London Plus, championing civil society

Posted over 1 year ago By Margaret Cooney


London Plus is the ‘hub’ body for the capital’s 120,000 plus voluntary and community organisations that form part of civil society in London. We arrived at an interesting time for civil society as the boundaries between the state, voluntary, private and public sectors in supporting civil society have become more blurred. 

London Plus also emerged out of a shared consensus that although social action by volunteers and the wider civil society sector has made a significant difference to Londoners, a more unified approach was needed to help the public, politicians and business better understand the range, complexity and importance of the work that civil society does.

The legacy body we emerged from was Greater London Volunteering, but as London Plus we have a newly defined, wider remit to support civil society organisations (CSOs) and networks across London to build collaborative partnerships, and make more use of data, insights and intelligence on what works and what doesn’t, and to share those insights about positive impact across London.

For non-Londoners it may be annoying to hear about the experiences of London, again (!)  but there are some pointers about how we are working with partners in the private sector that have wider national relevance, and a number of recent reports and strategies have highlighted the fact that the private sector increasingly seen as a key component of a c21st civil society. 

Something we have found that is of value to any charity or CSO wherever they are located is the giving of skills and time. In my first month in this role I attended a network meeting where the theme was skilled volunteering. We asked delegates (mostly volunteer centres and volunteer-involving small charities) what they needed most from a skilled volunteer, and unsurprisingly, financial skills were the most desirable. 

One of the first projects we developed after that network meeting was a bespoke mentoring programme for two charity consortia projects in London. We are delivering this in partnership with Pilotlight; recognised experts in pairing up charities with skilled professionals. The programme theme, consortium working, was something that our network told us was a growing concern for smaller charities who need to bid for contracts in partnerships, as the funding culture shifts towards the commissioning of services. Skilled volunteers with the knowledge of what makes a good consortium work have been an invaluable asset to our two ‘guinea pigs’ and we are sharing their learning experience with the wider sector. 

Civil society is a broad church, and in my experience, it is particularly the medium to small organisations in the sector (and I speak from direct experience here) that often have very limited access to in-house finance specialists to help support, not just their ability to bid for contracts, but also their financial planning, forecasting monitoring, budgeting, income diversification, funding bids, business planning, growth and impact reporting. For a small team without a full time financial professional, this can be daunting, and it is where a skilled finance professional as a trustee can be vital, offering the necessary oversight and advice.   

With this shift in thinking about how so many of today’s social needs and challenges demand not just partnership working, cross-sector solutions and the giving of time and skills, it is a good time to think about how we can harness the good will and talents of  membership bodies like ICAEW to create greater social value. 

Your membership is a huge asset to CSOs, whether it supports us through membership body initiatives, or as individuals, or it happens as a result of employer CSR programmes. They can make a huge difference and I look forward to attending the conference in June to discuss this in more depth with your members. 

Margaret Cooney
London Plus

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