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I am sure for many of us that the summer holidays have been rather different. Weighing up the pros and cons of going abroad and the risk of having to self-isolate for a fortnight on return, deciding where to go on holiday in this country and avoiding the crowds, or staying at home, which has probably been the safest bet – in particular for those with health conditions.

Whatever you have done I hope you have managed to have some sort of break.

 

Digital exclusion is an issue which we have all been aware of for some time – in particular, the importance for us all of being connected, which has certainly come to the fore during this pandemic. Digital working has been vitally important for voluntary and community organisations delivering services as well as for their beneficiaries, and I would like to thank those organisations who got in touch to let me know how this had impacted on service delivery.

Digital inclusion is a challenge and it is evident that not everyone is being reached for a variety of reasons, but it tends to be those who are most vulnerable who need support to get online. I’ve been looking at ways we could work towards digital inclusion, but this does require commitment from partners and a multi-agency approach to make progress.

A report will follow in due course.

The Assembly Executive Committee have discussed and given support for a Manifesto for the sector so that we can provide clarity about our intention and views. Whilst recognising that the voluntary and community sector is made up of a diverse, complex range of organisation including small community groups and larger county-wide organisations, it demonstrates that we are clear as a sector what we hope for and expect.

Thank you once again to those organisations that have contributed their views on the draft manifesto. A final draft will be on the Assembly website in due course and any further comments will be welcome.

Take care and keep safe.

Ann

 

 

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Ann Atkinson

Assembly Development Officer

 

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Ann Atkinson: Assembly Development Officer

 

Assembly Update December 2019 / January 2020

 

Safeguarding

 

Working in partnership with Northumberland County Council we organised safeguarding training in December in the west of the county and 65 people attended. There is clearly a demand for this training and funders are requiring that applicants demonstrate that safeguarding policies are in place and that staff have received training. This training will be provided again in the north of the county in the summer.

We are also pleased to report that NCVA have received funding as part of a partnership bid to deliver newly developed safeguarding resources to VCS organisations over the next two years. This will enable the provision of additional safeguarding training and resources to voluntary and community groups across the county.

 

Partnership working to make a difference

 

Workstreams are progressing and provide the opportunity to work in partnership with the county council on key themes to deliver improved services and support to individuals and communities in Northumberland so we can learn to deliver better in future. The following provides information on some of the themes where most progress has been made to date

In relation to the Financial Wellbeing theme the focus of the group is the ability to meet bills and manage finances. The group will be looking at the range and levels of advice and identifying organisations providing money management/financial advice, levels of awareness of regulationsand gaps in provision.

In terms of the Digital Transformation theme a survey has been completed by 225 people to gauge presence online and issues. This will ensure products are right and led by what people want.

In relation to Employment and Inclusion the focus is on ensuring provision is coordinated and wide ranging to develop skills for the labour market and responsive to opportunities. VCS organisations have been asked about their capacity to deliver employment and skills interventions and partnerships opportunities. The Bridge project is being seen as a model that could be duplicated in future. The other themes are not so well developed and will be reported on in future.

Other activities involved attending a Locality Review on Community Safety and the NE Child Poverty Commission Event Child Poverty 2020:still here and rising which considered not only why the 2020 target has been so badly missed but also how we can work together to put tackling child poverty and its structural causes at the top of the political agenda. Further information from the Conference and the NE Child Poverty Commission work plan will be reported once available.

If you want any more information on the topics raised please do not hesitate to get in touch.  Simply email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

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Recently I’ve been completing a report on the sector’s response to COVID-19 and recovery planning. It has been inspiring to see the way that groups have been innovative in the ways they have adapted their services and are also carrying out other activities to ensure that the needs of their beneficiaries and communities are met. We need to inform decision makers not only about the important work we are doing during this time but also its value and raise the profile of the sector. We are therefore keen to support the sector’s campaign #NeverMoreNeeded.

