My first three months at Clinks have flown by, and as I pass the 100-day mark as Director of Support and Development I wanted to look back on my early days, share some reflections, and look towards some of the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Voluntary organisations are the beating heart of Clinks
Meeting a number of Clinks members has been one of my main highlights of the last three months. As a membership organisation, voluntary organisations working in criminal justice are at the heart of what we do. Our job is to support you to do what you do best, and making sure we have deeply-embedded connections to voluntary organisations helps us to understand the opportunities and challenges you are grappling with.
It’s not been ideal meeting on Zoom or Teams, but connecting with organisations that look to Clinks for support, particularly small and specialist ones, has helped me to begin to get under the skin of the value of Clinks, what we’ve done well in the past and how we can develop in the future. And I’m looking forward to meeting many more of you over the coming months.
We will always be guided what voluntary organisations tell us, and there are lots of ways you can do this, including through surveys, forums and events. We’re also looking to develop a members’ advisory forum as another way in which member organisations can feed in and shape the work of Clinks.
There have been (and will be) many challenges for the sector, but there are some real opportunities
It’s clear to me that voluntary organisations working in criminal justice face unprecedented challenges, particularly following Covid-19 and the forthcoming changes to probation services.
Although it is good to see the voluntary sector as the main partner in delivering rehabilitation and resettlement services under the future probation model starting from next month, in reality there are a small number of voluntary organisations involved. There is a brilliant variety to the work voluntary organisations do to support people leaving prison and those on probation, and many organisations that used to work in partnership with probation to deliver services will no longer be doing that work. And we know there are a number of gaps in commissioning – for example a lack of specialist services for racially minoritised people – and so many voluntary organisations are feeling vulnerable right now. Much of the innovation that has come from voluntary organisations risks being lost when it’s either commissioned in a way that doesn’t enable organisations to work at their best, or is simply not commissioned at all. So alongside supporting organisations to help develop their work and think about the potential for commissioning opportunities to help support their work, we know that other sources of funding to support the work of organisations to support people in prison, those on probation and their families will continue to be a priority.
Despite the challenges, there continues to be some real opportunities that we will support organisations to explore. For example, the role of Regional Probation Directors and the roll-out of the Regional Outcomes and Innovation Fund will be an example of this in the next year. We regularly hear of opportunities that the sector may benefit from and we will continue to focus on helping voluntary organisations know about and understand these.
We’re developing what we do to support the sector
I’m lucky to join an established, well-respected staff team that combines providing support to voluntary organisations with promoting and advocating for the voluntary sector, and many people I’ve met hold the Clinks team in high regard. And that’s, in part, because we’ve continued to do what we can to support voluntary organisations during difficult times. We provide voluntary organisations with information, we advocate on their behalf, we provide practical support and resources, we bring organisations together and we help them make partnerships.
In looking at the support we provide to the sector, I’m keen to build on the excellent work of the support and development team that I oversee. Within that team, our membership and events team have helped to build a thriving network of voluntary sector member organisations and provide practical support and events that help organisations to be effective and resilient. We recently reached the highest number of members – over 650 – in Clinks’ history, and we’re pleased to be able to offer free membership to all voluntary organisations until March 2022 with thanks to funding from the Garfield Weston Foundation. And we’ve had an unprecedented number of voluntary organisations taking part in our events over the last year.
Our area development team, which provides support to voluntary sector organisations based in specific parts of the country, focuses on listening to local need and ensuring voluntary organisations have their voice heard locally and nationally, and I’m keen to see how we can show our impact in these areas and grow this team to better support organisations in other parts of the country.
A key approach to Clinks’ support is to recognise and value specialist organisations that are working in specific ways and with specific groups of people. The National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance, which is embedded in Clinks, is a trailblazer for this, aiming to ensure the arts are used within the criminal justice system as a springboard for positive change. In addition to this, for the last two years we’ve had a dedicated post to lead a network for organisations specialising in working with women, and through our newly-established race and justice network and our continued influencing work, we will continue in challenging racism in the criminal justice system and working to support our member organisations led by and focused on racially minoritised people.
I’m excited to build on this work so that we can best support you to thrive. We’re your membership organisation. That means us making sure any voluntary organisation working in criminal justice in England and Wales gets a good offer from Clinks, so we’ll be looking at what resources, events, training and advice you need from us and continuing to develop ways that we can meet that need.
We can create change together
We’ve just entered the third year of our current strategy, Creating Change Together, and it’s clear just from looking at the last year alone how much we’ve adapted to the needs and challenges of the voluntary sector. This responsiveness is crucial as a sector support organisation. As we look ahead to developing our next strategy, I’m looking forward to working together to build on what we’ve done well and really step up the way that we support voluntary organisations to do what they do best.
I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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