Key Achievements

Introduction 

In Hastings, the Voluntary and Community Sector make a massive contribution to the life of  the Town and the delivery of services to local residents. There are approximately 400 community groups charities and voluntary organisations in the Borough but a recent research study conducted by Hastings Voluntary Action found that the majority were very small in terms of both size and annual turnover. Because of this groups do not have specialist roles such as personnel or finance or the money to “buy in” professional advice. Because of this many groups have come to rely on support from Infrastructure Organisations for advice and practical help. In Hastings this infrastructure support is delivered by Hastings Voluntary Action. As well as providing detailed support and training to local groups HVA also acts at a strategic level developing new services where there is an identified need or gap in existing provision and, crucially, levering in inward investment to the Town. The following examples, drawn from HVA’s case-files, provide an illustration of the breadth of work undertaken and its impact.

Inward Investment and Funding

  • HVA helped to instigate a Community Foundation for Sussex and act as one of the founder Directors of the Sussex Community Foundation. This organisation – now almost 3 years old has distributed over £750,000 across Sussex including over £80,000 to the Borough. It has recently won contracts worth over £2m to deliver the Governments Grassroots Grants and Endowment Challenge programmes.
  • HVAs Funding Advice service has “levered in” a massive £1.59million to the Borough by supporting local groups with their fundraising and helping trustees and staff increase their skills in funding.
  • HVA recognise the importance of small grant funding to the work of local groups and have helped distribute grants totalling over £1m on behalf of Borough and County Councils the PCT and other bodies. 
  • HVA has recently submitted a Basis 2 application to the Big Lottery. If this is successful it will support a programme of specific funding and financial advice delivered by all CVSs in East Sussex to ensure that Voluntary and Community Organisations can meet increasing demands in terms of sustainability, income generation and public service delivery.

Health

  • Hastings Voluntary Action was responsible for the development of the Towns Healthy Living Centre involving 19 separate delivery organisations. The resulting project “The PULSE Project” has contributed to improved health outcomes for young people aged 14-25 and resulted in an inward investment of over  £2.6 million.
  • Despite the fact that the Town has significant problems with drug and alcohol use issues its services were, for many years, inadequate. To address this HVA led the creation of the Towns Alcohol Counselling Services (now Action for Change) and its first Drug Support Project (now Addaction). These services are developed using a “promote and float” model in which they are developed ‘in house’ by Hastings Voluntary Action and then floated off to become independent organisations in their own right.
  • HVA became interested in strengthening the links between GPs and advice services so that patients with mental health problems could get help on issues like Housing Debt and Benefits. The organisation piloted a “Community Bridgebuilder” model, which raised over £50,000 unclaimed benefit, managed over £300,000 worth of debt and saved 4 people from losing their homes. The project was identified as Best Practice in a leading health journal and resulted in the PCT increasing their investment into this area of activity. There are now 4 full-time Community Bridge-builders in the Borough with a 5th practitioner being appointed in October 2008 to lead a special pilot project in the Ore Valley.
  • Through its volunteer programme HVA funded specialist supervision costs to enable a local counselling organisation to take on an extra 6 trainee counsellors. Not only did 6 extra people achieve their practitioner status but an extra 487 hours of counselling were made available to help those in need and reduce waiting times. In the words of our project partner “it is impossible to calculate the number of counselling hours which will, in future, be available, in the Borough as a result of this intervention and the 6 new counsellors who are now working in the area”.
  • The Committee Conundrum Training Programme has given hundreds of community activists a grounding in the basic legal, management and financial skills the need to run groups and charities.
  • HVA wanted to explore if it was possible for volunteers – particularly those who have been out of employment for some time – could get qualifications and progress through their community activism. A project known as the Volunteering Passport was developed which has enabled over 100 people to work towards their first recognised qualification.  The project has been identified by the accrediting body (ASDAN) as national best practice and is the first site in the country to pilot the new Level 3 Certificate in Community Volunteering.
  • HVA is a board member of the Sussex VCS Learning Consortium and works with learning partners to develop other opportunities for workforce development in the sector e.g. we worked with Sussex University to develop the Foundation Degree in Community Development at University Centre Hastings.
  • HVA staff  have acted as mentors to students completing the Foundation Degree in Community Development and other similar qualifications via the Open University or Open College.
  • Each year HVA put on a season of training programmes to meet the needs of local groups covering a diverse range of issues such as new legislation, diversity awareness, project management, evaluation, bid writing, Employment Law, to up-skill a sector which often finds training difficult and expensive to access.

Advocacy and Representation

HVA were instrumental in developing advocacy services for mental health patients, people with learning difficulties and young people (particularly “looked after” in residential settings. By combining these projects a new Advocacy Centre for the Borough was created. This project (now expanded and called South East Advocacy Projects) is still based in Hastings and is now one of the leading Advocacy specialists in the region delivering contracts throughout East Sussex and beyond.
HVA have enabled communities to come together in networks and forums to develop a stronger community voice particularly for those groups who were marginalised. Our work in this area was identified by both the National Audit Office and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister as “case-study” examples of good practice. 
Often, an organisation may have small beginnings. HVA have helped provide constitutional advice and early funding to form residents associations or tenants groups and through this process enabled local people to contribute to the improvement of their area.

