18th Nov, 2019

Voluntary network fears knock-on effect of Borough Council policy

“ I DON’T think the council understands that if it goes ahead with this policy it will mean closure for us and many others because we will literally not be able to keep the roof over our heads.”

Gary Roskill is chatting from his office, which he shares with three others, upstairs at Community House in Easemore Road, in the wake of council plans to remove all concessionary rents to groups in the voluntary and community sector using council properties.

Gary is chief executive of BARN – Bromsgrove and Redditch Network – an organisation which is at the heart of the town’s charity network, sourcing funding, linking volunteers, organisations needing help, service users and providers and yes, even the borough council.

The irony isn’t lost on him.

“We haven’t had a formal invitation for a big meeting with the council yet – we have a network of members and we are the obvious people to come to,” he said.

“The whole point of us existing is to give the voluntary sector a voice and we don’t even have that – the entire thing has been handled appallingly.”

The borough’s plans, to save £82,000 per annum in subsidies, first surfaced in late October, buried in a report to the executive committee.

It came after councillors had awarded themselves a £60,000 a year pay rise.

The rent policy policy came out of the blue and would hit nine charities using 13 premises. None had been consulted on the plans.

In the ensuing outcry the council canned the idea until December, when it is scheduled to return.

“It’s a very short-sighted way to save money and I’m not sure the councillors are clear of the implications,” said Gary.

“The boxing club for instance takes loads of people off the streets and that will absolutely have implications further down the line and will cost them.”

He’s also sceptical of the council’s offer of help find new funding sources.

Part of BARN’s role is to encourage organisations to work together, source funding – it puts out a weekly bulletin on what’s available – and to get the voluntary sector together to discuss common issues.

“The grant situation is like a patchwork quilt – the council gives us some money but it’s a tiny amount compared to what we need,” said Gary.

“Virtually all of the funding is only for a year so we are constantly on the treadmill and every funder has a slightly different spec.

“You have to be careful you don’t end up just chasing the money and forgetting why you exist – it’s a fine balance.

“I’d be surprised if they can come up with other sources of funding which we haven’t tried, but we’ll be listening.”

WHAT is BARN?

1) – It’s a council for voluntary services, encouraging organisations to work together, helping them fund raise and network, acting as a link between the voluntary sector and the borough council.

2) – It matches volunteers with groups which need them and emphasises the benefits of volunteering, improving CVs, experience and boosting confidence.

3) – It runs community projects like BROS – Bromsgrove and Redditch Open Spaces creating community allotments and the like, and BURT – Bromsgrove Urban and Rural Transport – a vital service no commercial enterprise wanted to run.

Community House is home to six charities and BARN deals with around 350 volunteers a year.

“If we closed the trickle down effect would be enormous – we are sending letters to all the tenants because if this goes ahead we will close in two years,” said Gary.

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