Thursday 28 January 2010

The BIG ASK - Manchester.

The first of our 12 meetings around the country; taking the temperature of members, asking what they want from a new Government and checking out ACEVO is giving our CEOs what they need.

As it's a Big Ask I confine the intro from me to a short context setting around the theme of "ambition". Any CEO has that in abundance. For themselves, their organisation and their mission in life. I was told by one of my staff to remember that its the Big Ask not the Big Tell so not to speak for too long. As if!

We met at RBS Manchester offices. Great to have their support for events like this and I was a good boy and the word bonus did not cross my lips. In fact RBS provide a good service to many of ACEVO members! And an entirely appropriate selection of quality canapes and refreshment to delight the weary palate of the challenged CEO at the end of the meeting.

Paul Martin, who runs the lesbian and Gay Foundation with such eclat, Chaired our discussions with a mixture of verve, no nonsense and humour. Just what you need! And happy to mention you again in my Blog in return for your delightful plugging of same.

For all of our events - 12 around the country we are asking the same four questions.

They are;

 What do we want from the next Government?
 How should we respond to public spending cuts?
 What does the sector itself need to do?
 What do you want from ACEVO?

Anyone reading this - feel free to post your answers! When we have the results of this major consultation we will be publishing "The Big Tell": what we want from Government.

But perhaps the most telling moment came when Paul asked members whether they felt optimistic or pessimistic about the future for our sector. There was an overwhelming vote for optimism! Only a couple on the pessimism side and one abstention! An interesting observation on the "mood" of the sector.

And it was great that when Paul asked members what they wanted from ACEVO, one member said he wanted to thank us for the work we do representing the sector and as far as he was concerned it was "carry on please". Now I am not naive to think all members think in exactly this way but if you are running a membership body it is always good to get that encouragement. And it being the third sector people are not shy in coming forward with criticism. Let's hope this continues.

Before the event I had fulfilled an obligation I had made to Tony Okotie, the Director of the Tameside Third Sector Coalition (it's what other areas may call a CVS) and an ACEVO member. He had challenged me to come up and see what a great local infrastructure body can do. And I have to say it was a great day. Tony is a clear thinker and progressive. He believes the sector needs to be proactive in developing partnerships, alliances and mergers. There is obvious scope for this amongst CVSs as well as at national level.

Tony took me first to meet the CEO of Tameside Council, Stephen Pleasant. Now not all Council Chiefs have an enlightened view of our sector, but this guy was a star. A clear view on our growing delivery role and our voice and reach. He works well with Tony in drawing on the strength of the sector in Tameside.

Then we had a roundtable lunch with some of Tony's members. We met in a very agreeable Italian restaurant "San Rocco" in James Purnell's constituency (that was nice!). I had a pint of Boddingtons and a Sole in asparagus sauce and I shouldn't mention the ice cream cos I'm not allowed that!

It's probably naughty to only single out a few of those I met but it was an education to chat to Ian Young who runs an innovative and successful youth counselling scheme called "Off the Record" (not yet an ACEVO member....). He ran through the awful experience they have had of commissioning. They were a weak form closure but survived. Ian is one of those great sector folk with a cheerful optimism and an understated passion for the job which I think just makes our sector such a special place.

Then there was Karen Butigan who runs the St Peter's Partnerships, a community enterprise and development trust. The Tameside Chief had been singing her praises earlier in terms of their stunning work on community cohesion, in particular bringing together two communities, equally challenged and in deprived areas, one black , one white. And it is the work of groups like this that have stopped Tameside going down the route of Oldham, the next door Borough.

So it was back to London weary but buoyed up. The train journey proving a wonderful opportunity to email - over 100 emails back to the office etc. What a great invention; the Blackberry!

The Third Sector; what a fabulous place to work! And what magnificent people ( particularly those in ACEVO, and why wouldn't you be)

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