Centres are closing. Not due to lack of funds, although they do need these desperately. Not because of lack of referrals, although this is still an issue for some. Centres are closing because they cannot find a volunteer co-ordinator to take their work forward. Amazing individuals have been running these centres for the last 20 years, keeping up with all the management and administrative challenges along the way, training volunteers, taking increasingly complex self-referrals, maintaining the high standards expected of a voluntary sector organisation in the 21st century. They have done this for free and given hours of their time because they believe in what their organisation does and what it stands for; that without their centre, children in their locality could lose touch with their mum or dad forever.
Unfortunately, these individuals are getting older. They want to carry on, but at some point need to call it a day. Perhaps it is time for their time to be given to the care of their elderly parents, or perhaps they have grandchildren who need their care. Perhaps they are in their seventies themselves and would still like to volunteer, but not carry the huge responsibility of running a centre. So, they give notice to their management committee that they really cannot carry on any more and a new co-ordinator is needed. Volunteer co-ordinators do not grow on trees. In some cases, deputies have been trained up waiting in the wings ready to take on the role and that is fantastic. But this is not always the case. In many situations volunteer co-ordinators are carrying the role on their own and although they have a superb volunteer team, no one wants to step up to the time commitment and responsibility of co-ordinator.
In the last six months alone, NACCC has seen centres in Bournemouth, Chester, Crawley, Northallerton, Skipton, Slough and Witham all close. These centres had a great volunteer workforce, funding, families that needed them but no one to lead at the helm. They didn’t just close without a fight – they advertised in their locality, online, but could not find anyone to take on the role. These centres alone provided supported contact for around 100 children during 2017(i). There are still parents separating in these areas and children needing to keep in touch with them. But unfortunately, in many cases, there is not a centre nearby for them to go to. The worst-case scenario is that these children will lose touch with their parents if nothing can be done. Other centres that are still open are in the same situation and considering closure.
The writing is on the wall… We need to take the initiative now to stop the closure of these fantastic centres up and down the country. So, what can be done?
- Not able to recruit a volunteer co-ordinator? Is it time to make this a salaried role? Do read the experience of centres that have taken the step and local sources of advice.
- Are you able to share resources with other centres in the area with one co-ordinator overseeing?
- If you’ve tried everything – is there another organisation in your area which has the capacity to take on the running of your centre? Last year Buzz Child Contact Centre took over the running of the centre based at St Andrew’s church in Sheffield. St Andrew’s Child Contact Centre officially closed when the centre reopened under the management of Buzz. This transition was seamless so that service provision in the area did not suffer which was great for local families. Do read their experience
Is your centre futureproof?
Your centre may be running fine at the moment, but are you relying on the expertise and voluntary commitment of one person? You could be utilising this expertise by training up a deputy who can carry some of the workload and take over when the time comes.
Can the responsibilities held by one person be divided up? Why not have someone take on the training commitment, someone else be responsible for DBS, someone else be your safeguarding lead? Appoint team leaders who report to the co-ordinator but can be responsible for the running of the centre on a Saturday? This will all help to keep your volunteer co-ordinator role more viable. If you are concerned about the sustainability of your centre, please do get in touch with the NACCC office.