Well can you believe that 2023 is nearly consigned to history?

It has been another challenging year and I sincerely if not especially confidently, hope that this time next year I might instead be saying ‘well it’s been a boring and predictable year’. However, despite all the challenges, it has been a successful year for Support Staffordshire in many ways, and if I can’t blow our own trumpet for Christmas, when can I, so here goes:

Volunteering promotion and brokerage has had a great year. It started with the conclusion of the hugely successful EU funded 8-year partnership with BES, for Building Better Opportunities. But I am delighted to say it ends with a renewed BBO partnership in the southwest of Staffordshire, which sees our Volunteering for All coverage now extend countywide, with staffed support now operational in every district. So, if you are considering volunteering or need your organisation/group volunteer plans to have a new year refresh, please get in touch! We were also delighted to supplement this with a special ‘volunteer buddies’ programme this year, funded by Staffordshire County Council, which we hope to extend through 2024, which sees us recruit, induct, train, and then place with you, skilled buddies who can support residents to access your support.

We also upped our game this year in NHS collaboration, thanks to support and some investment from the Integrated Care Board and other NHS partners. Again, we are working on this carrying on next year, so that we can build on our and your good work in supporting VCSE engagement in the mental health sector and expand this to cover adult learning disabilities and autism support, to name two. Our VCSE Healthy Communities Alliance, delivered jointly with VAST has now seen a group of VCSE elected representatives come forward. It is a high priority for us to see those reps properly recompensed for their time and expertise into 2024-2025 and for this to enable them to effect change in the NHS relationship with the sector more widely. In 2023 we also launched a new partnership, again with VAST, working to involve and engaged the VCSE sector more in health research. At Support Staffordshire this has partly driven the development of a new team and offer, our ‘Engagement & Research’ team, who have hit the ground running this year, delivering a range of community engagement and research projects for partners who recognise our independent and deep reach into communities, is something they want to invest in – if that sounds like you too, then do drop me a line.

Early in the year, the Arts Council funded Creative People & Places programme, OUTSIDE, which we lead in Staffordshire Moorlands began to deliver, with the spectacular opener, of the Luminarium in Leek and this month it concludes the year with 24 Doors – it has been great fun to see the programme and its new ‘outsider’ communities grow, with much more to come in 2024. As that door opens, another lottery funded partnership ends: Transforming the Trent Valley. Whilst the Heritage Funded project concludes, hugely successfully I may add, we and Staffordshire Wildlife Trust are busy planning ahead for more community engagement and landscape transformation in 2024 so watch this space! We have also begun a new partnership with member organisation Globe Foundation and have committed to seriously up our Climate Action work in 2024; something I am personally very excited and pleased to finally be doing.

We also made serious progress this year, post-pandemic, with the initiation of our Local VCSE Resilience project, funded through Staffordshire Civil Contingencies. We have been busy planning, mapping, and networking with groups and organisations who are well placed to support in the event of an emergency in their community. And seamlessly, this leads me to note our equally in need, Social Care Enterprise work, seeking existing or prospective new social enterprises who can play a part in growing the support and services available for people with social care needs in Staffordshire. Interested – get in touch?

Of course, all of this doesn’t happen without making sure our own organisation is fighting fit, and during the year we welcomed our first ever dedicated HR staff member, we received two quality accreditations from our national body NAVCA, we worked through the All Equals Charter as part of our commitment to improving our own equity, diversity, and inclusion, and a few weeks ago we launched our new website. We also grew our independent income this year through developing new business partnerships and in November we held our first ever super glitzy fundraising ball!

No wonder I am ready for a seasonal break. But joking aside, all this happens because of the fantastic team at Support Staffordshire and whether your work is mentioned above, or you deliver some of the equally important ongoing work, which has all had its own challenges and interesting developments (too many to mention!) in 2023, I want to publicly thank you for everything you do at Support Staffordshire, for the benefit of residents, together making this a Stronger Staffordshire.

Wishing all our team, members, and partners a peaceful and restful festive break.

Garry Jones (he/him)

Chief Executive

Support Staffordshire

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