NEWSMAKER: A hand for the helpers - Liz Hartill, Director of welfare, Confectioners' Benevolent Fund

CLAIRE SAMES

In a sector committed to helping others, there is little provision of care for the carers. Until a few weeks ago, that is.

Third Sector reported in September on the lack of support for people in the voluntary sector who had hit on hard times. Moved by our story, Liz Hartill decided she was going to take the lead by setting up a sector-wide benevolent fund.

Hartill, who is already director of welfare at the Confectioners' Benevolent Fund, is now on a mission to round up influential individuals to help her achieve her goal. "I like doing other things and I like a challenge," she says.

The proposed fund aims to provide financial help and support to voluntary-sector staff as well as to former sector employees who have fallen on hard times because of a change in circumstances. This could be because of disablement, retirement, marriage breakdowns, the death of a partner or redundancy.

People who apply for funding will be assessed and those selected could receive either a one-off payment, a weekly grant or a holiday in addition to their state benefits.

Hartill, 56, has been joined in her venture by Tina Steele, who runs consultancy Solely For Occupational Benevolent Funds (SFOBF), promoting funds to commercial clients. It was Steele who recognised that the sector did not have its own fund, which prompted the article in Third Sector.

Steele is now helping Hartill to initiate a fundraising strategy for the new constitution.

Valerie Barrow, director of the Association of Charity Officers, has risen to the challenge by agreeing to take a seat on the panel and help develop the fund's policies. So too has Marcella Menzies from the Finsbury Business Centre in London, who is bringing her business and accountancy skills to the fund. In addition, John Broadbent, trustee of a wealthy parochial trust called the Cripplegate Foundation will take up a position on the panel to help steer the group on policy issues.

"I've got to get these people together for a meeting to decide whether they want to be trustees or advisers and then go from there," says Hartill.

Not content with the level of support she already has, Hartill is in discussions with Herbert Smith Solicitors to see if it can supply a legal expert, which would leave just an administrative post to fill in the start-up proceedings.

The voluntary fund, which Hartill is proposing to call the Charity Workers' Benevolent Fund, is due to get off the ground early next year. She is in the middle of applying for a handout from the Community Fund for a sum in the region of £10,000 to £20,000 to kick-start the charity. It will then need to be registered with the Charity Commission.

"I have ideas about where I want to take the fund but I want to leave it open for people to put forward their suggestions so we can get a plan together," she says.

A major part of getting the charity workers' fund out of its infancy is gaining the support of senior charity figures. "Our first task will be to meet with chief executives and get them to sign up to being a contributing body to the fund," says Hartill.

The fund will also approach employees and inform them that there is a source of financial help and support out there for them to tap in to if they ever reach a desperate point during their career or in their retirement.

Employees will be asked to make a small contribution to the fund through payroll giving, which employers could then match to increase benefits to those in need.

Hartill says: "There are thousands of charities out there so it's not something you can do in a week or a year. It's a slow process but once there's enough money invested in the bank, we can start making charitable grants to help sector workers in need."

Applicants that are no longer working in the sector but have done so in the past for at least five years, may be able to obtain support from the fund.

Hartill first became involved with the voluntary sector at the age of 16 when, in her first job as a clerk at the Bank of England, she was encouraged to become a volunteer. She recalls how she became a regular visitor of a care home in Richmond called the Star & Garter, where she befriended residents.

At this young age, Hartill began the act of balancing work life and volunteering.

She has worked with environmental groups, homelessness causes, asylum seekers and domestic violence issues, as well as encouraging legal professionals to link up with charities.

She spent 23 years with a Citizens Advice Bureau in Islington, London, where she set up a legal advice centre that was run by a group of volunteer city solicitors.

While at the bureau, Hartill trained volunteers for Islington's Victim Support Scheme, only leaving the scheme's committee two weeks ago. At the same time as her other two roles, she became vice-chair of the National Victim Support Scheme at the beginning of the 90s. She went on to spend a decade in the position and was active in developing the network's equal opportunities policies.

Hardly having started her mission to get the voluntary-sector fund off the ground, Hartill is already planning her next venture.

She has grand designs on setting up a welfare service for all grant-making charities to utilise, which would run as an agency supplying welfare officers to make home visits.

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