Sizing up

Why would seven children’s charities, each with their own
identity, form a consortium, asks Audrey Thompson.

There are scores of charities in the country all battling, in
their own way, on behalf of children, young people and their
families. Now seven children’s charities have decided that
collaborating with each other, sharing resources and know-how
rather than competing, is the way forward.

The National Children’s Bureau, ChildLine, Family Service
Units, I Can, The Place 2 Be, Who Cares? Trust and Young Minds have
come together in a consortium and formed the Children’s
Centre Project, an independent charity, to look at new ways that
they can work together.

Led by the NCB, the consortium really began life as a child of
practicality. Three years ago the great and the good at the NCB sat
down to formulate the organisation’s next five-year plan. The
charity needs to relocate by 2005 and in talks with a range of its
member agencies it soon became clear that there were several other
charities also interested in moving house.

Sally Whitaker, NCB director of resources and marketing, says:
“A group of us got together to talk about the possibility of
sharing a building in the future. At that point we were just
looking at moving into the same building making it more cost
effective for all of us. But we decided we also needed to look at
working together in more collaborative ways across the agencies. It
is all very practical.”

Catering to the same users and planning to share a building
naturally raises questions about sharing other resources too, such
as information services and technology. Why have several different
libraries, for example, if one will do?

However, in a world where information equals power and funding,
there are serious questions around independence. Whitaker insists:
“This is not a merger. We will remain separate charities. We may
well move into the same building but we intend to retain our own
identities while working together in partnership.

“We all recognise our independence and if you look at the range
of charities involved we all have our distinct roles. Our
independence is not in danger.”

Ian Vallender, director of policy and information at the
National Council of Voluntary Child Care Organisations (NCVCCO),
agrees. He says it is in everybody’s interests, and the more
co-operation there is between agencies the better.

The NCVCCO was one of the first charities to consider joining
the consortium but pulled out because it needed to relocate before
2005. It is still interested in the consortium, but Vallender
recognises there is a risk that some of the smaller agencies could,
unintentionally, be

subsumed. “All the agencies are aware of this danger and are
very keen that this does not happen. The intention is to ensure all
the agencies retain their individuality,” he says.

The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. The consortium
has been awarded £493,200 from the Invest to Save budget, the
government scheme to support projects that increase joint-working.
And the money will be used to set up feasibility studies in a range
of areas to explore just how these seven charities can best work
collaboratively together.

There will be feasibility studies around helplines and
interactive advice, says Whitaker, and on consultation with
children, knowledge management across the agencies, and regional

“We are also assuming that during this process we will come
across other new areas of partnership working or gaps where we can
set up completely new services. We are simply exploring the full
potential for joint working,” she adds.

Charities joining forces for particular campaigns or projects is
nothing new, but this takes collaboration one step further. Sharing
key resources may well cut expenses, reduce duplication of services
and help stretch that ever tightening funding pot. The question
will be at what cost to the profiles of the individual
organisations among funders and users, and ultimately to their

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