Bob Widdowson describes the slow drip drip of what is being lost and
what is taking its place in “a small advice service in a northern town.
Been around for 20 years. Well used, three staff, run down premises and
not much in the way of technology. Only such service for miles around.
Lottery funding runs out and no replacement funding there. Local
council, the main funder for many years, offers a three year funding
deal, but at a reduced amount and with no inflation. Welcome to the
world of fundraising…..
Many weeks researching possible funders. Lottery again? No grants
for front line services – ‘innovative’ partnerships yes, but not direct
advice. Community legal service? May fund means tested services but
carries major administrative burdens and what about those who do not
qualify for means tested advice. Charitable trusts? Millions of them
and endless hours spent researching. No salary costs funded, must be
innovative, will only fund specific projects, needs match funding, only
fund specific geographical areas. Private sector funding? Ditto. And,
of course, all have the killer question at the end of the application
form – how will you fund this project when our funding ends? To say we
haven’t got a clue or we will we do further fundraising is not the
answer they seek.
Or we could open a café and become a ‘social enterprise’. But we are
advice workers not entrepreneurs. Each application takes two or three
days work. It requires us to have extensively researched the demand.
How many people will you help, what will be the outcomes, where do they
live, what age categories will they be? We could make it up of course
but we have that nagging conscience that requires us always to be
honest and ethical.
In the meantime of course we are diverted from giving advice and
help to people who do not understand that our priority now is to fill
lengthy forms asking questions that require extensive work to answer.
So begins the downward spiral. We are failures. We can’t compete so
let’s leave it to those who can. The voluntary (?) sector that
understands the language of commissioning, contract, effectiveness,
business planning and strategic objectives. Or we could leave it to the
national helplines. After all who wants to pop to a neighbourhood
service to have a cup of tea, get a bit of advice on that nagging
problem and be seen as an individual rather than a “user’? “