come together and collectively agree what the forum stood for and agree a way to move forward together. It was also an opportunity to agree how we want the forum to be seen. The session was designed to have an interactive and creative focus.
Box of postcards
To start the process the group was asked to look through a selection of postcards and pick one that they were particularly drawn to and one that they were not sure about. It was interesting to hear the reasons why different postcards were selected and different perspectives.
Drawing with eyes closed
Each member of the group was given a piece of blank paper and a pen. They were then asked to draw a flower with their eyes closed and hand the drawing in without looking at their own or each others. Incredibly everyone identified their own drawing even though they had not seen what they had drawn!
The group again with eyes closed were asked to draw something they liked. They then had to identify who had drawn what. We learnt a lot about each other through these activities as well as identifying some ideas of what our visual identity should be.
The group began to think about the importance of how they put their message across, and about the key elements that deliver that message such as a logo, the images we use, and our title. It was agreed that as a forum they need to be clear and say ‘this is what we do, and this is what we don’t do!’
After this session a clear vision was formulated which is to “Empowering Dudley Parent Carers to have their voices heard in a way that influences change & service design”
Having solid foundations and a clear vision has enabled the forum to work together, giving over 850 hours of volunteer time to collaborate with professionals, to influence policies, develop statutory organisations’ publicity materials and websites, encouraged partnerships working and discouraged silos and helped to shape new services!
They have achieved all this whilst still offering support, friendship and fun to all parent carers across Dudley borough, communicating and sharing with over 800 parent carers within the network.
You can find out more about Working Together for Change and their incredible journey by visiting the website or following them on Twitter.
Coming together is a beginning; Keeping together is progress; Working together is success!
Back in September we invited people to help us design a programme of support for our sector who are keen to lead innovation and transformation in their teams, organisations or communities. This was part of work that Dudley CVS staff and trustees have been undertaking around five priorities we set ourselves this year, which I blogged about in August.
The group of us working on the priority around innovation, transformation and sustainability have recently fed back to Dudley CVS board, below are the highlights. These are from in depth conversations with leaders of eight different organisations in Dudley borough.
What do innovation, transformation and sustainability mean for people in different contexts?
“Seeing things that work in other contexts and bringing them to your own work and applying them in different ways, to different things.”
“The ethos and core of who we are stays the same, but the way we meet that has to be continually up for discussion.”
“Culture change.” “It needs strong vision and leadership.”
“It is ongoing on constant.”
“It is about change, responding to change, adapting to change, including being responsive to digital technologies.”
“Survival – diversifying income streams, looking at a variety of funding models.”
“I used to think it was about staying where you are. Now I think it’s about pushing forward.”
“It’s not about the organisation, it’s about the customer. If the way to preserve services is that our organisation isn’t here, that’s fine. We have to help people to help themselves.”
The people we have spoke to frequently touched on ways in which the sector is becoming more like social enterprise, using tactics previously thought of as belonging to business. Publications such as the Compendium for the Civic Economy and The Convergence Continuum: towards a 4th sector in global development? highlight ways in which the boundaries between the private, public, and non-profit sectors have been blurring. Pioneering organisations have emerged with new models for addressing societal challenges that blend attributes and strategies from all sectors. They are creating hybrid organisations that transcend the usual sectoral boundaries.
The key question we explored with people we have spoken to was: how might we support voluntary organisations in Dudley borough to innovate, transform and become more sustainable? We were explicit that ‘we’ didn’t mean specifically Dudley CVS, it could mean anyone who wanted to be involved, including people supporting each other.
Five headline themes are emerging around:
- Collaboration and less competition. Collaboration has been mentioned more frequently than anything else.
- Seeing or knowing about other things from elsewhere / other contexts to bring and innovate with. This has come up a number of times.
- Creativity – trying things out, making mistakes. This has also been mentioned a lot, sometimes in relation to a perception that the sector underestimates it’s knowledge and skills, it’s ability to be nimble and creative. People we spoke to wanted the sector to be more confident.
- Commissioners understanding the impact and value of the sector. (Influencing commissioners was also a major discussion point in the Task & Finish group which met to discuss supporting collaboration in the borough.)
- Vision and leadership.
Other points which stand out from the conversations include how we respond to and use digital technology to help innovation etc. Also suggestions about using assets (buildings, equipment, skills etc.) differently, and sharing assets with each other. One conversation delved into alternative forms of finance, such as social investment bonds. Another explored the importance of language and framing – the need to help overcome fear, resistance and closing in with an optimism around opportunities and a focus on what we do have (rather than what is being taken away).
Our next step is to start evolving our some of our support to respond to what we’ve found, and the ideas we heard during these conversations. We’d love to hear from you about:
- Your thoughts on the emerging themes
- Ideas do you have around support you would like
- Examples you’ve seen or read about of innovation being encouraged and nurtured
I’m really pleased to share the work I and my wonderful colleagues have done to support individuals, communities and organisations last year. The Dudley CVS Annual Report outlines how we’ve been connecting and inspiring people and organisations to achieve positive change and championing their work. It covers the year April 2014-March 2015.
We’re looking for people active in their community and people who support community activities and groups to help co-design tools which can support collaboration between groups, organisations and projects. See below or hop on over to the booking page for more details and to reserve places.
On Tuesday I went along to a Fireside Chat* with Joel Gascoigne, co-founder and CEO at Buffer. Buffer is a really handy software application which you can use for free to schedule posts to social media accounts in Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and more. Joel studied in the West Midlands at the University of Warwick, and Buffer was developed and launched in 2010 while he lived in Digbeth, Birmingham. The co-founders moved to Silicon Valley in 2011 and have always been the subject of much interest and attention because of their radically open and transparent business practices.
