Voluntary bodies can mend today's social divisions, says NCVO chief

In a new year letter to the sector, Sir Stuart Etherington describes voluntary organisations as 'the glue that holds society together'

Sir Stuart Etherington
Sir Stuart Etherington

Voluntary sector organisations "are the glue that holds society together" and must step up to mend the divisions in today’s communities, according to Sir Stuart Etherington.

In his new year letter to the sector, the chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations says he believes people will realise this year that the new technologies do not have all the answers.

He says people might argue that spontaneous online actions or networks could render the voluntary sector redundant, but this is far from the case.

"People need organisations they can trust," he writes. "Organisations like yours provide the belonging people are looking for, they provide expertise, they provide focus and direction, and they ensure accountability."

He says there are many big questions to answer about the future of the sector. "But I am confident that, while we have powerful new online tools that some would suggest allow us to be bypassed, organisations like yours will always be at the heart of everything that is special about our sector and our society," he says.

Etherington adds that whereas the internet was touted as a way of bringing together people of different backgrounds, it has too often been used to bring together those with similar backgrounds in opposition to others.

"After 2017, it is clearer than ever that the internet is not the solution to smoothing over the cracks of division in society," he says.

"It is living, breathing organisations which must step up to the plate to do this. Bringing people together and bringing out the best in them."

He says organisations of all kinds, but particularly those in the voluntary sector, are the glue that holds society together.

"Building communities and connections can start online, but it needs to go further. And we need an active effort to make it happen and strengthen social connections. We know that people who are connected to one another lead healthier, happier lives. This needs the dedication and the structure that charities and community groups provide."

Etherington highlights the recommendation made by the NCVO last year that dormant assets, believed by the government to be worth about £2bn, should be used to endow community foundations and provide capital for local community groups.

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