Caryl Agard, Voice4Change

The charity's chair explains to Kaye Wiggins how Voice4Change England no longer operates as a 'closed shop'

Caryl Agard
Caryl Agard

For the first time in its five-year history, Voice4Change England has a discernable system of governance.

When it was established in January 2006, the advocacy group for black and minority ethnic voluntary groups was a loose partnership of 19 voluntary and community organisations.

It had no legal structure and no trustees, and it functioned by hosting regular meetings between the 19 groups, at which staff from the organisations attempted to reach a consensus about the most effective way to raise the profile of the BME voluntary sector.

But on 1 November, the lengthy process of setting up structures for effective governance was finally completed. Voice4Change England now has a board of trustees, elected by four electoral colleges, which comprise charities and community groups that have signed up as members of the organisation.

"The previous system wasn't really a system," says Caryl Agard, who has been the organisation's chair since the beginning. "We realised that it was a bit of a closed shop.

"The member organisations had really bought into our aims, but talking to just 19 people doesn't give you a fair reflection of the needs of the sector more broadly. This new system is much more democratic."

Having put in place these more formal structures of governance, Voice4Change England is now attempting to register as a charity with the Charity Commission.

"The process of trying to register has been interesting," says Agard. "It's been eight weeks since we first tried to register and the commission still has lots of questions to ask us. We provided it with a lot of information at the beginning, which was a mistake because it has given commission staff too much to pick apart."

Having overseen the long transition, Agard is planning to step down in March next year, partly because he wants to devote more time to his current day job as director of the Social Business Company, a social enterprise that works on community regeneration projects in north-west England.

"Time is an issue for me at the moment," Agard says. "I live in Preston, but most of the meetings are held in London."

He also says the work can be demanding: "I've heard it said that chairing a charity takes an average of three days a month. I think I spend double that, or more, on this role. But I'm not complaining. Being a chair is a wonderful experience and I would recommend it to anyone."

Asked whether he was paid to chair the organisation, and whether his successor will be, Agard says: "There was remuneration, but whether we'll be doing it moving forward will depend on income."

The organisation does not yet know whether it will continue to be a strategic partner of the Office for Civil Society after March 2011, but Agard says this role provides it with more than 50 per cent of its present income.

Future funding, he adds, might come from advising local authorities on how to engage with hard-to-reach ethnic minority communities: "We're doing scenario planning, but it's unclear at the moment how future funding might work."

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