On Saturday 11th of June, 28 people from across the city met to discuss running and being part of small volunteer organisations.
The idea had come from an earlier Birmingham Partners event where volunteers had talked about the lack of any forum for people from the micro-volunteer sector.
Nearly 50% of all groups fall into this category, but they usually remain ‘under the radar’ of funding and support mechanisms. Added to this there is evidence that Birmingham submits fewer grant applications for this sector – something which clearly needs addressing.
The day conference was held at the Deaf Cultural Centre in Ladywood and the focus was to on identifying what common issues were faced and how they were (or were not) being resolved.
We’ll post to this site and all participants the agenda for the day and details of discussions which took place in the 6 workshop groups, but after very productive and friendly debate the upshot of the day was this:
We will set up a series of free, rolling advice sessions for micro-volunteer groups to access. We’re terming them VAB (volunteer advice bureaux) and hope to be hosted in a combination of places, including fire stations around the city.
We will run a larger event to encourage groups to come together, nominally called ‘Community Question Time’, where key issues could be dealt with or speakers might be invited who can be grilled by the audience.
The work which is being done by this part of the voluntary sector in the city is vital in terms of supporting health and wellbeing amongst its citizens. By creating better communication between groups to share information and expertise as well as access funding, this will help the sector be as effective as possible. Which is to all our benefit.
On 2nd March at 6, we ran another local ‘problem-solver’ event this time at the Nishkam Centre on Soho Road, Handsworth.
We’d been invited by Kanika who runs ‘Handsworth Community’ a local site which links up voluntary and community groups in the area.
The plan was to run it in the same way as the one in Stirchley (couple of speakers, questions from the floor and then small groups discussing /networking). But as this was smaller (16 participants) it soon became a group discussion about issues such as ‘how do you create a community’, as well as swapping experiences and information.
We still had two speakers. First up was Simon Baddeley who is behind ‘Handsworth Helping Hands’ http://www.insidehandsworth.co.uk/2014/02/handsworth-helping-hands/ talking about a small grant they’d applied for and how they’d spent it – including the as yet unsolved question of how you create a community.
Jacqui Kennedy, who’s Director of Place (everything that isn’t ‘People’) at the council, was also one of the speakers and as previously, took down details of questions and issues people asked for help resolving.
One of the interesting suggestions which was raised in the general discussion came from Charmaine Burton. She was talking about the use of mentoring at work. The idea that you bring several people along with you so you are always encouraging the next generation to come through and take up the work. We then talked about adapting that to voluntary/community groups to make better links with other similar organisations. (Referred to by John OMeara as a ‘Birmingham Approach’- see here for his write up http://www.insidehandsworth.co.uk/2016/03/touching-the-elephant/ ). This could well help with the issue of group burn-out or the feeling some groups have of working on their own and having to come up with all the solutions themselves.
Still the most positive side of the evening for me was the comment (overheard several times) ‘I’ve been meaning to meet you, but haven’t found the opportunity/time’ which is probably the strongest aspect of these events.
Thanks to everyone who came out on a rainy March evening and the Nishkam Centre for hosting us so warmly.
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The idea was to learn from each other how to resolve particular issues which had been met by community groups.
Barry Toon from community initiative CP4SO spoke about identifying anti-social behaviour in Selly Oak and the ways in which his group had organised to tackle this on one particular day, 2nd July 2015.
Bruce Pitt spoke about Frankley Parish Council’s approach to dealing with fly-tipping. This included buying a tipper truck, organising to pick up the rubbish and getting a concession from the council for taking it to Lifford Lane.
Jacqui Kennedy from BCC where she’s head of ‘Place’ talked about wanting to open doors for people in the work which communities are doing.
We had some robust, useful debate and then people started sharing in smaller groups some of the ways they organise, problem-solve etc.
There were interesting and unexpected conversations along with networking. According to feedback it was felt to be useful, so we’re doing more. Kanika from Handsworth Community came to Stirchley for this one, so we’re hoping to run the next one in Handsworth.
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Along with more of these local ‘problem-solvers’ participants said they wanted to ask questions and look for change in how the Council treated volunteers, the issue of getting ‘approved status’ also came up as a subject to be discussed as well as some media training to support groups get their work and concerns better known.
Birmingham Partners will suggest sessions looking at those topics.
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