We were delighted to host over 100 individuals from local voluntary groups, businesses and other organisations for We Can Do It – Lewisham’s Voluntary Sector Conference 2020. If you missed it you can read below presentations of each session and a overview from our CEO.
Overview & Key Takeaways – CEO, Philippe Granger
The conference titled “We can do it” was set in the context of socio-economic changes exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. This has created the need for a change of thinking in the way the voluntary sector works and how it can also collaborate with others to tackle issues. ‘We can do it’ is a positive and affirmative statement of intent that we, the voluntary sector, will meet the challenges ahead, not in blind faith, but on the knowledge that we have always been here never undeterred. Indeed, we quickly mobilised to serve the community like at no other times since WW2. It was a collective success, rooted in our compassion and sense of mission that are the most powerful drivers of resolve and commitment.
Our conference also acknowledged the grief we may have experienced personally or within our communities because of people dying from Covid-19. We were working flat out on helping others just when we were deprived of personal resources and relationships we could have relied on in normal times. But then we also learned about cultivating positive emotions – it’s essential to maintain good health and wellbeing, recharge and be refreshed to see things in different perspectives and be better placed to manage our work and decision making.
As we dissect what we heard during the conference we aim to draw some pointers and inferences for what’s ahead of us, and with all our colleagues and partners across Lewisham, develop a collective and inspiring vision of a Lewisham voluntary and community sector that is bold, ambitious, and ingenious.
We are not poor or deficient when we relate and pool our assets together, and there were a number of resonating themes or ingredients that were highlighted during the conference:
- Collaboration – remarkably displayed during the lockdown but it is worth noting that many of the seeds of partnership had already been planted in existing relationships before the pandemic, thus it was quicker to assemble the mobilisation of effort and resources.
- Trust and solidarity – believe in the best, work with others and reject insularism . The silo mentality isolates and misses out on the possibilities of doing more and better when we can instead trust and give way to one another. We are in this TOGETHER!
- Agility – the ability to quicky form and reform, not bogged down by ‘our way’ of doing things. Crucial for mobilisation and emergencies and when one focuses on the needs of the end-user rather than formalities and traditions.
- Creativity – being solution-focused, reimagining the problems as opportunities. Combined it with agility, a degree of managed risk-taking and you get new ways of operating. The rapid rise of informal Mutual Aids during the lockdown is both a celebration and a challenge to think differently about organising for effective local responses to need.
- Volunteers – an incredible display of citizenship during and since the lockdown. Who would have known how many willing hands we have in Lewisham! But we must also understand that their previous absence on our radar may have been because we are not engaging them in a language they are familiar with or attracted to.
- Compassion – we heard that we are a compassionate borough and that is what led to the Covid-19 response mobilisation. No one was begged to help others – it was an instant response to an immediate need. But it is also a key ingredient of volunteering and for many people working in health, as well as for those who give as they feel moved by issues. This means that we can count on our residents and supporters to join us in our endeavours when our message resonates with their heart and values.
THE ELEPHANTS IN THE ROOM…
- Cash – funding as we may have enjoyed it before the 2008 financial crisis has continually decreased and local gvt government grants cannot be taken for granted and more so with the financial impact of Covid-19. We cannot afford to build projects that are funding-hungry, barely survive on a wing and a prayer, have no reserves and rely on being propped up. We need to ask questions like are we duplicating, should we do it with others, should we merge?
- Showing our impact – we all love our vision, our organisation and its people, and we think we are unique. But in the context of competition for limited funding, what evidence do the funders want to see and makes our project stand out among others? What makes us more palatable for partnership working and mergers?
- Theory of change – we know we do a lot of stuff, but does it create solutions at source to make our communities more resilient and reduce demand on our services? Are we measuring the right things and addressing the issues rather than the symptoms?
- Governance – we heard loud it clear, we need to “get our house in order first” – Having the right people on board, planning, policies, building reserves, meeting legal obligations, are the foundations of the organisation and is linked to reputation, sustainability, and fundability.
- ‘Other people’ – who is excluded in the room, people we don’t know or are not like us, or those deliberately not invited at the table and thus may feel disconnected, disrespected, angry and marginalised. We couldn’t dismiss the multifaceted impact of the Black Lives Matter outcry that put the spotlight on racism and inequalities; nor the impact of the pandemic that exposed the lack of opportunities and poverty in the BAME community when that disproportionally made BAME people more susceptible to Covid-19. A unified third sector must intentionally tackle inequalities, prejudice, marginalisation and racism. It requires leadership to facilitate bold engagement and action to change the status quo, address opportunity gaps and generate equity.
