Helping Others column with Karen Weaver

The HARCVS staff team outside the offices at Harrogate Community House.
The HARCVS staff team outside the offices at Harrogate Community House.
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It’s been a strange few months here at HARCVS as we’ve had to deal with the impact of losing our main grants from North Yorkshire County Council and the NHS. Three much loved, experienced and talented staff have just transferred over to the new provider, our capacity to support local voluntary organisations and volunteers is reduced and we need less office space.

Other members of our team have been unsettled by all this change and our board of trustees has had several extra meetings to enable them to understand the new situation and plan for the future.

The good news is that we are still here and, thanks to prudent use of our reserves and unstinting support from Harrogate Borough Council, we do have a future.

This is in stark contrast to the situation in Craven, where the CVS and Volunteer Centre sadly closed at the end of March.

There is some irony that charitable organisations that exist to provide support to local voluntary and community groups have had to deal with the very issues we try and help others to prepare for.

A recent report published by the Lloyds Bank Foundation warns in stark terms that all charities must prepare now for a challenging times ahead:

“Since 2010, many smaller charities have seen demand for their services rise, but their funding reduced or changed because of cuts in public spending.

“Key trends include a reduction in central and local government grant funding and the aggregation of smaller public service contracts into larger ones which have been increasingly won by larger charities.

“These changes have seen many smaller charities face a capacity crunch, as they have had to make cutbacks to core staffing and back office support, which could undermine their future sustainability.

“Nonetheless, a recent study found that half of local charities were unsure they would still be operating in five years’ time”.

This quotation describes our own experience and I recommend that charity trustees and managers read and heed “Facing Forward: How Medium Sized and Small Charities Can Adapt to Survive”.

I’ve also been reading a book called “The Happy Healthy Non-profit” written by an American author, Beth Kanter, which “champions self care for individuals and organisations in the non-profit sector”.

As Beth writes “Non-profits are driven to do more, more, more, often with fewer and fewer resources; there comes a breaking point where passion dwindles under the weight of pressure, and the mission suffers as a result.”

What this means in practice is that the people involved, whether staff, volunteers or trustees, can all to easily head towards “burnout”, with a negative effect on their own health and wellbeing.

This all seems very gloomy, but I really do believe that with planning and care local charities can work through these challenging situations. It’s been sad for us to lose colleagues and discontinue long established services, but we’ve been heartened by the messages of encouragement we’ve received.

We’re determined to ensure that there is a bright future for HARCVS so that we can continue to support our brilliant local volunteers and voluntary organisations and share our learning from this experience. We’re also having a huge spring clean and freshen up and testing out whether clearing clutter will give us a new perspective, more energy and more clarity, as advised by Beth.

Let’s hope so! Find out more at www.harcvs.org.uk or on Facebook and Twitter.