Charities need a new approach to partnerships

It’s no longer good enough simply looking for partnerships. During tough financial times, working with decreasing resources and increasing demand, charities need a new approach. We need to lock arms and hold hands to develop our inter-dependence. It’s simple – together we’re stronger.

This is what we have found at  Victim Support, which is part of a unique collaboration of 39 charities and organisations (and counting) that make up the Victim Services Alliance.

The Alliance was born last year to pool expertise and work in partnership to represent the interests of bereaved victims of crime, and give them a louder voice. It was initiated by Victim Support, which now provides its secretariat.

And together the Alliance is certainly making strides. Anyone who attended the recent party conferences can see that the victims’ agenda is a real priority for government. At its conference the Labour Party also said how much victims matter. I like to think it’s due, in part, to the cumulative voices that have spoken out about putting victims at the heart of policy.

And when you look at how disparate the victims’ services sector once was you’ll see how far we’ve come. If you were a victim of crime before the 1950s you certainly wouldn’t have had any personal rights as a victim or received dedicated support. In the 1970s a group of people and organisations in Bristol decided that something needed to be done. They created the very first Victim Support project.

Some years later, the first Victim Support group was set up in Cardiff. Other groups soon followed around the UK with local people deciding they needed to do something to help victims too. In 1979 all the groups around the country got together to create an ‘umbrella body’ – the National Association of Victims Support Schemes.

Over the years the number of member schemes grew and grew. While this was great news for victims – there was more help on offer than ever before – it wasn’t always plain sailing between the charities. There were disagreements over priorities and viewpoints between some of them that detracted at times from what mattered most – helping victims cope and recover after crime. Added to this, there wasn’t really an identity for the sector, which is important when you want to have a voice that cuts through with policy makers.

The good news is that partnership working has grown more and more popular. In the following years we came together to become the single Victim Support charity for England and Wales that we are today. But we have never lost touch with our roots in Bristol and across the country.

However, I don’t claim that Victim Support is the only charity helping victims of crime. In fact we only provide 80 per cent of the support to victims in England and Wales. Some of the smallest organisations, many of which are members of the 39 strong Alliance, provide excellent help to people with very specific needs, like Missing Abroad, or the Child Bereavement Charity.

It’s early days but through learning to share, communicate, and trust each other I think the Alliance is a great example of how the victims’ sector has introduced a new way of being, thinking, planning, working, and delivering on our shared aims.

The message for other parts of the sector is that everyone can join together to make an alliance, a powerful force for good, sharing best practice, avoiding duplication and acting as a central voice to improve what you offer.

  • Mark Atkinson

    Partnership working in all its many guises is a worthwhile endeavour provided the parties to the arrangement have a clear understanding of what exactly they are trying to achieve and what their role is in trying to achieve it. I think we have all seen just as many bad examples of partnership working as good. I personally favour the development of MOU’s as a means of taking informal group arrangements to their next level. Whilst not legally binding, the act of drawing up and signing a document which spells out the intent of the parties conveys a certain amount of gravitas and facilitates further joint endeavour.

    Notwithstanding any word used, be it partnership, informal voluntary arrangement, consortium or collaboration, all such relationships still require a body to take the lead. It is good to see that Victim Support has recognised and is doing this with the alliance it has created.

    Mark Atkinson, VCSchange