partnership

Reflections on partnership

As National Volunteers’ Week 2022 looms on the horizon, I have found myself pondering the nature of partnership and specifically how adversity drives organisations (and people) to answers they otherwise would not have found. Specifically, from a Volunteering Kingston perspective, it manifested itself with the partnership that became Kingston Stronger Together (KST). As we tip-toe back to a world where pandemic viruses are not all-embracing and other issues become dominant in the media it is worth taking a moment to appreciate some of the gains made. 

The KST came together in late February/early March 2020 at the beginning of an unprecedented medical crisis. It started because the then Leader of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames (RBK) had a clear vision of genuine partnership for Covid-response and she found the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) organisations willing collaborators. Civic leadership has changed since then and the individuals who were the core elements of that partnership also moved on but the mechanics of partnership remain.  

From Volunteering Kingston’s (Groundwork London) perspective the value in the KST came from the partnership approach and the utilising of resources that accrues from it. By engaging the VCS as equals rather than as sub-contractors (something at the time we hoped to be reflected in the conclusions to the RBK Voluntary Sector Commissioning process review) RBK had been able to garner almost unique levels of service delivery cooperation and ensure a communication cycle unpreceded within the borough. For just under two years, the partnership was central to safeguarding the local community. 

There was a sea of goodwill from within the community of Kingston borough which saw an initial rush of 1200 volunteers for Covid-response.

This, combined with the contribution of informal and spontaneous localised groups, was pivotal to supporting professionals in coordinating the various delivery tiers. Despite an over-supply of willing volunteers (which mirrored the experience of the NHS volunteers) the volunteer experience in the borough rose to new levels and looked like it would continue to do so for some time to come.  

About a year in, whilst others were looking ahead, we understood it was absolutely vital that the core elements of the KST/Hub approach were maintained. 

The organisation’s key to success was retaining the leadership element whilst remaining open to all civic and stakeholder contributors.

The response to Covid-19 demonstrated how co-operative and collaborative approaches can be enacted quickly and become efficient and effective. Between March 2020 to March 2022, the KST proved to work and, in some form or other, it must continue. 

It is now May 2022 and, as needs decline, not all physical manifestations of that partnership are still in play, understandably. However, the KST has made the concept of positive partnership a reality, supported by a massive body of work and experience. The VCS* side is still here and responding to needs. It is still the place where individual volunteers connect to be part of the whole, still being partnership personified. On reflection, it was a massive achievement!   

By Michael Green, May 2022. 

 

* Including Volunteering Kingston, Kingston Voluntary Action, as well as organisations such as the Foodbank and Voices for Hope and informal contributions from the Good Gym groups etc. 

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