The value of local partnerships

One thing we know about volunteering is that it is largely a local activity undertaken in response to local need. Another thing we know is that, although much of it just happens, without encouragement from the state, or indeed from anyone else, some of the most innovative and impactful volunteering occurs when voluntary groups and public bodies come together to create proper, meaningful partnerships.

A damaging legacy

Given the poor track record of many such relationships in recent years, which have all too often been hopelessly one-sided, it is no surprise that the idea of partnership has taken a battering. But as we approach the local government elections in a few weeks’ time, it seems worthwhile trying to breathe new life into this much-derided concept and to make the case once more for genuine public sector, voluntary sector partnerships.

Positive partnership in action

Let’s look at a few recent examples from some of our Volunteer Centre members who have forged meaningful partnerships with public bodies to the obvious benefit of their local communities. Take Leeds Volunteer Centre, which has set up an office within Leeds prison to introduce volunteering to offenders about to be released, with a remarkable impact on re-offending in its first year of operation. Or Dover Volunteer Centre which runs monthly one-to-one sessions with the local Job Centre Plus to inform advisors of the work of the Centre and the valuable role volunteering can play in helping people back into work. Or 2D in Durham, which is working in partnership with a range of GP Practices in the region, to champion volunteering as part of a social prescribing model, again with impressive early results.

Beyond the rhetoric

None of these examples suggest that partnership is easy; but they do point to the fact that it can work and is worth persevering with. So today we publish a briefing note for the local elections (PDF, 60KB), which calls on those elected as our local representatives on 22 May to look for ways of establishing more meaningful partnerships with their local voluntary sector. And by meaningful we mean going beyond the rhetoric and entering into genuine dialogue with voluntary and community groups over the design and delivery of local services. Funding is crucial, but real partnership is so much more, and entails a cultural revolution in the way public agencies do their business. We have also published a guide to engaging with local councillors (PDF, 110KB).

We know that money is tight, but we also know that the value of voluntary action is immense, and that if we want to reap the benefits that volunteering can bring, we need to find better ways of supporting those institutions which help to make it happen. A number of Volunteer Centres have closed in recent months and many others face an uncertain future. All are looking at different ways of working and at new ways of sustaining their operations. And all are looking at developing stronger relationships with their local statutory agencies.

Investing in voluntary action

We know volunteering works and that voluntary organisations make a difference to the lives of millions of people. We know that our public services are greatly improved when statutory and voluntary agencies work together. Our call at these local elections is for would-be councillors to recognise this potential, and to commit, if elected, to building stronger, more sustainable, partnerships with local voluntary organisations to make this happen.

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Justin was executive director of volunteering and development at NCVO and chief executive of Volunteering England. He is now a senior research fellow at City University Cass Business School’s Centre for Charity Effectiveness.

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