Creating a Seamless Society - Leading the way in the North East

Posted: 4th June 2016

Taking time out when under pressure is difficult in any situation, but managers of voluntary organisations are struggling to balance rising demand for services and squeezed income – when do they have the time to step away to think about the bigger picture?

One voluntary sector delegate to The Cranfield Trust’s roundtable discussions (9 May, Gateshead) likened his situation to a ‘hamster on a wheel - the CEO is doing the purchase ledger, petty cash, HR issues as well as the day job’.  The discussions covered exchange of skills between the voluntary and commercial sectors, what works, what helps, and what practical steps those present – representatives of the voluntary, commercial and public sectors in the North East – can take to increase the number of organisations working together.  Recent research from the Northern Rock Foundation shows that only 10% of voluntary organisations currently take up expert advice from businesses, at The Cranfield Trust we feel there’s potential for much more exchange.

In the discussions it was noticeable that the focus of charity delegates was on functional skills – finance, marketing, HR – to address immediate needs, while that of commercial sector participants was more on strategic planning, building skills in the voluntary sector, and developing confidence.  Sharing skills can help with both today’s problems and in the longer term – as Alison Forbes from Music in Hospitals explained in her presentation, but it’s a challenge for stretched managers to take time and put a strategic plan in place, though vital to support their organisations. Cranfield Trust NE Project Manager, George Gibbons, said ‘The Cranfield Trust can help with short term skills issues by providing people with particular expertise in, for example, HR, but we find that our strategic projects are really valuable in helping organisations become more sustainable.’

A strong thread running through all the discussions was the community of interest between all sectors – and how working together is about supporting and strengthening our own communities, where we live and work, and feedback from delegates from all sectors was that there was a tremendous interest in and willingness to work together. 

The sense of shared community was highlighted in the keynote speeches from Sir Peter Vardy, whose success in business has been followed by an equally innovative approach to philanthropy, and Lyn Cole, England Director of Grantmaking for Big Lottery Fund, who outlined the Fund’s ‘People in the Lead’ strategy – focusing on the expertise of voluntary and community organisations in specifying their funding requirements.

HRH The Princess Royal, Patron of The Cranfield Trust, drew the session to a close with observations from her wide experience of the voluntary sector, and emphasised the value of a ‘critical friend’.

We’d like to thank Sir Peter Vardy and Lyn Cole for speaking and focusing our discussions, HMS Calliope for hosting the event, Get Film ( for making the video, Food Nation for catering ( and all those who were part of the conversation.

"Being part of this event we felt that our voice was being heard. Our experience and understanding of some of the difficulties people face and their resilience in overcoming them to be part of the community was added to a collective knowledge. It is also important for us, as a charity, to recognise that there is network of support and to accept this offer so that we can achieve the best service making sure the people we support lead better and healthier lives".  Yvonne Hartnett - The Comfrey Project