Local campaigning – making it work

Roz Kelly

Roz Kelly is Policy and Communications Officer at Nottingham Community and Voluntary Service (NCVS), where she advises on the changing national, regional and local political agenda affecting the voluntary and community sector in Nottingham.

Campaigning, in the traditional sense, is fairly non-existent in Nottingham’s voluntary and community sector.

This isn’t because of a lack of desire to campaign, but more a lack of capacity. So, we were excited to be able to host a training day with NCVO to develop the capacity of groups to start campaigning.

Reduced funding, increased demand

That groups aren’t really campaigning is hardly surprising in today’s age of austerity. In Nottingham our local council is facing severe cuts in its grant from central government. That’s affecting the funding it can provide to the voluntary and community sector, as well as its own capacity to care for the vulnerable in society.

Alongside this, government agendas like welfare reform are taking their toll on swathes of people across the city. And these people are now looking to the voluntary sector for help and support.

Reduced funding in the face of increased demand. It’s a problem felt by voluntary sector organisations across the country.

The role of NCVS

Our role is to represent the local sector on a city-wide and strategic level. We do this through our VCS Advocates system. Thanks to lobbying on the part of Nottingham CVS, we have been able to place representatives from the Nottingham’s voluntary and community sector across all of the city’s strategic boards. This has helped the local government, even at the highest levels, to remember the voluntary sector.

This ‘voices’ work forms a major part of our service as a CVS. ‘Voices’ is about influence. Also, what the local sector may lack in campaigning it more than makes up for in its efforts to engage in the decision making process, through our:

  • advocates system
  • consultations
  • steering groups that they can join if they want to directly affect the direction of local policy.

Reinforcing the merits of new legislation

What the day did was allow delegates to see how they can go beyond the current methods influencing and move into the campaigning forum.

The training with NCVO brought some helpful clarity around new legislation and how it has put the voluntary and community sector in an advantageous campaigning position. From the Localism Act’s Community Right to Challenge to the great role the sector has to play in delivering public services thanks to the Social Value Act.

The training reinforced the merit of these acts, showed how they could be useful, and strengthened that message that there are opportunities out there.

Unpicking such legislation felt particularly pertinent, as a Nottingham City Council Officer joined us to speak about how they have embedded the Social Value Act into their new procurement strategy. The group’s eagerness to grill the council officer on how their commissioning process works and how they can be engaged demonstrated that willingness to shape service delivery and influence at that strategic level.

NCVS is working closely with the city council to ensure that the voluntary and community sector is kept firmly in the procurement and commissioning loop going forward. It will be interesting to see how attendees, with their new knowledge of the legislation and the part they can play in public service delivery going forward, will engage with council on this.

Igniting the campaigner within

Beyond policy, we looked at campaign cycles. We were given a framework for developing a campaign, our very own ‘theory of change’, and, importantly, we learnt that campaigning is something that we can all do, even on limited resources. We put our general discussions into practice and began devising our own campaign strategies based on our individual organisations’ aims.

It was exciting to see attendees galvanised by this. It was like another door was opened for everyone in the room. Suddenly campaigning seemed manageable, achievable even.

The brilliant thing about this programme is that it’s not just one day of training. One-to-one support is offered as after care. So those discussions that we had, the early stages of each attendee’s theory of change, is just the start of their campaigning journey.

Perhaps this marks of the beginning of an invigorated, campaigning local voluntary and community sector in Nottingham. We’re delighted to have been – and to continue to be – at its epicentre.

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