On Tuesday evening I spent a very enjoyable few hours at a meeting of the Brighton and Hove Community and Voluntary Sector Forum. At one point there was an exchange about “the sector”. Those represented in the discusion ranged from small voluntary groups such as the friends of a local park through to organisations such as Brighton Housing Trust.
To call ourselves “a sector” is positive on one hand, that we can support each other because some of us have volume and relatively high financial turnover, while others ensure that we remain grounded, aware of the needs of neighbourhoods and communities of interest.
It got me thinking about BHT. On the one hand, BHT is one of the largest charities in Brighton and Hove, employing over 200 members of staff and spending almost £10 million each year within the local economy. But in reality we are a bit of everything that characterises the third sector. We undertake, although in small measure, activities of social landlords delivered through our general needs and supported housing stock, the activities of charities in our support activities, and facilitate activities of communities of interest, such as support for women refugees through Threshold Counselling Service.
Some of these activities generate surpluses, others just about break even, while others require the fundraising and public support that characterises, the reality of many smaller organisations. I wish it was as simple as being able to subsidise activities such as First Base Day Centre which runs at a loss of around £150,000 each year. We rely on the generosity of our supporters to ensure that this essential services can continue.
So when I go to the Community and Voluntary Sector Forum, I can do so as a member of “the sector” understanding what it means in today’s economic climate to have uncertainty regarding our truly charitable activities. And at the heart of this diverse and contradictory sector, we have a common purpose in trying to improve the lives of individuals and communities.