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Listen, value and invest in your third sector

In the run up to the election Voluntary Sector North West and third sector partners across the northwest launched the Listen, Value, Invest campaign with an aim of bringing the third sector together around a simple message and a story all the sector could tell – the big, the small, the social enterprise, the volunteer led group: all could build their own story around the need for our partners to listen, value and invest in the third sector.

Powered by great stories such as that of John, an ex-drug user who started volunteering at DIAL House as part of his rehabilitation and now working as a care worker with drug and alcohol users and Michael, a homeless young man supported by Local Solutions, we are able to show the impact of third sector organisations on individuals as well as the identifiable savings they make for the state if they had to intervene further.

The campaign was launched with the general election in mind, but is ongoing as we seek to ensure we discover the art of telling the powerful stories once more and emphasise the role of the sector in building stronger, more resilient communities. Indeed the campaign has been picked up in other regions and being used to brand a number of events and reports across the country.

So why am I writing this now so long after our launch? Probably because I now think the message is more important than ever!

We need that commitment to ‘listen’ to be shown across the public sector. We also need the acceptance of the role of the third sector bodies in campaigning for change, in identifying the needs of communities and in shaping service delivery.

Whilst much focus recently has been on the sector delivering public services we also call on the sector to rediscover its voice – we have a role in speaking up for those seldom heard, empowering people and communities and in delivering some unpopular messages.

It is also important that our partners value the role and voice of the third sector. In recent years we have seen the sector engaged in a myriad of structures but we are being forced to make the case for engagement again in new structures such as local enterprise partnerships and even more worryingly, health and wellbeing boards. Even then the seat at the table is not enough; engaging the sector at all stages of policy development through to implementation is vital. We need the sector to be valued consistently – through good and bad economic times and every day – not just in crises.

The final message of investment is even more crucial – let’s not use the language of ‘handouts’ (that’s for failing banks), let’s not talk about ‘over dependency on the state’ or ‘funding’ as if it is negative and I certainly wouldn’t want to denigrate grants; it is time we all changed our language and talked consistently of investment: investment in the third sector; investment in our communities and investment in people.

Investment needs to not just be visible in cash terms, it needs to be visible in time and commitment to the sector as well: we have recently gathered some really positive stories recently how public sector bodies have engaged the sector in the process of making cuts: we have some really bad examples too.

I don’t believe for one minute that ‘we are all in this together’, but I have a strong hunch that those areas that manage to listen to, value and invest in their third sector partners will be the ones that recover the quickest.

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