Wednesday 15 December 2010

Learning Day

One of the great strengths of ACEVO as a membership body is the great diversity of its membership. Perhaps the image you would pick up from the sector media is of an organisation that represents traditional charities but, of course, we range across social enterprise, learned societies, membership organisations, faith groups, trade unions, political parties and community organisations.

Yesterday I was meeting with a number of members whose work is particularly fascinating and important, though not perhaps well known in the wider sector.

I met up with Wilf Stevenson, now Lord Stevenson, who has just been appointed as Chair of the Consumer Credit Counselling Service. This is an incredibly important charity working in Leeds who provide debt restructuring for people whose credit card bills have become a serious problem. They take on the restructuring of these bills and provide an affordable way to repay debt to avoid bailiffs and all the horrors that can sometimes attend such problems.

Apparently something like 100,000 people have credit card debts of £27k and more, and these are from individuals whose earning capacity is putting them at risk. The Service know that they are often underlying mental health issues and are looking at work they can do on this issue, particularly in trying to stop people getting back into a cycle of credit card debit. These are unsung heroes. Read more here.

I then went to dinner in the Lords with one of my members, Dr Julie Madigan, the Chief Executive of the Manufacturing Institute. This is a large charity which exists to promote an appreciation of the importance and value of manufacturing to the country, we well as providing professional development and support.

As Julie says they are a body with a "passionate belief in the future of manufacturing in the UK" and she pointed out that whilst 11% of the UK economy is accounted for by financial services, manufacturing still accounts for 12% yet there is a common misconception that manufacturing is somehow dead in the UK.

The Institute are based in Manchester and one of the most interesting new developments is a charity they have set up called "Fab Lab". This is something they have developed with Massachusetts Institute of Technology which has developed 55 of these organisations worldwide but the "Fab Lab" in Manchester is the first of its kind in the UK. This allows individuals and communities who have ideas about how to make things the digital technology to do so. They attract young people, entrepreneurs and innovators and local community groups. It gives communities access to advanced equipment and resources that are normally beyond their reach. The exciting thing is that this enables individuals, as opposed to companies, to make things.

So in the early stages they have developed things like "Crackit" - a cross between a cricket bat and tennis racket. A young couple developed and prototyped a collapsible carrycot, which they are now taking to market. Other products developed in the "Fab Lab" have included a medical device, a self-locating keyring, plastic champagne glasses (ugh) and a "simplified clip for holding pop up birthday cards".

We had a presentation on the "Fab Lab" and I have to say it was not only a great learning opportunity, but also a revelation about the work that our sector does. And I was pleased that although the "Fab Lab" is obviously a social enterprise they were proud to describe it as a charity. They didn't have any hang-ups about titles. See more here.

Then this morning was a very pleasant breakfast with Peter Wanless, the Chief Executive of the Big Lottery Fund. We are working with BLF on the Transition Fund and many of my staff have been involved in meetings around the country on this recently. It is a good cooperation.

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