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Diversity means having differences within an organisation or setting. Diversity recognises we are all different in many ways. People with differing identities, backgrounds and experiences should all have equitable access to resources and decision-making. Some people prefer to use the term ‘representation’ to focus on how organisations should be reflective of the society we live in and the communities we serve. 

Diversity is the appreciation of our unique differences seen and unseen.

I think we can all recognise that, in general, charity boards are less diverse than the general public, and so too are volunteers. Volunteers are more likely to be older, well-educated and from higher socio-economic groups. Those from lower socio-economic groups are also less likely to be in certain leadership or representative roles, like being a trustee. There is clearly a lot to do to improve the diversity of our organisations

Creating a work environment that respects and includes difference, recognising the unique contributions that individuals with many types of differences can make and maximising the potential of all employees and volunteers is what we should aspire to. Diverse and inclusive workplaces earn deeper trust and more commitment from their employees. There is always more we can learn.

In our organisations it is important that we build a culture where difference is valued and a workforce that is representative of the people we serve. A culture that encourages, supports and celebrates the diverse voices of our employees and volunteers.

Here are some questions you might want to consider in your organisation.

  • Are employees and volunteers comfortable bringing their authentic whole selves to work?
  • Are all staff involved in decision-making wherever possible?
  • Do all staff and volunteers have a voice to express their experiences?
  • Do staff and volunteers feel safe in speaking up about things that concern them and confident that their concerns will be heard and acted upon?

It is important everyone reflects on their own experiences, assumptions and behaviours and is proactively inclusive in creating space for those often excluded. The two videos below reinforce the messages.

 

 

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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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Diversity, inclusion and equality are everyone’s business, so it’s important that we continue educating ourselves, and listen to colleagues from under-represented communities and the wider sector who are willing to share their lived experience to inform how we work.

We will be providing bite sized information as part of an ongoing conversation and would encourage you to share this information with colleagues and encourage their participation.

Firstly we will be looking at Inclusion.

 

Inclusion

Inclusion means being proactive to make sure people of different backgrounds, experiences and identities feel welcomed, respected and fully able to participate. It is not only about creating a diverse environment but also about ensuring a culture exists where individuals can be their full selves.

The following brief YouTube videos talk about creating a culture of inclusion and about situations when individuals do not feel included. It is important that we all to recognise it’s okay to ask questions and acknowledge that there’s always more to learn.

The videos are no more than a few minutes long and you many want to use them as a basis for discussion in your own organisations.

If you have experiences where you have felt not listened to or have felt discriminated against by organisations then please do let us know so we can share stories which can help us all understand the impact of certain actions on others.

In telling us your stories, we want to be able to treat them in the strictest confidence, so please do not respond via the comments below.  Instead, email your stories to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  

 

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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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Networking online – the norm for the time being at least

 

Networking

 

With a couple of county-wide network meetings having been held online over the summer, it became clear that online networking would be the norm for some time and therefore it made sense to get the area network meetings back on track. This would provide an opportunity for groups in the north, south east and west to get together with their colleagues and share their experiences of operating under COVID-19.

A meeting with North Northumberland VCS organisations attracted 16 participants and it was great not only to hear how groups had adapted to continue to provide support for their beneficiaries but also to share information and re-connect with one another.

Adapting to digital has been a big learning curve for many organisations and service users, and preparing facilities so that they are safe and secure for users in the interim has been demanding, only to then be beset with a second lockdown.

The Assembly is keen that if there are issues that members want to raise and discuss then we can arrange online meetings on specific topics. This is exactly what we did when the issue of food arose – in particular food distribution, coordination, reducing waste and ensuring it reaches those in need.

We invited a number of groups that have an interest and role in this field and made a general invitation to groups too. Attendees talked about their experiences, such as the difficulties getting gluten free food and halal food for those shielding, the variability of some of the food received from suppliers, concerns about the increase in demand for food at the end of furlough, which we now know has been extended but will be of no help to those who have already lost their jobs.

The meeting also recognised the importance of working with Northumberland Communities Together and understanding their experiences of what worked well and what didn’t in terms of coordination and provision in the first lockdown, so we can all work together better in future.

The group were keen to meet on a regular basis to share information and good practice to assist in providing effective food provision to support residents and minimise food waste, and so a Food Network meeting has been arranged for late November. So do join us if your organisation is involved in providing, distributing and supporting residents with food (provide link).

Also if there are other topics that you would like to discuss with other organisations online then please do let me know.

Take care and keep safe.

 

Ann Atkinson 2

Ann Atkinson

Assembly Development Officer

 

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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.

 

Ann Atkinson 2   

Ann Atkinson 

Assembly Development Officer

 

(Chameleon image by mrthoif0 from Pixabay)

 

 

 

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At the start of the month we were back in the office, for part of the week at least - the first time for almost six months. It was good to back and to be able to discuss issues face to face with colleagues, but strange to be in an environment with social distancing tape, lots of hand sanitiser and wipes, but they gave confidence that the space was safe and secure. 

The month started off with online meetings of the Assembly Executive and the VCS Liaison Group. The Executive meeting focused on discussing the Commission objectives for the Assembly for the next six months and the Assembly Manifesto. A final draft of the Manifesto has been sent to Assembly members to agree the principles and make any final comments. An action plan is currently being put together for the Assembly and this will be on the website as soon as it is finalised.

The VCS Liaison Group had a large agenda which was too much to get through in the time allowed, hence only the first couple of topics gave room for discussion. This is very unsatisfactory and makes taking forward issues very difficult. Fortunately I was presenting information on the impact of COVID-19 on the VCS in the early part of the agenda where there was time for discussion, and members appreciated the difficulties facing the sector but also praised the way they had stepped up to continue providing services during the pandemic. 

Part of the Commission objectives includes a review of the VCS Liaison Group and therefore we will be making sure our views are aired and that we move to a more effective group that can work together to deliver and influence more effectively.

I’m starting to organise area based on-line network meetings to provide the opportunity for groups to come together and share what they have been doing during lockdown. Topic based on-line discussion network meetings are also being arranged on areas of particular interest to organisations at the current time. Understanding the issues, concerns and support needs of the sector helps us to identify where we can provide support and where appropriate to raise with statutory partners. Meetings also provide opportunities for organisations to share good practice and learn from one another so do join us. Details of all these meetings will be in the fortnightly e-bulletin.

Take care and stay safe.

Ann 

 

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Ann Atkinson

Assembly Development Officer

 

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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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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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