New and Minority Communities 

Listen in Silence was the title of HVA’s 1996 research project into the needs of Black and minority ethnic (BME) communities. Recommendations led to HVA receiving funding for a BME project to develop links between individuals, community groups and local services. We are currently leading a multi-agency practitioners group to co-ordinate BME work across the borough, produce the ‘Cultural Voices’ newsletter and website, advise on Community Cohesion matters and support the development of groups such as Hastings Ethnic Minority Advisory Service.
When the Borough was first identified as a dispersal area for refugees and Asylum seekers, HVA worked with other services to develop the LINKS one stop shop service. Using Home Office Funding it also developed one of the pilot Purposeful Activity Programmes to develop sports and learning activities and support the engagement with local community members. Delivered in conjunction with Chapel Park Online (the nearest community centre to the Adelphi Hotel which housed many Asylum Seekers) the programme was independently evaluated as one of the fastest to provide a response to an identified need.

Starting and Running a Voluntary and Community Organisation

  • HVA provides in depth one-to-one advice to around 100 groups a year on technical issues such as starting a new group, drawing up a constitution, registering as a charity, roles and responsibilities of trustees, financial management,  managing community buildings and policies and procedures. Access to such support is particularly welcomed by smaller VCOs and goes a long way to strengthening organisations through which people can take part in collective action through shared experience, shared resources and improved accountability.
  • Specific in-depth support is currently provided to assist the development of sustainable community ‘anchor’ organisations in deprived areas that aim to provide multi-purpose facilities and provide holistic solutions to local problems and challenges.

Human Resources and Personnel Advice

  • Becoming an employer can be a real challenge for local groups and carries with it a complex set of legal obligations to understand and work through. To enable smaller groups to employ staff HVA offer a payroll and support service to a small number of organisations to help reduce the risks involved.
  • Where an organisation is threatened with legal action and a risk of litigation this creates a major risks. Local groups do not have the funding to cover legal costs (estimated at £3,000) and a compensation award made against them could destabilise the whole organisation. The Director of HVA represented 2 organisations at Employment Tribunals – winning both cases – and defended local groups against claims worth in excess of £50,000.

Risk Management  

  • Sometimes, HVA provide support to groups “in crisis” who seek independent advice to manage the most challenging circumstances. In 2008 we helped a group who had detected a fraud perpetrated by one of its committee members. We offered advice throughout and worked with the Police and Crown Prosecution to support a successful prosecution and enabled the group to continue when it might have folded.

Older People

  • HVA helped fund the launch of the seniors forum and sponsored a number of their initiatives including the Pedestrian Safety Awareness Campaign.
  • HVA are currently supporting the re-provisioning process at the Isobel Blackman Centre to work with local Voluntary Organisations to provide a more extended service available for more hours to more people in the Old Town.

Young People

  • Through its volunteering programme HVA have provided accredited qualifications for volunteers working with the YMCA, Respond, Fellowship of St Nicholas and the Youth Development Service.
  • HVA worked with other partners to create a federation of those organisations working with young people. Together the viability of a “Super Youth Centre” for the Borough was explored. This work created the context which contributed to the Borough being selected as the location for the East Sussex MYPLACE bid to Government.

Volunteering

  • The Volunteer Centre is HVA’s longest standing service and assists VCOs with volunteer recruitment and management through offering a brokerage service, good practice guidelines, training and promotion. The service has recently achieved the Volunteer England Quality Mark. For the volunteers recruited through HVA, volunteering is often a way of meeting new people and becoming more involved in their community. It is also useful in terms of learning new skills, gaining confidence, increasing employability and contributing to lifelong learning. For many volunteering also has a therapeutic value and can assist with health improvement or rehabilitation.  Over the past 5 years HVA have interviewed and placed over 1,000 new volunteers within the Borough.
  • We have supported those organisations using volunteers by providing good practice materials, delivering a three-day volunteer managers training programme and with them promoting the importance of volunteering during national volunteers week.

Rooms and Resources 

  • Many organisations do not have their own premises and require an accessible meeting space to conduct their business. Over 300 times each year meeting rooms are made available to groups. In the past 2 years HVA invested resources to improve access for those with disabilities and create a new resource area.
  • Sometimes it is something very practical – like the loan of a PA system, laptop or projecting equipment which helps a group put on a successful event or workshop.
  • Through its partnership with Hastings Borough Council HVA have developed a proposal to create a Town Centre Community Anchor extending and improving the amount of accessible meeting space available at affordable rates to local groups.

Crime Reduction and Community Safety

  • HVA undertook a programme of engagement activity to review the Reporting Racial Incidents programme and identify a model for greater effectiveness in the reporting of hate crime. The organisation played a role in the selection of the new County Wide provider and works closely to ensure that this is reaching out and gains the confidence of community members.

Information and Communication

  • Hastings Community News is published 12 times a year and has become a key resource for local groups as well as providing a mechanism for any service provider to reach a diverse and widespread voluntary and community sector.
  • Each year a Directory containing records of all voluntary groups is published free of charge by Hastings Voluntary Action. This publication, once described by a group of social workers as “a lifeline for clients” is regarded as the key resource for contact VCS organisations in Hastings. Each quarter an edition of Cultural Voices (formerly BME News appears) designed for minority communities or those new to the Borough. This has enabled key services to get their message across to groups previously regarded as “hard to reach”.
  • Our information service has kept pace with the times and as well as boasting a variety of on-line resources also embraces a news-feed, a “Facebook” page, a Directors Blog and a podcast is in development.  
  • Over recent years HVA has been developing its systems for profiling the local voluntary and community sector through its membership base. In February 2008 we produced a ‘State of the Sector’ report, which provides base-line information about the scale and scope of VCS activity in the town. The report demonstrates the economic value and contribution of the VCS and will provide a useful benchmark in terms of measuring VCS activity in line with local economic development, Community Strategy and Local Area Agreement targets and local performance against National Indicators.
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