Prisons are secure, but are they safe?

Last night I attended NEPACS AGM in Durham; following an amazing performance from Durham Recovery Choir during which several members were brave enough to share their stories. Frances Crook, Chief Executive of The Howard League for Penal Reform, delivered a speech addressing the question ‘Our prisons may be secure, but are they safe?’

Frances feels that prisons in England and Wales are secure; people do not escape (two in the past year) and out of the thousands of prisoners on day release or ROTL (released on temporary licence) there is rarely anyone that absconds. However, Frances went on to say that the same cannot be said about prisons being safe.

The Howard League have carried out Freedom of Information requests which shows there has been an overall cut of 41% in prison staff across England and Wales between 2010 and 2014. In the North East prison officer numbers have been cut by up to 49%;

  • HMP Durham staff reduced from 311 to 160 (49%)
  • HMP Frankland staff reduced from 604 to 420 (31%)
  • HMP Low Newton staff reduced from 141 to 100 (29%)

In London and the South it is difficult to recruit prison officers, so staff from the North East are being sent, on detached duty, to cover in prisons that they are unfamiliar with at a cost of £500 per officer per week.

Frances reported that violence in prison has increased. As the prison population continues to rise, attacks on prison staff, as well as prisoner on prisoner violence also increase. Sexual violence in prison is much higher than anticipated and those who become victims are highly likely to continue to be abused. Sadly, reporting of these crimes is very low (see Howard League’s coercive sex in prisons publication). Frances believes it is time to introduce something similar to the American Prison Rape Elimination Act 2003.

Frances did end her speech on a more positive note, stating that the number of young people in custody has reduced from over 3,000 to 1,000 in the past four years. There are currently only 44 girls under the age of 14 in custody, and 38 children aged 10-14 years old. There is no clear reason as to why this reduction has happened, but it is likely to be changes in the arrests system and how the police deal with young offenders. Frances believes that if you reduce entry into the Criminal Justice System then offending and reoffending in young people will be reduced. “The more we do, the worse we make it” she said. If their needs are addressed by health, housing, education etc then they are likely to move towards a crime free life. But once they become part of the cycle it is difficult to break.

During the question and answer session a father of a prisoner asked how moving his son 120 miles way from his family, from Durham to Preston, could be beneficial to anyone? The 120 mile trip is too much for the father to make with his grandchildren in winter and therefore the prisoner will not receive the visits he is entitled to during his sentence. Frances suggested visiting his MP to ask for their support in writing to the Justice Secretary, as families are so important in the rehabilitation of offenders.

It was a very emotional evening hearing stories from those with lived experience and it certainly gave me a lot of food for thought.

Question time for Ross

Ross Cowan

October seems to have been the month for regional health related events. I went to three and whilst I heard and learnt a lot I was left with several questions I thought I would share with you.

The first event was about Parity of esteem. Making sure that we are just as focused on improving mental as physical health and that patients with mental health problems don’t suffer inequalities, either because of the mental health problem itself or because they then don’t then get the best care for their physical health.

If mental and physical health services were fully combined would we have so readily prescribed medication that made patients more susceptible to Parkinson’s and obesity? And continue to do so when less harmful alternatives are available?

Is it really beyond the NHS to run a combined community health service up-skilling both it’s CPNs and psychiatrists on physical health and it’s district nurses on mental health?

Why aren’t NICE recommendations on therapeutic treatments given the same MUST DO standing as those for drugs?

Should a medical professional ever call someone obese, even if they (the professional) were once obese themselves?

Whose normal is it? Are we sure ‘the cure’ is what someone actually wants? How much control are we removing?

Should we supporting e-cigarettes, as a safer way of taking nicotine than via tobacco? Is any addiction bad?

Alisdair Cameron from Launchpad asked us to consider ‘what might mental health services look like if local authorities still ran the asylums?’, reminding us that they were originally built by councils in Victorian times, when asylum was taken more literally to mean a place of safety.

The second event was organised by FUSE, the North East virtual centre for academic research in Public Health. It was looking at the role and effectiveness of Patient and Public Involvement in public health research.

Who decides what public health research is done. Is it invariably, or inevitably, funding led? Should research topics be guided by relevance and demand, preferably from local communities?

We were told that in no other country do patients and public show such a willingness to take part in research. Or at least they did till came along. Richard Titmuss in his seminal work The Gift Relationship, argued that people freely donated blood because they saw it being used for public good, not private profit. Is the problem that the public no longer believe their health records will be used solely for public good?

