The Cat and Anchor

 

Chris Freed says there are lessons we can learn from the Catford Cat and Deptford Anchor campaigns to help inform the future of VAL and the sector

 

 

A few weeks ago social media was buzzing with emotive campaigns to rescue two well-loved Lewisham icons: the Catford Cat and the Deptford Anchor. In the words of one tweeter, 'You can't take the Cat out of Catford,’ as the Mayor was quoted as announcing: ‘The Catford Cat won’t be leaving under my watch'.

It just goes to show that the strength of people's passion for their local areas, and what they represent, can make a difference. As the coming storm of Brexit, economic uncertainty and growing pressures on local government hits small and medium sized charities in full force, the reprieve of the cat and anchor teaches us two things:

  1. If we’re going to survive, it will be on how effective we are at identifying with and communicating the needs of our communities, and relaying them to the powers that be to influence change.
     
  2. We will need to find ways to connect with and respond to the energy, passion and skills of Lewisham’s people and communities to achieve better outcomes and solutions to the problems ahead.

 

How do we do this with dwindling resources, you ask?

We can look to the campaign building up a head of steam behind the importance of small charities, as well as the developing agenda around the future of charities, people and communities to help map the way forward as seen in the recent publication of two high-profile reports last month.

 

Team small charities

The clear messages coming from these reports is that #smallbutvital charities will need the backing of government, larger charities, government, infrastructure bodies, the Charity Commission and funders.

Take the House of Lords Select Committee report on charities, published last week, which speaks to the need for these stakeholders to adapt and be more flexible to ensure that effective small and medium-sized charities continue to make a contribution. You may not get through all 42 recommendations across the 150 pages of Stronger charities for a stronger society (PDF 1.7MB), but NCVO has produced an edited version of the wide-ranging list here

The devil is still in the detail, but I think we can take comfort that there’s an acknowledgement of the challenges around funding and commissioning, and that campaigning is viewed as ‘a sign of a healthy democracy’. Read Lillian Brown’s blog highlighting some of the specific issues raised in the report around impact measurement and funding and how to access VAL’s support.

 

Forward-facing

Lloyds Bank Foundation's hard-hitting Facing Forward report makes for essential reading for resource-poor #smallbutvital charities. It makes a clear call to action on the part of government, funders and large charities to ensure that small and medium sized charities are to survive the storm.

The report identifies and analyses ten upcoming political, economic, social and technological changes that the Foundation believes will dramatically affect the operating landscape for small and medium charities in England and Wales.

The ten trends to watch include the road to Brexit, an unpredictable economy, cuts to council-funded services, a reshaping of public services, technological developments, and public trust issues.

 

Be more cat-like

We’ve already been directly experiencing many of these trends in Lewisham, and it’s clear that our response as small charities must not be to hunker down but to be agile – like the Catford Cat - if we’re to remain sustainable.

In the past two years we’ve been proactively working to support Lewisham’s VCSE through the seven steps outlined in the Foundation’s report (see below) to help equip Lewisham charities for the future through our team of specialist development support workers.


But change is now the currency of the operating environment in Lewisham. We’ve been looking to the emerging strategy, The way ahead, as a springboard to help us re-define what our support looks like in future, and how we can deliver it in a sustainable way.

In short, we want to be more like the cat and the anchor: both fleet of foot and secure, to improve our capacity to help smaller charities to survive and thrive together.

 

Want to hear more?

Learn more about VAL’s new plans at our annual VCSE sector conference on Wednesday 5 July 2017. Details to follow.

Read Lillian Brown’s blog, Stronger charities: impact measurement and fundraising