Monday, 5 December 2011

Millionaires wanted

A ‘Secret Millionaire’ handed over £50 000 or so in Grimsby’s East Marsh area on the television last night; he was rightly impressed with quality of the individuals behind projects to support families with disabled children (which meets and was filmed in the school in which my wife teaches), to raise money for machinery to help those who suffer asthma (in memory of a child who died from an asthma attack), and to equip ‘difficult to reach’ young people in motor repair skills.

The East Marsh ‘scores’ as one of the most deprived Wards in the country, and the church based Shalom Youth project has been mentioned on this Blog before. Nevertheless it (and Grimsby as a whole) looks a great deal better than the backdrops the documentary makers chose for much of the programme on one disused part of the docks and a street boarded up ahead of regeneration redevelopment.

For me the most telling moment was when the leader of the Motor Project reacted with surprise to the cheque he was offered saying ‘This sort of thing doesn’t happen to us - usually funders come to look around, say how impressed they are, and we never hear from them again’.

I’m involved with a media project which has an outstanding record in engaging young people ‘not in employment education or training’ across the whole of North East Lincolnshire which has had a very similar experience, and I was briefing one of the Council’s Cabinet members about exactly this last week, so there is no surprise that the remark stood out for me.

I told her that it seems to me that, for voluntary groups, the level of professional application making, the time available to wait for responses and funding rounds, and the ability to respond to requests for detailed accountability thereafter, means that the smallest probably cannot access any Big Society related funding at all, the small invest a quite disproportionate amount of energy in doing so, only the biggest manage to do so by employing the specialist staff needed to do it well and systematically, and each stumbles from uncertainty about the future to uncertainty about the future.

On Friday the Council had a day ‘beginning a conversation’ about how it works with the voluntary sector in a rapidly changing climate (a climate which will include further major local cuts to come). This seems a good thing - although I’d rather hoped that the Council’s working with the local Voluntary Action organisation and its working through the Local Strategic Partnership might have made it think that a conversation was already under way. Our new Area Dean and the project worker at Grimsby Minster were both due to have been there, and I await with interest feed back from them to the local churches.

Meanwhile, the diocese has helpfully investigated how it might reconnect water just to the outside loo and external tap at St Nicolas’ Vicarage and I’ve just heard from that it has agreed to do so; such little steps bring delight enough even without a sufficient supply of spare secret millionaires.

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