As part of an organisation committed to serving local communities, YMCA England felt it was essential to communicate our views with local councillors and chief executives at last month's Local Government Association (LGA) conference.
I was surprised, however, at the small number of other charities present.
Aside from the capacity for meeting potential partners, the LGA conference provided an opportunity to run our youth participation project Access All Areas. This is a project where young people from YMCAs make their views known to council officers and decision-makers.
While it remains unfortunately unusual for young people to be involved in these conferences, it was particularly the case at the LGA, where stands were dominated by commercial groups hawking everything from cutting-edge databases to the latest in public toilet technology.
Given the increasing emphasis and focus on partnerships, consultation and access by local authorities, we thought it was essential that we should be involved. Local authorities implement many government policies and initiatives that have real implications for YMCAs and other voluntary groups. They are the key people we work with on programmes such as Supporting People, Connexions and the Children's Fund.
The people we spoke to repeatedly stressed their desire to work in partnership with voluntary agencies, and many spoke of the benefits of existing links. However, I would suggest that we could do more to make this happen. We need to actively engage local government, rather than rely on it prioritising resources for a relationship, that while increasingly important, is still developing.
The people I spoke to were very receptive that the YMCA had come to the LGA. They were enthusiastic about our AAA programme and they want to find out more about the YMCA's work. When asked, some councillors expressed surprise about the limited presence of voluntary agencies at the event. I believe that with the increasing emphasis on partnership, we need to be more proactive in engaging with not only central government, but also its local counterparts.