- Digital inequalities – Key enablers of keeping people connected during the lockdown have been WhatsApp, Zoom, Ms Teams and a host of Social Media tools. Yet for many deprived communities and less equipped organisations this has also been a major challenge of IT skills and tools. There needs to be a strategy and resources deployed to address the digital gap and ensure no one is left behind as reliance on the digital in the ‘new normal’ is fast increasing is here to stay – it is fundamentally essential.
WE CAN DO IT
On the assurance that we are learning from Covid we know we are deeply challenged but we also have resources already existing to work together to address inequalities and make Lewisham prosper. It’s about developing a dynamic and intentional posture of equity and inclusion, as well as an infectious positivism rooted in our can-do ethos. We can be ambitious and create a community powered economic recovery. But we may need to be less formal to facilitate collaboration, and yet rooted in strong governance to make our dreams turn to reality and be sustainable.
HOW IT GETS DONE – the Ecosystem
- Cogs of connection – we heard during the conferences that “everyone has connections”. We may know someone who knows someone else who has the solutions and resources to help us start something, introduce us to a gatekeeper, enhance or improve what we do.
- Community conversations, networking and knowledge exchange – “creativity is a unifier” but it’s often generated by different sets of people in the same room being made aware of issues/problems as well as hearing of ideas and thus interlinking the people and ideas for opportunities and potential.
- Asset-sharing – rooted in trust and an enabler of collaboration when I have intellectual and material resources you haven’t got and vice versa – we need each other! When we share and reciprocate we can reduce waste and costly duplication.
- Capacity building – not just to be good at completing grant applications forms but picking up skills to plan better, to build effective teams, reduce waste, have top notch governance, work collaboratively.
- From Community spirit to community power – with our strong ethos of volunteering we can create a new narrative of neighbourliness that will resonate with the residents and create mobilisation to change things.
Thank you to all the colleagues and partners who have generously contributed to and energised this conference with knowledge and enthusiasm. The future is ours – together. Let’s do it!
Day 1 Highlights – What Has Just Happened?!
Launch Event – Where are We Now?
Cllr Jonathan Slater, Cabinet Member for Third Sector introduced the conference and highlighted the impact of Covid-19 on the voluntary sector but the positives of increased partnership working, flexibility and responsiveness of the sector and new innovative approaches such as Mutual Aid Groups.
Learning from our Covid Partnerships
Kalbir Shukra, Senior Lecturer in Social & Community Studies at Goldsmiths University presented initial findings of her research interviewing partners from the Lewisham Covid-19 Response Hub.
Initial recommendations for partners moving forward included:
- Use Knowledge gained to shape support services
- Set up new volunteering opportunities to make the most of community willingness
- Bring in new sectors and organisations to respond in the community
- Invest in training, networking and secondments across sectors to boost shared learning and partnerships
- Involve BAME voices, diverse faith groups, young people’s voices
- Regular forum to maintain the themes and successes of the hub and bring in more voices to this
- Invest in local leaders
Look out for a follow up event in the new year January for Kalbir’s full report.
Partners from the Covid-19 Response Hub then shared their reflections on working in partnership with others during the crisis and developments since. When asked to use one word to sum up the partnership, they said:
Supported, Resilient, Flexibility, Citizenship, Dynamic, Solidarity, Strong, Team work, Superheroes, Togetherness, Connection, Care, Collaboration, Community, Focus on Need
Virtual Sing-a-Long with Quaggy Community Choir
We were delighted to be treated by Quaggy Community Choir (recent recipients of Lewisham Launchpad Funding) to a virtual sing-a-long of some fantastic rounds. Thank you!
Embracing Community Action: How Mutual Aids and Community Groups have grown together in response to the crisis
We shared some context of the volume of community action that took place through the initial lock down and describing the Lewisham Wellbeing Map of Mutual Aid (MA) activity, Alys Exley-Smith from Lewisham Homes shared her own experience of working with local people and groups. Lewisham Homes had access to ‘social value’ funding from their contractors but activities were volunteer led and demand led. They were able to work with locally established MA’s such as Feed The Hill, who they were then able to offer a space at their Achilles Street site leading to the development of a new social supermarket at this site.
