Volunteer Stars Take Caring Lead; ALLISON AGIUS, Executive Director of Stockton-Based Catalyst, a Leading Voice for the Borough's Third Sector, Discusses the Voluntary and Community Sector and the Importance of Corporate Social Responsibility

Article excerpt

Byline: ALLISON AGIUS

THE Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) is vital in today's climate. Our sector has always had a history of seeing a gap in services or a need in society and filling it.

Indeed it is the very foundation of our sector.

The history of Barnardos is a good example of this and if we looked at the seed that started many VCS organisations, we are likely to find passionate people who cared enough to do something about an injustice or fulfil a social need.

The VCS sector by its very nature works with those most vulnerable, those most disengaged from mainstream society, those most unrepresented or forgotten, in short: those who have no voice.

At its best the sector does this tirelessly, passionately and spectacularly, as the stories behind the recent VCS North-east Awards testifies. And there has never been a time when the sector has been needed more, except perhaps the soup kitchens of the Salvation Army in the Thirties.

Currently those furthest away from gaining employment are finding it even more difficult. Many find themselves trapped in poverty.

Cuts to benefits and the changing rules of housing benefits are putting a strain on many of our most vulnerable and we know that domestic violence, substance misuse and mental health problems increase during times of financial stress.

In Stockton many of our VCS organisations are reporting significant increases in demand and some believe it's just the start.

Fortunately the sector is rising to the challenge. Despite increasing cuts to funding, many organisations, through the development of partnerships and new ways of working, are finding ways to continue to do what they have always done - bridge the gap, and in the current climate it will be more valuable than ever for many in our communities.

When it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), these are words which are used much more frequently these day. They have a warm fuzzy glow about them.

Big corporations putting something back into the community, making a difference, changing lives.

But it isn't just big corporations, and in my experience, it isn't just about the warm fuzzy feeling either.

The bottom line is - it makes good business sense.

CSR comes in many forms but essentially it's the sharing of organisations resources to make a positive social, economic or environmental difference.

This could be something as simple as making a donation to a local charity or adopting a policy of spending more by buying environmentally friendly products. …