Harnessing the civic spirit of volunteers and charities that has proven a lifeline for so many through the pandemic is at the heart of a new blueprint for supporting stronger Kent communities.
Officially launched this week, the Civil Society Strategy sets out Kent County Council’s (KCC) first major plan for working with the county’s diverse civil society and social sector.
Ranging from small informal support networks to larger social enterprises and charities, there are over 2,840 active voluntary organisations, and more than 27,000 people working for charities and volunteering, in Kent.
A £170,000 pilot project, in partnership with the Ashford Volunteer Centre, to help establish a co-ordinated, properly resourced volunteering system for the county, is just one early initiative that has emerged from the landmark plan.
First drafted in 2019, this is the second iteration of the Civil Society Strategy.
The initial proposals were paused and refreshed to reflect the experiences of responding to COVID before being consulted on, in 2021, for a second time.
Leader of Kent County Council Roger Gough said: “The unprecedented events of the past two years have only served to make this important piece of work even more significant.
“Throughout the pandemic we have seen incredible resilience and innovation created by charities and volunteers, all of which has hugely helped our communities.
“Our new strategy celebrates this civic activity and reaffirms our commitment to supporting, empowering and working in partnership with the many diverse networks that exist in Kent to build a fairer future for all – not just in a crisis, but on a daily basis.”
Kent County Council Cabinet Member for Community and Regulatory Services, Mike Hill, said: “This strategy is a real step forward, giving us a structure for working with our varied voluntary sector and clarity on how we can support one another.
“The creation of a Voluntary and Community Sector Strategic Partnership Board, involving KCC, the NHS, Districts and the Chair of the recently-formed Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Steering Group (VCSE), has already started improving our engagement with the sector and partners, and will help us to deliver our strategy going forward.
“I am grateful to Josephine McCartney, Chief Executive of Kent Community Foundation, who has chaired this Steering Group and works tirelessly as an advocate for the sector.
“From the consultation findings, and work undertaken by this group, we are confident the strategy accurately reflects the challenges ahead and the opportunities to work with, and support, a vibrant social sector and civil society in the future.
“Thank you to all those organisations and individuals who took the time to share their insights to help us reach this point.”
The new Civil Society Strategy replaces KCC’s Voluntary, Community Sector policy adopted in 2015 and will be next fully reviewed in 2024.
In addition to the commitments set out in the strategy, Kent County Council is also helping to fund crowdfunding initiative CrowdFund Kent so local organisations and groups can get backing to take forward projects and ideas to improve their local area.
The Spring funding round is now open and there are more details here