Ok maybe not actually pains but certainly dilemma’s. S2C was created on the back of a wonderful charity closing down and the attempts by its service users and volunteers to rescue something of its ethos. We created an arty charity, nearly five years ago. Over that time it has gone from being a small group who met in the back of a Church room to having our own unit, gallery and supporting on average the best part of 100 people in various ways over the course of a week. We have followed the same ethos up till now and it has served us well.
One of the strengths of S2C has been the community nature of the organisation. It has always felt like everyone is involved and everyone takes part or has ownership of S2C. Not many people take on specific roles but volunteers and service users support each other to get the things that need doing done.
But here is the crux of the dilemma. We have reached a point where it is getting difficult to grow further, there is always the desire to do more to help people and to provide better for those already being helped. We have plans for the immediate future. We have already added an extra drop in partly aimed at carers. In September we are hoping to start a targeted evening group and also having Thursday afternoons with six week blocks of creative writing, drum circle and possibly something else. Wednesday we are working to develop a programme of learning opportunities collaborating with Adult Learning Services ranging from confidence building through to skills workshops and volunteer training.
Ultimately though there are three restrictions on growth. People, money and space. Is that all I hear you cry! Er….
People is always a problem for us because of the way we are currently organised. We rely heavily on goodwill from volunteers to take on jobs that need doing. It has worked up to a point as it is flexible, people are not committed too much to one thing and they gain useful skills that help them pursue their own goals and careers. I don’t think it’s my reference writing but in the last three years every person who has been a volunteer with us who has asked for a reference has been successful in getting those jobs (pause while I hunt for a slab of wood to touch). It is sometimes easy to forget that a charity like ours doesn’t just help the people in distress but also the volunteers do gain in many ways. And that is partly the problem as some people want or need to have a specific role and then there is a constant moving on of volunteers who might have become very good at their role with S2C so when they do move on it leaves a very big hole to fill. The obvious answer there immediately starts with having a core of staff paid to do some of the roles.
Which brings us neatly on to money. The current climate for grants is extremely competitive at a time when financial resources are slim. It’s out there but the criteria that funders are demanding you meet are getting ever more specific and stringent. A few years ago it was easier to fit the charity into a funding streams categories but it gets more difficult. We generate an income but it’s not massive and does not cover our outgoings now, though it is a massive help. To add the cost of one or two staff members would triple or quadruple our required budget. We are not alone. I was recently talking to the manager of another organisation with staff who admitted they were permanently running six months away from closure and indeed, we have seen casualties in the local charity sector ranging from closures to redundancies as budgets get squeezed. We have always had project funding for short specific projects that have paid to employ somebody to run that project but this is of a completely different order in that it needs funding to sustain a continuous position.
Space also relates to money. The more space you have the more money it costs. But then you also start to feel restricted by a space when you have it used to its full potential and maximise the income it can generate for you. So what do you do? Look for a space that is better value? look for one that is bigger that can generate more income? This in turn needs more people to run……….
You can see why I am troubled. Shrink or grow? Staying the same never seems to be possible. The nature of funding is that funders, on the whole, won’t fund old things, won’t fund basic running costs but are always looking for the new innovative project to get started. Do S2C want to become a money grabbing treadmill? Want I ultimately want is what I have always wanted S2C to be. Safe, supportive and there for those who need us when they need us.
I would appreciate and love to hear your thoughts on this…………
Meanwhile, some of the creative wonders from the last week: