Coffee with a teaspoon of advice

Cambridgeshire ACRE are running a series of advice sessions for village hall trustees, and any other community organisations that are interested in running, managing or owning a hall or community facility.

The latest advice session was held in Abbottsley, St Neots and was well attended.

Abbottsley village hall is a  wonderful old building and is being lovingly restored by the trustees.  They have already battled with the cold and damp in the hall, refurbished the kitchen area, replaced several floors and installed double glazed windows to match the historic original design.

Trustees had the opportunity to network, share best practice, and discuss potential challenges and opportunities over coffee and cake.

The teaspoon of advice came through two discussion topics:

Governance and incorporation

PAT Testing and the current requirements for village halls

Cambridgeshire ACRE will be running several more of these coffee style mornings throughout 2017.

Trustees have commented how valuable it is to see what other halls have achieved, and how they have managed and funded projects.  Trustees have regularly told ACRE that they usually leave these events with a list of new ideas to take away and implement in their own halls.

If you are an existing village hall trustee, or if you are taking your first steps into thinking about managing a hall, then why not come to one of these events. For dates, venue location and times, or to simply book a place contact Lisa Chambers at Cambridgeshire ACRE.

A visit to number 10

Julie Farrow, CEO of Hunts Forum and lead partner for Support Cambridgeshire recently attended number 10 to meet with the Prime Ministers Special Advisor to the Third Sector.

Hunts Forum and Support Cambridgeshire were one of a number of community based infrastructure organisations invited from across the UK,  the similarity with them all was their ability to deliver innovative solutions to community based problems across the sector.

It was a great day by all accounts.

Some of the subject matter dwelt on future commissioning possibilities and frameworks, social value and why the Social Value Act has failed to deliver as the government thought it would, and the thorny subject of funding in a world of ever decreasing finances.

I think Julie also met Larry the cat, who was asleep under a radiator (his normal resting place apparently).

Asked why Hunts Forum and Support Cambridgeshire were invited she said:

“I think Cambridgeshire as a county has a mixed geography, both urban and rural, which is of interest to national government. The fact that Hunts Forum and Support Cambridgeshire are smaller infrastructure organisations was also a factor, because we have delivered a large number of innovative solutions to community issues over the past few years, and will continue to do so”.

Asked if the voluntary sector is gaining influence with national government she said:

“The Advisor seemed very interested in what all of the representatives around the table had to say. She was actively taking notes, and was specifically interested in the current issues with commissioning, particularly in smaller counties where smaller organisations would like the opportunity to deliver services, but cannot, because the framework lends itself to bigger and more robust organisations. The Advisor talked about a Kitemark for commissioning standards, which would be a useful starting point.”

Asked if there were still barriers to national government and the voluntary sector she said:

“Not barriers, just opportunities. It is very clear that as central and local government has had to change and alter the way it works due to competition and constrained resources, so too will the voluntary and community sector. Working in partnership is going to be a key aspect of gaining funding and delivering services in the future.”

The State of the Sector Survey

Support Cambridgeshire will be issuing the annual State of the Sector survey in the next three weeks. We are urging all community based organisations to reply with their thoughts and comments.

The survey will be embedded within the next Support Cambridgeshire newsletter, and will be circulated among a variety of extended networks in order to receive more replies than ever before.

The survey is critical as it provides relevant and timely information about the state of the voluntary and community sector across Cambridgeshire, and its used to work with statutory and business partners on issues of training, governance, funding and strategic development.

It is a highly powerful tool for engaging with partners and stakeholders across the public and private sectors. It enables the process of voice, influence and representation.

The more organisations that take the time to complete the survey, the better picture we will have on issues, challenges, success stories and best practice.

Previous surveys have informed us that:

  • training programmes have to be geared to the needs and requirements of the sector, with an understanding that the sector is changing rapidly.
  • information and advice needs to be circulated through a variety of different routes into the community, both on and off-line.
  • giving seldom heard communities a voice is critical for the process of social action and community cohesion, and
  • working in partnership is vital to the success of a community presence within Cambridgeshire.

If you are a community based organisation or group and work within Cambridgeshire, and have never completed the survey before then why not subscribe to our newsletter and receive the link.

Alternatively, you can contact Support Cambridgeshire for an electronic copy.

Employee Supported Volunteering – What is it?

Employee Supported Volunteering (or ESV) is a process whereby employers allow employees to volunteer for good causes, or give their skills and time to support community projects or voluntary organisations. The emphasis for ESV is less about workplace challenge days (clearing a path, draining a pond or painting a fence or community building) and more about the structured transfer of knowledge and skills between the business and community sectors. This is often called skills based volunteering.

Most commentators accept that business can help to shape communities.

Most know that business, large or small, possesses a wealth of skill and experience, honed in a competitive market place.

Most hope that local business wants to support the community in which it trades.

Infrastucture organisations such as Support Cambridgeshire also recognise that community organisations across Cambridgeshire often lack the very skills that business has in abundance.

The task  is to bring both sectors together in a new and exciting Learning and Skills Exchange Programme.

The Office for Civil Society recently conducted  research on ESV across 11 pilots throughout the UK. Whilst there were pockets of good practice, the same recurring themes or barriers were identified:

There is very little resource to support ESV. The private sector is generally unwilling to fund, and resources are constrained in both the public and community sectors.

ESV only works well if it is a brokered relationship. Left to their own devices, the community and business sectors talk wildly different languages.

The community sector has to be clear with both its ask, and its offer to business.

ESV is a two – way street. It is not only about what business can give to its community, but what voluntary organisations can give back to business.

Support Cambridgeshire is a new partnership of three trusted community based organisations: Hunts Forum of Voluntary Organisations based in Huntingdonshire, Cambridge Council of Voluntary Service in Cambridge, and Cambridgeshire ACRE in Ely.

The partnership has come together under a three year programme funded by Cambridgeshire County Council, with the express aim of supporting the community and voluntary sector and achieving better outcomes for communities across the county.

The partnership wants to ensure that community groups can express influence, and map their own futures more distinctly. Part of this process is about making groups more business focussed and tender ready.

A key theme for this partnership is better engagement with business. We would like Business to provide bite sized elements of distinct support as required by Community organisations. This support could be through training, through face to face advice, or online or via the telephone. It could be in organisational development, HR, financial accounting, design or contract management.

  • The first stage of this process is to enlist interested businesses across Cambridgeshire.
  • The second stage is to ascertain what the community needs.
  • The third stage is to match both parties.

If you are a local business, and feel you can offer some free time to assist a community organisation, either through training or face to face or online support, then please contact Supportcambridgeshire in the first instance.

What we can offer to businesses

  • A mutually beneficial relationship between local business and community groups and organisations.
  • Partners with us will have a thorough understanding of community organisations and the requirements town and parish councils.
  • Development workers who can thoroughly assess requests for support and decide whether or not these can be met by local business.
  • Local business can be confident that any application has been bench-tested before they receive it, preventing lost time and a lack of clarity.
  • Development workers can liaise with local business to ensure that adequate progress is made with each application, and can broker relations between business and the community groups concerned
  • Each relationship will be defined as short term – a bite sized element of support which local business can easily schedule amongst their other work.
  • Clear feedback will be provided to business on the effect of their support.

In addition, participating businesses can expect:

  • a listing on our our website
  • use of our logo and strapline
  • a feature, article or relevant link within our monthly newsletter
  • invitations to networking and peer-learning events
  • opportunities for business promotion
  • the opportunity to assist in social action initiatives within Cambridgeshire neighbourhoods.
  • Staff development.
  • The opportunity to bench test new ideas on new audiences.
  • Reach into new markets and new market segments.

37.6 million secured for growth

The Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership is pleased to announce the securing of a further 37.6 million pounds of funding to support the growth of local economies via the Government’s Growth Deal.

The award comes on the back of  a strong devolution deal for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, funding for work on East – West rail worth 110 million pounds, and an additional 27 million to support study and research work for the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway.

The continued investment in the Local Economic Partnership is critical to unlock the key barriers to growth, delivering infrastucture upgrades and new housing that are vital to the economic success of the area and of UK PLC as a whole.

Previous Growth Deal allocations have been used to support a range of diverse projects, including the Ely Southern Bypass, improvements to King’s Dyke Level Crossing near Whittlesey, and the New Highways Academy at WATA to help train apprentices for the A14 road enhancement scheme.

The new allocation has been provided on a programme basis, giving flexibility about the best way in which funding can be used to support economic growth across the area.

The Local Economic Partnership will continue to work through specific proposals with partners, and on pipeline investment plans for the proposed combined authority.

Specific project investments will be guided by outcomes from any review of the Strategic Economic Plan.

Community facilities in Cambridge city – have your say?

Cambridge City Council is seeking the views of residents and community organisations within the city on the future of community facilities.

The vision, based on evidence of where facilities are most needed across the city, informs proposed changes to seven out of its eight community centres. In addition, a number of gaps have been identified where services cannot be accessed easily by residents who most need them.

The proposals, laid out in a consultation which runs until 5 May, include:

  • Building a new community centre (‘Hub’) on the site of the existing Meadows Community Centre in Arbury ward. This will improve, but not reduce, community facilities available, in order to provide all of the services currently offered by The Meadows and nearby Buchan Street Neighbourhood Centre (King’s Hedges ward).
  • Looking into the feasibility of being able to provide more housing through the redevelopment of council-owned land currently occupied by Buchan Street Neighbourhood Centre, and by reducing the footprint occupied by the existing Meadows Community Centre.
  • Improving facilities at Akeman Street (Arbury ward) or at a more suitable redeveloped site nearby.
  • Inviting voluntary sector organisations to take on the management of community centres in some areas: Ross Street Community Centre (Romsey ward), Buchan Street Neighbourhood Centre (Kings Hedges ward) and Nun’s Way Pavilion (King’s Hedges ward).
  • Exploring opportunities to enhance facilities in King’s Hedges ward, as current provision at Nun’s Way Pavilion and 37 Lawrence Way is restrictive in terms of size, location and accessibility.
  • Continuing to provide community facilities at Trumpington Pavilion (Trumpington ward) in partnership with Trumpington Residents’ Association.
  • Retaining Brown’s Field Youth and Community Centre(East Chesterton ward) as a council managed community centre.
  • Addressing gaps in the provision of community facilities in Abbey, Cherry Hinton, East Chesterton and Queen Edith’s wards.
  • Meeting the needs of new communities by helping to provide new community facilities in growing areas of the city such as Clay Farm in the south west development area (Trumpington ward), and Storey’s Field in the north west development area (Castle ward).

People can respond to the consultation on the council’s website. There are also a number of open sessions at community centres and before area committee meetings when people can drop in, review the proposals and talk to council officers. Printed copies of the consultation document are available at council managed community centres, or by phoning 01223 457862.

Cllr Richard Johnson, Executive Councillor for Communities, said:

“The council commenced a review into community centre provision in the city to ensure that our services are fit for the future and closely match up with the needs and requirements of Cambridge residents.

“The draft proposals that came out of the review, and are to be consulted on, set out a positive, bold and ambitious vision which will, when taken as a complete package, improve and enhance the services we provide and further strengthen the rich and diverse community organisations, clubs, and groups that operate from our centres.”​

The consultation on the draft proposals will run for 12 weeks until 12 noon on 5 May. The responses received to the consultation will help to inform the final Community Centre Strategy, which will be considered at Community Services Committee on 29 June.

A14 Community Fund – funding for local communities?

The A14 Community Fund is a legacy of the new A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon road improvement scheme.