Buffer made the salary calculations and salaries of each team member public and openly publish revenues from their paid for products. They are fully transparent with email (all team members can see all emails) and they have introduced transparent pricing so you see where every penny (or cent) goes if you subscribe to a paid plan. In Buffer one of their values is default to transparency.
I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Joel share his story and respond to questions which were submitted through twitter. And it got me thinking about what we’re sharing about Dudley CVS. Then I realised we haven’t really talked much about some priorities we’ve developed this year, and now is a great time to share them here because we have just started getting together as staff and board members to take each of them forward.
Our priorities have been shaped in response to what we heard from our sector in a survey we carried out late last year (Kate shared the findings in this post) and also give focus to key areas of activity we have been developing. Here is a run down of our 5 priorities.
Championing Dudley CVS and the sector
Our survey told us that the top request in relation to support we should offer over the next year was raising the profile of the voluntary and community sector. A group of Dudley CVS staff and trustees met last week to begin collective work around this priority, so you’ll soon be seeing a growing offer to groups and organisations around this. Do get in touch with Becky (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have skills or ideas to contribute to our work around this.
Enabling and promoting innovation, transformation and sustainability
Our survey also highlighted that people want support in relation to:
- identifying gaps in local provision, working with new and existing groups to address unmet needs in communities
- developing groups and organisations
- ways to diversity income streams
- innovation and transformation
- advocacy and leadership of the voluntary and community sector
While we offer support around these areas already, we think there will be some value in us offering a programme of support which people can access in different ways. A group of Dudley CVS staff and trustees met last week and discussed some initial ideas, the next step is to involve people from local groups and organisations in shaping the programme. If you’d like to make suggestions please add a comment to this post, if would like to join an informal ideas session in September please let me know (email@example.com).
Supporting and enabling collaboration in Dudley borough
Ranked fourth in the list of support people want us to offer is supporting and enabling networking and collaboration. And ranked third is creating the conditions for our sector to influence. A group of our staff and trustees will be reviewing pervious and current work around this and shaping what we can do in the next 12 months. I have already been sharing some examples of activity over the last few years and thinking on collaborative practices on the CoLab Dudley blog. We’ll keep you updated on the work of the group looking at this priority, our first meeting will be next month.
Collaborating and demonstrating impact (using PSIAMS)
Dudley CVS and a number of voluntary organisations in the borough are changing their approach to working with people, and using a tool called PSIAMS to help them manage relationships, communicate and collaborate within and across teams, and to measure the impact and value of their work. We already have a great team supporting the use of the approach and software (Mark Ellerby from Cloudberry, plus Dudley CVS officers James Baggot and Adam Deyes). There will also be a trustee and staff group working on ways that our sector can collaborate and demonstrate impact.
Ensuring use of our venues benefits local communities
Over the last few years Dudley Council has been working with Dudley CVS to explore ways to make the most of the council’s underused buildings and land in a challenging climate and safeguard them (or even unlock them) for community use. Asset transfer was a option for one building we looked at, a management move was an option in another. The council is continuing to develop and test new processes which involve community-based organisations taking on facilities. The initial steps with us should help to set the tone and ease this transition for other facilities and organisations.
Dudley CVS are now managing Brierley Hill Civic, and we have staff and a Lunch on the Run cafe moving in to a building on Stafford Street in Dudley Town Centre (the name of the building will be revealed shortly). It is really important to us that we both show that we can make a financial success of such ventures, and that we can do that in ways which support, connect and benefit local communities, groups, clubs and societies, as well as our sector more widely. We have a group of trustees and staff with a diversity of skills and connections who will give time to making ensuring we achieve this.
Do leave a comment or get in touch if you have any thoughts on any of our priorities, and please do share links to information about what your group or organisation is currently focusing on. We’d love to hear about it!
For anyone interested in the Buffer event, I’ve archived some useful links, tweets and pictures from the Fireside Chat here.
*Fireside Chats were a series of radio addresses given by President Franklin Roosevelt and the contemporary spin on this at the event I went to was a backdrop of a 3 hour You Tube fireplace video screened for the entire duration of the talk. It was nearly as mesmerising as a real fire!
On Monday afternoon I had the lovely honour of celebrating International Women’s Day with Diyya, a group in Lye that supports women and their families by bringing them together, building their confidence and encouraging them to take advantage of opportunities to learn new things and develop their skills.
On Tuesday 3rd March, 2pm-4pm, we’ll be throwing open the doors of Brierley Hill Civic Hall to anyone who would like to help us bring this wonderful venue to life.
Whether you’re a resident, an artist, entertainer or promoter, or if you belong to a business, college, voluntary group or charity, you’re welcome to come along and see the Civic Hall’s potential for yourself. I’m really looking forward to meeting people who want to make great things happen at the Civic Hall, ask questions, tour the space and share their ideas and inspiration.
There’s so much potential for Brierley Hill Civic Hall to become home to many more groups and activities, particularly during the daytime. Since my last post, we’ve already had some great ideas ranging from socials for older people, vintage cinema events, linking with local businesses, and I want to thank everyone that’s shared their ideas so far. We want to encourage local talent to use the Civic Hall as a showcase venue for their skills; we want to make sure that the Civic reflects local heritage and is a vibrant community hub for everyone.
So please join us at Brierley Hill Civic Hall on Tuesday 3rd March, 2pm-4pm, to share your ideas over light refreshments.
If you can’t attend but would still like to share your ideas, please join in the conversations here by making a comment, on Twitter or on Facebook. Alternatively, you’re welcome to contact me on 01384 573381.
I’m looking forward to working with you.
Dudley CVS will take on the running of Brierley Hill Civic Hall from next month in an arrangement that aims to make the venue an exciting hub and to make Brierley Hill a vibrant destination for entertainment and leisure.