The government cannot afford to overlook or undervalue the voluntary and community sector at the moment. Its unique role and services are invaluable right now and will be essential when the country begins to heal and re-build as we recover from the initial coronavirus outbreak. Groups have been putting everything in to help communities at a time when they have had little chance to fundraise and loss of income from trading and providing services means for some it is putting their own survival on the line. To support the campaign visit the website to see what actions you can take.

On the same theme, our most recent online network meeting held this month heard how two organisations Bridge and Headway Arts had adapted their services during COVID-19 and the challenges they had faced. It was great to have such a good turnout. We also heard from Headway Arts how they carried out their AGM online which was most informative. Notes of the meeting and report are available on this website.

Whilst we are well aware we are not out of the woods yet, in terms of recovery planning, it would be helpful to hear if there is support that NCVA or the VCS Assembly can provide your organisation. There may also be emerging issues that we have not identified so please do keep us informed, we are here to support you!

Keep safe

Ann 

 

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Ann Atkinson

Assembly Development Officer

 

 

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This month started with sixteen people attending Cyber Security training. The trainer demonstrated the potential ease with which your files can be accessed without the proper safety and security in place and covered targeting and untargeted attacks. It was evident that just undertaking a few key activities can help protect your organisation. Five basic controls will put you and your organisation on the path to better cyber security.

Further details at: www.cyberessentials.ncsc.gov.uk/. The training was considered very useful by attendees. If you are interested in receiving Cyber Security training then do let me know.

Northumberland CVA’s AGM was held this month with over 70 attendees. After the general business of the day, the event focused on climate change and what initiatives we can take locally to help mitigate our impact on the environment and reduce our carbon footprint. Karen Bentley-Brown talked about local initiatives in her home town of Kendal, Cumbria and then attendees considered the small changes we can make in our organisations and localities. Lunch was delicious, locally sourced and provided by Full Circle Food Project. Building on responses received we will be looking to consider how as a sector we can work collaboratively and increase commitment to ethical green practices. See the list of ideas from Karen 'Now is the time to Go Green'

The VCS Assembly Executive held their quarterly meeting this month and a key feature of the meeting was a discussion on the need to review the role and activities of the Assembly and Executive, identify our priorities and what we can do to increase our voice and influence. We will be arranging a meeting of the Executive in the new year with external facilitation to explore these issues and will keep you informed and consult with you. Notes of Executive meetings are on the Assembly website.

Network meetings were held in the south east and the north of the county, with presentations on the Northumberland Lottery: vcsassemblynorthumberland.co.uk/images/Northumberland_Lottery_Presentation.pdf, and the review of library services in the county. 

The consultation on the library service will be in a future e-bulletin and provide you with an opportunity to give your views. Meetings generated a lot of discussion, not only on these topics but in relation to organisations sharing information about their current activities and how organisations could support and assist one another. If you have not been before, do come along to your local network meeting although you are very welcome at any network meeting across the county.

Ann Atkinson

Assembly Development Officer

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It only seems a short time since I wrote the last monthly blog; well, much shorter than a month ago at least!

Whilst we all now seem reasonably well versed with working from home after three months of getting used to it, it can feel quite intensive at times. Without the breaks, chats, meetings and other usual interruptions of the normal office environment, it is very easy at times to work solidly without taking a break, yet it is so important to take time out regularly.  I know those of you with young children at home in particular are probably laughing at this as you are no doubt working around supporting your children and are always taking breaks and working unusual hours as a result.

For those of you who are currently furloughed this also presents anxieties and uncertainties. It is certainly not straightforward or easy for anyone, and I hope you are all managing in your own way to meet work, family and other demands as well as look after your own health and well-being.

Early in the month I attended a webinar on digital inclusion. One of the issues COVID-19 has raised is the impact on people of digital exclusion in terms of an inability to access support, to assist children’s learning, and the increased loneliness amongst some of our most vulnerable residents.

And it is not just poverty that results in barriers to accessing technology, there are parts of Northumberland where the availability of broadband is very poor, and some people have concerns about safety and safeguarding in terms of using technology and are therefore reluctant to engage, whilst others simply do not want to be part of the digital revolution.

