State of the Sector and the case of the borrowed kettle

London is one of the richest cities on earth and yet voluntary and community groups are told there’s no money. Go figure. Whole strategies are based on the deceitful premise that the ‘social contract’ has changed (when and by whom unclear) and henceforth we all need to be pragmatic about our co-production. For the most part people either absorb this uncritically or adopt a position of cognitive dissonance – where we know what we’re being told is BS but feel we have to behave otherwise. Often because those telling us this are funders and we are indebted to them.

The logic of the narrative that frames and disciplines the voluntary and community sector arrives externally – from government and funders mostly. The sector rarely acts in a united way, so no surprise that it is acted upon, by people with an agenda.

This blog is based on a few simple provocations

  • Exploding the lie that there is no money
  • The ‘sector’ mostly follows other people’s agendas, not its own
  • Even if there is not one ‘sector’, this isn’t the problem it is made out to be
  • Making visible the role of ideology in setting out what is deemed possible
  • Let’s talk more about structural oppression rather than intersectionality and protected characteristics
  • Volunteering is replacing voluntary action as a fundable proposition
  • That a single point of entry to the ‘sector’ (hub) has become the new modus operandi
  • That the majority of groups are completely left out of these discussions and funding ‘arrangements’


Proposition: There is no money!?

In fact it is a case that there is money. It just doesn’t trickle down very far. Amidst the deafening silence with which the liquidation of London Voluntary Service Council (in memoriam 1910-2017) leaked out, one of the reasons offered was that there was no funding hence no alternative to abrupt closure. Countless groups are told the same thing every day. Yet London has the most multi-millionaires on the planet.


Proposition: The sector follows other people’s agendas

Who in the VCS asked for the Big Society or that having a new London Hub was of vital importance?


Proposition: just because the VCS is not one ‘sector’ that isn’t a problem

Most of us know the idea of a ‘sector’ doesn’t really stand up but even so there are spheres of civil society that exist outside of the public and private sector for whom this a useful shorthand and who sometimes try to come together as an independent entity. The fact that there isn’t really a single voluntary and or community sector doesn’t mean solidarity and collective action is not possible within our sector(s). But beware the tactic used by consultants, government and funders, to balk at the complexity of civil society, leading them to retreat to models, processes and agendas they can control and are comfortable with.


Proposition: making visible the role of ideology in setting out what is deemed possible

Over the last 40 years inequality has grown. This decade promises to be the most unequal since the Napoleonic wars. The response to this: we need to get better at co-production, commissioning and procurement. The future trajectory of inequality will not be affected by this.


Proposition: let’s talk more about structural oppression

It seems to be OK to talk to government and funders about intersectionality and protected characteristics because they ‘get it’. You can tick boxes and also show an appreciation of multiple identities. But at root social problems are created by political and economic decisions. To be specific, by government choices. London is also city of plutocrats, some of whom are linked to funders. Hence the problem is structural. The way intersectionality and protected characteristics are talked about, in practice, manages to dodge this realisation and ends up being part of the problem.


Proposition: volunteering is replacing voluntary action

At time of austerity free stuff is attractive to policy makers. Volunteers are typically viewed as a free resource, ignoring the fact that support and safe guarding are key. At the Greater London Authority (GLA) there has long been a Team London for volunteers, nothing remotely comparable exists for London’s 120,000 VCS groups. Likewise the host organisation for the London Hub, Greater London Volunteering, was recently awarded in excess of £350,000. GLV has an expertise in supporting volunteering. Voluntary groups not so much.


Proposition: a single point of entry for the sector is the way forward

The GLA have announced they want a single point of entry for London’s VCS. How is that even possible? 120,000+ VCS groups, numerous networks and forums and a single ‘hub’ with maybe 5 staff to be appointed. Rather than having one single ‘hub’ the vision and investment should be for a multitude of hubs. Not the same old top down model. It doesn’t work.