Top question for the final Panel discussion, How do we get access to public health researchers in Universities? Or maybe, how do we get them out of the Universities? Could they be seconded to local authorities, or work directly with local communities and voluntary organisations? At low, affordable, cost?

And last week, the Association of North East Councils held an event at the Durham Centre looking at ways of improving health and wellbeing in the region.

I started my working life on as a Community Development worker on Sherburn Road estate, just up the road from this event. In those days Public Health workers seemed like natural allies, working in, and directly with, local communities. Why has that changed? When did Public Health, to paraphrase Nick Forbes, Leader of Newcastle Council, become so medically?

Why was public health originally taken away from local authorities, which seems to be its natural home? If only I’d paid more attention in my Social Policy degree, something I never thought I’d say.

Would we really have enough money if only we spent it wisely and more efficiently on fully integrated services? Would a National Care Service fit the bill? How would it be done without more organisational change?

Should we have a North East Health Commission, like London and Greater Manchester, an independent inquiry examining and recommending how health and wellbeing can be improved? Would we need a Boris or a Cheryl as Mayor to force through, or possibly hinder, change?

Andy Burnham, Shadow Minister of Health, ended the event by reminding us that Aneurin Bevan, who established the NHS, was both Minister of Health and responsible for Housing. So why were Parker Morris minimum standards for space, sanitation and heating in social housing and the new towns of the North East scrapped? Clue, it happened in 1980 and the reason seems to have been cost.

Of course, his main point was that we could only achieve real health and wellbeing by tackling the wider, social, determinants of health. And that we all need to work together, across our respective sectors and agendas.

The heartening thing across all three events was a strong view that we in the North East are best placed to make all this work. And (sometimes with a little prompting) the VCSE is generally seen as an important and valued partner in shaping the way forward.

Chancellor – now is the time to play fair with North East Charities

Following the news that Virgin Money is to float and the so called “bad bank” part of Northern Rock is returning a profit, VONNE wrote to the new Minister for Civil Society and to the Treasury setting out why it is right and fair that the VCSE in the North East should reap some of the benefit from the surpluses. I will provide you with some background to this:

Northern Rock Foundation held 15% of the shares in Northern Rock bank and was entitled to 5% of the pre tax profits. In January 2012, Virgin Money bought the Northern Rock business and branch network (the so called “good bank”) for £747m. With subsequent payments this has risen to £1.02bn. Virgin money made profits of £60m in the first half of this year and are set to float, which will raise a further £150m.
Meanwhile NRAM – (the so called “bad bank”) which was hived off under the UK Asset Resolution Scheme made over £1bn in the 15 months prior to March 2014 and £876m in 2012. According to financial experts, if you add the money raised by the Treasury from the sale to Virgin, the Government has made more than £3bn from the business in the past 3 years. 15% of that should arguably be enjoyed by the VCSE in the North East and Cumbria.

The outright losers here are Charities, Social Enterprises and Community groups in the North East and Cumbria. The Northern Rock Foundation is set to close at a time when Charities are reporting increased demands for their services and income streams are drying up. Northern Rock Foundation was an intelligent grant maker that made grants worth around £220m to Charities in the North East and Cumbria over the past 17 years. The loss is hard to convey – given that almost everyone in the North East will be associated with a charity that at one time or another was touched by the Northern Rock foundation.

Whilst we are grateful to Virgin money for their commitment of £1m to youth projects, clearly the gap between what Northern Rock Foundation previously granted to Charities in the region is enormous.

There is a real opportunity for the new Minister to make a difference by urging the Treasury to place a value on the asset that existed for the benefit of Charities in the North East. If the Treasury were to make a gift to the foundation of just 1% of the money that it has raised through the sale of the business this would create a £30m investment in Charities in the North East.  This would provide a much needed lifeline to organisations that support some of the most vulnerable and deprived people in the country.

I am as always interested in your views and would be delighted if you would join VONNE in urging the Treasury to play fair on this. Email me at

Paying people to pick daisies

Ross CowanMy mind started to wander when I was reading about Integrated Personal Commissioning (which promises to blend health and social care funding for individuals in one pot and allow them, with support, to direct and control how it is used).  I find I do that a lot lately, it’s either a sign of ageing or an odd feeling that I’ve been here before, maybe one naturally follows the other.