Alexandra from the Legendary Project shared her story from starting as a coordinator at the Forest Hill MA, moving to the Lewisham wide MA and through this getting involved in the Lewisham Food Bank. Through this work Alexandra became aware of the issues surrounding free school meals and worked with the food network to exchange delivery of their lunches for free space. They are now also generating funds through donations and successful funding bids.
Keeley and Charli spoke of support for refugees through the crisis. Create Without Borders is a new project and has developed out of Refugee Solidarity SE London work during lockdown. Refugee Cafe existed previously and focuses on supporting asylum seekers and those getting refugee status and beyond. They did successful grassroots fundraising of over £5000, successful in part due to their network of contacts. Their ‘key learning’ has been that Lewisham has a strong refugee network so it’s important to work together rather than duplicate. Be user led and collaborate. Digital connections are vital.
Some key observations:
- “There’s so much power in the community and how strong we are when we work together.”
- “Advice: be open and share your ideas broadly – you don’t know where the next positive connection will come from.”
- “Every person you meet could be a positive connection. The value of linking in to things privately and in work.”
- Alys: volunteers not always a good match in ‘usual’ working pattern. Covid took away a lot of these barriers.
- Keeley: “trust makes communication easier” via digital & tech
Adjusting to Grief & Loss – St Christopher’s Hospice
Many organisations including Rushey Green Time Bank have experienced loss of life during the Coronavirus, with organisations, staff, volunteers and families not being able to say goodbye to their loved ones in the usual way. Paul Parsons, the Adult Bereavement Coordinator shared reflections from their bereavement service with participants and shared a downloadable leaflet which includes links to some fantastic support organisations for people experiencing grief and loss.
The key points Paul made were:
- Be proactive to reach out to those who have experienced a loss, they important thing is to show people that we care and there is someone to listen to them
- Different people may want support through different platforms, for some 1:1 on Zoom will work, or group sessions, for others a phonecall and just to be listened to, important to listen to their needs
- Reach shows that it’s the support made available to the person experiencing a loss during and after the death that impacts how the death is experienced and processed
- Recommendation of the book Eighth Pillar by Julia Samuel
You can find the presentation below and the updated leaflet with local support services for those experiencing grief and loss here.
Peace by Piece – Just for YOU!
At the height of COVID-19, the voluntary sector went above and beyond what was expected of them in often extremely challenging circumstances – we wanted to give something back to the voluntary sector workers, and offered a virtual space where they could relax, reflect and explore how to fit self-care into their everyday lifes. We had two fantastic facilitators Jill Abrahart and Karen Small who delivered the following:
- Mindful Meditation – Meditation techniques using the 3 R’s (Release, Regulate and Relax). Karen took us on a journey where we allowed ourselves to take a step back, relax and reflect.
- Positive Emotions – Jill took us through how to tap into our positive emotions, and how these benefited our mental health and wellbeing.
- Peace Poem – Jill and Karen delivered a fun exercise where we all got into small groups and wrote short acrostic poems from the word PEACE.
Positive conference, Everyone accepting, Chilled Gin & Tonic = Everyone Embracing!
Pride for our voluntary work, Eager to help each other, Attention to detail in all that we do, Challenging ourselves to do better, Everlasting Peace
Positive Emotions – Everyone experiences – All around us if we look – Cooling breath and calming mind – Easy tools to help you unwind
Day 2 Highlights – Moving Forward Together
How can our organisations collaborate to address racial inequality in Lewisham?
This session was hosted by Dr Greg Ussher, CEO and Gwen Bryan, Chair of METRO Charity. This year has been transformed by the Black Lives Matter agenda and impacts of Covid throughout 2020.
Cllr Juliet Campell, Chair of Lewisham Council’s Safer Stronger Select Committee, gave a introduction on the current Lewisham context. Some key points were:
It’s a time of opportunity and to be bold, we have a call to action to look at how we look at racial inequality in Lewisham
- Must look at intersectionality – a framework for understanding how multiple aspects of our identity intersect and impact our lives
- How interlocking systems impact and give power, how we build and share resources, involve all voices in decision making, involve marginalised groups,
- We need a unified third sector, collaborators, not competitors, with a clear vision for their services and objectives aligned with strategic aims for the Borough
Challenge: How would someone know whether your organisation challenges prejudice and promotes equity without looking at your policies? Would it be looking at your team? Your service users? What support would you need to address this if not? What do you need from others to address this?
Understand Unconscious Bias – Hillna Fontaine, CEO of Mabadiliko CIC
Hillna Fontaine presented ideas and suggestions for organisations to think about as well as an exercise to explore and become more aware of our own unconscious bias.