Proposition: the majority of groups are left out of discussions and funding

Isn’t it odd that most of the VCS are small unfunded community groups yet in a sector that prides itself on equality they are almost entirely absent from policy making discussions and funding? The NCVO Almanac demonstrates that at least 70% of the sector is an informal community association – not a charity or anything else, just a small informal group. Given these ‘facts on the ground’ surely we should be aiming to have 7 out of every 10 people leading decision making on the future of the sector. Maybe that would lead to different policy outcomes and infrastructure organisations? Clearly when the VCS comes together those at the table are mostly charities. Whilst issues of gender, ethnicity and even class might be checked the issue of power and control within the sector is not. Community groups are excluded and too many charities don’t even notice, much less act upon it


I’ll end with a story of the borrowed kettle (source: Jokes and their relation to the Unconscious)

Person A borrowed a kettle from person B and after she returned it, was sued by B because the kettle had a big hole in it, which made it unusable

Her defence was: 1st, I never borrowed a kettle from B. 2nd: the kettle had a hole in it already when I got it from her. 3rd: I gave her back the kettle undamaged

Each of the defences is valid in itself but taken together they exclude one another. Person A was treating in isolation what has to be regarded as a connected whole

Kind of what I was trying to say in my blog
By Matt Scott




Newsletter: Mapping and Campaigns Survey, Upcoming Diversity and Inclusion Event, Blog by Matthew Scott.

Thank you for your interest in #ourwayahead. If you were able to attend, we hope you found the July conference at London Met to be a valuable experience.

Since the event we have formed a planning group that has met several times and identified support for local campaigns and the mapping and support of local community networks as their focus for strengthening solidarity and community-led change. We have built on the mapping project that was initiated during the event, and we have started to construct digital platforms.

In the first section of this post you have the opportunity to help us make progress on the mapping work already done by completing a short Mapping and Campaigning Survey.

If you would like to offer us any feedback or ideas, whether via our survey or the Contact section of this website, it would all be appreciated.



1. Mapping and Campaigning Survey

2. Upcoming Event: The Mayor’s Diversity and Inclusion strategy – GLA, LVSC, Just           Space and GLV

3. #ourwayahead: acts of resistance and kindness, a blog piece by Matthew Scott

4. Our new website and Twitter

1. Mapping and Campaigning Survey

You may have attended the July 12th Open Space event during which a discussion unfolded amongst various people from the #ourwayahead network, London’s community sector and civil society. If you think, as was discussed, that grassroots dialogue and community-led change can be sought through campaign and capability sharing for collective empowerment, and facilitated by mapping and other digital technology, then please complete the survey below to contribute to the early stage of our initial mapping project.

Mapping and Campaigning Survey link:

2. Upcoming Event

A consultation and discussion on diversity, inclusion and equality – a few places left!!

The LVSC, Just Space and Greater London Volunteering are jointly holding a discussion with the GLA (Greater London Authority) as part of the consultation on the Mayor’s Vision for a Diverse and Inclusive City which started on 15 June 2017 and is due to close on 11 September 2017.

There are only a few places left so if you’re interested then please contact Matt Scott at LVSC Email: / Tel: 020 7832 5806 / Mobile: 07827 258411 / Twitter: @Matt_LVSC

Event details:

Friday 8th September 2017

1-5 pm

88 Tavistock Pl, Kings Cross, London WC1H 9RS

Draft agenda as follows:

1300 Refreshments and networking

1400 Introduction and welcome

1405 Just Space / LVSC / GLV introduction and scene setting

1415 GLA introduction to Diversity and Inclusion Strategy and wider context

1425 Q&A

1430 Community Case study #1

1440 Community Case Study #2

1450 Community Case Study #3

Examples from groups of their working with the GLA on diversity and inclusion, so we can consider the experience up to this point and the learning that can be shared.

1500 Comfort break

1510 Table Discussion x2 sessions

Thematic discussions focusing on areas where there is the greatest scope to influence. Potential topics for discussion are poverty; social integration; regeneration; skills and economic development and volunteering as a cross-cutting theme.

1620 Plenary: group circle discussion on opportunities and challenges for the strategy

1700 Close

For further information on the Mayor’s Diversity and Inclusion strategy see links below:

Consultation: the Mayor’s vision for a diverse and inclusive city

This publication sets out the Mayor’s vision for the future of London as a diverse, inclusive and integrated city


3. Blog: #ourwayahead: acts of resistance and kindness

So what’s the #ourwayahead story?

Something unusual and exciting happened and is happening

In summary, at a Community Development Network London conference in March 2017, following an Open Space dialogue, there was consensus about the urgent need to join up different networks, to demonstrate solidarity and change the ‘winner takes all’ feel of so many voluntary sector interactions. We did a workshop on how we’d come together and agreed the best way would be to do an event; to grow something by creating an open, public and practical space for sharing and planning. In less than three weeks we co-operated to deliver an event that with over 200 people signing up. A university gave us a free venue. A community group subsidised the food. Another organisation paid for sign language. A community leader led with a Yoruba prayer. Speakers said yes at short notice keen to take part in any way they could – a youth group did a workshop on artificial intelligence. Since then our planning group has met several times, set up various digital platforms and drafted its work plan with actions underway around campaigning, mapping, future events and reaching out more widely to build a London movement.

