This is a case
study of Stamford Volunteer Bureau and a project that offers volunteer
opportunities to people with mental health needs. I have worked as the
Manager of Stamford Volunteer Bureau (VB) since it opened in 1992. The
project has been an important part of the development of the Bureau, both
in services available to volunteers and as a ‘partner’ with statutory
organisations. It is also
close to my heart as the ‘model’ is unique and my creation.
Notwithstanding the inevitable difficulties with objectivity, the study
offers an opportunity for me to look critically at where the Volunteer
Bureau sits in its relationship to the state. The
impact of ‘partnership’ with a changing mental health service, and
future funding uncertainties, is explored in relation to the project, the
autonomy of the Bureau and volunteers with mental health needs.
Perspective and Rationale
I first became involved with the Volunteer
Bureau after taking redundancy from a full-time job with a multi-national life
assurance and investment company. Although
I had little experience of volunteering and even less of voluntary organisations,
I felt I could use my skills to get this project off the ground.
I had always taken an active interest in issues of social justice and the
6 hours per week suited my domestic arrangements - I had recently given birth to
my second child. Eight years later
the role has grown into a full-time post and my knowledge, understanding and
commitment to volunteering and voluntary groups has grown with it.
Particularly since I started the Diploma in Youth and Community
Development three years ago.
My own beliefs about volunteering reflect
those of the National Association of Volunteer Bureau (see appendix).
I have a commitment to promoting volunteer opportunities to everyone;
particularly people who find themselves isolated through poverty, disability and
other political and social barriers. The
development of a scheme to support people with mental health needs was possible
because of extra funding from the National Lottery Charities Board.
This funding was to expand the capacity of the Bureau to deliver core VB
services, in a county where the voluntary sector infrastructure is fragmented
and poorly funded. There is no
Council for Voluntary Service or other Local Development Agency in this area.
The increase in the number of available paid hours enabled us to work
with Stamford Resource Centre. This is a hospital-centred unit providing
in-patient care and day services for mental health patients.
It is the base for clinicians and social services professionals and was
opened in response to the Community Care Act (1990).
We are now in our final year of a 3-year grant from National Lottery
Charities Board and the future of Stamford Volunteer Bureau is far from secure.
Although it may be possible to find short-term funding for this
particular aspect of the VB work, a more lasting solution is likely if we can
link up effectively with mental health services.
In January 2001 I am to give a presentation
and help facilitate a workshop looking at a model of inter-agency work, which
aims to address social isolation and is potentially empowering people with
mental health needs. The local Primary Care Group is hosting the event; a review
of the ‘model’ is one objective of the Health Improvement Plan for this
area. Senior managers from the
steering committee for the new integrated mental health trust will join service
users, carers and practitioners. I
need to be prepared for the meeting. Effective
dialogue is more likely if I have an understanding of the current issues in
mental health and a clear view of how Volunteer Bureaux might be involved as a
partner. As knowledge is power, it
should help redress the power differential at the meeting.
I will be the only person (woman) from a voluntary organisation that may
be viewed by others at the meeting as amateur.
Invitations to the event have been targeted at those in a position to
endorse and, if appropriate, purchase this project.
My networking does not usually extend to these ‘men in suits’ and
they will not be familiar with the Volunteer Bureau.
Nevertheless, by sharing my practice knowledge it may be possible to
influence them in the direction of a more anti-oppressive way of working. (Collinson, D. 1994).
I may only get the one opportunity to engage at this level to promote the
model and the views of service users that I obtained from my evaluation.
I hope to move this project forward from a
‘pilot’ scheme into a more formal collaboration with the new integrated
mental health service in south-west Lincolnshire.
It is important that I make considered judgements in relation to the
development of the project and not get swept along in the euphoria of success.
Information for the study will be taken
primarily from documentation - VB Annual Report and Accounts, VB grant
applications and reports to funders, project protocols and evaluation, for
example. I will use telephone
interviews with key people at National Association of Volunteer Bureau, the
Community Mental Health Trust and the local Health Improvement Facilitator and,
of course, my own knowledge of the VB and this project.
To consider the impact of partnership and funding arrangements on a
‘voluntary sector’ organisation.
To gain an understanding of some of the current issues affecting mental
health service provision in south west Lincolnshire, as they relate to this
How the Volunteer Bureau has acted as a catalyst for promoting
anti-oppressive practice in mental health services.
Origins, Aims and Objectives
Stamford Volunteer Bureau was established in
1991 and, as a member of the National Association of Volunteer Bureaux, its core
work is outlined in the Statement of Common Purpose for Volunteer Bureaux.
