Council seeks to capitalise on close work with voluntary sector during the pandemic

Future plans that have been shaped by local organisations with the aim of building on the close working between Oxfordshire County Council and the voluntary and community sector during the pandemic have been approved.

The council’s cabinet has today (19 July) given its consent to a new five-year Voluntary and Community Sector Strategy that will act as a framework for the way the council and charities, social enterprises, community interest companies, community benefit societies, small community groups without formal structures and faith groups work together.

Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Public Health and Inequalities Cllr Mark Lygo said: “A great deal of listening and engagement has happened on the part of the county council in the formulation of this strategy. We took a humble approach with an open-mind.

“We know that our local voluntary and community organisations do an immense amount of invaluable work at grassroots level on a daily basis. While we understand it, admire it, significantly fund some of it and work alongside it, we could never have full knowledge of the challenges and opportunities our local voluntary organisations experience day in day and out.

“That’s why in seeking to capitalise on our close work with an array of voluntary and community organisations during the pandemic it was important for us to open our ears and listen to every word they had to say.”

“During the pandemic the voluntary sector’s ability to organise and find solutions for our residents at pace was observed and hugely appreciated by all at the county council. Even when we were in the deepest troughs of the pandemic, we knew that our eventual emergence from COVID-19 needed to involve building on the momentum of the closer working relationship that had come about.

“We could see that we needed to ensure for the long-term that our voluntary and community sector is empowered and sustained to work alongside us in supporting residents and communities.

“As an administration we said right from the start of our time in office (May 2021) that we wanted the county to be greener, healthier and fairer. We can’t do that alone. We appreciate and value the critical work the local VCS does across Oxfordshire, and see first-hand the positive impact this has on residents and communities.

“As a council, we see our role as supporting and empowering our voluntary and community sector to do what they do best, working in partnership together along the way.”

From the outset the voluntary and community sector organisations contributed and shared their knowledge and insight with the county council in formulating the strategy. In December 2021, there were two virtual workshops to gather evidence on the sector’s key challenges and priorities for a strategy. This provided the council with invaluable feedback that has been the backbone of the development of the strategy.

In May 2022 a consultation exercise was made available to the whole voluntary and community sector in Oxfordshire with the feedback received being incorporated into the draft plan. The strategy is to be underpinned by an action plan that allows the county council to be flexible and respond to the sectors’ changing needs. Continued co-operation and engagement will be an essential throughout, so that challenges can be collaboratively tackled.

The five priorities in the joint strategy are: Collaboration and networking; volunteering and social action; capacity and skills; supporting a sustainable sector and reducing inequalities.

Cllr Lygo added: “With such a wide array of organisations covering every part of the county bought in to these themes we have an ethos that has the potential to deliver the change that will create the fairer, healthier and greener county we want.

“It is important to us to secure our relationship with the voluntary sector on the firmest of footings and hardwiring their views and opinions into decision making will mean we can refresh our policy at regular intervals over coming years as times changes and new issues arise.”