There are a lot of plans and strategies flying around London at any one period of time which claim to support local communities. We can measure them by how far they rise up or down Sherry Arnstein’s ladder of participation. Are they exercises in manipulation and tokenism? Do they attempt partnership? Are they ever community controlled? Which is another way of asking where the power lies. The #ourwayahead group noted the work of partners in ‘The Way Ahead’ framework and felt it needed to go further. Much further. That there was not one single way ahead or document with the ‘answer’ but that the agenda and framework for action needed to arise from local groups and people themselves, with the mapping and building of networks to generate numerous London hubs of mutual support rather than a single organisation or charity brand with the franchise to do this work. To some this seemed like common sense, others experienced it as criticism. None of that really matters. Who cares as long as we get stuff done, in a way that genuinely and deeply enables community control, right?

Sometimes with stories the heroines and villains often swap over in surprising ways. We’ve all seen Star Wars. Therefore I think the challenge is to pursue both acts of resistance in the face of social crimes but also enable space for acts of kindness, so we don’t end up on getting stuck in a persona we don’t like. There are many strands to the emerging #ourwayahead tale. It’s exciting, complex and challenging. Pretty much defies simple narrative because of all the energies and perspectives that are coming together but we’ll give it a go, using a story canvas developed by a team of thoughtful disruptors called Long Run Works who attended our event and do great work.

#ourwayahead as storytelling

The time is the present. The scene is London

Ordinary world: something is wrong and there’s a lot of frustration. There’s a lot of stitch ups and public hype and private conversations about what’s best for whom and meanwhile things get worse. The value of communities is used as a whitewashing exercise and inequalities are entrenched. Grenfell, Brexit, austerity, cut backs to services were identified as conference themes with speakers giving testimony

Compelling villains: There are layers of an onion. The system feels wrong. Oppression in all its forms was a central conversation – race, gender, class, (dis)ability, sexuality, age, were talked about in ways almost never happen in more risk averse voluntary sector circles. Privileges were named and called out. The imbalance between small community groups and larger organisations was another central theme – why is it that the wider voluntary sector voice and funding is monopolised? Maybe we can be villains too when we don’t share?

Gifts and allies: We realised we are our own best resource; we shared time, resource, funding, food, expertise. It was amazing how spontaneously people offered help. We reached out to a range of allies – funders and wider public and private bodies and some of them showed up and took part. We’re going to keep reaching out.

Return with elixir: if there was magic potion or secret sauce we could freely dispense it would be the thing that enabled us to trust in one another and create the space to listen, share and take action. We used Open Space to ensure people had control of the process and had the conversations they wanted. We worked by consensus and prioritised diversity.

Call to adventure: the call was to work together, to take collective action from a community level. If we work as a loose coalition we can model the behaviours we want to see in the wider voluntary sector and society – equality, co-operation and solidarity. We have a planning group that has set up platforms, started to plan, research and map and build the movement

Crossing the threshold: we took some risks and surprised ourselves. We’ve done something different that was a bit scary and we’re going to keep on doing that. If you’ve ever invited 200 people to an event when there’s a very fluid agenda and building work going on, you’ll know

Heroines and Heroes: They have these in stories. We’re probably less comfortable about identifying them in practice. Safe to say this up for grabs. We are the narrators of our own lives but we might want to ask how well these stories work for us and for others. Something might feel very wrong and there might be a lot of drama but there are always people taking action and we can find new and better ways of supporting one another

Not sure if the story thing worked for you but it may prompt reflection on what the narratives and scripts are that we use, unconsciously or otherwise and how we can take greater control of our collective lives

Blog by Matt Scott

4. Our new website and Twitter

As you may have noticed, this post is hosted on a new website for Ourwayahead. The site is a work in progress, but expect more content to be uploaded soon.

If you liked this post, then sign-up for notifications of future blogs, newsletters and updates by using the ‘Follow OWA’ button on the sidebar of the ‘About Our Way Ahead‘ page.

Also, remember to follow us on Twitter via the handle: ourwayahead

Thank you,