The NHS and Social Services have a history of involvement with volunteers
and voluntary groups. Both the
Seebohm Report (1969) and the Aves Report (1969) acknowledged the need to
integrate voluntary and community services with health and social services, in
order to support increasing demands on the welfare state.
(Sheard, J 1992). Aves was
impressed with the work being done by a small number of volunteer bureaux and
recommended that the network be extended throughout the country, funded by the
local authority, whilst maintaining a high level of autonomy.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, debates
about citizenship have been taken up by Government. One of Labour’s central social policy themes is that of
social inclusion and the commitment to build ‘healthy, active communities’.
(Boateng, P Home Office Minister 1999). Volunteering
is a key indicator, seen as an important expression of (active) citizenship and
a critical factor in creating social capital.
The National Centre for Volunteering also sees it as essential to
democracy. (National Centre for
Volunteering Policy Briefing 2.2 , 1999) Volunteering
is a two-way process where an individual makes a gift of time, skills and energy
in return for fulfilling their own motivation, needs and wants.
Niyazi (1996) and Wilson (1998) have identified the potential benefits of
volunteering for disabled people, including the opportunities it offers to build
confidence and self-esteem and make friendships that are not based on
Hand in hand with this enthusiasm for
volunteering, the Government has a vision for a more joined up and holistic
approach to health: healthy living centres, healthy schools, healthy workplaces
and healthy neighbourhoods. The
importance of social factors as determinants of health and the inequalities in
health have been acknowledged in the Acheson Report (1998). The Government’s mental health strategy also addresses
social exclusion and the social factors that affect our mental health.
In order to improve services, the Government has stressed the need to
work with service users, different agencies and the local community as
‘partners’. (Department of
Despite a low level of funding from
Lincolnshire County Council Social Services Department, the VB has looked to
engage with local statutory agencies and to try and give a ‘voluntary
sector’ perspective in relation to Government initiatives, such as New Deal.
However, the Bureau has always resisted the temptation to take on
additional work in response to these initiatives, participating on
‘consultative’ committees where appropriate but refusing to generate new
schemes in order to meet funding criteria.
The ethos of the Management Committee has been to focus on the VB as a
referral agency for volunteers and to facilitate the development of new schemes
to meet an identified need, provided that there is congruence with the values
and aims. Rather than being
involved in the direct provision of services, these are ‘floated off’ as
separate entities. In other words
the VB acts as a facilitator and enabler, offering practical support,
information and advice. This
approach is the antithesis of empire building by managing volunteer projects
in-house. At the same time the VB
has been pro-active in promoting volunteering opportunities.
There has been a concerted effort to work in a way that is
anti-oppressive and involve groups and individuals who often find themselves
excluded from living an ‘ordinary’ life and making connections.
This is reflected in the culture of the organisation, which is fairly
cohesive and task-oriented. Both
paid and volunteer staff participate in the development of VB operations and
service delivery. (Handy, C. 1988).
In 1998 I gave a presentation to clinicians
and the Consultant Psychiatrist about volunteering opportunities for people with
mental health needs. Then, building
on a relationship established with two Community Support Workers, I formalised
an arrangement to support volunteers into a set of protocols for working
together (see appendix). The aim of the project was to enable people with mental
health needs (and severe mental illness) to access volunteering.
It was ‘volunteer’ focused and not about ‘rehabilitation’ or a
care programme. Establishing a
partnership with the Community Support Workers enabled us to resolve the VB
problem with resources (i.e. no specialist support worker).
We were able to promote better communication and co-ordination between
clinicians, social services and the Bureau whilst ensuring that service
users/volunteers wishes were central. We
were offering information, advice and choice.
This was potentially empowering, enabling people with mental health needs
to gain greater control over their lives. (Thompson,
It represented a significantly different approach to the oppressive
medical perspective at the Resource Centre. (Illich, I 1977 in Thompson, N.
This ‘model’ was piloted for a year, after
which time I conducted an evaluation using an action research approach and
interviews with volunteers, charitable agencies and Social Services.
(Bellairs, C. 2000). The paper
was copied to my ‘partners’ and the volunteers.
After taking four months out on field practice placement, I returned to
the Bureau and discovered that the model had been incorporated into the Health
Improvement Plan (HImP). The local
Health Improvement Facilitator was unable to establish how this had come to be
– the specific objective had been included in the overall plan for
Lincolnshire. Potentially, this
project could now develop and be ‘floated off’ or run within the VB as an
extension of core service. The
current developments in funding and mental health in relation to this project
will now be considered.
