New Beginnings for VCSE Strategic Forum
In the early part of this decade, the relationship between the voluntary sector and the public sector went through significant changes. In part, this was a reflection of the ‘Big Society’ vision, but also the financial pressures the public sector found itself in. It was not an easy time, and while many local charities struggled to find the capacity to engage the public sector effectively, the public sector equally had no easy way of talking to voluntary groups.
In response, and in a partnership with Somerset County Council, we launched the Somerset VCSE Strategic Coordination project, supported by Spark, Engage West Somerset, the Community Council for Somerset, and the Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group. Liz Simmons was appointed as the Coordinator for this project, connecting and convening people with shared interests across the public and voluntary sectors, and ensuring information was shared in a timely way.
The centrepiece of Liz’s work has been the Strategic Forum meetings that have regularly attracted over forty participants to discuss issues of concern and share knowledge alongside the annual VCSE Leaders' Conference, which attracted regional and national speakers into Somerset. In between these events, there have been hundreds of tasks that Liz has undertaken to make better links, formally and informally, aswell as launching the website for the project, which is now firmly established as the main pathway for information.
Given the background of the project, where the relationship between charities and the public sector were strained and under stress, it took an enormous amount of skill, diplomacy, vision and emotional intelligence to help create a far more positive relationship and mechanism for the two sectors to speak with, and learn from, each other.
We wish Liz all the best in her new role, and we are sure she will really help Headway Somerset move forward in the county.
As for the project, we are discussing with our partners how we will take the project forward without Liz, but we are determined to build on the fine work Liz has started at a time when, more than ever, the public and voluntary sector need to find effective and efficient ways of working together .