‘Vital lifeline’ to voluntary groups forced to close

Jane Hustwit, Chief Executive of Involve Yorkshire and Humber, which is being forced to close due to lack of funding.
Jane Hustwit, Chief Executive of Involve Yorkshire and Humber, which is being forced to close due to lack of funding.
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A “vital lifeline” for voluntary groups in Leeds and across Yorkshire will close next month, leaving already-stretched organisations that are providing frontline services without expert support.

City-based Involve Yorkshire and Humber, the body set up in the 1990s to support for the voluntary sector, is being forced to close rather than “limp along under the threat of insolvency” due to lack of Government funding.

The decision to close comes at a time when demand on its services is bigger than ever, but shrinking reserves and cash flow difficulties has left the charity facing no “realistic future”, chief executive Jane Hustwit said.

The charity has warned that the impact on frontline delivery organisations that work with some of the “most vulnerable and disadvantaged” people and communities in Yorkshire will be “immediate”, as there is now no regional infrastructure support for Yorkshire voluntary and community organisations.

That’s why the loss of the “unique” service that Leeds-based Involve Yorkshire and Humber provides will be felt so hard, charities have said.

Over the last 15 years, Involve has provided training, advice, policy briefings and most of all, a voice, for around 15,000 voluntary groups and community organisations across Yorkshire and the Humber. It is, as one charity puts it, “the unsung heroes” of the sector, using expertise and research to challenge and support national policy.

The director of public policy at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Karl Wilding, said: ”Involve Yorkshire and the Humber is one of the unsung heroes of the charity sector. They’ve worked quietly in the background to help charities make their money go further.

“They’ve provided training and support for people who have gone on and helped thousands of people across the region. And they’ve given a louder voice to communities who might not otherwise have been heard by the man in Whitehall.

“Infrastructure organisations like this are too important to let slip away.”

The voluntary sector in Yorkshire provides 86,000 full time equivalent jobs and contributes £1.62bn to the economy. Over the last six years, as funding the Government “drained away” Involve has shrank from around 25 staff to eight, who will all lose their jobs when it closes next month. But Involve’s chief executive, Jane Hustwit, said the real effect will be felt by the many organisations that rely on it for support. They will be forced to pay for private help - “luxuries” they cannot afford at a time when demand is “surging”.

Furthermore, the close of Involve could have a destructive effect on the devolution agenda, an academic working in the field has said.

Dr Alex Schafran, from the University of Leeds, said the closure of Involve “couldn’t have come at a worse time” for the devolution agenda, and should be a “wake-up call” to local authorities, organisations and universities that long-term and sustainable funding mechanisms are needed “to represent the north and make devolution work”.

Leeds CAB is one of 15,000 organisations that has been helped by Involve since it began in the 1990s.

Chief executive Dianne Lyons said it has made a “unique contribution” to the voluntary sector.

“It’s difficult to see how the gap they will leave can be filled,” she said.

“Involve have taken a leading role in social policy research, such as their Action Trackers research into the impact of welfare reforms, which provides a significant evidence base into the local effects of national policy.

“They’ve also initiated an important debate on regional devolution and the role of voluntary and community organisations within it. Involve is in the exceptional position of being able to bring together influential voices from national and local organisations, providing valuable and inclusive forums for discussion.

“At a time when regional developments are increasingly important, the loss of a regional voice for the voluntary and community sector must be of concern to all of us.”

Another organisation to benefit from Involve’s support is Scarborough and Ryedale Carers Resource.

Chief executive Elizabeth McPherson, said the loss of Involve Yorkshire and Humber’s services would have a “devastating impact on frontline line organisations that rely on this vital support”.