Back in 1992 I was the Manager of the Gateshead Disability Information Project. We were one of 12 Projects making up the National Disability Information Project, funded by and reporting to the Department of Health (it was still DoH then, before the Health Minister became upset at the comparisons with Homer Simpson). We were firmly grounded in the Social Model of Disability, believing that Disability was compounded by a lack of accessible information. If only Disabled people had an accessible Guide(s) (or these days, a Navigator) to what was out there and how to get it, then their lives would be radically improved.

The problem came once we all looked for what to put in our Directories. We discovered that actually there weren’t many services out there that Disabled people could use. Most were physically inaccessible, couldn’t provide suitable support or were just too expensive. These were the days when most local authorities offered Disabled people a trip to a Day Centre or a place in a sheltered workshop folding cardboard boxes. There was little incentive to provide anything different.

Having tried and learned, we responded by setting up the Gateshead Personal Assistance Pilot Project (I don’t know why we didn’t notice the unfortunate acronym). This was a training and advocacy project supporting Disabled people to set up their own packages of funded care to employ their own Personal Assistants in order to live the lives they wanted to live (using benefits, Independent Living Fund and, when they were introduced in 1997, Direct Payments). In a couple of cases we were able to persuade the NHS to use some arcane regulation that allowed them to make payments to Gateshead Council to produce a joint fund covering both health and social care needs. Where there’s a will ……

It wasn’t all plain sailing, obviously. A manager in Social Services told us firmly he wasn’t going to pay for people to go out and pick daisies and that it wasn’t the job of Social Services to make people happy.  It was only later that social services became more relaxed about Disabled people buying football season tickets, going to the pictures, buying and caring for a pet, knitting or making love and having children.

I still have a print copy of our training course, if anyone wants to update it I’m sure I could find it on floppy disc. Whilst I obviously welcome IPC, we could and should all have been doing it for at least the last 20 years.

But anyway, that wasn’t my main point. The unusual thing about the National Disability Information Project in those days was that you could only apply to run a local project if you were a partnership between a local authority, some bit of the NHS and a voluntary organisation. Same as the current IPC process.

Even more unusual, and possibly uniquely, the voluntary organisation was given the whole budget to manage and distribute to the other partners.  I had the bank account and the cheque book and the NHS and Gateshead Council had to invoice me to pay for their work.

It had an interesting effect on the power balance, ensuring that we were always involved at the right point in the decision making and that Disabled and Deaf people had real control over what the Project was doing.

So my not so new idea is, why don’t we give the Integrated Personal Commissioning budgets to the voluntary organisation in each local partnership to manage and distribute? We’ve got experience going back over many years, we know how to navigate the systems and we have the trust of the people who matter.  Simple.

5 tips for charities on viral campaigns like #icebucketchallenge

A while back I wrote a blog post on the current viral campaign of the time #nomakeupselfie which ended up being one of this blog’s most popular posts of the year.

Time moves fast in social media so here I am re-visting my top 5 tips for charities on what they can learn from previous viral campaigns.  This is in light of the latest one to go global, the biggest yet in #icebucketchallenge

The campaign is rumoured to have began earlier this year in New Zealand with a range of charities benefitting from it.  It was then picked up by the ALS Association in America where it really caught the public’s attention and became a huge success, raising over $100 million to date, compared to $2m the previous year. For those living under a stone this past month, it involves being filmed tipping a bucket of ice water over one’s head, nominating others to do the same and donating to a charity, mainly the ALS.

Research last week in the UK showed 56% of those completing the challenge didn’t go on to donate.  But with over 145 individual charities reported to have benefited from donations thats still 44% who do donate.

When a cause goes viral it invariably morphs along the way.  Many people in the UK nominated Motor Neurone Disease Association, arguably being the equivalent to ALS in this country.  Pre-ice bucket, the MND Association would receive on average £200,000 a week in donations. From 22 to 29 August, it received £2.7m.  However many chose to nominate their own favourite charity instead.  This is where it gets interesting in how other charities reacted to this.

Macmillan Cancer faced accusations of ‘hijacking’ the cause for its decision to attach itself to the #icebucketchallenge which it denies.   It has a paid advert appearing at the top of Google search results when someone looks up ice bucket challenge.

So my tips again, this time revised to show the importance of clarification.

My top 5 tips to charities on viral campaigns:

1. Be prepared to use social media outside of hours – have a designated person at least who is set up to receive alerts when your name or cause is mentioned.