Equality Networks in Lewisham to engage with
- Lewisham BME Network – Lewisham BME Network has 90 organisations operating or located in the borough and focuses on: Create a platform for BAME community, Good Relationship with Council, Facilitate engagement with groups, exchange information, demonstrate needs of community (e.g. groups generating income, not being too dependent on grants, challenges to get funding from elsewhere, bid for commissioning opportunities, help Council understand local needs (Contact Ronald Bourne email@example.com)
- Lewisham Migration Forum – Lewisham Refugee Migrant Network co-ordinates the forum which is a cross sector network (faithm voluntary, GPs, statutory services) to welcome migrants, cares, creates opportunities, challenges Council, welcoming 100 new refugees to Lewisham (Contact Rosario Guimba-Stewart, CEO at Lewisham Refugee Migrant Network firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Lewisham Equalities Working Group – METRO co-ordinates Looks at how we can improve services in wider borough and those with protected characteristics can access services and services meet their needs
METRO’s Race Equality Action Plan
Following the murder of George Floyd, METRO hosted a staff forum with their team of 100 staff and volunteers. Staff and volunteers initially self-organised to get their voices heard which was important it came from the ground up as well as also led and adopted by leadership team.
Working with Lewisham Council & Locality’s ‘Keep it Local’ Recommendations
We were pleased to be joined by Ed Wallis, Director of Policy & Engagement at Locality who Lewisham Council are a member of. Locality are a membership network for councils, community organisations and campaign for better policies for community groups and help connect community groups.
Ed spoke about unlocking the power of the community and how Community Organisations play a vital, unique role in delivering local services and presented findings from Locality’s We Were Built For This Report:
- Existing social infrastructure has been vital to the crisis response
- Well-functioning local systems have emerged in the heat of the crisis
- The role of community organisations as ‘cogs of connection’ has been strengthened
- Community organisations have been adapted at pace – but need support to meet the challenges of the future
- Culture Change – 95% of Local Authorities Chief Executives believe community groups contribution to be ‘very significant’ or ‘significant’
- Procedural Change – Flexible procurement changes emphasised by Cabinet Office
With 3 Key Opportunities for Lewisham Council’s Coronavirus Recovery Plans:
- Create Collaborative Public Services that unlock Community Power
- Support a Community-Powered Economic Recovery (Jobs, Inclusive Economy, Community asset Transfer, High Street Re-Imagination)
- Turn Community Spirit Into Community Power (Understand local assets through data, pathways for sustained community involvement)
James Lee, Lewisham Council’s Director of Communities, Partnerships and Leisure, had the following reflections following Ed’s presentation:
- Expressed huge thanks to Lewisham’s Voluntary Sector for the role we played during Covid-19
- Covid has impacted the Council’s finances, resulting in expected £800k cuts proposed to the Main Grants programme
- Invitation to work together in consultation to the impacts of reducing the Main Grants Programme
- Lewisham Council are open to a ‘Transfer of Assets’, as outlined in The Quirk Review, and welcome conversations and ideas groups may have
- Social value is a great opportunity and framework for local authority and community to work together and facilitate collaboration within the sector and in particular growth of BAME sector
- Lewisham Council keen on core funding organisations but also keen to see impacts and growth from organisations to make an impact
- Lewisham Council, encouraged groups to continue with an ‘Asset Based approach’ in becoming more resilient
Other reflections from participants included:
- Philippe Granger – it’s an opportunity to work differently, encouragement to think openly and positively how we can deliver something even better
- Ed Wallis – Grants and contracts still important for relationship with Councils. Importance of partnership approach with VCS organisations in times of lower funding. Locality will continue to campaign for funding at national level to value local VCS organisations
- Cllr Joan Millbank encouraged us to ‘focus on the end user and recognise different stakeholder interests and go forward with honesty and open dialogue to collaborate and work together as the road ahead will be tougher.’
Lewisham Lunchtime Quiz
We were treated to an excellent Lewisham themed quiz, organised by the fantastic quiz master Lucy Formolli from Lewisham Council. Intense battle between 5 teams but the overall victors were The Masked Rangers! Prizes will be in the post!
