A triumphant tiptoe back into blogging

Well. As I log back into this blog I can’t help but notice my last post was almost two years ago. How much has changed since then.

In the intervening period I have been working as a Policy Officer on social care, benefits and housing, living in London and picking up a whole new collection of volunteer labels (including – I’m very proud of this – trustee of FPA). I have done freelance research on community development, ad-hoc policy and amateur twitter on a campaign on ending violence against women, and I have become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA). And then, I have ended up with four years of funding to do a PhD on the voluntary sector, left my job and London (but not FPA, or twitter), moved to Birmingham and gained a desk in a research office with a slowly deflating blow-up seagull. I also got new glasses.


For various complicated reasons I’ve not felt able to write much on the voluntary sector, but that’s all about to change (I can feel your excitement flowing through the internet…). Given I’m researching the thing again, I thought I’d better start writing about it again. I can’t promise thrills or exposés (or even any kind of regular output). But I can promise my usual excess of enthusiasm about the oft over-looked corners and histories of the charity world. And occasional reflections on my own place within it.

So, chat is always welcome, as are suggestions and comments. I look forward to writing at you in the near future.

Stephen Seagull
Stephen Seagull

New Year’s Resolution no. 2: making a mark as a trustee

One of the best things I’ve done this year is become a trustee of a charity. I’ve been a trustee before, many years ago for Children’s Rights Alliance for England, which was a great experience and helped me learn about what’s involved in running an organisation. But that was a very different organisation and a very different situation. My current trustee role is offering challenges and opportunities that I couldn’t get anywhere else. The next step for me is to do something amazing with that.

I’m a trustee of Croft House Settlement, a community venue with a long history and a small turnover. I was attracted to it first because I’m a voluntary action history nerd; the settlement movement in the late 19th and early 20th century brought services into poor communities to tackle poverty and offer education and support to those who would otherwise struggle to get it. Toynbee Hall is one of the most famous and is still running fantastic services today. The movement is rooted in Christian philanthropy, and Croft House was established in 1902 by the Rev. William Blackshaw in an area of poor housing and poverty in Sheffield. After a period of decline, it was resurrected in the late 1980s by a marching band looking for a new home, and has been home to it and a range of other dance, music and theatre groups ever since.

The existing trustee board was looking for a refresh and reached out through Do-It for anyone interested. It got the kind of shock that it wanted; a group of new trustees that brought a different age and gender demographic to the group, that had new ideas and different perspectives to contribute and that could (and fully intend to) help to develop and improve Croft House Settlement, whilst respecting its history and its existing dedicated user group. Already we’ve set out plans for developing a full strategy based on three overarching areas; the building, the branding and the community. These will link together to make crucial improvements to the physical space, some parts of which are in desperate need of refurbishment, to listen to and make the most of service users, creating and embedding a real community, and getting the message out to new organisations and customers, boosting business and helping financial sustainability.

My interest is in the community. In taking the time to examine what I like and what I’m good at during my year as a Charityworks Graduate Trainee, I realised that what I really enjoy is building links between different people and different organisations, and creating something – an idea, a service, a space – that they can really buy into. Listening to existing users is key to this, for me; the service users of Croft House Settlement will be able to explain what they like (and what they dislike) about the place than I ever can, because they use it, week in, week out. It’s as simple as that. They have to be a key part in making it better, and in bringing more people in. Using those existing networks, I hope, will be a great way of bringing in new communities and customers.

So, the New Year’s Resolution beneath all of this involves developing some new skills for myself as well as being a part of developing a whole organisation. I want the building to get the investment it deserves. I want it to have a solid strategy for organisational development in place. And I want it to embody a sense of community; be guided by it, and make the most of it as an asset. My resolution is to be a part of making all of this happen.

Resolution no. 1: supporting equality in football

This blog is part of my New Year’s Resolution series. More to come…

Trigger Warning: Discussion of misogyny, rape and racism.

As a football supporter, this year has been an interesting and difficult one for me. In the first of my ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ I talk about losing faith with the teams I followed, and finding it in equality-based football.

