Thursday, 29 January 2009

Downturn and Crunch

Oh what a week it has been! The recession is really starting to bite; judging by the number of casework issues coming my way. They include how to manage a redundancy how to manage a reduction in hours and a rather complex employment matter which will take some thinking about. We have done a piece in the Newsletter asking groups to record for us how the downturn is affecting them and what support they need and I review the responses so far. Not good.

I get a couple of phone calls from colleagues saying that they read about some comments I had made in Third Sector magazine. Then I went in search of said magazine to see what I had actually been quoted as saying. It is on the issue of small grants and their importance - an issue I have been working on with Kevin (Chief Exec of NAVCA). Onwards to a liaison meeting with the District Council - who I had just criticised in Third Sector magazine. It is a good exchange of views which I hope sets the tone for the future. There is a bit of a gap between us on one issue which I hope we can narrow soon.

Well, in these economically depressed (and depressing) times and to those Local Government colleagues with whom we work and liaise I dedicate the following

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The Point of No Return (I wish)

In the Chinese calender there is a a sumbol signifying particular points in the calender (the year of the rat, year of the monkey etc). In our world too certain week assume the same symbolic importance and this week had been designated as the week of the Monitoring return. The more funders you have the more reports you have to submit describing the work you do. These have lots of internal uses and help us to review progress but sometimes you never know if anyone reads them. So this week seems heavy on the admin. We are also in AGM mode (16th February @ Horntye Sports Centre) and the need to issue papers and produce an annual report has occupied our collective minds. Oh and a little milestone was achieved last week the planning application for Jackson Hall - HVA's new home after 2010 was approved at last weeks Planning Committee. There were a couple of routine conditions, to do with construction timings, disabled access & parking, and prior approval of external materials to be used. This is obviously a key milestone, and it looks like, after years of effort, a long term home for HVA and the sector is going to be created. That's all I have to report really apart from to say that "Slumdog Millionaire" is a fine, fine film and probably deserving of everything it is tipped for. Go see - nice soundtrack too sort of a fusion between Bollywood, Bhangra and late 90's dance music.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Grants and Funding

Maddy the dog and I did an excellent impression of Torville and Dean as we braved the freeze on our morning run accross Hastings Country Park. I go into work later today as last night I was attending a meeting of the Hastings Borough Council Cabinet which was considering a report on the support to the voluntary sector including a recommendation to cut the small grants element which has been a resource (some would say a 'lifeline') to a range of small community groups for years. There is talk of efficiency savings in the air but the only reason advanced by the Council for cutting the scheme was the cost of administering it being disproportionate to the amount of money involved. We put in a last minute offer to administer the scheme for free for the next 2 years thus reducing the Councils costs to nil. Strangely this was not taken up. Other puzzling features of the report include a bewildering approach to Full Cost Recovery which was advanced by the Council as its new funding approach. In reality, this has meant that the Council have failed to include even an inflationary increase for groups in the second year of funding. Makes you wonder sometimes. All in all it has been a weird old process the transition towards the commissioning process which has arrived at virtually the same results as the old grant aid regime. As one of Chrisopher Colombus's crew might have asked at the end of their journey in 1492 "Did we really have to go all the way round just to end up where we started?"

Monday, 5 January 2009

Step It Up

It’s been a good old while since the last blog entry so I will attempt a catch up – although I can’t guarantee this is in any kind of chronological order. About a year and a half ago when I started on this health and fitness malarkey I said to a number of family members and friends that I would run a marathon before my 50th birthday. Friends and family proceeded to virtually wet themselves with laughter but on the 15th December I did it! 26 miles 385 yards and raised almost £1,000 for charity into the bargain.

In my original game plan I had visions of maybe running the London marathon in 2010 or 2011 when I would reach the half century. But then out of nowhere came an event which changed all my plans. In 1908 a marathon was run in Hastings as part of the interest created by the Olympic Games. Eric Hardwick tireless organiser of the Hastings half marathon had a dream to recreate the event. So I had the prospect of competing in a race, in my home town, that would only be run once in every 100 years. That seemed to good to miss so I accelerated my training, ate loads of pasta and took part. It was a really interesting experience which is kind of difficult to describe in words as I write this. Tough certainly, but a real sense of solidarity with other participants and an enormous sense of relief/achievement when it was all over. What struck me was the fact that marathon running is as much a mental as a physical challenge. When it was all done I had a long bath and then it was off to the Jenny Lind pub to take part in a charity quiz night Lorna had organised as part of the fundraising effort. Unfortunately I had peaked early and our team came nearly last but there you go.

What else, the bid writing tailed off just before Xmas I missed the team Christmas meal which was a shame. Coldplay at the O2 arena were excellent and I managed to avoid the viruses and flu bugs which everyone seemed to be coming down with.

Oh and a happy new year to all our readers and as for the video link – this song is the one I associate with running more than any other – it is the first song of the marathon play-list I run to on my ipod and will forever be associated in my mind with pounding the streets of Hastings, Battle Ninfield, Catsfield, Tenterden, Bexhill St Leonards and back to Hastings…

Friday, 12 December 2008

I don't need no pressure on

Today 12 December conspired to be a real day of deadlines with us bashing out expressions of interest for the new Area Based Grants initiative. There has been much work for Jill and I which occurred at the same time as the preparation stage for the Annual Review which also needs to be submitted and loads of other things. As if that wasn't enough through my home letter box on Tuesday came an almighty crash as a large package almost knocked the dog out. 'Twas the long lost dissertation from my university student who I tutored at an early stage. Good to see it finally submitted but it is, well long and will require a detailed read. The university are keen for a quick marking turn around as they seem to break for Christmas just after bonfire night - so it looks like Saturday will be spent working. And Sunday the 100th Anniversary Marathon is finally here - not before time really as it is really starting to get cold and I am a bit sick of pasta and those Carbo-Gel things.