2. Update your website to provide reassurance to potential donors that you are aware of campaigns, even if you didn’t start them, don’t hijack others but do be clear on how to donate if supporters choose to.

3. Be prepared to respond quickly to exisitng supporters who might not feel happy about the campaign, perhaps its not right for your organisation, and if so put up some FAQs explaining your stance.

4. If you are accidentally receiving donations on behalf of another charity (like WWF was, many ended up adopting polar bears instead !) be open, honest and work with the right charities to re-direct the funds appropriately. You don’t want to start a backlash against you.

5. You can’t really prepare for something like this over and above what I’ve suggested, but if you have a flexible responsive team in place then that’s a great place to start.

What a difference a year makes…

It is almost a year since VONNE and Clinks joined forces to support the voluntary sector working in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) in the North East. I spent a great deal of time reflecting upon our achievements last week in order to write a progress report for our funder Northern Rock Foundation.

This partnership has enabled me to gather intelligence on the voluntary sector in the North East; utilising VONNE’s presence in the North East and Clinks’ policy function at a national level. Strong links have been made with statutory sector organisations and commissioners to ensure the voluntary sector play a vital role in service delivery. The project has enabled the sector to get to grips with a rapidly changing criminal justice policy landscape, and understand how this will effect voluntary organisations working in North East. Intelligence from the North East has been fed into Clinks’ national policy work and the leadership of the charity, which is adding a valuable perspective that was previously missing.

Snapshot survey:

  1. Access to income needs to be prioritised
  2. Increased investment in effective partnerships and collaboration
  3. Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) in the North East need clear strategy and structure for engaging the voluntary sector
  4. Ensure effective communication and information sharing with the voluntary sector


The report has been distributed to key contacts at a local, regional and national level. On the back of this report one PCC has allocated an engagement budget and is in the process of developing a voluntary sector strategic forum. Another PCC has committed to engaging with the sector through our Safer Future Communities Network.

Other highlights include:

  • The Making Every Adult Matter pilots in Sunderland and North Tyneside have come such a long way; both partnerships now have coordinators in post to provide long term support and flexible services to a number of clients with high levels of multiple and complex needs.
  • The VONNE website has been refreshed to provide a guide to the Criminal Justice System in the North East, with key contacts, policy updates and briefing notes. The web pages have received 2190 visitors over the course of the year, with the Safer Future Communities Network Directory being by far the most popular.
  • We are working with Barefoot Research and Evaluation to produce case studies of good practice from the North East and sharing these across the Country. Four have been produced so far.
  • Over 230 people have attended our 5 regional events which have covered a range of topics; from multiple needs; Transforming Rehabilitation; to ‘The Role of Women’s Specialist Services in Tackling Health Inequalities in the North East’


The first year has been successful, both in terms of promoting the project and supporting the voluntary sector to develop strong links with the statutory sector. It has been a challenging year with the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms providing a rapidly changing, and often unclear, landscape. The project is at a critical point in terms of developing relationships with the statutory sector. Over the next 12 months we envisage that the engagement of the voluntary sector will become more fully embedded statutory sector activity.

Shhh, Im thinking about the website

If things have been a bit quiet around here don’t be fooled into thinking we’re all off on holiday. I for one am in deep thought and production as we plan our new website, hoping to launch for our AGM and Conference on 20th November.
When we put our tender out for a new website earlier this year, I was told by one that our website was well past retirement age, and he’s right, its on life-support. Its been trundling along now for over 8 years, with the odd facelift and corrective surgery now and again. But the cracks are starting to show. Thanks to some funding from Awards 4 All and Investment for Growth we can finally start over with a brand new site.
For those fans of our site (yes it does have some!) we won’t be changing things too radically. It will still have crucial things like jobs, events, resources, policy, but will hopefully be a bit tidier, easier to use and most importantly accessible on a range of mobile devices.
For now Im grappling with what to trim, what to keep and where to put it all. Our chosen web company says its never dealt with such a content heavy, sprawling site as ours. They’ll be taking the strict but fair teacher approach to us as they bring our sprawl back into a site that has the user foremost in mind. So, bear with us while I put my head back down and get back to that specification document.

Co-ordinating services, but for whom?

Clinks is a key partner in the Making Every Adult Matter Coalition (MEAM), Myself and Isabel Livingstone (my equivalent in the South West) are part of the local networks team supporting the local areas. I provide support to two areas in the North East; Sunderland and North Tyneside. We have committed to writing a series of blogs on the issues areas are facing. Isabel’s first blog is available on the Clinks website.

MEAM supports 11 local areas in co-ordinating services for people with multiple and complex needs. Isabel and I have been helping these areas to agree which clients to work with. This is a critical stage of the MEAM Approach.

The MEAM Approach involves working with a small number of clients who have the most complex needs and ineffective contact with existing services. There is usually a co-ordinator employed to work directly with the clients and broker more flexible support from local services. One of the first steps for local partners is to agree how they are going to consistently identify which clients to work with, which is not always straightforward. Here are some of the issues and questions we have been grappling with:

How many clients should you work with?

In Sunderland we initially envisaged a coordinator working with 15 clients over a one year period. However this is starting to look a little unrealistic. Within the first month of the coordinator taking up post, three clients were identified as needing long term support. The coordinator has also spent a considerable amount of time providing crisis intervention for one of the clients. Whilst a larger client base makes it easier to evaluate and demonstrate the cost effectiveness and impact of your work, it seems that in order to provide the one-to-one intensive support some clients need, a coordinator would need to work with either a smaller number of clients or a range of clients with varying degrees of need.

It is too early to provide a definitive answer to this, which is why the pilot exists. In Sunderland, we have discussed how services themselves should be providing more support to the clients, and not leaving it all in the hands of the coordinator.  However, at a time of increasing demand on services and limited resources, will this be possible? This is something commissioners will need to take into consideration and puts more emphasis on the need to evidence the social and economic impact of the MEAM approach. 

What assessment and referral process do you use?

Having an effective assessment process seems to be key to the success of the MEAM pilots. The process needs to be flexible enough to ensure those with the greatest needs are supported, but rigid enough that all agencies are clear about which clients should be referred in. The process should avoid agencies using MEAM as a quick solution to pass over a client that is difficult to engage / work with.

There are various assessment processes that can be used, including the New Directions Team assessment or ‘chaos index’ (recommended by MEAM), and the Homelessness Risk Impact Assessment developed in Devon. What is important is that all local agencies understand and agree to one set of criteria. It is important that it is not seen as a ‘homelessness’ assessment as opposed to a ‘criminal justice’ one, for example, but has buy-in from all partners.

There are some dangers of using risk-based assessments. As Julian Corner argued in his speech at our AGM, it is counter-productive to focus on and organise services around a standardised assessment of the risks a person poses at a given moment rather than that person as an individual with a history and background.

Another issue is that people’s needs and risk fluctuate, so a MEAM intervention needs to find a way to respond to this.  In Sunderland there was discussion about the MEAM group meeting on a weekly basis to discuss client referrals. This caused concern about capacity and the ability to maintain engagement from all agencies. At a national learning event the coordinator from Cambridgeshire made a very good point; if clients who were referred into MEAM no longer need support by the time the group meets to discuss referrals, then that client was never a MEAM candidate in the first place. This point really resonated with me as MEAM is about trying to work with clients to overcome deeply entrenched issues and is therefore looking for long term solutions and support; not quick fixes.

How do you link with other local cohorts and partnerships?

The purpose of MEAM is to improve existing systems for clients with multiple and complex needs; not create new ones. Therefore it is imperative to link the MEAM pilots into existing partnerships and local structures. One example is the NHS England Liaison and Diversion pilot schemes in which ten areas will appoint mental health workers to work in police custody suites to assess mental health needs. This is not a treatment service, but it is an identification, assessment and referral service. In order to ensure clients receive the best possible treatment the Liaison and Diversion pilot areas are developing partnerships to influence the work and identify gaps in services; very similar to MEAM partnerships. There is an opportunity the two to work together to provide system change for clients with multiple and complex needs. 

In Exeter, the MEAM partnership has discussed the relationship of MEAM to Troubled Families, which is also co-ordinating services, but for families with complex needs. After considering an overlapping cohort (where some clients fit both MEAM and Troubled Families criteria), the partners have decided that it is best for MEAM to refer appropriate clients (usually any living with their children) across to Troubled Families,  allowing MEAM to concentrate on those clients not getting adequate support elsewhere. Exeter MEAM is also learning from Bristol’s Integrated Offender Management team, which has a close partnership and referral process with Troubled Families.

We would love to hear your thoughts about how to agree cohorts of clients to work with in local partnership arrangements, or any questions or comments about the MEAM approach.


