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Challenges and Opportunities

When asked about the future, project respondents identified a mix of challenges associated keeping the work going and maintaining its integrity and horizon scanning for new opportunities.

Sustainability

The prominence of funding as a barrier makes it unsurprising that one of the major challenges that most groups face is sustainability: maintaining their activity and, where relevant, their plant. Sometimes, it is anticipated that this will mean doing “more with less”.

Partnerships

For some projects, developing partnerships is closely associated with the need for financial security as a route towards being consortium members and winning contracts. For most, it is a key requirement for effective performance as very few will be able to go it entirely alone. Projects need to establish their credibility in delivering their service and demonstrate that they are reliable partners.

Capacity

Capacity was cited as an issue in a number of ways. It could appear in relation to the need to identify new trustees/directors or recruit staff and/or volunteers with the right aptitude and expertise or ensure continuity through changes in key personnel. It sometimes related to use of plant.

“Increasing numbers of users put greater demands on the building and use of space.”

However, there are also clearly stages in organisational growth and development that present challenges when more robust management, administrative and marketing systems become necessary. In other words, there is a need to develop roles and functions to support the key mission and purpose of the project. Quite often these will require skills that are not needed while the project remains very small and which are not the ones brought by the original founders or early workers.

“I am manager, a trustee, the treasurer and also an adviser. Having so many hats has been necessary up to now, but I am praying that people will come along with different gifts and there will come a day when I can let go of some work and pass it to others.”

“Effectively we have a small business whose demand has hopelessly outstripped the structures that its original plan dictated would be required. What happens then is that you get some burn-out and insufficient time to build a new strategy for the larger organisation.”

Another significant step for some projects is to move from being reliant on grant aid/donations either to taking on contracts or to setting up a social enterprise.

Making greater use of volunteers

At a time when the squeeze on funding is heightening the importance of volunteers, several projects were thinking about how to make greater use of them. As well as wanting to recruit more volunteers, they were considering how to increase the diversity of their roles (“developing bigger roles for experienced befrienders, for example, as ambassadors, mentors and contributors to the training programme”) and how to make the experience a more rewarding one for volunteers through additional training and accreditation.

Extending the work

Given increased funding, many projects are able to identify ways in which they could expand their work. This may be to extend it geographically to cover a wider area or it might be to take on new activities: for example, more outreach and follow up work in a homelessness project. Other openings are arising because of the paucity of provision in some policy areas.

“There are very few resources locally for people with mental health issues or learning difficulties and so there is an opportunity for us to do more.”

Policy and service changes

Another drive to extending the work comes from the needs and opportunities that exist because other services are being cut and clients are receiving much less support. More people seek help in a time of financial stringency. Needs may also arise, however, because of demographic or other changes. At a time when there are proportionately more older people and they are living longer, there is recognition of the need for more provision for older people.

The effects of austerity measures was a repeated theme.

“The switch from Incapacity Benefit to Job Seeker’s Allowance means that claimants have less money but are frequently still unemployable.”

Eligibility criteria are being narrowed and excluding some who would previously have been helped.

“Constant changes to the asylum system make it harder and harder for people to pursue claims and significantly increase the length of stay of our residents, reducing the number we can help.”

A number of projects recognise the challenge of keeping abreast of policy changes and coping with the fall-out where there is a negative impact on project users. Changes in contract arrangements have affected some projects making financial viability more fragile and leading to a much more competitive working environment especially for smaller organisations.

More positively, the introduction of ‘personalisation’[1] is particularly significant for the changes it is bringing to adult social care. Individuals receive their own budget and can decide how, who with and where they wish to spend that budget in order to meet their needs and achieve their desired outcomes. Rather than a service-led approach in which individuals have to fit into care and support services that already exist which have been designed and commissioned by others on their behalf, it means tailoring support to people’s individual needs and ensuring they can make informed decisions about their care and support. It requires finding new collaborative ways of working (sometimes known as co-production) that support people to actively engage in the design, delivery and evaluation of services and developing local partnerships to co-produce a range of services to give people choice. The initial focus is on social care and support services, but the intention is to embed the principles of personalisation in other public service areas such as health and education.

Although the government’s austerity measures seem to bring opportunities, “people in churches, as in the rest of the voluntary sector, are becoming more wary of, or rather cynical about, the term ‘Big Society’ because it seems to amount to them being given more and more responsibilities in the face of dwindling resources”.

Holding the vision

Struggling with day-to-day survival can make it harder to keep the real purpose of the effort at the forefront of thinking.

“One challenge is to keep the vision in focus so that making money is not the driving force . . . remembering that these are Community Interest Companies here to serve the community and using them as a tangible expression of God’s love for the community through the church.”

“To ensure the values and ethos central to the organisation remain and we are not diverted through chasing funding opportunities which take us into different directions.”

In addition to funding, targets set by funders, if they are not exactly a diversion, can at least deflect attention from other less tangible, goals. There was sometimes consciousness, too, of the need to “make more space for theological reflection”.

Imparting the vision

On the whole, however, imparting the vision to others is a greater challenge. This might be about the importance of the work: underlining its imperative as well as distinguishing it from more narrowly evangelistic activities.

“To some extent there is a tension between the pressures around the Diocesan growth Strategy (numerical growth on Sunday mornings) and what we feel called to do in our neighbourhood.”

Some projects wanted to gain more active or moral support from local churches for what they were doing. It could be the case that where there was collaboration, it was restricted to churches that have a similar theological outlook, yet there is scope to be more inclusive because others would share their commitment to this area of mission. On the other hand, lack of support could spring from disagreement about whether these were appropriate activities or, as indicated above, because of prejudice about the specific user groups, whether asylum seekers, homeless, people in poverty or ex-offenders. There was recognition, therefore, of the need for awareness-raising alongside the core project activities.


[1] Department of Health, (2007) Putting People First: A shared vision and commitment to the transformation of adult social care.