COVID-19 has certainly forced a cultural change for many in terms of using technology and those of us who do use it, have had to become more tech savvy with video conferencing for example.

All of these are certainly issues which will need to be addressed in the future in terms of training and accessibility to provision.

Thanks to those VCS organisations that provided me with information about the economic impacts of COVID-19 on their organisation, which were very sobering, although not unsurprising. It is vital that we inform and get the messages out to decision makers about the way the sector is being impacted by the pandemic. Drawing on national and local information and data and on the examples you provided, we hope that we have raised awareness of the significant impact COVID-19 is having on the sector in Northumberland and the need for financial support. Northumberland VCS Assembly’s Economic Impact of COVID-19 report and a summary report can be downloaded from the Information Centre.

Whilst we cannot hold network meetings in their usual form, we are planning to hold more Zoom network meetings in the near future. We’ll be advertising them in the usual ways, so please do join us to participate and share your views.

Take care and keep safe.

 

Ann Atkinson

Assembly Development Officer

 

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Well, the month started with the first meeting of the work stream leads: i.e. VCS and County Council leads looking at key priority themed areas to work on tangible pieces of work together that can make a positive difference to our communities.

There was a lot of discussion at the meeting and realisation that a lot of the issues being discussed, e.g. digital transformation, were cross-cutting impacting on health and social wellbeing, community spaces, financial wellbeing etc. Participants were tasked with reflecting on the discussions and considering what is most beneficial to pursue under their theme to improve outcomes for communities. Also to discuss the merits of focusing on a just a couple of themes that cut across all themes. The leads will be meeting again in November so I will be able to report on progress next month.

We are also continuing to explore wider interest among the VCS in partnership working so that we can build strong connections and be ready when opportunities arise e.g. funding bids and work together to help maintain existing services or grow new ones.

I’ve also been arranging training on a topic which I thought would resonate with most voluntary organisations and community groups, that of Cyber Security. Clearly the topic does not float everyone’s boat but it is an essential part of good governance and can protect your organisation from financial loss and data loss so we should all be aware of what we can do to keep our organisations safe from attack and less vulnerable to cyber crime. I suggest therefore that you do take some time to look at the Charity Commission report on Preventing Charity Cybercrime (link below) understand the threat and harm it can cause and actions you can take to keep your organisation safe.

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/840997/Web_CC_Cyber.pdf

Whilst we are on the topic of training, if there is specific training that you feel would be of particular value to your organisation or you think would be of wider interest to voluntary and community groups then please do get in touch with me: email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call me on 01670 858688.

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Crises bring out the best in people

I am writing this blog during Volunteers’ Week and I am sure you will agree that we have been blown away by the support volunteers have been providing during the COVID-19 crisis. The real success story of volunteering is the grassroots response to the virus where communities, unhindered by government or charities, have been getting on and supporting vulnerable people with self-help support groups. Each fortnight in our e-bulletin we have been celebrating their success by providing examples of the COVID-19 volunteer support groups that have been supporting their community across the county. We also held a Zoom Assembly network meeting where volunteers from support groups in Bedlington, Morpeth and Ponteland talked about their roles in their communities which was most informative. Thanks to all the participants.

We hope that it will be possible to harness the good will and concern and the strong community spirit that has been engendered during this difficult period and keep it going. Latest research from Power to Change shows that an overwhelming 68% of UK adults don’t want to lose the renewed sense of community spirit and are pledging to do more in their local area when the crisis finally ends. A positive note during this time of crisis.

 

Assembly Network meetings using Zoom?

It is unlikely that we will be able to hold face to face Assembly network meetings for some time and, in these circumstances, it would be useful to get your views on holding meetings online. Also, if there are any particular topics you think would be useful to you, that could be covered in online meetings, then do let me know.

