Analysis: The fortunes of volunteer centres vary from place to place

But Kirsty Palmer from Kensington & Chelsea and Heather Allen of Hemel Hempstead are both disappointed not to receive central government funding

Kirsty Palmer [L] and Heather Allen
Kirsty Palmer [L] and Heather Allen

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ survey Annual Return for Volunteer Centres 2011/12 shows 40 per cent of centres in England have faced a 25 per cent drop in income since 2010/11. Of the 160 volunteer centres in England that responded to the survey, one in five reported cuts of 50 per cent or more to their income, compared with 2010/11.

The survey shows that just 7 per cent of centres received central government funding in 2011/12, compared with 24 per cent the previous year. A large majority of volunteer centres – 83 per cent – receive funding from local government; however, the survey shows that this figure was 6 per cent lower than it was in 2010/11.

Justin Davis Smith, the NCVO’s executive director for volunteering and development, argues that the picture is not universally bleak. "Some volunteer centres had success in developing new work and sources of income in this year," he says.

Kensington and Chelsea volunteer centre in London is one example of this. Kirsty Palmer, chief executive officer of the centre, says it has maintained its funding at about £400,000 for the past few years. As well as having a good relationship with the local authority, which made a minimal 3 per cent cut to its funding in 2013/14, the organisation is a Work Programme subcontractor and holds a contract with its local jobcentre worth £40,000 a year. In addition, it receives about £50,000 a year from a grant-giving trust, The Campden Charities. Palmer says the centre would be struggling financially if it had not looked beyond its core local authority funding.

Failure to invest

But she is disappointed by the government’s failure to invest in existing volunteer infrastructure, choosing instead to invest in the Social Action Fund and initiatives such as the new volunteering charity Join In. "Across the network, a lot of people are angry and disappointed that we have been overlooked," she says.

Heather Allen, manager of Volunteer Centre Dacorum in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, says it has not been so successful in finding alternative funding. The centre receives £56, 950 a year in funding from Dacorum Borough Council and the same amount again through other sources. However, in 2013/14 the centre is likely to face a deficit for the first time in 16 years, of about £3,000, because the funding doesn’t meet demand, she says.

Like Palmer, Allen would like the government to fund local centres. "I think there is a danger in funding the bright, new and shiny, when really it is the local and trusted that should be funded," she says.

Supplement funding

Peterborough Volunteer Centre in Cambridgeshire is also struggling financially. Sarah Fletcher, assistant general secretary at the centre’s sister organisation Peterborough Council for Voluntary Service, says the volunteer centre has received £14,800 from Peterborough City Council for each of the past 17 years. "We’ve always had to supplement the funding with other grant opportunities," she says.

But since 1 April, the combined funding for Peterborough CVS and the volunteer centre was cut by 50 per cent to £30,000. Fletcher says that, as a result, the centre is carrying out a strategic review and might have to make some staff redundant. The funding cuts have come when the demand for services is higher than ever, and she would like government funding to be spent on volunteer centres rather than new initiatives. "I’ve seen over the years how new things are started and people fail to recognise the skills that are already there in the volunteer centres," says Fletcher.


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