Friday, 1 November 2013

A classic demise for a local voluntary organisation – Part l

News of an end foretold by events long ago arrived in the post a couple of days ago. The Dunkirk & Lenton Partnership Forum's Board of Directors has called an extraordinary general meeting for 28 November 2013, when members will be asked to vote for the Forum's 'dissolution and the transfer of its assets, liabilities and ongoing activities to The Lenton Centre'.

I won't be there, as I am not a member, although Susan and I have been donating £10 a month to the Forum because we believe that it has been endeavouring to help Dunkirk and Lenton as best it could. We were founder members of the Forum back in 1996 and I was its first Chair for three years, then later for a further two. At times it was a roller coaster of a ride and it was sustained for a good few years by the efforts of one woman, Lesley Fyffe.

What has happened to the Forum has been a favourite hobby horse of mine for years. I was not the first to articulate it — credit for that has to go to Peter Hain and Simon Hebditch in their pamphlet, Radicals and Socialism, published by the Institute for Workers Control, right here in Nottingham, in 1978.

In 1978 Susan and I lived in Mansfield and Susan was then Curator of Mansfield Museum. In 1975 she had started a free 'Saturday Club' for children and teenagers. It was a great success and attracted a good few talented volunteers and with success came rising expectations on the part of both users and volunteers. By 1977 the point had been reached where running the Saturday Club took a lot of time and all those involved agreed that what they needed was part-time paid help. 

In the 1970s there was no such thing as the National Lottery, so Mansfield District Council was approached in the hope that they would pay for a part-time worker. Their response was 'Surely, what you are doing is education and that is a county council function'. The County Council took the view that the Museum was a district council responsibility. Eventually, exhaustion saw the demise of the Saturday Club. It was not an easy decision to make, but the Club's eventual demise was inevitable once it had become so successful that it could no longer meet the expectations of its users and volunteers without additional resources.

Mansfield Museum's Saturday Club was a pioneering venture at a time when very few museums had their own education officers and the word 'outreach' had not been invented.

As a councillor in Birmingham during the 1970s I had seen the same thing happen to various community groups run by volunteers. What funding there was for voluntary organisations was directed, exclusively in my experience, at those organisations that were either pliant or were supporting local council objectives in some way. If a group was doing something radical, or serving needs not on the local council's agenda, then they were unlikely to get any serious funding.

In 1978, Radicals and Socialism explained the problem then facing radical (and innovative) voluntary groups. The problem is still with us, as the notice from the Forum well demonstrates. By coincidence, Russell Brand's interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight on 23 October 2013 addressed the same issue and has had, as at today's date, nearly 9million hits on YouTube.

If you haven't watched it, do. Russell Brand actually uses the 'S' word — socialism.

Part 2 of this blog will look at the Forum and why it's demise became inevitable once it embraced charitable status and incorporation, even though its radical agenda had been abandoned, and how the corporate voluntary sector conspires with the political elite to de-radicalise local community agendas.

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