Andy Mullaney, Dudley's first Business Connector, writes about how working with an ‘innovative’ team at Dudley CVS was key to his role in creating new cross-sector partnerships during his year-long secondment to Business in the Community.
Starting as Business Connector for Dudley in the autumn of 2015, I was naive to how the local community operated. Who are the go-to people? Where are the enablers? These were the kinds of questions I’d often ask myself.
From the business side, having three decades of experience working in finance meant I was well connected in some senses, but I had no idea how the voluntary sector ‘gelled’ together. During my first whirlwind days of meetings and introductions, the same names came up time and time again: these were attached to Dudley CVS (Council for Voluntary Services).
I soon met with the team – Andy Gray (head of this innovative group), Eileen Fielding and Lorna Prescott among others – and found that their tireless energy and passion was matched by a granular understanding of how the borough works.
It was clear from the early days of my secondment I needed to form a ‘special relationship’ with a team who knew how the strings were really pulled in Dudley.
I was inspired by the team in early meetings, learning that the organisation was neither cynical nor judgemental about society; but rather was committed to making a fundamental change for the better with a clear knowledge of how to do this on a limited budget.
The reasons which made the difference with our community’s CVS, and would serve well to be replicated elsewhere, are many and much of their success I believe is built around being open and communicative – both key to building trust.
A good example of this was how they supported the Synergy Support Group, a peer support network in existence for Dudley’s charities and social enterprises that I began to lead.
They didn’t want to take ownership of the project (a collaborative effort between the third sector and the public sector with local authority resources); instead they offered their generous and constant support whenever it was needed.
Eventually a three year plan for social enterprises was spawned. This was approved by the Council’s Chief Executive, securing £120k of funding.
Elsewhere, Community Information points have for the first time been piloted at Lloyds, starting at a local branch in Sedgley in North Dudley. I was supported in making this happen by Healthwatch Dudley – who sit under Dudley CVS.
Previously, these had been in public locations but the willingness of Healthwatch Dudley to engage with businesses enabled this to happen. For example, they presented to all of the Lloyds branch managers across Dudley; now the access points are being rolled out across the banks locally and hopefully, in time, nationally.
A further example of the open approach from Dudley CVS was when they offered their work space at DY1 to a range of local stakeholders who wanted to use the premises for meetings and presentations. They were quick to become involved in networking events and also lent their space for Dudley’s first Soup event.
Thanks to the work of Lorna Prescott and others, this is now regular fixture in the Dudley diary. It’s a sustainable venture and an upcoming event being held at Brockmoor Primary School in March (one which Dudley CVS aren’t even directly involved in).
Another initiative with the CVS’ fingerprints (as part of its representation in the CoLab Dudley team) is the establishment of Trade School Dudley, an open learning space which sees figures from across the community sharing skills and talents.
I feel extremely lucky to have met my friends at Dudley CVS and know that their door will always be open to me. They were simply a privilege to work with and set an example on what can be achieved on limited resources. It’s something everyone can learn from.
Find out more
For more information about Dudley CVS, visit the organisation’s website.