Ali Griffin (then Assistant Director for Culture and Environment at Camden Council) talks about VAC’s relationship with the council and how we worked together to tackle strategic issues in the borough.
Ali: “I think there was definitely a shift in approach from 2010 – 2013 in to trying to lift everyone’s aspirations really, and be more strategic. I think VAC did well in that, in actually trying to help lead and manage some of those conversations with their membership, because it’s not always easy”.
Q. So, what were they doing before?
Ali: Previously there was a strategic group that looked at some very critical day-to-day issues for the sector and their relationship with the council, but it didn’t really look at some of the big issues, like social value or community right to buy, or the significant things that would impact the sector and the council. Those kinds of policy discussions just weren’t happening. As part of the new investment program [VAC] and I together set up a new strategic forum that about quarterly, would host, and sometimes get external speakers, to look at some of these issues – so whether it was accounts or social value etc. – and invite different organisations from the voluntary sector and council officers to come together to talk through some of these issues and think about how would that then impact on us changing our approach to commissioning or procurement, or whatever it be, and equally what the sector needed to do.
So I think we’ve seen a bit of a shift in helping to make our relationship into a more equal partnership. I think as well, in that time, VAC helped to broker some very tricky situations and help facilitate some very tricky conversations and negotiations, for example, around voluntary sector leases. We also managed to meet with the trustees from VAC, to have a bit of a Chatham House discussion [regarding forthcoming funding cuts] to start to think about how that impact would be made moving forward. The other area would be around what we call a community investment programme, which is really using our communities physical assets and how we use that to generate capital to improve our housing, schools and community facilities in the borough. Of course the VCS have a key role to play in that. VAC and certain staff in particularly have been very good at letting us know when perhaps we’re being a bit clumsy with our consultations, or how we were approaching some very sensitive conversations about well-loved assets, which actually on the face of it are falling down, you’ve never been able to invest in them anyway. VAC were particularly helpful in breaking down some of those barriers and helping us get to co-design solutions, especially in SomersTown.
Q. What do you think it was about VAC that made them a good partner for this sort of work?
I think VAC are good at keeping abreast of national pictures and into their other networks that they can then bring back to Camden; they are a trusted partner in the sector and they are a growing trusted partner in the council.