In need of support

Management in Practice

In Need of Support

Working in the voluntary sector can be liberating in its
independence and its freedom to provide, in the main, specialised
or targeted services. However, that freedom comes at a price and
managing a small voluntary organisation is fraught with problems
scraping and scrapping for funding.

In general, funders prefer to back exciting, innovative projects
that tend to have a fixed-term allocation of money rather than
functions such as administration which come under the core funding
banner. So when the cash stops so does the project – unless an
alternative source is found.

This is the fate of a helpline run by Respond, a charity that
provides services to victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse who
have learning difficulties, and training and support for those
working with them.

Funded with £150,000 over three years by the Community Fund
(now the Big Lottery Fund), it built on a project funded previously
by the John Ellerman Foundation.

“It’s a service mainly for professionals who support people with
learning difficulties who have been abused or who have abused
others,” says Richard Curen, director of Respond.

At the service launch, the number of people with learning
difficulties who used the line were 10 per cent of the first 1,000
calls. Now 35 per cent of a 2,000 call sample was from this group.
Curen is impressed: “This is really good, especially given that
people with learning difficulties often find helplines difficult to
deal with.”

He acknowledges that funders were clear about the three-year cut
off. “But towards the end you can apply for a development grant,
with an emphasis on taking the project to the next stage,” he

Respond’s application for a £210,000 grant was linked in with
a new project, funded from September, to provide individual therapy
for five to 16 year olds. “We have always thought we should run a
kind of ChildLine for children and young people with learning
difficulties,” says Curen.

Although no such helpline exists the bid failed. “They said they
only have limited funds and have to make difficult decisions,” says

“In a way, it’s understandable and fair enough. But it’s difficult
to swallow because our helpline worker has been here four years and
the helpline manager a year. Both have become integral to the
organisation. They have loads of knowledge, enthusiasm and

It proved even more difficult to swallow when a National Audit
Office report in July – in the same week as the Big Lottery Fund
turned down Respond’s application – revealed that £2.7bn
earmarked for good causes had yet to be spent.

According to Curen, efforts to find other sources of income also
failed. “It’s a struggle because we’re up against thousands of
other charities all competing for very limited funds.”

He now has to manage losing a service and making staff redundant –
a touch ironic for a therapeutic organisation. “We talk about it as
openly as possible,” Curen says: “We have a monthly team dynamics
session facilitated by a group analyst who knows Respond

“I encourage staff to use these sessions to discuss what it’s like
losing your colleagues and what it’s like for an organisation that
is struggling with, on the one hand, incredibly difficult stories
and experiences for its clients and, on the other, is also
experiencing damage and trauma itself,” Curen says.

He adds: “I am also aware that there are some difficult feelings,
such as anger and resentment. By giving people a chance to talk
about those issues and feelings, it allows them to leave in an open

Respond is committed to giving the affected staff time to prepare
for job interviews. “That’s the least we can do,” Curen says.
“Indeed, when I’ve seen or heard things that might interest them,
I’ve told them. And we have been encouraging the trustees to get in
touch with staff to say they are thinking about them and offering

And all this at a time when Respond is embarking on a new project.
“We will be employing new people in whom I need to be instilling my
enthusiasm so they will want to work here and make the project a
success, while working with colleagues who are being made
redundant. It’s a crazy situation to be in,” says Curen.

Curriculum vitae:    

Name: Richard Curen. 

Job: Director of Respond. 

Qualifications: Certificate in advanced
counselling skills; postgraduate diploma in gestalt psychotherapy;
postgraduate diploma in management; currently studying for the
postgraduate diploma in forensic psychotherapeutic studies; trustee
of the Institute of Psychotherapy and Disability. 

Last job: National co-ordinator, Survivors

First job: Trainee legal executive.   


  • Don’t give up. Often things can only get better. 
  • Speak to everyone you know, everyone they know and then
    everyone else – a little nepotism goes a long way. 
  • Leave no stone unturned.   


  •  Ignore the problem for long enough and it will go away.  
  •  Pretend to staff that everything is fine when it is not.
    There’s no point in causing panic and lowering morale.  
  •  Staff know the score. It’s their problem, not yours.



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