Martin Edwards: new decade, old decade - same difference?

If anything we do or say in our sector matters to anyone beyond our immediate service users, now is the time to grab their attention

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

The start of the new decade sees an exciting range of articles in Third Sector, from brilliant writers such as Javed Khan, Andy Hillier, Amanda Oxford and Peter Stanford. Oddly, there is also one by me.

They tackle falling public trust in charities, the independence of the sector, the difficulties faced by small charities competing for public sector contracts, cuts to funding in justice charities and the tough job facing fundraisers in an adverse economic climate. Jostling for air among these weighty topics is my piece on dealing with the threat of burnout in leadership roles.

There’s just one catch. This was an edition of Third Sector from near the start of the last decade.

Some things have changed since then. Javed Khan moved from Victim Support to Barnardo’s. Andy Hillier moved upstairs to the editor’s job at Third Sector. My friend Amanda Oxford is now Amanda Stratford (next stop, Coventry?).

Other things have changed less, including Peter Stanford’s hair, me and the issues we were all writing about back then.

The resonance of the same things now (the articles, not Peter’s lustrous locks or Amanda’s status) makes me wonder if anything we do or say in our sector matters to anyone beyond our immediate service users.

It says a lot for successive governments’ focus that the charities brief is lumped in with sport and is always the last ministerial job to be announced in a new government – or sometimes not announced at all, until someone reminds them.

It is also sad that many charities with important learning about improving blighted lives get far less coverage than bad news about very few charities, such as the collapse of Kids Company or the overseas aid safeguarding scandal.

Some things will never change. The relationship between charities and government is always going to be a bit ewok and Chewbacca. One is small, cuddly and easily overlooked. The other is big, hairy and impossible to ignore, if rather incoherent.

Nor is the economic climate likely to turn into the land of milk and honey soon, as one uncertain decade is replaced by another, with the consequent impact on voluntary giving and service provision.

Yet I hold one hope for the new decade, in a triumph of hope over experience. I hope that a new government, representing a break in the political gridlock, will welcome big, bold, evidence-based ideas for improving blighted lives.

We are going to be knocking on the door of Number Ten with ours, as will many others. Will they hear us?

Martin Edwards is chief executive of Julia’s House, which runs children's hospices in Wiltshire and Dorset

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