4th December 2012

Butetown Community Centre, Cardiff , United Kingdom

Just over 30 people gathered in the Committee Room of Cardiff University (very posh) to discuss five papers relating to different aspects of the voluntary sector.

First up was Alex Murdock, who challenged the audience with a paper reporting the negotiations between large private companies engaged in the work programme and sector representatives, to agree a ‘compact’. This sparked lively discussion regarding issues of power and the desire for large organisations (like government) to deal with large organisations (of whatever sector). This was followed by Rebecca Rumbul’s paper on the ability of third sector organisations to get involved in EU funded programmes in Wales. The thesis was that those organisations that had the capacity, and skills, to become embedded in the process were far more likely to receive funding from it. This had similar themes to Alex’s paper, where the ability of organisations to act like or mix with public or private sector organisations becomes an important factor in their ‘success’ or ‘sustainability’.

After a break for lunch, we turned to the issues facing smaller organisations. The way a 40 year old campaigning organisation was adapting to social media and online campaigning was described by Amy Burbage, who appropriately used Prezi, an online presentation format, to guide us through her presentation. The tensions between older, founder, members and younger, more internet-savy campaigners were clear, and the question of whether the technology was driving the change, or the realities of how effective campaigns work today was posed. Issues of democracy and digital exclusion were also apparent. This led on to a paper considering ‘critical incidents’ in the lives of lunch clubs. Eileen Spencer, showed evidence of the way grass roots organisations function, and some of the risks and vulnerabilities that this brought. Aiming to ‘break even’ is OK in a stable world, but current uncertainties mean it is unlikely to be a sustainable strategy. The potential for these community organisations to enable people to grow old healthily was also stated, making their sustainability a matter for public health planning. DayConference04Dec2012-3Finally, Lindsey Metcalf presented a paper on the experiences and views of trustees of small charities that mostly provided social care services. Their list of ‘things that keep me awake at night’ was instructive, as much for what was omitted as what was included. The need for good support, induction and ongoing training was highlighted. From the floor, wise advice about the need to train boards, not individuals, left us contemplating the very real issues that we research, and the need to make use of the learning to improve what we (the third or voluntary sector) do.

The meeting also had its bit of ‘real life experience’ as we took part in the VSSN AGM. A thank you was expressed to Chris Cornforth for his leadership and work as chair as he stepped down. Several participants indicated events or publications in the near future, so 2013 looks like a busy year.

The day conference was hosted by Wales Council for Voluntary Action with WISERD – the Wales Institute for Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods