Simon Heng column

I spend much of my available time involved with voluntary
organisations, mainly concerned with disability and service user
issues. I’ve even had the good luck to have been involved in
setting up groups.

We have always started with the best of intentions: to change
things or to influence change for disabled and vulnerable people.
Why should we allow politicians and professionals to make decisions
about our lives without listening to our points of view? Why
shouldn’t we campaign to reduce our exclusion from what is our
society too? Why, after all, should we rely on other people to look
out for our human rights?

When a group of people share this kind of passion and feel that
they can make a difference to the existing order there is a sense
of power, a sense of optimism that is hard to match. You could say
that this energy comes from reactions to injustice, even

The challenges start as soon as the group forms. How does it
channel all that energy, all that passion, into effective action?
If the group is to be something more than a talking shop, we need
structured debate, a plan of action, resources, communication with
decision-makers, ways of publicising our cause, division of
responsibility – in short, organisation.

All this takes time and energy. To be able to raise funds we
have to show that we can use money responsibly and effectively. To
do this, whether it is funding from the National Lottery or service
level agreements with local authorities and primary care trusts,
the organisation needs a constitution, policies about formal
decision-making, discrimination and financial administration.

And this becomes a problem: when people have little time or
energy to spare, precisely because of their conditions or their
age, it’s difficult to remain motivated. When you seem to spend
much of their scarce resources on administration, it’s easy to
think “this is not what I joined up for”.

I’m aware that many readers of this magazine are involved with
voluntary organisations: does anybody out there know how to work


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