After 13 years as chief executive at Leicestershire Cares, I feel immensely proud of what we achieved. Volunteering opportunities included support for school pupils, practical support for voluntary organisations and support for ex-offenders, homeless people and care leavers to help them into employment and education.
With five programme areas, my role focused extensively on ensuring the income to run these projects. Our success was based on the principle that we never chased new funding streams. Instead, we shaped our services in line with community need, then sought the funding to achieve this.
This has become harder than ever. Local authority grants have disappeared and charitable foundations are overwhelmed with applications from desperate charities that are seeing their own income fall due to exceptionally low interest rates. Worst of all, the introduction of contracts and commissioning has had a devastating effect. Last year, we had to walk away from two large contracts for our rehabilitation work with ex-offenders. The contract holders did not have the understanding of the client group or time for the nurturing required to effect change. Rejecting the contracts was scary, but correct. The Police and Crime Commissioner for Leicestershire agreed to fund the work for two years because he understands the effect the work has on reducing reoffending. A week before my retirement in December, I was frantically emailing amendments to a contract we had jointly designed.
We must stand up as a sector, fight back and be prepared to say "no". This requires those who purport to represent us to strenuously convey the intrinsic value of our work.