By Anne Lyall, CEO of Northumberland CVA

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Having been raised with the music of David Bowie, Prince and others, it has been a sad time recently to hear of the death of so many celebrities over the past year.  Every one of them played a part in my past and have all influenced me one way or another but I am amazed by the passion and, to some extent, the excesses shown by some fans in honouring the demise of their heroes.

A lot of my career has been spent in the Voluntary and Community Sector.  My passion began when I worked with a group of women in the 1990’s, women who had never done anything but been married, raised kids and had no expectations for their future.  Together we developed a programme of activity, including a weekend doing outdoor pursuits in Yorkshire, and from that programme I saw women grow, develop careers and, for some, leave abusive relationships.  For me, it planted a desire to do more and to continue to work in the Voluntary and Community Sector – a sector that could change the lives of individuals for the better.

For 25 years I have worked with like-minded passionate people – people who wanted and have made a difference.  But now, with the pressures being placed on staff and volunteers to do more with fewer resources, I am seeing that passion being eroded. 

Northumberland CVA is the facilitating body of the VCS Assembly.  We have made great strides in developing the Assembly since winning the commission.  We have engaged with more people in the sector and increased membership by 68%.  We have developed a democratically-elected Executive Board with representation from both geographical and themed areas.  We have established regular meetings of a VCS Cabinet Advisory Group, made up of elected members from Northumberland County Council along with members of the VCS Assembly Executive Committee, and agreed a Statement of Intent to work together.

For the first time, Northumberland VCS Assembly offers the sector a real opportunity to prove its worth to the public sector, to put the strength of our combined passion into making things better for the VCS.

Of course, we still have a long way to go to break some of those glass ceilings in the public sector to make our voice truly heard, and there is no doubt that bigger cuts are on the way.  I have always been an optimist and my glass is always half full, but we have already seen the VCS Support Services grants to the sector cut dramatically over the past three years.  Organisations have closed, services have shrunk, and yet demand for the services the voluntary and community sector provides is constantly growing.

This won’t get any better. 

Unless we work together, drive our combined passion forward, and commit to making things work differently, the survival of the VCS and its future sustainability may be severely limited.  It is vital that we harness the passion that makes us do what we do.  Our commitment to those who need us most is not what’s in doubt; it’s our value for money.  

We need to show our worth.  Demonstrate our impact.

A passion every bit as ardent as that felt by those fans over the loss of their celebrity heroes (although perhaps not the excesses) is evident throughout Northumberland’s voluntary and community sector in the work we do every day.  We need to harness it.  And we need to do it now!   Before it’s too late!