Guest Blog: Alison Haskins, NOVA
Introduction | About NOVA
I am delighted that Alison Haskins, Chief Executive Officer at NOVA agreed to share her thoughts on the current conditions for the third sector across Wakefield. Alison is uniquely placed to shine a light on the challenges for non profit service provision in Wakefield, conditions that will seem familiar, no doubt, to many other regional support organisations.
Nova, still a young membership organisation formed in 2013, is the support agency for the voluntary and community sector in Wakefield District.
In my own experience of representative organisations, NOVA are highly innovative (contrary to Alison’s views below!). NOVA provide wide ranging online support including diagnostics to help their members strengthen governance, policies and practice.
NOVA also coordinate “The Assembly” a strong representative body amplifying the voice of members on various campaigning issues pertinent to Wakefield.
Perhaps the greatest demonstration of the effectiveness of NOVA is as a conduit for member organisations to collaborate across the region. The successes of this can be seen in the rapidly increasing role of NOVA members to deliver statutory services across Wakefield. NOVA have led the way in aiding these contract wins enabling their members, the front line service providers, to bring their local knowledge and passion to benefit service users.
I cannot do full justice to the range of activities NOVA are engaged in. For further details, their website gives a much better flavour of their range of activities.
In her guest blog, Alison provides some excellent insight into the biggest challenges that the third sector in Wakefield faces.
Alison Haskins | CEO | NOVA
Third Sector Conditions in Wakefield
What are the biggest issues currently affecting the third sector in the Wakefield area?
I see three key issues for the third sector in our district, all of which provide challenges and opportunities.
The first is a legacy issue of the local third sector historically not being treated as a credible partner by our public sector commissioning colleagues, with sector-like activity being delivered within statutory agencies. This has changed over the past few years, but it means that there are a smaller number of third sector organisations in this district than in virtually every other area of Yorkshire and organisations here tend to be smaller, both in terms of volunteer numbers, staff numbers and annual turnover.
“The positive side of this is that there are really big opportunities for the sector to innovate, grow and develop in a way that is structured and thoughtful.”
The second is the growth in demand for sector support, due to the programme of government austerity over the past five years and which shows no sign of abating.
There has been a huge growth in foodbanks across the district, organisations such as the Citizen’s Advice Bureau are seeing a rising demand and local government is increasingly having to concentrate its dwindling resources on the most vulnerable people that it serves.
This means that people who don’t quite meet high thresholds for support are increasingly turning to local third sector organisations, which are themselves dealing with an increasingly difficult funding environment. However, this has provided an opportunity for the sector to prove it’s worth and its ability to step up to the plate in challenging times. The foodbanks are run on a shoestring, and there are lots of examples of volunteer-led, community based activity which is vital to local people.
Lastly, austerity has meant that funding is increasingly scarce. Individual donations dipped during the recession and of course our statutory partners are part-way through huge cuts to their budgets, which has a knock-on effect for our sector – but I won’t pre-empt the next question below!
How are cuts to Local Authority funding affecting services and charities in the area?
Statutory agencies are increasingly having to focus their resources on people with acute social and health needs – even though they are aware of the benefits of preventative activity.
The third sector is particularly good at prevention, informal social support and wrapping services and activities around people in a holistic way; but unfortunately funding cuts mean that investment in this in getting very difficult. Several excellent local charities have been decommissioned (for fairly spurious reasons) and for smaller community organisations, there are less small grants available and there is more competition for grants so the environment is definitely harder.
I mentioned earlier that the sector is increasingly working with people who can no longer access social services (both adults and children).
“However, both Wakefield Council and NHS Wakefield CCG are thinking creatively and collaboratively with the sector about how this can be mitigated”
What innovation is the sector bringing in this changing climate?
Some activity isn’t particularly innovative, but is vital nevertheless and brought about by sheer necessity (foodbanks for instance). We are seeing interesting developments within ‘Connecting Care’ which aims to provide people with health and social care in (or close to) their homes, rather than a hospital stay.
For instance Age UK and Wakefield Carers staff are now working in the same hubs as health and social care staff from public agencies, providing community support to enable people to stay in their homes and expanding the number of carers accessing respite and other support services.
In a way, I don’t think the sector is doing anything particularly new or innovative that it hasn’t done in the past.
“What is happening is that there is better understanding of the added social value and effectiveness of third sector approaches, which we’ve struggled to get accepted and understood in the past.”
What are the biggest emerging challenges your members are facing?
Oddly, it might be about rising to the challenge of suddenly having a lot more opportunities than there have been in the past! We have the continued ‘rethinking’ of health and social care – which is likely to bear fruit for our sector in 2016.
There is also the new European funding programme which has implications for organisations operating in the world of employment, skills and training. Organisations may have to cope with new quality expectations; scaling and skilling up staff teams quite dramatically; increasing volunteer teams; and working with more vulnerable, complex people than they have in the past.
Alison Haskins has worked within the voluntary and community sector in Yorkshire since 1999. She was Regional Director of the Scarman Trust for eight years, then Deputy Director of Involve Yorkshire & Humber. Following this role Alison became Business Development Manager, then Chief Executive, of the Wakefield District Wellbeing Consortium. This preceded Alison taking up the CEO position at NOVA in October 2013.
Originally trained as a fashion designer, Alison set up and ran her own retail and design business after graduating and then spent 6 years living and working in Lesotho and South Africa. During this time she taught in vocational colleges, whilst developing her understanding and passion for politics and social justice. This led to an MA in International Development and her current career in the not-for-profit sector.