 

Adapting to new ways of working

In early May we held an online meeting of our Executive online. We did not have a formal agenda but felt it would be useful to catch up with our members, who are a mix of Chief Executives and officers of VCS organisations and active members in their communities, to get a feel about how their organisations and communities were managing during this crisis.

Removing the ability to meet face to face with beneficiaries also removes many of the methods organisations use to deliver services and they are all having to adapt to providing telephone and online support. This has its challenges and is by no means ideal. Members of the Executive Committee raised their concerns about ensuring staff were adequately supported when dealing with vulnerable people over the phone, which can be intense and tiring without taking into account the added impact COVID-19 might be having on beneficiaries.

The impact of the crisis on service provision and changes required in delivery also mean that it is difficult to look more than a day or two ahead or to plan very far in advance. This is caused by the uncertainty of not knowing when they will be able to get back to anything near normal and what will need to be in place to be able to do that. Concerns were also raised about needs in the community not being met because of the crisis, e.g. a fall in referrals, and whether this is storing up a big problem for the future.

Whilst recognising that a lot of money is being directed at providing short-term funding to COVID-19 projects, which is the right thing to do, concerns were raised about the longer term support needs of individuals and groups and whether enough thought is being given to the longer term. It is anticipated that grants will be reduced in future and more collaborations/mergers might possibly be on the cards.

I’m sure some of the issues raised here have also been on your minds. It is certainly a challenge for everyone, but we will all need to consider how we develop our strategies to be more resilient and more effective in future. We also need to continue to promote the sector, so it is better understood, more influential and more digitally savvy as we move forward – not a lot to ask!

Keep safe.

 

Ann Atkinson

Assembly Development Officer

 

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The Assembly Executive Committee met in August. Notes of all meetings are available to view on the website. We have changed the format of these meetings to provide more time for Executive members to feedback to the committee on activities they have been engaged in that the Assembly should be aware of and provide an opportunity to discuss where further actions are required. For example a grant reduction to a VCS service from the County Council without clear explanation has led to the Council agreeing to review their decision making process for grants and commissions and provide the Assembly with information on organisations that are receiving grants and commissions.

I attended a Voluntary Sector Showcase in Hexham at the end of August and it was great to see a wide range of groups promoting themselves and encouraging local residents to join them. I took the opportunity to inform groups about the support available from Northumberland CVA and promoted the Funding Fair taking place in Hexham in October.

The VCS Liaison Group met in September, again the notes will be available on the website in due course. We presented an update on the progress of the Commission and produced a paper providing an induction to the VCSE for county councillors and the public sector. We feel that there is a need to continue to raise awareness and inform the public sector of the VCSE and for them to have a better understanding of our role and support we can offer. Indeed we did exactly that in the report we produced for Health and Wellbeing Board in September on the VCSE contribution to the Health and Wellbeing Strategy and wider agenda. The report was well received and the recommendation to recognise the valuable contribution of the VCSE and engage with the VCSE as an equal partner in strategic decision making and in the co-production of health and care services was agreed.

After a lot of discussion on our e-forum (Northumberland VINe) about the Northumberland Lottery we were hoping to hear more about it at the VCS Liaison Group but as the officer was not available it has been postponed and will be discussed at the next meeting in January. We did however emphasize that it was very concerning that this had been agreed without any engagement with the voluntary and community sector. If you are interested in hearing more about the Northumberland Lottery then let me know and I will arrange for an officer from the Council to attend a future network meeting.

Networks meeting were held in the north, south east and west in September including a break in the West Northumberland meeting to participate in the Big Sing as part of BBC Music Day, aiming to get as many people together singing the same song across the county. To coincide with the national initiative Tynedale Dementia Action Alliance aimed to get people to sing the same song in support of those living with dementia. It was well supported, uplifting and everyone felt refreshed for the rest of the meeting after a rendition of ‘Hey Jude’ , perhaps we should do this more often! Being kept informed and networking are the key benefits of these meetings to voluntary and community groups so do take the opportunity to come along. Meetings are held quarterly in the West, North and South East and advertised in the fortnightly e-bulletin.