Funding and Current Developments
Stamford Volunteer Bureau is a registered
charity. The main source of income
has been a small grant from Lincolnshire County Council, Social Services
Directorate - £6963 this year. There
is no Service Level Agreement or other contract.
Services to ‘customers’ are provided free of charge.
The largest item of expenditure is salaries and this increased last year,
after a review of the Managers salary to reflect the role and responsibilities
of the post. The County Council’s
Grant Application Form outlines the objectives for Social Services and the areas
of work they are looking to support. Applicants
are warned that the Directorate is looking to cut its expenditure and that
applications falling outside their remit will not succeed.
However, it appears to be the Council’s practice to take little notice
of the applications, as the amount awarded is always the same as the year
before, plus a percentage rise for inflation.
The Bureau is delivering services (including this particular scheme) that
would appear to fit well with the funding criteria. There
has never been any recognition of the growth of the Bureau or the development of
its policy and practice – despite being acknowledged as ‘one of the best VBx
in the county’.
Whelan argues that, not unreasonably, the
State will want to pay for something that ‘fits’ their agenda, but that in
doing so it is the State that is defining ‘voluntary’ action.
Voluntary organisations that take money from the State must expect State
influence on activities. In order to remain innovative and independent, he urges
voluntary bodies not to become ‘sub-contractors on the cheap’. (Whelan, R
1999). Lincolnshire County
Council’s tardy approach to monitoring its funding has not stifled the VB
ability to work in a way that is innovative but neither has it recognised and
supported the project. There have
been a few occasions when the VB has been able to attract small amounts of
funding from business and commerce but making links with the private sector
presents at least as many tensions as those made with the State.
Whilst the VB has encouraged ‘employee volunteering’ and the
opportunities for charities to benefit from specific skills, companies will also
have there own agendas. These may
not always be about the development of their key staff.
In 1997, the Bureau was awarded a three-year
grant from the National Lottery Charities Board (NLCB) of £13235 pa.
Although these monies are from the sale of Lottery tickets and not
taxation, it is not a public donation. The
NLCB distributes grants in accordance with its aims and objectives, which are
linked to Government strategies as well as regionally identified needs. It could
be argued that Lottery funding is State funding in disguise. (National Lottery
Charities Board, 2000). Recently, a
consortium of Lincolnshire Volunteer Bureaux, Lincolnshire Voluntary Sector
Network and Community Council of Lincolnshire was awarded over £300,000 from
NLCB for a three year project to develop five Local Development Agencies.
This could have a bearing on Stamford Volunteer Bureau.
There are currently eight independent VBx spread throughout the county.
In the future some of these may have to look at the possibility of a
merger. This is about to happen in
Leicester, with the merger of Leicester Volunteer Centre and Voluntary Action
Leicester. The merger is expedient
since it will protect the VB from funding cuts and the organisations can work
together from one building. The
Manager of the Volunteer Centre confirmed that the public does not view the
organisations as separate entities and often confuses them.
As outlined in a Guardian article on 15 November 2000, the voluntary
sector is disparate but this can have the effect of diluting the impact of
organisations with similar aims. They may also be competing with one another for
funds. (Brindle, D.
2000). However, mergers could mean that disadvantaged or minority groups
become sidelined as statutory agencies seek only one or two voluntary groups (or
a large umbrella agency) to work with or to ‘consult’.
Mergers may also make it difficult for local and individual concerns to
be addressed adequately as organisations become more distant and the structures
The VB is working hard to maintain its
autonomy and although almost all its funds come directly or indirectly from the
State, it is managing to use or manipulate broader policy objectives to meet the
needs of volunteers and volunteer-using groups. It is not a profit making organisation, is self-governing and
is often working in a way that is at odds with health and social services.
The skill and creativity involved in this is sophisticated and the
inter-agency environment adds to the complexity.
Changes in the way that mental health services are to be delivered will
present new challenges. The VB would like to respond to these but without realistic
funding this project could fold. It
would certainly be affected if key staff left because of low pay or redundancy.
Establishing a local ‘compact’ with the local authority and the NHS
Trust may be one way forward, but could also threaten the independence of the VB
if we have to meet quantitative outcomes rather than qualitative performance
Current Developments in Mental Health
The NHS Plan (2000) and the Health Act (1999)
allow for the divisions between Social Services and NHS to be broken down.
