Thursday, 30 May 2013

Paid workers – a voluntary group’s “essential” or “luxury”?

Another debate that has been very much “in the air” recently, is about whether or not groups of people who come together to pursue a common goal should receive more formalised support, particularly in the early stages. This could apply to any type of voluntary group, not just those focusing on mental health issues. Just because individuals decide they want to work together to campaign, for example, for better or different services, does not necessarily mean that they have the skills required to set up, run and sustain the group.

Working at Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations for the last few years I have come across many people volunteering across all spheres – health, the arts, heritage, sport and more. The one thing which brings them together is their passion – in my own case, volunteering for The Quilt Association in Llanidloes, it is a love of quilts both old and new that is the common bond. In mental health people might want to press for new services in a particular geographical area, or provide support for a specific group such as carers, for example.

But... what all these people (including me), with their diverse range of interests and skills and goals, suddenly find they also have in common – is the need to skill-up fairly quickly on the day-to-day basics of running and maintaining a group and the implications that has for them all. This is particularly the case for those groups which decide to become charities, where legal and financial responsibilities can create a lot of work – work which has absolutely nothing to do with the original reason why the group was set up!

So, whether promoting heritage quilts or campaigning for increased mental health services... we suddenly all need chairs, treasurers, secretaries and incredibly hard-working individuals who don’t mind finding out the nitty-gritty about insurance, equal opportunities policies, expense procedures and so it goes on...

The question is, should some of these groups – in the area of health often referred to as “user-led organisations” - be provided with a paid development worker in the early stages to help them? According to the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) “strong user-led organisations help commissioners tackle inequality, build social capital, contribute to prevention, and be more responsive to the local community.” You can read some of the guidance given to people commissioning services to develop and strengthen these organisations here.

What do you think? Are you involved in a voluntary group yourself, or thinking of setting one up? (Wales Council for Voluntary Action has useful information here if you are).  And if you believe paid support is required on a regular basis – who is going to fund it?

PS: Whilst reading around the issues for this post I discovered that the Office for Disability Issues has a Strengthening Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations Programme - short-term grants to groups in the UK. “The programme is a £3 million investment over four years (until 2015) that will aim to promote growth and improve the sustainability of DPULOs.”  You can find specific advice for organisations based in Wales here.

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