Charities adviser is forced to closeBy Victoria Corbett
April 28, 2011
An umbrella organisation offering support to charities about legal matters and applying for grants is getting ready to close its doors for good after losing its Wokingham Borough Council funding.
Victoria Corbett found out more about what Voluntary Action Wokingham Borough (VAWB) has done for local charities and what will replace it.
The once-bustling office of VAWB is now home to just two remaining members of staff.
They are packing up the stationery and computers to be handed out to local charities who need the equipment, and shredding data-sensitive information.
Ian Saxton, chief officer of VAWB, said he was sad to see the organisation closing its doors and feared that charities would struggle without its support, particularly given the increasing pressure being placed on the voluntary sector.
In the last year VAWB received 1,033 general requests for help from local groups, 502 of which were for new pieces of work and 531 related to existing work carried over from the previous year.
Requests have always varied from calls for advice about funding to questions on safeguarding issues for groups working with children.
Mr Saxton said one request took up 65 hours of VAWB officer time.
There were also requests from other organisations, such as the Primary Care Trust, local police, schools and the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service.
VAWB was funded by a grant of more than £100,000 from Wokingham Borough Council.
It officially closed on Friday, April 1, although two people are still working in the office in Toutley Road, Emmbrook.
Mr Saxton said that after its closure, three council officers called VAWB for help with pieces of work they were carrying out, unaware the organisation had closed.
The council has budgeted £50,000 for another organisation to fill VAWB’s role of providing advice and information to the voluntary sector, as well as representing charities on various local committees.
Mr Saxton said VAWB chose not to bid for this money, and instead accept closure, because the amount of cash available was not enough for the organisation to cope with the work it would need to carry out.
He said: “I don’t know what will happen now for charities. There’s a lot of uncertainty. It is a very sad month.”
Josie Wragg, head of strategic partnerships at the council, said maintaining a thriving third sector in Wokingham was a vital issue for the council.
She said a consultation with the voluntary sector had been completed earlier this year and as a result of this, the council had identified what support local charities would need.
As a result the role once filled by VAWB has been put out to tender and an announcement on which organisation has been selected will be made soon.
Mrs Wragg said the axing of funds to VAWB and an overhaul of the way charities were given cash by the council were part of major changes to the way the council operates.
“We are moving towards becoming a commissioning organisation across the board,” she said.
“We won’t have a grant pot, but we will have high level strategic outcomes we want to achieve.
“As we move through into commissioning we will try to commission against those high level outcomes.
“As we move through, it is difficult to say there will be X amount of money for the third sector.”
Charities will be able to bid for funds based on whether they can fulfil a role for the council in areas such as caring for vulnerable adults or children.
However, there is no guarantee of charities that have previously received funds from the council continuing to do so.
Mrs Wragg said: “We want a buoyant, vibrant voluntary sector in Wokingham that can continue to deliver.”