After over twenty years brandishing flip-charts and post-its in the cause of voluntary sector engagement, Ronnie Wright is leaving The Care Forum. We caught up with her to ask her some last questions before she left.
What do you think have been the most significant changes in the voluntary sector since you began work at The Care Forum?
Overall there is a greater level of awareness in relation to the importance of the role of the sector. There has been a shift in provision of both health and social care services into the sector, primarily I would say into larger organisations. I wonder if smaller, grassroots or community organisations would describe a change. The many plans and initiatives over the last 20 years that have acknowledged the importance of voluntary and community organisations have infrequently been backed by resources. I’m hoping that this is something which is changing.
Do you think the Care Forum’s infrastructure role has changed?
The role hasn’t changed particularly but the way we express it has. 20 years ago the mot-du-jour was ‘partnership’. Now we talk about collaboration or we refer to co-production. The words change but the aspiration stays the same. Mutual respect and mutual understanding with a commitment to learning from each other and a focus on solutions. No single person or organisation has the answer to everything.
Do you think the voluntary sector in BNSSG has the right balance between cooperation and competition?
I don’t think it’s possible to generalise. What I always have been really inspired by, though, is the genuine willingness of VCSE organisations to contribute. Organisations participating in meetings, responding to surveys, answering last minute calls to organise focus groups to enable their clients to have their say, providing information. On and on – again and again. So I would say there is a really strong spirit of cooperation overall, motivated by a commitment to improving things for people. I’ve always been humbled by that and felt a deep sense of responsibility towards making that time and commitment count and making sure it influences change.
Looking forward, how can the voluntary sector ensure that is respected and treated as a genuine equal partner by the statutory sector?
I’ve done a lot of work over the years around outcomes and impact. I know people will groan when I say it but how organisations show their value is really important. Maybe a revisiting of that question would be useful for everyone? Why should the voluntary sector be treated as an equal partner? There are always new partnerships with new people to be made. It doesn’t hurt to restate what we think of as obvious. There’s ongoing work that I was part of that helps to do this.
What has frustrated you most about the work?
Organisations not learning from what they hear or only hearing what they want to.
What piece of work were you involved in that you found most inspiring?
I believe that if you set out looking for things that are inspiring then you find it wherever you look. I honestly think there are very few occasions where I haven’t come across something that I found inspiring in the course of a meeting, or a conversation. I have been lucky enough to work with some really inspirational people over the years as well which I think is a real privilege, and I include managing the Dialogue Team in that. Someone told me a while ago they had changed one of their processes to demonstrate their impact better as a result of one of my meetings. That’s the sort of feedback that inspired me. I do have a particularly strong memory from running a conference in B&NES many years ago – we’d closed the door to stop people coming into the conference area because we were setting up the afternoon session as a café. When we opened the doors to the conference hall there was a huge throng of people waiting to come in, like the first day of a sale, it was really extraordinary and so inspiring to see that expectant sea of faces. Not what you usually get with the post-lunch slump.
What moment do you look back and laugh at most?
I do laugh most of the time so quite tricky to answer this. I would like to ask for help from colleagues to reflect on this.
One occasion that does spring to mind was a particular meeting where we were talking about proposals being made by one of the local commissioners, who was called Basil. We must have mentioned his name a lot because at one point one of the people in the meeting said; “Could someone please tell me, what is a Basil?”