Funding crisis for volunteer centre

Brushes and Spades at work in a garden
Brushes and Spades at work in a garden

A Daventry service has marked its 25th anniversary of helping the voluntary sector, but its future looks bleak due to the scarcity of funding.

Daventry Volunteer Centre started life as Daventry Volunteer Bureau in 1990, matching willing volunteers with spaces available at different organisations. This is a role it still performs, helping 226 people find voluntary places between April 2014 and April this year alone.

A volunteer and client on the Happy @ Home project

A volunteer and client on the Happy @ Home project

Manager Carella Davies said: “What we were finding was there were a lot of volunteers who needed extra support – they might have physical or mental health issues, lack of skills or lack of confidence. Most people who are looking for volunteers want people who can come in and start pretty much straight away. They don’t have the time or resources to help people who need extra support.

“That’s why we started running our own projects.”

Brushes and Spades was the first to get going – an organisation that provides DIY, handyman, gardening and other services to vulnerable, elderly or disabled people. Its volunteers themselves are also people who need a little help here and there.

Carella said: “They might have mental health problems, be long-term unemployed, need up-skilling or just a belief in themselves.

From left, Mayor of Daventry Cllr Wendy Randal, Daventry Volunteer Centre Manager Carella Davies, and Daventry MP Chris Heaton-Harris mark the centre's anniversary.

From left, Mayor of Daventry Cllr Wendy Randal, Daventry Volunteer Centre Manager Carella Davies, and Daventry MP Chris Heaton-Harris mark the centre's anniversary.

“Volunteers on Brushes and Spades have been helped into ordinary volunteering, employment and education through the programme.

“The thing about the Daventry area is that we have rather high levels of employment – the people who are out of work are often those who can’t work because they need those extra skills, or that bit of help to overcome problems. That’s where Brushes and Spades comes in.”

The Volunteer Centre went on to set up two more projects – Happy @ Home and the Timebank.

Carella said: “Happy @ Home has been such a success. It is for people who are isolated across the district.

“We have befrienders who visit people regularly to sit and chat with people. They can take those people information on local events in their village, they help people stay in their own homes by improving their wellbeing. And they spot issues like loose carpets before they lead to problems like falls.

“Happy @ Home also organises events, because what we found was the thing isolated people want most of all is human contact. One of our most popular sessions is hand pampering – for men and women. They get a hand massage, a bit of pampering, and if they want their nails painted too. Happy @ Home works with places like Northampton University – people go in, tell the students what we do, and we get loads of volunteers.

“Both these projects are helping people stay in their homes, reducing their need to rely on the NHS, care homes and other services. For example, an overnight stay in hospital is £400. For a fall the average hospital stay is 14 nights.

“We also run the Daventry Voluntary and Community Sector Forum. That has more than 240 members, and is a platform for networking collaboration, idea sharing and training. The Volunteer Centre also helps organisations with their governance, fundraising, start-up advice and good practice when working with volunteers.

“I did a calculation using an online tool and for the £186,868 we received as the Volunteer Centre, the value added was the equivalent of £2,770,595.

“But getting funding has become ever more difficult. Funding for Advicelink – which saw us working with the Citizens Advice Bureau, Time 2 Talk and Homestart, ended in September, so that closed. Funding for Brushes and Spades, and Timebank, stops at the end of December. The money used for Happy @ Home ends in March 2017, as does the funding for the Volunteer Centre itself.

“The worst-case scenario is that all of these will close when the money runs out. That is a worst-case scenario, but at the moment that is what looks likely to happen.

“We’re not giving up – we’re always looking for new sources of funding, and we’re also looking at new ways of working with other organisations.

“It’s frustrating and disappointing. I’m angry about it all.We’ve worked hard to build up these services and projects, and now they’re in danger of just being shut down.

“Who will help these isolated people? Some of the most isolated people we help are in sheltered accommodation!

“With Brushes and Spades, if you pay someone to come cut your grass, that’s exactly what they’ll do. Brushes and Spades go along and they’ll cut the grass, maybe talk to the owner, they might tidy up the garden, change a light bulb or two – they never come back having just done the one job they were asked to do.

“I applied for a grant of £20,000 from one organisation, and was given £2,000. That’s nice, and it helps, but at the same time I still have to do all the same reports for them; there’s a point when you question whether the grant is worth it.

“We realise money is tight, but look at the amount of money we save local and national services. For just £13,369 from Northamptonshire County Council and Daventry District Council we ‘added value’ – saved the government – £1,367,316. If we don’t get that £13,000, that £1m will fall on the NHS, councils, and the care system.”