Loss of ‘unique’ services will hit hard, charities say

WITH voluntary and community groups playing an increasing role in society, support for those working on the frontline is more needed than ever.

Jane Hustwit, chief executive of Involve Yorkshire and Humber, which is being forced to close due to lack of funding.

That’s why the loss of the “unique” service that Involve Yorkshire and Humber provides will be felt so hard, charities have said.

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Over the last 15 years, Involve has provided training, advice, policy briefings and most of all, a voice, for around 15,000 voluntary groups and community organisations across Yorkshire and the Humber.

It is, as one charity puts it, “the unsung heroes” of the sector, using expertise and research to challenge and support national policy.

The director of public policy at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Karl Wilding, said: ”Involve Yorkshire and the Humber is one of the unsung heroes of the charity sector. They’ve worked quietly in the background to help charities make their money go further. They’ve provided training and support for people who have gone on and helped thousands of people across the region. And they’ve given a louder voice to communities who might not otherwise have been heard by the man in Whitehall.

“Infrastructure organisations like this are too important to let slip away.”

The voluntary sector in Yorkshire provides 86,000 full time equivalent jobs and contributes £1.62bn to the economy.

Over the last six years, as funding the Government “drained away” Involve has shrank from around 25 staff to eight, who will all lose their jobs when it closes in November.

But Involve’s chief executive, Jane Hustwit, said the real effect will be felt by the many organisations that rely on it for support. They will be forced to pay for private help - “luxuries” they cannot afford at a time when demand is “surging”.

Ms Hustwit said: “Demand for voluntary sector services is increasing, while resources of all sorts have shrunk. Reduced capacity coupled with more need means that the pressure to survive often takes over.

“However, within the sector, there is still a real desire to speak up, to speak out, to tell the stories and provide the data about what’s going for neglected people and communities. This is where Involve and the infrastructure offer comes in – and why it’s vital. Without us, these stories won’t be heard in the places that matter, where the decisions are made. “

One of those organisations to benefit from Involve’s support is Scarborough and Ryedale Carers Resource.

Chief executive Elizabeth McPherson, said the loss of the valuable training, resources, advice and policy briefings would have a “devastating impact on frontline line organisations that rely on this vital support”.

She said: “Nobody else is doing this in Yorkshire. When Involve closes, I don’t know where I will go for this advice, support and information.”

“With already stretched resources, smaller frontline organisations like ours simply don’t have the in-house resources, capacity or expertise to campaign and influence on policy and issues that directly impact our ability to deliver vital frontline services.”

Leeds Citizens Advice Bureau chief executive Dianne Lyons said Involve made a “unique contribution” to the voluntary sector.

She said: “At a time when regional developments are increasingly important, the loss of a regional voice for the voluntary and community sector must be of concern to all of us.”

Voluntary sector ‘at breaking point’

AMONG the many functions of Involve was conducting research into how the voluntary sector coped.

In April, a report by the charity said the region’s voluntary sector has seen an “unsustainable surge of demand” for care, advice and support services since welfare reforms were introduced.

In total 80 per cent of voluntary and community organisations have seen increased demand since April 2013.

Almost half have seen their funding reduced during the same period, leaving already stretched services at “breaking point,” said acting chief executive Jane Hustwit.