I remember the first ever football match I went to; Sheffield United versus Leicester, at Bramall Lane, with my Grandpa and Uncle Duncan. We won, but Leicester had already secured promotion to the league above, and four-year-old-me thought this was deeply unfair.

I remember the best football match I’ve ever been to; Celtic versus Barcelona, Champions League group stages, 2012, Celtic Park, with my one of my best friends, Liam. It was the 125th anniversary game. Celtic won. I have never experienced anything like it before or since.

These are teams that I have loved – Celtic since I adopted them and the City of Glasgow 6 years ago, Sheffield United since I first knew what football was. And these are both teams that in the past year I have decided to leave behind.

This story sits with three players; Lee Griffiths and Aleksandar Tonev of Celtic, and Ched Evans, formerly of Sheffield United. Griffiths and Tonev have both been pulled up for racist language and behaviour in the past year. In Griffiths’ case, he was caught on video being racist. Celtic did nothing. Tonev was accused of using racist language towards Shay Logan, and was punished by the Scottish Football Association for doing so with a 7-game ban. Celtic appealed the case, repeatedly refuted the accusation, and, at when the appeal collapsed this week, said that they would continue to give him his full support despite the judgement that, on the balance of probabilities, he had been racist (this article from BBC Scotland’s Tom Evans discusses why Celtic’s position is problematic better than I can). Ched Evans, in a case covered heavily by the English press, was convicted of rape and secured early release this October. After months of silence, Sheffield United released a statement saying that Evans would return to training with the club, then swiftly changed their minds as high-profile board members expressed their disappointment. 

I believe that these clubs have a responsibility to all of their fans, including those of all different genders, ethnicities, sexualities and religious beliefs. I believe that a club has a responsibility to set an example and hold all of its players to a standard, regardless of how popular they are or how many goals they score. I believe that they have chosen to disregard this responsibility. Neil Lennon, former Celtic manager, said in 2012 that any form of racism is “an instant sackable offence” at his club. These words seem increasingly empty. Hearing stories of fans chanting “he’s Ched Evans and he does what he likes” does not give me any confidence that Bramall Lane is a safe and inclusive space for women. Neither does the “fan” reaction to Jess Ennis’ and Charlie Webster’s opposition to letting Evans train with the team. And, finally, neither does Sheffield United’s petulant statement after it was forced into a u-turn by the level of press attention. The club’s attitude and approach sets the tone for the team and the support. If discriminatory, harmful and violent behaviour is accepted at the top, then it is deemed acceptable at every level.

So, what options are there for a football fan looking for a new club?

There are football teams in this country, and in many other countries, that campaign for and live by the rule of equality. These are the teams that I support. This year, I have had the pleasure of seeing Babelsberg 03 play near Berlin, visiting the St. Pauli ground in Hamburgh and, most recently, attending an away game in the middle of nowhere with Clapton FC, an East London anti-fascist team playing in the Essex Senior League. At this last match, I was flying the flag for my other adopted Scottish team, United Glasgow, along with two other supporters (one of whom plays for the women’s team). I am proud to support United Glasgow, because I can see the difference that it makes. It lives and breathes its equalities ethos. It has grown beyond its original purpose as a semi-regular football club for refugees, asylum seekers and those excluded for financial or other reasons who want to play football, and now brings people from all kinds of backgrounds together on common ground, promoting better understanding of issues faced and shared by different communities. The Men’s 11s are currently fourth in the Scottish Unity League, and the Women’s 5s team have just been confirmed as champions of their league for the second year in a row. 

Playing and following sport can be a powerful tool in bringing people together, but only if clubs really embrace an ethos of anti-discrimination. It is commendable and good to fly a flag for anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti-sexism and so on, but clubs need to fly these flags all the time, rather than when it is convenient, or when it does not harm profits.

So, resolution number 1 for the New Year: to campaign for equality in and through football (and hopefully other sports as well). My actions include:

What will you do?

New Years Resolutions

It’s coming up to that time of year where, once all the deadlines are hit and the Christmas parties are through, we think about what’s passed and what’s to come. Next year is going to be an exciting year for me, as I will be looking for new challenges in new places. So I thought I’d use this blog over the next few days to reflect on what I’ve learnt this year, what’s changed, and what I want to do next.

