It's good to talk

by Joanne Roberts


At the VCS Forum gathering on 23 July something clicked for me; I began to crystallise my role as VAL’s Development Support Officer – Communications, Information & Member Relations (gasp!).

As part of a new team of seven, including two other DSOs with specialisms in fundraising and project development; finance, governance and social enterprise and one soon to be appointed with a focus on policy and collaboration, I was feeling my way a bit.

I was a relative newcomer to the sector in Lewisham, and decided the best way to get started was to get out and visit some of our members to touch base and find out some of the top issues they’re encountering in their work with communities. It’s been enlightening so far, and has given me a good insight into some of the common themes of food poverty, the impact of welfare benefits sanctions, increasing mental health issues etc.

Ctrl Shift: an alternative conversation

We knew that there would be a desire within the sector to get together and discuss the challenges facing the sector, so hosting a VCS Forum with our partners was a good way to seize the opportunity to regroup and refocus. We’d hoped to shift the conversation about the current pressures and the very real challenges ahead and harness the wisdom in the room.

The energy, creativity and commitment in the room to share ideas, explore issues and find new ways of working together confirmed, for many of us, what was required of us as support organisations and of the sector.

Here are some of the things that became clear to me:

  1. The Forum is a community, not an event or a meeting. We came together to have conversations that we hope will be the beginnings of small and large actions, not just talk for talk’s sake. Networking with other organisations was ranked as the top benefit of the event, and we have a role in fostering learning communities wherever there’s an expressed desire.
  2. A movement for change. There is a real appetite within the sector to lead change together. In some ways this is unsurprising, as the desire for change is the driving fuel of the VCS in Lewisham. Whether it’s coming together as ‘huddles’ around themes such as youth provision or around your local area, it all contributes to positive change.
  3. The Lewisham Infrastructure Group has a role to play in catalysing the momentum. We can do this through timely information, facilitating connections and highlighting good practice wherever we find it. A model of engagement could look like this:

    Invite: We will invite organisations to join the movement and conversations
    Challenge: There is a high expectation of the level of engagement from organisations to connect, collaborate and innovate.
    Support: We will need to offer support those who are willing to engage at this level to lead change, through access to training, support, information and digital tools.


Are you willing to join the movement and become part of a learning community? What do you think of this as a model of engagement?

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You can view the story of the day - in tweets, audio testimonials and images - here