We had a visit from Lev Pedro from the National Council for Voluntary Organisation (NCVO) in September to learn about the voluntary and community sector in the county and discuss ways that NCVO could support us to support you.  Whilst here he also attended the South East Northumberland Network meeting to hear from local community groups about their activities. Lev is leading NCVO’s work to connect more with members across the sector and gather intelligence that will help shape and improve their policy work and support offer.  He was very interested to hear about the issues facing the VCS in Northumberland and talked about similar issues facing other areas he has visited. Below is the link to the blog Lev has written based on his recent visits to infrastructure organisations across the country.


https://blogs.ncvo.org.uk/2019/10/09/were-listening/

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In early March the North Northumberland Network meeting had 36 attendees providing an opportunity for lots of information sharing, discussion and an update on the Council’s digital inclusion activity. It was a very informative meeting for me and hopefully likewise for the many attendees. This turned out to be the last network meeting before lockdown and it is difficult to foresee when we will be able to get back to a situation when we can resume these. In the meantime, if there are things you want to share or issues you would like to discuss do make use of our online discussion forum, Northumberland VINe. If you have yet to join the VINe and would like to, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and tell us you name and the name of the organisation or group you are part of.

After spending leave towards the end of March in lockdown it was time to adapt to working from home, continuing to promote and support the sector and collectively looking at how best we can assist the sector during this time. Thanks to the seventy-four organisations who completed the brief survey sent out to get an understanding of how lockdown was impacted on their organisation and support needed. It has been useful contacting organisations subsequently on an individual level and providing any help we can to assist. The results of the survey can be found here VCS Assembly COVID-19 Impact Survey.

I’ve been involved in putting together safeguarding factsheets to support the volunteer mutual aid groups that have sprung up across the county and for individuals to ensure they are operating safely whilst doing a fantastic job supporting their local communities. I’ve also been collating information on what these groups are doing and sharing examples in the fortnightly e- bulletin which others might find useful.

I know a lot of you have had to adapt your ways of working in order to continue to deliver support to your users and are doing a great job in difficult circumstances, and I am sure you are already aware of the wealth of information to support the sector on our COVID-19 web pages https://www.northumberlandcva.org.uk/covid-19. If you need any further support or advice then please do not hesitate get in touch assembly@northumberland cva.org.uk

Stay safe and take care.

 

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Ann Atkinson 

Assembly Development Officer

 

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The month started off with 73 members of staff and volunteers of voluntary and community groups attending Safeguarding training which was provided by Robin Harper-Coulson and Karen Wright from the Council Children and Adult Safeguarding Boards. The training covered the different types of abuse, well known case studies and lessons learnt from local case studies, understanding and recognising vulnerability and risk, why and how to report concerns and good practice. Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility and your actions however small can make a difference. Safeguarding training is essential for all staff and volunteers. If you have staff and volunteers in need of introductory Safeguarding training, another session will be held at the end of the year and advertised in our e-bulletin.

I have been busy working with Executive members drawing together a report for the Health and Well-Being Board on the role of the VCSE in supporting delivery of the Health and Well-Being Strategy and wider agenda. This report it is hoped will increase awareness of not only the role but value the VCSE can bring to collaborative working to improve the health and well being of individuals and communities.

We have also been working with other county wide VCS organisations to explore partnership working identifying the experience and skills we can bring to exploit potential opportunities in the future.

I hope that you are aware that Northumberland VINe has recently been launched providing an online discussion forum for voluntary and community groups. Please sign up to have the opportunity to share issues and concerns with colleagues in the sector. We have already had discussions on Northumberland County Council’s proposed Northumberland Lottery and the Carers Innovation Fund. To join please email:- This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

If you are having a holiday, I hope that you have an enjoyable relaxing time and if staying in this country are able to dodge the heavy showers that seem to be a regular feature of this summer. At least it has been warm!

