Last Wednesday, the Shropshire VCSA held its first general meeting of members and partners since 2019. With over 60 guests in attendance, it wasn't the biggest gathering the VCSA has ever had, but it may have been the most anticipated, as the gathering of voluntary groups, charitable organisations and social enterprises all met under one roof for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
Made possible by funding from Shropshire Council, the VCSA Annual Assembly has been an important event in the schedule of voluntary and community sector members and their partners in Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin since the organisation's founding in 2008, but the pandemic put a damper on this important event for the past two years.
This year's meeting featured two guest speakers on very different, but equally important topics to the VCS community in Shropshire.
Professor John Wynn-Jones of the National Centre for Rural Health and Care presented an overview of the APPG Rural Health and Care Report, and gave his take on the implications for this report on the work of the VCS in Shropshire going forward.
Christopher Martin of Tenders UK presented on the current trends and opportunities in the area of Social Value, and how Shropshire organisations can think about their own position in light of upcoming changes to commissioning.
In addition to speakers, local funders were on hand for attendees to meet and ask questions, including The National Lottery Community Fund, Community Resource, which manages several local funds including the Shropshire Community Fund grants, and Energize STW, which manages the Sport England Tackling Inequalities Fund.
The event finished off with an hour-long workshop on action items that the VCSA can implement connected to its six identified priorities for the year. These are:
- Increasing and strengthening existing opportunities for collaboration in the sector.
- Working to address inequalities highlighted by the pandemic, including health and financial inequalities, loneliness and rural isolation.
- Working to embed the ICS within the VCS.
- Developing VCSA membership, bringing new voices to the table and highlighting the work of the sector.
- Increasing inclusion – diversifying our general membership, Board membership and the voices that are being heard from within the sector.
- Supporting and sustaining the VCS to ensure that it remains vibrant and robust in the wake of the pandemic.
Attendees all agreed that, as valuable as the speakers and workshop were, the most important thing about this year's event was the opportunity to see each other, and to do some much-needed networking and catching up.