Visit from House of Lords committee

Posted on: 27th October 2016

This afternoon we welcomed three members of the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities to Body & Soul – Baroness Pitkeathley (chairman), Lord Bichard and Lord Foulkes of Cumnock.

The committee was appointed earlier this year to consider the issues faced by the charity sector and will report by the end of March next year. Here Jed Marsh, Assistant Director at Body & Soul, gives a flavour of the topics discussed during the visit.

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Body & Soul’s distinctive ethos, governance structure and funding model are central to the success we have enjoyed over the last 20 years and the unique community of members we have built up over that time. We wanted to make sure the committee members got a sense not just of the range of services we provide here, but also of the philosophy that underpins our approach and the challenges we face in sustaining and growing our work.

We gave our visitors a tour of the Body & Soul building, including the yoga room, the kitchen where our chef Selina prepares meals for members and does catering for our corporate clients, the therapy rooms where we offer counselling and alternative therapies, the children’s centre, and the games room and sound studio in the basement. We think of Body & Soul as a second home for our members.

house-of-lords-committee-in-therapy-rooms

The committee members visit the therapy rooms and talk to Katherine, Body & Soul’s head of therapeutic services.

The committee members were keen to hear about Body & Soul’s innovative approach to social care, and Emma Colyer, our director, spent time explaining what makes us different from other charities: although much of our work is done with members living with or affected by HIV, the challenges our members face are much more complex than the physical virus – many have practical difficulties with housing, employment and relationships on top of physical and mental health issues.

We believe these different aspects of people’s lives cannot be treated as discrete entities. This is why we have pioneered an integrative approach, in which members can access a full range of services at Body & Soul, from counselling, shiatsu and family therapy to legal advice, employment coaching and psycho-education. This approach has proved effective with our current members, which is why we’re now extending it to other populations who experience challenges as a result of adverse childhood experiences, namely adopted teens and young people who are suicidal. Lord Bichard said how impressed he was with our “inspiring model”.

Although extending our model of care and support to other communities is an exciting prospect, it is not without its challenges, and we were keen to raise some of the difficulties we are facing with the committee:

Funding

One of the perennial issues for charities is funding. We receive funding from a variety of sources, but the nature of the work we do – working with marginalised, stigmatised groups – makes it difficult to attract corporate funders. We therefore rely on grants from local authorities, who have a responsibility to provide for the needs of their residents. This raises three main issues:

 

1. Statutory contracts are not usually large enough to fund an entire service and must therefore be supplemented with other sources of funding. Furthermore the contracts are often short term, lasting between one and two years. This piecemeal approach is not a sustainable model. Funding that is restricted in this way makes it difficult for us to develop new services, to innovate with existing services and to build up reserves that would provide a buffer in the event of unforeseen circumstances.

 

2. Although we are open to anyone whose needs fit with our eligibility criteria, regardless of where they live, we do not necessarily receive funding for every member. For example, many of our members live in South London, but we do not receive any funding from South London local authorities. In our experience local authorities only want to fund services that are located on their patch, and are reluctant to fund centres of excellence like Body & Soul, even if it caters to the needs of their residents.

 

3. Because of the funding structure, it is difficult to fund some of the key positions within Body & Soul that are not directly involved in service provision. For example, our Head of Volunteer Programmes, who manages all of the volunteers (without whom we could not function), is only partially funded – the majority of her post is paid for through other means.

 

One way in which we have sought to circumvent these problems is to develop Brave, our social enterprise that involves hiring out the spaces in our building to corporate clients and providing training in areas such as empathy, compassion and motivation. This is a sustainable way of securing funds that we are free to use in the most effective way possible. However more money is needed.

Impact and innovation

Research carried out by the New Economics Foundation in 2012 found that for every £1 invested in Body & Soul, £5.32 is generated in social value. This excellent return on investment is testament to Body & Soul’s impact in society. However our impact is not measured purely in monetary terms. For example, one of the pillars of our approach is a commitment to nurturing the productivity of members. Many of our young members grow up to become member-volunteers and peer mentors; in this way, they help fellow members but also learn valuable practical skills that benefit them – and society – in further education and future employment. Our member volunteers are the living embodiment of the power of Body & Soul to transform lives: they have lived through adversity themselves, and this adds huge value to the remote support service.

We would like to further amplify these effects by launching new services but also through continued innovation in existing services like Beyond Boundaries. Beyond Boundaries is our flagship outreach initiative, using digital technology to enable people from all over the country to become part of the Body & Soul community and access the support that is so valued by members who attend in person. For the most part, the support is provided over the phone, but we would like to invest in visual technologies that would allow our remote members to access workshops and seminars. Developing this service requires time and money, but the statutory funding structure is not set up to facilitate this.

Recommendations

We asked the committee to consider the issues we raised and hope they recommendations in their final report that will alleviate some of the financial strain that medium-sized charities like Body & Soul are under. Greater availability of unrestricted funding would give us the freedom to develop Body & Soul’s successful model, to reach new communities that would benefit from our pioneering approach, and to sustain our work into the future.

We thank the committee for spending the afternoon with us at Body & Soul and for taking such a keen interest in the challenges we face. We look forward to the publication of their findings next year.

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You can find more information on the work and remit of the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities here.



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