The 21 mile improvement scheme will include a major new bypass of Huntingdon between Swavesey and Brampton, a widening of the road between Brampton and Alconbury, and improving the junctions at Bar Hill, Swavesey, Girton, Histon and Milton.

As part of a commitment to supporting local communities, the A14 project team at Highways England has launched the A14 Community Fund.

The fund, administered by Cambridgeshire Community Foundation, will support local projects that consider and respond to changes brought about by the improvements, and provide them with resources to react to these changes.

The fund comprises a series of grant rounds.

Local groups and community organisations will be able to apply for grants of 10k which generate positive change and bring communities closer together.

Grants will be awarded over the next two years for community projects addressing a wide range of issues, including the environment, health and well-being, heritage, arts, skills and culture.

Gerard Smith, legacy lead for the project at Highways England explains that while the road scheme will relieve congestion and unlock growth, it is important to look at the broader picture and consider how the scheme will affect quality of life in the area. He states:

“The construction of the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme will have a lasting impact on communities that live around it, opening up opportunities for positive initiatives to the benefit of everyone in the area. We want to work with local communities to make the most of these opportunities and ensure we leave behind a positive legacy once the project is completed”.

To find out more about the fund visit the Cambridge Community Foundation website.

Projects already funded by the road improvement scheme:

Great Paxton Community Village Shop Ltd has been awarded a grant of £9,965.00 to provide a convenience shop for the local community including volunteering and work experience opportunities, and to support others to develop community shops.

Alconbury C of E Primary School has been awarded a grant of £5,000.00 for an artist to work with the whole community to update 5 murals in the school hall (one of which will be transport inspired and reference the A14).

Groundwork East  has been awarded a grant of £10,000.00 to improve the confidence and employability of people furthest from employment, by growing wildflower plugs for use on the borrow pit nature reserves created by the A14.

Histon & Impington Community Orchard Project has been awarded a grant of £1,751.00 to complete and help maintain the orchard by providing a motorised brush cutter & hedge trimmer, and an information sign and to support others to develop community orchards.

Innovation within communities

Through the Cambridgeshire Communities Innovation Fund, Cambridgeshire County Council is investing in ideas and expertise that will help people stay safe, independent and well in the community in which they live, whilst reducing demand for council services.

The aim of the fund is to support people to do things in their own community or to develop a good idea, building on strengths and talent.

It is for community organisations with ideas about how to improve the lives of local people, particularly those who are deemed most vulnerable.

The fund is administered through the Cambridgeshire Community Foundation.

Examples of projects which might prove successful in obtaining fund money include any project which builds support for vulnerable people, or any project using new technology to transform the way that vulnerable people can be supported.

Proposals need to achieve the following criteria:

Increased capacity within communities to help others, so that people and communities become more resilient and are better able to look after themselves.

Reduced demand on council services.

An understanding of the impact that the idea delivers or could deliver.

The application process sits in two stages:

In stage 1, community organisations should contact Cambridgeshire Community Foundation and complete an online project proposal form. This is essentially an outline of the idea.

In stage 2, chosen proposals will be invited to complete a full application form.

Stage 1 project proposals can be submitted at any time.

Support Cambridgeshire will be working with Cambridgeshire County Council to organise a number of network events throughout the county specifically on the Innovation Fund.

This should help community organisations understand the fund better, and provide ideas and thinking about what type of projects are likely to be successful.

The network events will enable the Innovation Fund Officer from Cambridgeshire County Council to take you through the process, and will be followed by a Q&A session.

Please visit our events page for more details as these are compiled.



The problem with volunteer numbers in the UK

Data from the Charity Commission register shows that volunteer numbers are both huge and poorly recorded.

The commission are confident that the overall number of volunteers within the UK is astonishingly large, and is estimated at 3.46 million.

Volunteering in all its guises seems a hugely popular thing to do, whether its a traditional form of short or long term commitment, or volunteering through time-banking, time credits or through the increasingly popular concept of Micro- Volunteering, where people provide support or advice in bite – sized elements.

