What next for Lewisham's voluntary sector?

Tony Nickson, VAL Director, reflects on what the outcome of the recent election could mean for the voluntary and community sector in Lewisham

Whichever way you voted, we now know what we’ve got, and whatever your outlook we know some things for sure: there will be continued reduction to the funding of public services for the next few years, with the welfare budget clearly in sight, and an increasing expectation that the community will need to step up and do more.

So what will this mean for the voluntary sector in Lewisham? Hard to say yet, but many of us have already felt the real pressure from grant reductions and cuts. We knew these were coming, but perhaps it is only when it happens that we can properly assess what the impact is and what we can do next. For many of us that means some very tough decisions, which I know people are already taking.

We have to get organised. If you’re waiting for things to return to ‘normal’ (like with secure funding and little pressure to perform?) I don’t think that bus is coming. Things are very, very uncertain and unstable for us as a sector, and we urgently need to get together to figure out what to do. To get this going, VAL along with other colleagues is inviting everyone to a sector-wide forum event where we can listen to each other, support each other, and develop a collective voice and collective action to support the most vulnerable people in our communities.

Making changes in our organisations is heavy work and takes time and emotional energy – not to mention money. That can leave us depleted; inward looking. We need new ideas and fresh energy. Some of the newer start-ups we’re supporting have a fresh energy that could help galvanise us. Other people are finding different ways of organising and finding a voice for those that need it. We can yet find ways to inspire each other to action. 

Coming together in a sector-led forum will give us an opportunity to share inspiration and ideas. Equally it will give us a chance to vent the frustration and anger many of us feel. These are not good times for many of the people we are trying to support. Changes are happening fast and we have to know what’s coming at us and be in better shape to respond.

Writer and essayist on the environment, Marilynne Robinson, gives us a provocative thought:

‘… there are two questions we must always ask ourselves – what do we choose not to know, and what do we fail to anticipate?

Marilynne Robinson, ‘Wilderness’ in The Death of Adam