Fit for purpose – The forward thinking, competent and agile organisation
We were delighted to be able to welcome Rita Chada, CEO of Small Charities Coalition to lead this session. SCC are a fantastic umbrella body which we are a member of, for charities in England & Wales with an income under £1million. They focus on resources and training for their member organisations as well as lobbying national government. Here are some of her key points:
Getting Your House In Order
- Good Governance – There 700,000 trustees in the UK. The Charity Governance Code (soon to be republished) is a great framework for getting policies and procedures into place
- Financial Management – We need to have a good understanding of Reserves and Cash Flow position. How we frame impacts of Covid in our annual reports is likely to be an upcoming requirement in the Charity SORP. Charity Commission are expecting a large increase in Qualified Accounts this next year.
- People Management – Diversity needs to be central. Funders are asking for diversity make up of management and trustee boards to make sure you’re representative of the communities you serve. Make sure you’re considering staff wellbeing – 90% of charity staff felt they had no-one to talk to about their wellbeing.
- Have a Plan & Back Up Plan – Difficult at the moment but we need to have goals and track progress!
- Diversify Funding – Big challenge for most small charities, encouragement to look at other income streams, funders like it but it’s not easy!
Let’s move forward together
- Continue working closely with Lewisham Council. They support the local voluntary sector with a grants programme where many Councils have stopped theirs.
- Partnerships will be key – Think about Horizontal & Vertical partnerships, think sector, sub-sector, place and creatively
How do we move forward? Now is the time!
- Hearts & Minds – Have a willingness to engage both!
- Be Informed – Knowledge is power
- Be Less Insular – You are not on your own! Engage with others
- Be More Creative – Find the opportunity in adversity
- Be Bolder – Speak truth to power
Digital Driving You Doolally? – Comedy Slot
Zoom Zonked? Facetime Fatigue? Whatsapp Weary?
The wonderful, Joy Carter based in Catford, lightened the mood with some tongue in cheek observations on how we have adapted to digital through the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mission Made Possible: 7 ways digital can help your organisation deliver during Covid and beyond
The Superhighways team of Kate White & Sorrel Parson presented their observations how charities have adapted to digital during Covid-19 and top tips and useful tools for your organisation.
Check out the Datawise London programme to get more digital support for your organisation.
Some of their main points included:
- Make sure you have the right tools for the job
- Focus on Reaching People
- Share Ideas & Solutions with Others
- Think about what works for you
- It should help you save time and money to work smarter not harder
- Build a digitally savvy team
- Keep connecting!
We Can Do It – Realising Our Ambitions
This session focused on a wash-up of two days of back-to-back sessions and a chance for partner organisations to reflect and share their key themes. Throughout the two days participants were encouraged to share their ideas for the future of Lewisham’s Voluntary Sector via a Vision Board.
- Taught us to adapt
- Shone a light on hidden struggling communities – how can we continue working with them?
- Created new partnerships and connections
Some of the key themes and points made included:
- Get our house in order’ – reference to Fit For Purpose Session being equipped and ready for the future
- Agile Leadership Needed! – Able to develop relationships, work in partnership, need to develop local leaders
- Employment – will be a significant topic for the voluntary sector in the near future
- Collective Success – Think about collective success – how can we change competitive language and bring us together?
- Make it Simple – How can we do things differently to make things simpler for ourselves? Challenge to ourselves – on a practical level, do we overcomplicate how we approach our work / our comms etc? Are there barriers? Be bold. Be creative.
- Be Equal Partners – Our voluntary organisations can be equal partners in conversations with the statutory sector. We bring to the table fantastic things; our values and ways of working and who we can reach
- Digital – It can’t be overstated at how important using tech is now – not nice to have but must have. Digital poverty has created generational divide both skills and financial. Mutual Aid’s used leaflets and doorknocking and this worked so well because it didn’t use digital. Zoom can exclude some people, certainly older people.
- Consistent Inequalities – We need to understand our population and be able to focus our work to tackle specific issues. If we are flexible and work together we can do this.
- Focus all our efforts on the end user
- Explore a Voluntary Sector Ecosystem – How can larger groups work with the small groups and help them? Good local examples of this e.g. Telegraph HIll Community Network – sharing resources and attracting funding. Will larger groups be interested? How can we all be part of the ‘ecosystem’ and out of the habit being in our bubbles?
- Social Value – Let’s keep exploring how we can work with Lewisham Council and others
- Who does the existence of a ‘sector’ matter to? Should we be ‘teaching the public’ more about what what the local charity sector is and does? How can we get local people who work for large businesses to volunteer and give locally?
- Refreshed Compact / New Vision for Sector – Was a Voluntary Sector Compact but not been revisited for some time. No point in writing long documents that aren’t realistic. What is our plan for the future? Lewisham Local will revisit in the New Year.