Elizabeth Balgobin and Peter Lewis: Our Love Letter to London

On Valentine’s day, we are appealing to the next Mayor of London to support the city’s voluntary and community sector

Elizabeth Balgobin and Peter Lewis
Elizabeth Balgobin and Peter Lewis

On Valentine’s Day 2020, Peter Lewis and I have declared our love for London in a letter to the people who are vying to be the next mayor of this great city.

We love London not just because it is where we live and work, but also because of its diversity, creativity and enterprise. Nowhere else provides such riches of art, culture, thinking and experience. Which other city’s mayorship garners national and international press attention, the interest of presidents and has helped to create a Prime Minister?

We know London is not perfect. We see poverty, homelessness, crime and youth violence sitting next to unimaginable wealth and privilege, creating a city of contrasts and great inequality.

But we love it because it has the most vibrant communities, community organisations and charities: London’s voluntary and community sector, which we have both had the privilege to serve as chief executives of the London Voluntary Service Council.

The LVSC closed in 2017 after 107 years. It changed the face of London and the VCS, appointing women, some of colour, to its senior roles at a time when women were expected to give up working if they married.

We have written to the London mayoral candidates asking them not only to declare their love for London’s VCS, but also to optimise the impact of that love by engaging with the sector in all that they do, creating big connections that can make a vital difference to individual Londoners. We are asking them to commit to the following:

A ‘One London’ board

We ask them to take a truly strategic approach to engaging London’s voluntary and community sector in their approach to creating a fairer and more sustainable London by creating the “Mayor’s One London Board”. This would be chaired by the Mayor twice a year, bringing together representatives of London’s public and private sectors, the unions, charitable foundations and London’s VCS.

The board would review key city data, suggest priority areas to be addressed and offer ways of working better together to deliver against agreed priorities. The One London board would recognise the interdependence of all sectors in delivering a successful city for the people who live, work and visit here.

Facilitating VCS representation

We want the new or re-elected Mayor to ensure voluntary and community sector involvement in the most top-level thematic boards across the Mayor’s areas of responsibility. The Mayor and the London Assembly have a wide range of areas of direct responsibility, as well as wider areas of influence.

We believe that the next Mayor should commit to having a VCS representative on the top-level board of every policy area, with that representation filtered through the structures, similar to the practice that existed with the London Skills and Employment board (now the Skills for Londoners board). Similarly, in conducting its scrutiny functions and reports, the Assembly should commit to always having appropriate VCS representatives heard as part of its deliberations.

A philanthropic city

The Mayor should create a new board to stimulate philanthropy across the capital. London has huge disparities in individual wealth and poverty at a time when we can safely say that government money is unlikely to be flowing untapped into the capital. Yet levels of giving by the very wealthy remain stubbornly low, with most of the UK’s richest people giving away less than 1 per cent of their income every year.

We believe the Mayor needs to take the strategic lead on this agenda, working in close collaboration with the Corporation of London, London’s trusts and foundations, its business leaders and existing philanthropists to develop a truly strategic London-wide approach to stimulating philanthropy across the capital, thus helping London’s VCS tackle some of London’s most stubborn issues.

Support for the sector

There must be policy backing for London-wide, local and specialist infrastructure organisations to support and represent London’s voluntary and community sector. Infrastructure or support organisations are vital to keeping the rest of the voluntary and community sector healthy, growing expertise and capacity, hearing and representing views. The evidence shows that where these support organisations exist, the rest of the sector is healthier.

Our Love Letter to London, and our asks of the next Mayor of London and Assembly, are specific to the city we both know and love. But our fundamental position – that politicians should put relevant local VCS organisations at the heart of their thinking and embed that relationship with the VCS structurally – can be applied in any town or city across the country.

And it’s not just London electing a new mayor on 7 May. Four “Metro Mayors”, three single-authority mayors, representatives in 118 councils in England and 40 Police and Crime Commissioners will also be elected. We encourage you to consider our thoughts and ideas for London for your regional and local elections. You can read our full love letter at https://www.onelondon.london/ and join the conversation.

This Valentine’s Day, show the sector and your area how much you love it too.

Elizabeth Balgobin is interim head of equality, diversity and inclusion at the Institute of Fundraising. Peter Lewis is chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising. #LoveLondon #LoveLondonVCS #LoveYourVCS

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