The EU referendum result

However you cast your vote yesterday, it is indisputable this morning that Britain has taken a decision with the most significant of consequences. The repercussions for our politics, society and economy will be felt for years, even decades.

The voluntary sector is needed now more than ever

These have been troubled times, and they will continue to be so. Britain is facing political and economic unrest for months if not years to come.

Your support and advocacy for the people and causes you work for will be essential in this climate.

There are millions, even tens of millions in the UK who feel distanced from institutions that are meant to work on their behalf. At best apathetic, at worst, deeply hostile. Meanwhile the debate has left a bitter taste on both sides. It has served to exacerbate other divisions within our society.

The referendum has thrown into sharper contrast than ever previously a division in the United Kingdom. Questions of social mobility will rightly now come to the fore again. And we can hope that the racial tensions stoked so crudely and cruelly during the campaigning do not linger, but the risk of this is clear. We must now play our role in healing these divisions. We can and must help people in the communities we work with to understand, respect and cherish each other.

Restoring trust and kinship

For so many of you, this is a natural part and parcel of your work, or at least a by-product of it. My message today is that you should consider what more you can do to bring communities together, whether working with other voluntary organisations or with other civic institutions. Outreach and inclusivity in our practices matters now more than ever.

Beveridge is often cited on the topic of charity. Charity, he said, is ‘like a golden thread through the living tapestry of our national story’. The warp and weft of our society have been pulled at. Now is the time to do our part to bind them back together.

There is an urgent need to work to restore trust in society. Between the public and institutions, even between members of the public. Every little counts. Every negative encounter, every disappointing news story, does its bit to chip away at the finite reserves of trust that people hold. Every positive encounter, everything that serves to reinforce faith, can rebuild those reserves.

We must all work every day to do what we can to rebuild those reserves. The work we do plays a substantial role in doing this. Bringing people together and making a difference. Empowering people, restoring hope, improving the world around us. Doing this – and doing it in a way that most engenders trust in our own organisations themselves – is more important now than ever.

The economy

Despite a strong turnout, for many, the debates of recent weeks will seem arcane or irrelevant. Abstract and disconnected from their real lives. In some ways, they would be right. The world will continue to turn and the direct effects may be difficult for many to discern: you were poor before, you’re still poor now.

We are just recovering from the previous economic crisis. Further years of economic difficulty would scarcely seem like a change to young people who have known nothing else. But they would mean more years of struggling to fulfil our organisations’ complete potential to do good, more years of seeing people struggle in the face of hardship. We can only hope for skilled and thoughtful leadership in the coming weeks and months in order to avoid the worst of the financial predictions. The sector’s voice will be essential in speaking up and shaping the future. NCVO will be working to ensure civil society plays its full role here.

We are entering rough waters – the consolation is that we in the voluntary sector are masters of navigating such seas. That expertise will be more important now than ever.

What now ?

This is a fast-moving situation. We will be publishing a full briefing on the likely consequences as we see them in the coming days. I welcome your thoughts in the meantime on what the result will mean to your beneficiaries and your organisations. You may comment below or email me.


Free webinar – EU referendum: Implications for the voluntary sector

With David Cameron announcing he will step down as Prime Minister, there will be a number of political implications that charities need to be aware of. Our free webinar on 7 July will take a look at some of the key impacts on the political and policy agenda in the months ahead.

Register for the webinar


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Avatar photo Sir Stuart Etherington was chief executive of NCVO from 1994 to 2019.

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