I always welcome an opportunity to visit Scarborough on the North Yorkshire coast, so I accepted an invitation from Mel Bonney-Kane, chief executive of Coast and Vale Community Action, to speak at her conference, Doing Business with the Voluntary Sector. I focused on the social value act - and it soon became clear that neither commissioners nor voluntary sector leaders had given this legislation any serious attention.
I used the day to find out about Bonney-Kane's unusual approach to funding infrastructure services for the local voluntary sector. This year she merged Ryedale Voluntary Action and Seachange Community Trust to form Cavca. Remarkably for a council for voluntary service, 75 per cent of its £700,000 budget this year will be earned.
Cavca is a social enterprise, but Bonney-Kane says the term is not well understood. Instead she describes her charity as "a not-for-private-profit, community-based enterprise". Combining youth work, volunteering projects, social enterprise support and community hubs with traditional CVS services such as group development and sector representation, Bonney-Kane's success shows a way forward for other CVSs facing big cuts.
Cavca's landmark project is The Street, a stunning building in central Scarborough that offers conference halls, pods for counselling sessions, a recording studio, a "messy space" for artwork and offices for 20 local charities. Two more buildings in Whitby provide accommodation and support for local businesses and spaces for community activities and events.
Bonney-Kane says every CVS should develop independent income streams if it is to survive. "We have three state-of-the-art buildings that attract tenants, but to run them requires a more commercial approach from the senior staff and trustees than in a grant-funded organisation," she tells me. "We don't charge for infrastructure support work, but we are planning to introduce charges for specialist services such as quality award assessments and help for charities that are bidding for contracts."
An example of Bonney-Kane's entrepreneurship is Cavca's successful bid to run a business park in Hull, with offices and social spaces overlooking the Hull Kingston Rovers rugby league ground. Cavca Ventures will generate a profit to fund CVS development services and enable free support to be sustained for groups in Scarborough, Whitby and Malton.
Bonney-Kane acknowledges that her business model carries risks - she has taken on a big debt burden to finance the buildings. But if the local CVS movement is to survive, it will need leaders such as Bonney-Kane who combine a passion for social justice with commercial skills and a willingness to take risks. If she decides to offer masterclasses, I urge you to sign up.
Kevin Curley is a voluntary sector adviser