In Lincolnshire the plan is for integrated provision of mental health
services, where the local authority and the health authority merge to deliver a
one-stop package and consistency of approach throughout the county.
Two healthcare trusts are to be dissolved into a new Lincolnshire
Healthcare NHS Trust by April 2001. This
organisation will have responsibility for secondary health care and will
commission and provide services for mental health, learning disabilities, day
services, counselling, psychotherapy and community psychiatric nursing. The integration of Social Services is subject to further
consultation and agreement, but is a medium term goal of the NHS Trust.
The consultation document expresses a commitment to build upon existing
relationships with the community and voluntary sector to ‘improve joint
working and the overall provision of support to users and carers’.
(South Lincolnshire Healthcare NHS Trust 2000 p19).
In addition to this change, two local Primary Care Groups propose to
merge next April to become Lincolnshire SW Primary Care Trust (PCT). This organisation will be accountable to the NHS Trust and
will also commission and provide services.
Some ‘community’ services will move from the NHS trust to the PCT.
The Primary Care Groups have already acknowledged their commitment to
working with voluntary agencies and this is implicit in the Health Improvement
Programme. The role of service user involvement and evaluation is not mentioned
by either agency.
The National Framework for Mental Health
(Department of Health 1999) focuses on the mental health needs of working age
adults. The framework does not include quality of life indicators.
Performance is to be measured against reducing suicide rates and the
National Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. It acknowledges the social isolation and
discrimination experienced by people with a mental illness.
Although implied, it is not explicit about people with mental health
needs being encompassed within the Government’s Social Inclusion strategy.
This reflects the Government’s discourse around citizenship, where
social exclusion is related to (paid) work, personal responsibility and a moral
underclass identified by pathology, dependency and culture-induced poverty and
depravity. (Levitas, R 1998).
A spokesperson for the NAVB said that in discussions with the Home
Office, new initiatives around ‘active citizenship’ were targeted at
‘easy’ groups: older people, young people.
People with disabilities or mental health problems were not mentioned.
The government policy in relation to mental health and social inclusion
would seem to be muddled. Future
collaboration between the VB and the integrated mental health service will
depend upon their willingness to give the service user more involvement and
choice and allow the VB to work in a flexible way, across the boundaries in
health and social care.
Though it can been seen that the VB is not
enterprising in the commercial sense, there has been a lot of time spent in
building networks and relationships which have been used to create opportunities
for some innovative work. The
development of the model to encourage people with severe mental health needs to
volunteer was driven by the VB – not the statutory sector.
In this sense, the VB acted as a social entrepreneur.
(Leadbeater, C. 1997). The
inter-agency mental health project has come from a bottom-up approach but is
also integrated with the core work of the VB.
It is not offering specialist help, but attempts to make it easier for
people with mental health needs to engage with a generic service.
In a new integrated mental health service it may be that the VB can use
its trust relationships, informal partnerships and networking to facilitate
better dialogue between Social Services and NHS personnel, similar to the work
done by The Bromley by Bow Centre. (The
Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health 2000). The
NHS Trust may be interested in purchasing the project and duplicating the work
around Lincolnshire. Such a
contract would offer more long-term security to the project, but anti-oppressive
practice would be compromised if the Trust were interested only in outputs.
Nevertheless, it seems clear that for the present, the statutory sector
needs us as much as we need them.
My learning objectives were designed to help
me prepare for a high-profile presentation and consider how I might continue to
champion anti-oppressive work within the constraints of the integrated mental
health service. I think I have met this aim and I have clear ideas about the
content and emphasis of my contribution to the event. Despite a number of requests to the PR Manager at the
Community Mental Health Trust and the Health Improvement Facilitator, I have
been unable to obtain information about the structure of the integrated mental
health service in SW Lincolnshire (see appendix).
Neither have I been able to establish how the VB work was included in the
I was surprised to find that I have been
working in a way that, in many respects, meets Leadbeater's definition of a
social entrepreneur. In my
examination of the funding issues, I learned that a merger of local volunteer
bureaux is a real possibility. I
would like to have looked in more depth at the role of Government and NLCB
funding strategies that could bring this about and the dilemmas for local
agencies and anti-oppressive practice.
I struggled with objectivity and keeping
focused, partly because I have almost too much knowledge about the volunteer
bureau and the ‘current developments’ impacting upon our work.
I used my module colleague to ask me some critical questions about the
project and act as an interviewer in order to redress this.
The experience has demonstrated the value of obtaining an external
evaluation of the VB work – something we have not done before.
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