Last week Hastings Voluntary Action won - FOR THE THIRD YEAR IN A ROW - the inter-agency quiz championshipwhich is run each Xmas to raise funds for a local youth drop in centre. Only by a single point though. I can't claim to have added much to the effort - although I was on the team - and bow to the general knowledge of others who really proved their worth more than I did. I think the only meaningful things I contributed was knowing the name of the goal-keeper who broke his neck during an FA cup final and naming the first Elvis Costello album. Strange thing General Knowledge isn't it? facts which stick in your mind but which serve no apparent purpose. For example, I know that the B-52s come from Athens Georgia which is the same town which REM come from. Quite how this fact will ever be useful I know not but there it is lodged in my brain forever. In contrast, remembering the 4 digits for the cash-point and not confusing them with the burglar alarm code (as I did 2 days ago) is beyond me.

What else, employment issues loom large again as I advise a group who are about to become an employer for the first time having achieved their first substantial funding award. I try and go through the things they will need to have in place without making it seem too daunting. This morning was a meeting of the regeneration company wherre I was reappointed to the board as one of their independant directors. There's me representing the Voluntary Sector and two business people representing the views of local commerce. Actually its been really interesting and I've learnt a lot about how these huge capital building programmes actually work from the inside. All in all its just like running a voluntary organisation but with far far more noughts!!

Anyway enough rambling - off for the weekend and as for the lyric reference what else

Friday, 5 December 2008

All Over the Place

The title hear refers to the amount of cross county travel I have been doing rather than the state of my mind (I hope). A few things have been developing and the commissions are finally published from Hastings Borough Council so we can submit Working Neighbourhoods proposals soon. Actually commissioning has been at the forefront of our minds and we have recently submitted to the Borough Council for what used to be our "core grant" which is now a commission crossing 2 specific service areas. The PCT were in monitoring mode too which meant a lot of paperwork to be submitted.

Apart from that we had a well attended seminar at which the Community Network launched its new constitution and electoral arrangements for the future. Well received too, with many who had previously been on the edge of the representational process keen to regiater their intention. At a county level Speak Up (the County wide Voluntary Sector forum) is gathering pace and bringing some shape to the whole issue of VCS representation. One of the key bodies we relate to is the East Sussex STrategic Partnership which met this week in the rather grand Council Chamber in Bexhill. I was told that Bexhill was the model on which the Dad's Army town of Walmington on Sea was based. It did have that kind of feel to it too. The ESSP reviews the Local Area Agreement and comes up with a model for the distribution of the reward money if any is received as partof this process. The Compact Review results are presented concisely by my colleague (another Steve) from Age Concern. There is much praise for the fact that East Sussex won a commendation at the recent Compact awards - I use this opportunity to request that partners consider engraining the compact within the culture of their organisation by including a reference to it in their standing orders or governance documents. I give a pledge that HVA will change its mem and arts at our next AGM to reflect our continuing commitment to partnership and the compact. I then dash back to the office to ask Pauline (our financial administrator and expert on our constitution) how I actually do this! It is more complex than you think - so much for me and my big mouth. What else. I must pass on some sad news which is that we learnt of the sudden death of John Appleyard the chair of the Hastings Seniors Forum and involved with much else besides. John was a fan of HVA and gave a lot of his time to voluntary activity at a Borough and County level. He will be much missed and I pen a tribute to appear in the next newsletter.

What else any spare moment seems to be spent pounding the streets of our fair Town in preparation for the 100th anniversary Hastings Marathon. I am running this for the unit where my grandson Jacob had his operation. There is a small charity which supports parents whilst their children are having major heart surgery. I ran 15 miles last weekend and this Sunday we go for 20. People have been kind pledging money and if you want to join them feel free to leave a comment here or email me at

Friday, 14 November 2008

Education Education Education

Well whats been going on?

No less a figure than Kevin Curley - the Chief Executive of NAVCA has joined the HVA Facebook group and thinks it may be the first of its type in the entire Country. To think when I first knew Kevin he was unaware of what an ipod was (and used words like Gramophone and "Home Service") and here he is now a pioneer of New Media with Facebook and podcasts to his name.

Yesterday I was asked to attend a joint meeting with a funder and a group with a very good project but one which is facing some compliance issues. We offer support and may be asked to become more formally involved but we shall see. If I am honest the week has gone with a bit of a blur with lots going on - I have been a stranger to my desk so this Friday is a bit of an admin catch up. The Board papers have to go out and there are lots of them this time as there are some decisions about the CVS Partnership structure the new premises and the agreement of HVA Environmental and Public Interest Disclosure (whistleblowing) policies to be agreed.

This morning it is a meeting of the LSP Learning and Skills Theme Group where we talk education reform and learning. We are keen to get training for community activists seriously addressed so I attend these quarterly meetings to sniff out some opportunities. We take an update on the serious issues affecting education in Hastings. Much change is afoot with a federation structure for local secondary schools and an Academy in the offing. Things need to change as 4 local schools have 30% or less GCSE attainment (5 A-C grades including English and Maths). The Government have recently issued an edict that any school not achieving 30% by 2011 will be listed for closure - so the stakes are fairly high. At the meeting I meet a manager of Job Centre Plus who tells me he enjoyed reading the blog so only appropriate that he should now feature in it!

So another week ends and seeing as I have spent part of the day talking about education here is a classic video to start the weekend