However, its also clear that this data isn’t the most consistent. Large national charities often provide volunteer figures to the nearest ten thousand, and these figures can vary markedly over a decade or more.

Most commentators feel that the figure of 3.46 million, massive though it is, is probably very much on the low side and then it depends on how you measure what a volunteer is and that can be difficult. As David Ainsworth states:

“The government, in its definition of social action, has at times said that something as personal as giving someone else’s kids a lift to football practice counts as volunteering. There’s a lot of stuff about formal and informal volunteering, and the fact that we should replace the idea of volunteering altogether with the even more numinous concept of social action. This leads me to a common bugbear of mine. We vastly undersell the value of charities because we account for them according to their cash economy. We routinely say there are less than half as many charities in the UK as there actually are. We compound this issue by valuing charities by turnover, which leads us to see them as small compared to commercial companies with their vast incomes.”

But most importantly, charities don’t really put a value on volunteering, because it’s hard to count.

Andy Haldane, chief economist of the Bank of England and a man who knows a thing or two, reckons that volunteering is worth more than £50 billion to the UK economy. And even that may sell it short.

The essential problem is that charities are not really required to capture this data, and many do not. It is hard to put a book value on, and so it is not captured well in accounts. But perhaps it is time to try and address this more formally.

Source: Civil Society

Results of Cambridgeshire ACRE’S community facilities survey

During October and November of 2016, Cambridgeshire ACRE carried out a comprehensive survey of community facilities across the County. A link to the survey was sent by email to 200 known community buildings, and the survey was heavily promoted via social media and direct mail.

The survey results provide Cambridgeshire ACRE, and its Support Cambridgeshire partners (Hunts Forum of Voluntary Organisations and Cambridge Council for Voluntary Service), with a unique picture of community facilities across the County and where we can, collectively, better support volunteer management committees going forward. The results demonstrate the vibrancy of community facilities across Cambridgeshire, and show them to be a vital asset for the delivery of community services and as key ‘hubs’ for bringing communities together.

15 key findings included:

  • The majority of village halls and community buildings in Cambridgeshire are charitable organisations (87%).
  • Some confusion exists among halls around incorporation and the benefits or not of being an incorporated body.
  • There is some lack of clarity around the ownership of land on which halls sit; some 21% aren’t sure who owns the land where their hall is located.
  •  A self-assessment by halls of their committees’ knowledge, skills and effectiveness reveals that three-quarters believe their committees are well-informed, have good skill levels and are effective building managers.
  • The main issues reported as affecting every day running are finding funding to support the facilities; finding volunteers to run activities; and finding trustees to run the hall.
  • The topics management committees would most like to see training provided on are Health and Safety, governance and applying for funding.
  • The preferred times for holding training sessions would be weekdays and during the day or evening.
  • Nearly three quarters (73%) of halls or buildings are considered to be ‘generally in good repair’.
  • Over three quarters of halls have improvements or renovations planned for the coming year, acknowledging that running a village hall or community building involves a constant programme of repair and maintenance.
  • Just over half of halls (54%) make a surplus each year through hiring fees alone. Most have to undertake additional fundraising to stay solvent.
  • Most halls believe they are financially viable in the short to medium term (the next 5 years).
  • Nearly two thirds of village halls and community buildings (58%) have their main space in use for more than 21 hours per week.
  • Cambridgeshire village halls and community buildings are used to deliver a wide range of rural services including Parish Council meetings, polling stations, local information points,
    and community events. There are also some indications that halls are being used to deliver health and social care services.
  • Three quarters of village hall and community building committees are aware of the advice service provided by Cambridgeshire ACRE and are members. Only a very small proportion (13%) are not aware of Cambridgeshire ACRE’s work to support village halls.
  • 80% of respondents believe Cambridgeshire ACRE understands the needs of village hall committees.

You can download the full report here.

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