 

Ann Atkinson: Assembly Development Officer

6th August 2019

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Assembly Update – Feb 2020

 

You will be aware that a Statement of Intent was developed jointly and approved by the VCS Liaison Group and Cabinet in June2015, and that it was then updated in October 2018 to ensure improved partnership working between the VCS and the County Council.

Recognising that we could all readily identify instances where it appeared that the Statement of Intent had not been adhered to, the VCS Liaison Group and Cabinet agreed that it should be reviewed, strengthened and upgraded to an agreement.

The Assembly has now drawn up the draft Northumberland County Council and Voluntary and Community Sector Accord and it would be helpful to get your views on the content before it goes to the VCS Liaison Group for discussion and approval in May.  Is there anything missing? Are there additions/changes you feel should be made?  

To be successful, it is essential that officers and members of the Council and the voluntary and community sector are fully aware and adhere to the Accord.  It is important that councillors on the VCS Liaison Group champion the role of the voluntary and community sector in order to raise the profile of the sector in the Council and with wider public services.

Please read the draft Northumberland County Council and Voluntary and Community Sector Accord and send your views onto This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Assembly Survey – priorities and voice: your last chance to take part

For some weeks now, we've also been asking members to give their views on what they think the Assembly’s priorities should be focused on in the future, and how we can better represent the voluntary and community sector and have influence.  The information gathered from our simple survey will contribute to a facilitated meeting the Assembly Executive is taking part in at the end of March to discuss how the Assembly can better represent the sector – have a voice and also be heard.

Click on the link below to access the survey, which should take not more than ten minutes to complete.  Many thanks.
 
Take part now: www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/LWK78V7 

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Ann Atkinson

 

June has been a busy month, with three network meetings in the north, west and south east. At each of the meetings I presented the findings from the State of the Sector workshops, which many of you will have participated in, and provided information about the Support Services Commission.

Also included was news on the activities we were undertaking to date in response to the findings of the workshops and to meet the Commission requirements.

At the North Northumberland Network meeting it was great to hear from the Community Foundation about the legacy gift left by Frank and Pat Lough for charities and community groups in North Northumberland. 100k per year will be available to support charitable activity that tackles disadvantage, strengthens communities and makes the area a better place to live.

The network meeting in West Northumberland included a presentation on a new eco-therapy charity, Heart Wood, which was set up by Chip Ponsford, a counsellor/psychotherapist. Heart Wood supports men suffering from depression.   At the South East Northumberland meeting, Sylvia Pringle from iNorthumberland talked about digital inclusion and the support available across Northumberland to develop digital skills.

At two of the network meetings concern was raised about the lack of provision for safeguarding training now that the training from Voices was no longer available. We are fortunate that lead officers of the Children and Adult Safeguarding Boards at Northumberland County Council will be providing Safeguarding training to a large group of VCS staff and volunteers on 1st July and are willing to repeat this again in six months’ time. Multi agency safeguarding children training which the voluntary and community sector can attend is detailed on the NCC website: www.northumberland.gov.uk/Children/Safeguarding/NSCB-Multi-Agency-Training.aspx

Towards the end of the month NCVA organised a Conference on ‘Developing Community Approaches to Tackling Poverty’, which was attended by 60 people. The event generated a lot of interest and conversation and included presentations from Alan McNiven, Chief Executive of Engage Renfrewshire, and Emma Richardson, Poverty Lead at Northumberland County Council. As a result of the interest expressed by some attendees, it was suggested that NCVA arrange a follow up meeting to discuss the value of setting up a Poverty Commission/ Poverty Truth Commission at a county level. Progress on this will be provided in a future update.

A full report from the conference will be provided soon, including the presentations and feedback from the workshops.

I also attended the launch in North Tyneside of the Clinical Commissioning Group grants programme to the voluntary and community sector to find out how it has been developed and the criteria for accessing funds that may be of help if Northumberland CCG decides to take this route in future.

 

Ann Atkinson

Assembly Development Officer

June 2019

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