I’ll be posting a short series of professional ‘new years resolutions’, covering campaigns, strategies and personal development. It would be great to get your feedback on these, and to hear about any of your own.

Have a very merry week!

[this Christmas jumper was obviously one major achievement…]

On George Osborne and Missing the Point

Last week, George Osborne said to the Institute of Directors that business must:

get out there and put the business argument. Because there are plenty of pressure groups, plenty of trade unions and plenty of charities and the like, that will put the counter view.

This, understandably, made a lot of people in the voluntary sector rather cross. Sir Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive of NCVO, said that people ‘should be celebrating not denigrating the relationship between business and charity’. David McAuley, Chief Executive of the Trussel Trust, said that he was ‘proud of the fruitful partnerships that exist between [the Trussel Trust] and high profile names in the business sector’. Nick Bryer, head of UK campaigns and policy at Oxfam stated that ‘We don’t recognise the divide he draws between the concerns of businesses and charities’.

I agree with all of this; clearly good work is already being done between the private and voluntary sectors, and I question some of the arguments around distinction of different sectors. I’ve written about both issues before. But I think these complaints rather miss the point.

To me, Osborne’s comment is based on the belief in a particular political ideology, and his affront at it being challenged. This is made clear by another bit of his speech:

That issue [of a country for the free market] felt like it had been resolved when the Berlin Wall fell … Politicians like Tony Blair from the left felt like they had understood that free markets create the taxes to fund public services. That argument has gone.

Aside from being slightly detached from reality (I’m not sure that my understanding of ‘the left’ and Osborne’s is quite the same), this is important because the suggestion is that unions and charities are ‘putting the counter view’, and that this is detrimental to the country. What needs to be recognised, and what needs to be challenged, is that this is another piece of rhetoric in a long, long line that attacks charities’ right to campaign and challenge. As others have said before me, from the Lobbying Act to the veritable pun-mine of Brooks Newmark,  it has felt like the voluntary sector’s independence and voice is being attacked. This particular speech is no different.

Nicholas Deakin criticised this anti-political sentiment this week, complaining that ‘campaigning is legitimate only when it fits the official agenda: not when it challenges the assumptions behind it’. If we believe that campaigning is a key role for the voluntary sector, and that its voice is an important one, then we must continue to call out those who seek to restrict it.

A New Civil Society Minister

Here’s an interesting blog from George Gosling on the history of charity campaigning, in the light of Brooks Newmark’s resignation from his Minister for Civil Society post. During his time in post, Mr Newmark criticised charities for getting involved in politics and campaigning, suggesting they should ‘stick to their knitting’.


Cameron's Civil Society Ministers: Nick Hurd, Brooks Newmark and Rob Wilson

What is the job of the Civil Society Minister? Rob Wilson MP (above right) will be pondering this question as he succeeds the short-lived tenure of Brooks Newmark (above centre). His departure was part of an uncomfortable double-billing of headlines for David Cameron on the weekend ahead of the final Conservative Party conference before the next general election. The other was that of a second parliamentary Tory defection to UKIP, meaning a second byelection could see the libertarian/anti-immigration/anti-EU party with at least two seats in the House of Commons before the next general election. The attention will all be on the Prime Minister’s struggle to maintain an alliance with the unhappy right-wing of his party. In many ways, the lack of significance around this other loss for the Prime Minister tells us the other half of a worrying story for Downing Street.

The newspaper stories about the resignation of Brooks Newmark…

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Who really makes decisions about local health funding for the Voluntary and Community Sector?

Local Democracy and Health

FPHN Image

A summary of the governments policy on health and social care is a bit like this:

  • focus more on prevention
  • support people to live longer in their homes through better integration

…..and the solution is to take money out of acute care and invest it in communities

This should represent a real opportunity for organisations with expertise in working in communities and on the social determinants of health – in particular the local voluntary and community sector – to contribute and get access to funding. It does not feel that this is the case!

In part this is because we are locked into an analysis of how commissioning works that does not reflect reality.

The official commissioning model.

  • Assess need at local authority level using the JSNA
  • Debate and agree local priorities through the Health and Wellbeing Board
  • Put these priorities into the Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy
  • The JHWS…

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