Engaging with Parliament – there is no magic wand

Ross Cowan


Ross Cowan is our new Health and Wellbeing Policy Officer at VONNE. Here is his first blog passing on what he learnt at a workshop VONNE helped organise called ‘Engaging with Parliament on health and wellbeing issues.’

I spent a very enlightening Friday the other week at an event in Durham Town Hall.  Initially, I was enlightened because, although I started my working life in Durham many years ago, as a Community Service Volunteer with Durham Social Services, I had never ventured beyond the reception. The Hall is a stunning room with large glorious stained glass windows and what I now know is a hammer beam oak roof dating from 1849. The walls are festooned with portraits, plaques and memorials to people who have served Durham in the past, whether as Mayor, Freeman or soldier in the Durham Light Infantry.

Which linked well with my main reason for being there. Over 120 of us had turned up to take part in an event organised by Parliament’s Outreach Service on ‘Engaging with Parliament on health and wellbeing issues’.  I would say that most people, including me, had come needing to be convinced that there was a point in engaging with Parliament. As several people pointed out, we mainly see and hear MPs being rude to each other, mired in controversy and declaiming, not listening. And isn’t the Lords full of people in archaic clothing, being oddly polite to each other and often falling asleep? Well, some of that is self-evidently true. But I now realise there are also a lot of well-intentioned hard-working people who are there because they want to make a difference, and who are prepared to listen to, and possibly engage with, you if you approach them in the right way. I also now know that Parliament (and particularly the website is full of useful resources and opportunities.

The day started with a quick overview of Parliament, the Commons and Lords, and their respective roles. I learnt about the work of the House of Commons Library, which provides impartial information and research services for Members of Parliament and their staff in support of their parliamentary duties. So impartial that the Library recently, if albeit briefly, publicly disagreed with the Prime Minister over hospital waiting times. More interesting and useful to me, the library has a huge online database of publicly available briefing papers on a wide range of topics. We were told that larger VCSE organisations can sometimes lodge their own briefings with the library and become a trusted source of information for researchers. The Lords has a similar Library, based in the Queen’s room, which you can tour virtually online.

We quickly moved on to the work of the Commons Health Select Committee. This is one of 19 Select Committees, each related to a Government Department. These are the Committees you hear about that examine witnesses, some people more brusquely than others. The Health Committee has members from all parties and its role is to examine and scrutinise the policy, administration and expenditure of the Department of Health and its associated bodies. The Committee chooses its own subjects to enquire into. It would normally issue a press release inviting people to submit written evidence. Anyone can send in written evidence which will be presented to the Committee. Evidence needs to be in a prescribed format which is detailed in a Guide on the Parliament website. Only people invited by the Committee can give oral evidence. There was a view in the room that the Committee should be more proactive in seeking relevant evidence. The best advice is to sign up for email alerts (as I now have) and send your evidence in whenever you have something relevant to say. Someone queried whether evidence sent on behalf of a number of organisations would carry more weight than that from a single, possibly small or local, organisation. We were told that it wouldn’t and it was the quality and relevance of the ‘evidence’ that counted most. The main thing was that the Committee wouldn’t accept mass mailings or reports that clearly hadn’t been written for their enquiry.

Parliament also has a huge number of All-Party Parliamentary Groups, looking at an exhaustive range of health topics, from Ageing through learning disability to Women’s sport and fitness. There is an online register which tells you which MPs and members of the Lords are on each committee and consequently would be worth contacting about your group’s particular interest. Again, news to me, but some larger charities provide secretarial support for the Groups and may provide another way in.

We were joined by Roberta Blackman-Woods, MP for Durham and later by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. They were talking about how best to get members of Parliament and the Lords to work for you and gave very similar messages.

Top Tips to get members of Parliament and the Lords to work for you

  1. Identify a member(s) who has an interest in your topic or has a local connection. For example, you can easily search Lords online by their Policy Interest.  Search for Health Services and medicine and Lord Victor Adebowale, CEO of Turning Point, heads a list of over 60 Lords.
  2. If you send an email or correspondence be clear what your issue is, put it at the top. Say who is affected and how they are affected. Provide facts and ammunition.
  3. Try and be clear what you want the member to do, identify solutions as well as problems.

I don’t know if she was joking or not but Tanni (as we were now all calling her) did say that there are still members who will only deal with handwritten correspondence. Best avoid them. Virtually all give emails and many have their own websites.

