2017 is going to be an interesting year for Community Lincs as we struggle with the questions what should we be doing and how are we going to pay for it. This is our 90th year and it feels as if our services and skills are going to be in more demand than ever before. Helping self-reliant and compassionate people to set up Good Neighbours Schemes, commissioning new services to reduce the isolation experienced by older people and working with communities to plan for their future economic and social needs are all massively relevant right now. Particularly in rural Lincolnshire where it’s so hard to access services and jobs; and now with the Brexit referendum having thrown so much up in the air I fear that the needs of rural communities will become even harder to see.
We recently surveyed our service users and beneficiaries to assess what they knew about us and how they valued us and I have to admit to feeling a bit disappointed by the response. It wasn’t so much that they didn’t appreciate and value what we do, it was more that so few people took the time to let us know what they thought. I have to consider whether this was because they really didn’t like what we were doing but were too polite to say or whether it was because we just don’t figure largely enough in their universe, when I really think that we should.
The work that we do supporting, advising, sharing knowledge and encouraging people to get involved in their communities and make them better places to live and work has so much value. The benefits can be seen in the people who now have someone to talk to other than the TV, or the youngsters who feel that maybe one day they will be able to get a job and buy a house locally. The village hall committees that successfully fundraise for new kitchens and then go on to provide lunch clubs and craft groups to their communities who very often live at the end of a long fen road. These are the people that we are working hard to help and these are the people who will lose out if we are no longer able to help them due to a lack of funding.
Currently we raise a quarter of the funding we need to manage our services through sales activity and a gift from our trading arm, the rest is secured through project funding and service level agreements with third parties. We are aiming to increase our earned income to 50%, which is quite an undertaking in today’s environment and not without its difficulties. Firstly we have to consider whether we have the right skills to do this. Do our existing and potential customers know what we can offer them and if not how can we change that? How do we ensure that our products and services are valuable enough to our customers that they want to pay a reasonable amount to access them? And how will this impact on those who cannot afford our services but who would still benefit from them? All of these questions have to be answered if we are to be a thriving charity in the 21st Century.
We cannot easily predict future ‘sales’ because we are a complex organisation offering intangible services not pints of beer or electrical goods; and truth be told it’s not the way that charities tend to think. We are brilliant at reacting to need and opportunities, interpreting local situations and connecting up the dots. What we need to get better at is raising our profile and demonstrating our value so that we become the organisation that others turn to, to help shape new programmes and products that benefit people living in Lincolnshire’s rural communities.
We are an organisation that develops innovative solutions to tricky human problems; we are a trustworthy and effective partner, who provides the catalyst for amazing community action. All I need now is for more people to recognise this and for them to help us achieve even more.