At the beginning of this month, I took up the role of Acting Chief Executive here at Involve. Working three days each week, I’ll be around until the end of 2015, navigating through a period of uncertainty, change and opportunity.
Having been a trustee of Involve since 2008 and Vice Chair for the past five years, I have a good understanding of the organisation and its work. I hope my background in communications and adult education will also stand me in good stead for some of the key tasks ahead.
Switching roles within Involve, I now see the sector, our work and Involve from a different angle. As always, I’ve been struck by how flexible, creative and entrepreneurial we can be, as well as our commitment to our core values. Let’s hope we can keep these qualities alive as we confront some of the fundamental issues coming our way.
Three topical issues have particularly struck me:
(1) Welfare reforms and their relentless impact
Involve’s Action Trackers research has been monitoring the impact of welfare changes on voluntary and community organisations and the people they serve. At the end of this month, we will be publishing our ‘one year on’ follow-up report. Reading the draft of this report, it strikes me we appear to be rapidly returning to the workhouse and the Poor Law. Destitution is now a reality. When we spoke to frontline advice workers, they told us that “even if every avenue is explored and every eligible benefit received, many people remain in poverty and nothing more can be done.” It is worth checking out the work that Joseph Rowntree Foundation is doing around destitution.
(2) Northern Devolution
Devolution is an issue that could well become a major political football in the days after the General Election. Whether or not it does, it’s not going away. The arrival of settlements and deals in several Northern cities, the creation of the Yorkshire First party, many articles examining the ragbag of proposals revealed so far, and most recently the influence of the SNP, are keeping devolution high on the political agenda. Judy Robinson’s blogs on devolution contextualise it well for the voluntary sector.
At the end of March, Involve ran a workshop on this. Read our event report for Whose North is it anyway? here.
(3) The General Election
The opportunities offered by our strange national electoral circumstances and their timing are numerous. Strong openings could soon open up for us; opportunities to change, modernise and deliver. But to capitalise on them, we must be nimble, fast, brave and radical.
Checking that our values are not being compromised, I think we need to consider these three opportunities:
- Within the NHS, working on health and social care in many different ways. Our recent NHS roundtable event highlighted a number, which we are currently following up with our NHS and commissioning contacts, voluntary sector colleagues and members across the region.
- Amongst ourselves, especially with collaboration between infrastructure organisations. We must organise our own change, not have it dictated to us by others’ circumstances and ambitions.
- Through cooperating with new partners and unfamiliar agendas, for example Involve’s ongoing projects connecting the region’s utility infrastructure companies with local communities and vulnerable customers.
Both the election and the devolution agenda offer considerable scope for the voluntary and community sector, especially when considered in the context of “If not now, when?”
Now is a critical time, both for the sector as a whole and for Involve, to think carefully about the kind of future we want to see – and how we can influence that future.
My role at Involve over the coming months is primarily to facilitate the development of a clear and well organised future for Involve – and how we can best support the sector in our region going forward. An integral part of this is working closely with our members, staff, Trustees and all those who support and value the sector’s contribution to the well being of Yorkshire and Humber.
So here’s my call to action for you all:
What do YOU think my priorities should be – and why? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments box below or contact me direct.
Blog post by Jane Hustwit, Acting Chief Executive for Involve Yorkshire & Humber