VONNE ran a workshop in the afternoon on ‘Working with Health and Wellbeing Boards’. There were others on ‘Working with your Clinical Commissioning Group’ and on Sport. Over 40 people attended and what was immediately apparent was the feeling that they were excluded from what was now happening in the health world.

Roberta Blackman-Woods had said she no longer knew who to contact in what she called NHS local.  Most people felt the same, with even those who sit on Boards or are members of Healthwatch being unsure how things work and what ability they have to influence things. It was clear that few Boards have representation from voluntary and community groups. People expressed surprise when someone said they were a member of their local Health Scrutiny Committee, they had assumed they had been wound up in all the re-organisations.  We have a big job to do, both in describing and explaining the system but also, and mainly, ensuring we engage and involve the community in the future development of health and care services, especially as (or if) more money flows to from acute to primary care.

I came away from the day with three key phrases ringing in my ears. There is no magic wand, we are where we are, and we all need to just keep plugging away!

ChangeUp – ten years on – Dr Rob Macmillan

The following letter was circulated by Dr Rob Macmillan of the Third Sector Research Centre. Have a read – It examines whether Change up’s vision for sector support 2014 was achieved, and poses questions around why if it wasn’t why it wasn’t. My view is that it was incredibly bureaucratic and focused disproportionately on what infrastructure organisations wanted to provide rather than what front line organisations needed to receive – I would be interested in your views:
Dear colleagues
What were you up to ten years ago?
On 24th June 2004, it was cold, windy and wet over much of the country, Britney Spears was at Number 1 in the charts, and, plus ca change, later that evening the England football team would exit another international football competition.

Fiona Mactaggart, meanwhile, then in the Home Office as the Minister for the Voluntary and Community Sector, was out and about visiting voluntary organisations in Gloucester. She was there to launch ChangeUp, the government’s ten year framework for capacity building and infrastructure.

ChangeUp was developed, along with the social investment programme Futurebuilders, out of the Treasury’s 2002 cross cutting review of the role of the voluntary sector in public service delivery. It was based on the idea that many frontline voluntary and community organisations could not achieve their potential because of difficulties in accessing support and expertise. The high-level aim of ChangeUp was that:

“by 2014 the needs of frontline voluntary and community organisations will be met by support which is available nationwide, structured for maximum efficiency, offering excellent provision which is accessible to all while reflecting and promoting diversity, and is sustainably funded” (ChangeUp, p.7).

ChangeUp was supposed to be a ‘catalytic’ programme, aiming to change the nature of services and support, rather than just keep existing services going. The term ‘ChangeUp’ itself derives from baseball. With delicious irony, a changeup is a type of mischievous pitch:

“In addition to the unexpectedly slow velocity, the changeup can also possess a significant amount of movement, which can bewilder the batter even further. The very best changeups utilize both deception and movement”.

What followed from 2004 was the heady world of local and regional infrastructure consortia, infrastructure investment plans, national hubs focusing on specific areas, such as finance and performance, and then national support services. Around £230m had been spent on the strategy by 2011, when Capacitybuilders, the agency eventually charged with its delivery, was closed down.

Oh, those were the days. So, take a look around you. Ten years on, do we have the kind of infrastructure across the country that ChangeUp was aiming for? If your answer veers towards ‘no’ (as I suspect it might), why not? Here’s a list of provisional theories – what’s yours?

• Were the aims and expectations ever realistic?
• Was there enough money, or too much, or was it used properly?
• Was it too bureaucratic and managerial in its approach and arrangements?
• Was there sufficient and sustained political will to support the programme?
• Was it derailed by recession and austerity?
• Was it using a fundamentally flawed ‘supply side’ model, rather than channelling resources directly to frontline organisations?
• Something else?
The legacy of programmes like ChangeUp is a really interesting question. In your neck of the woods, in what ways is the current pattern of infrastructure support a reflection of ChangeUp investment and activity? What endures now? What stories do we now tell about what it was like, and what difference it made?

Clearly it is a more challenging and unsettled environment now for both the voluntary sector and particularly for its support infrastructure. This raises some very difficult questions, in active consideration at the moment:

• What are our current approaches to, and investment in, infrastructure?
• With these, are we heading towards or away from the basic aim of ChangeUp?
• What do we want from the sector’s support infrastructure?
• What needs to be done now and in the next few years?

Please do share your experiences and reflections about ChangeUp (on the list or directly to me at


Dr Rob Macmillan
Research Fellow
Third Sector Research Centre
University of Birmingham