Voluntary sector can develop links with Harrogate firms

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It’s great to see this paper campaigning to support the fantastic range of independent businesses which serve our communities and play a big part in bringing visitors and their money into the area.

In the first article in the campaign (31 March), I was interested to read the views of Paul Rawlinson from Harrogate restaurant Baltzersens about the challenges of competing with the bigger chains.

He highlighted the importance of the independents community working together, especially using social media to support and promote each other and thus having a bigger combined clout to attract both local and visiting customers. It’s great to see our local press and businesses taking the lead to ensure our towns continue to offer a varied choice of shopping and eating experiences.

But what does this have to do with charities? Well in many ways the same challenges apply. There is tough competition for volunteers and funds for organisations of all sizes, but well-resourced nationals deploy big marketing budgets which smaller local groups can’t hope to match on their own. One way in which Harrogate and Ripon CVS helps is by collecting and sharing information about local charities via our Community Information Directory and the events and activities diaries which we maintain. We’re very active on social media and share anything we spot which supports local voluntary and community action. Our aim is to raise the profile of volunteering generally but also ensure that people who want to get involved or need support have a genuine choice. The larger charities play a vital role and offer excellent services, but smaller and more local groups can offer support which is tailored to their particular community, and volunteers can become very directly involved in making a difference. A strong and independent local voluntary and community sector is just as important as a strong and independent retail and food sector.

Another area of work we’re interested in is helping to support voluntary organisations to develop links with local businesses. There are lots of great examples already happening and we’ve seen an increase in the number of enquiries from businesses wanting to give their staff the opportunity to get involved in volunteering. This might be linked to the Government’s announcement last year of plans to introduce three days’ mandatory volunteering leave for companies with more than 250 employees. This could see 15 million workers entitled to the three volunteering days each year (in addition to annual leave) and an extra 360 million volunteering hours a year being created. However the detail around the proposal is still sketchy and consultation is promised before it is rolled out, possibly from 2017 onwards.

While welcoming the proposal in principle, voluntary organisations are somewhat anxious about being able to provide useful and rewarding opportunities for that type of “one off” volunteering offer. What they need most is a regular commitment from people who can build up their skills and get to know the people they are working with. However it is essential to be positive and prepared for the increased interest in volunteering that this could bring, both from individuals and businesses.

The best fit between businesses and charities comes about when there is a genuine and mutual shared interest, rather than something imposed or done just to tick a box. A great example of this is local company Belzona who decided at the start of 2016 that they wanted to support their local community and enable all staff to get involved. They’ve established the Belzona One Per Cent Club which enables all staff to donate one per cent of their time each year (about three days). As part of the scheme, employees are able to do volunteer activities on an individual basis or as a group, with specially chosen charities in Harrogate. Belzona has chosen to work closely with Harrogate Homeless Project and the Harrogate Easier Living Project (HELP). In setting up this scheme Belzona has emphasised they are keen to develop a lasting connection with both organisations and the scheme enables the charities themselves to put in place some longer term plans to make best use of the skills and expertise the volunteers can offer. This is so much more useful than the offers we sometimes receive in the Harrogate and Ripon Volunteer Centre from businesses who want to find a hands-on team volunteering activity for next week. Practical volunteering, such as painting or gardening, is useful, of course, but there’s so much more to consider which could benefit local charities, such as sharing skills via mentoring, training, or advice sessions.

The key to a successful charity business partnership is careful joint planning.

To find out more about volunteering or for information on the local voluntary and community sector visit www.harcvs.org.uk or ring 01423 504704.