Three Wise Voices

 In Thoughts

As the year approaches a close, we reached out to some of our clients to hear their perspectives on the challenges they faced in 2018 and what makes them optimistic about 2019. We have chosen 3 clients from our main areas of work; local government, student unions, and the voluntary & community sector.

Sophia Parker – Chief Executive at Little Village

1. How was 2018 for your work in the voluntary & community sector?

It’s a tale of two halves. on the one hand, the levels of poverty we are seeing every week are sometimes bordering on Dickensian: babies sleeping on towels, mums rationing nappies, families treating heating as a luxury. On the other, we’ve also been overwhelmed by the incredible desire of the local community to step forward to support one another with true kindness. This month, we’ve had a volunteer application every three hours! Funding continues to be a struggle but in fact I’d say finding space in which communities can gather and grow is an even bigger challenge for inner London charities like ours. Every space is owned by developers and being cashed in to make money.

2. What do you think we can expect in 2019? What are the opportunities you hope can be realised?

I don’t think anyone has given enough thought to the possible impact of Brexit on people living in poverty, and sadly I do not feel optimistic. I fear greater social division, and more hardship. For Little Village, I hope we make some progress on finding some spaces to call our own, and continue to grow in a way that supports as many families as possible with dignity and with love.

Sophia Looney – Local government transformation manager

1. How was 2018 for local government?

2018 has felt pretty relentless for local government. The known unknowns have been omnipresent as the Council’s I’ve been working with are planning for further budget reduction; society’s apparent polarisation manifesting itself at local levels in ways I suspect is unknown in the lifetime of most local government officers and that’s not even starting to think about the international uncertainty. This has been felt in the day to day. The inability of council’s to proceed with focused, long term strategic change because of the uncertainty from the national scene feels enormously frustrating and sucks up energy and drive as we keep those plates spinning, waiting for the answers to be revealed by a government who have felt increasingly distracted.

But it hasn’t all been as grim as that seems. There continue to be some brilliant examples of people working and thinking differently to meet the challenges we face – not to sound trite, but people demonstrating that despite this context, they are able to crack on and deliver outstanding things for local people in their communities.

2. What do you think we can expect in 2019? What are the opportunities you hope can be realised?

2019 already feels hopeful and more optimistic. A sense that local might take charge – take the lead not just in their local places but on a more collective, national scale. There are still uncertainties (!) and a sense that there is a mountain to climbing – the financial settlement is still enormously challenging and will continue to be so, regardless of what happens internationally. But there is a growing sense that there is power in local – local people, places and in local government to get stuff done – to improve, to innovate and to work together to make people’s lives better. There is resilience, humour and energy in local government. There is perseverance and tenacity in  bucket loads. There is opportunity, and it feels like the sector is on the cusp of grasping it.  It feels difficult, but it really does feel hopeful.

Ben Whittaker – Director of Student Voice and Democracy at NUS

1. How was 2018 for student unions?

2018 has been a busy and exciting year for student unions’. Across the country SU’s continue to deliver outstanding student facing services that improve the lives of students in HE and FE every day.  2018 has seen SU’s tackle some of the big social issues on campuses, black attainment, sexual misconduct and balancing the rights of people to speak with our duty to protect our members form harm. Running alongside that we are all getting used to having a new regulator in town that is sharping everybody in the sectors attention on the student interest, student rights and student protections.

Many of our Unions have been reviewing their strategic plan and looking at how we can ensure that members are at the centre of our work and Unions, I think that this work should not be underestimated – our sector is rapidly changing and it is critical that we ensure that we are looking at what we do and how we do it to be the most effective at changing students’ lives

2. What do you think we can expect in 2019? What are the opportunities you hope can be realised?

I think that we move into 2019 with level of uncertainty. We have a newly appointed University Ministers, the publication of  the current funding review, outcomes of Brexit are just some of the issues that we are going to have to face. Closer to home NUS is facing its biggest challenge in our recent history and many institutions are having to adapt to a new ‘state of being’ where collapse and market survival are the new operating norm.

However not withstanding these challenges I think that the movement and SU’s should be positive about 2019. I think that we will see the movement come together and look at itself and reform NUS. at a local level I think that SU will take hold of the student interest agenda and begin to lead this within there HEI’s. I think that we have a real opportunity to shape the funding debate to ensure that we don’t lose the gains we have made in access and WP.

Whatever 2019 bring, I know for sure that SU’s will have the innovation drive and energy to once again be a driving force in the education sector do what we do best which is defending and improving the lives of students

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