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Voluntary Action’s 2018 Conference Debates, Charity: The New Welfare State?

The theme of Voluntary Action South West Surrey’s 2018 conference was Charity: The New Welfare State? And that was firmly put under the spotlight by its speakers and in discussions.

Delegates in the lecture hall. All photos were taken by Voluntary Action South West Surrey’s own volunteer photographer for the day, Durson Oney, who did a fantastic job!

Held within the Rik Medlik Building at the University of Surrey on Tuesday, April 10, around 150 delegates attended from local charities and organisations who rely on volunteers.

Following a welcome by the vice-chancellor of the University of Surrey, Max  Lu, an uplifting speech was given by Debra Alcock-Tyler, the chief executive of the Directory of Social Change.

Debra Alcock-Tyler, the chief executive of the Directory of Social Change.

She said, in what are difficult times for charities, particularly financially, those who work in them must stop being meek and stand up for themselves and show others their true worth.

Debra added that everybody in the UK benefits from charities and the work they do; examples being from those who campaign for issues such as clean air, those who help remove litter from our streets and in the countryside, and the volunteers who help out at our hospitals.

New into her position as the chief executive of Surrey County Council, Joanna Killian, spoke next. She admitted that she has only been in her post for six weeks, but truly wants to work very closely with the voluntary sector throughout the county, acknowledging the work that it does.

Other speakers included Jo Cookes, the director of communities engagement at the Diocese of Guildford; Ian Handy of the University of Surrey Students’ Union, who outlined the amount of volunteering students at the university undertake; and Rosemary Hurtley from the SMART Cranleigh project that is working hard to bring the community there together and provide help for those in need.

The morning’s speakers taking questions from the audience, with Carol Dunnett, chief officer of Voluntary Action, far left.

In her address to the conference, Joanne Tester, the chief executive of Guildford Action, used the example of renovating a derelict canal as a project that can benefit many and the community it serves, if undertaken in the right way. In essence, an outside contractor could be paid to do the work and once finish leave. But if finance is directed locally and groups and organisations get involved with volunteers helping, much more and longer lasting things can be achieved than just the restoration of the waterway.

Quizzing the speakers.

The chief executive of Voluntary Action South West Surrey, Carol Dunnett, was pleased with the outcome of this year’s conference. She said: “The talks and debates really showed how current austerity is affecting charities. We are the only ones picking up the pieces when people are affected by benefits cuts, homelessness, not being able to access mental health services when they need them, and so on.

“Charities are having to do much more for the people they serve. The overall message from our speakers was, yes, things are bad, but together we can work through it.

“I was encouraged to hear that the new chief executive of Surrey County Council wants to work with our sector. The awareness of the level of need in Surrey needs to be raised, in what many only see as a prosperous county.

Discussions during one of the workshops.

The conference also featured 10 workshops to which delegates picked two to attend. Among them, Helen Barnsley from Guildford Borough Council discussed how the council and the voluntary sector can work together to help residents, particularly the vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Jess Hogan-Smith led a workshop about measuring the impact of volunteers.

Alex Tolley from the University of Surrey hosted a workshop that gave an overview of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that is coming into force; while Lorraine Yates and Claire Lane from Voluntary Action led a workshop titled Volunteering is for Everyone; Helen Linnell gave advice on funding applications; and David Rose’s workshop was based on writing good press releases and getting them published in the media and a look at good practices within social media.

Two delegates check out the programme for the conference.

A number of businesses who support the volunteer and charity sector had stands including Elite Charity Solutions that donated a copier machine for a prize draw. It was won by SMART Cranleigh.

Some of Voluntary Action’s own volunteers at the conference.

Delegates were asked to complete a short feedback survey about the conference. Some of the replies included: “Well organised and relevant to the sector”. “Debra Alcock-Tyler was inspiring and uplifting in this dire time.” “The information was most inspiring with a focus on hope that we can change troublesome times into a more positive nation. We can make a difference.” ” I really enjoyed the speakers, great venue.”.

The small team at Voluntary Action organised the day. With special thank to Ian Ross, Kerry Brown and Denise Graves. Thanks also go to the team of Voluntary Action’s own volunteers who helped on the day and to Ian Handy from the University of Surrey Students’ Union.

Busy in the market place.

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