As part of its inquiry, the Committee met with staff and a trustee of Body & Soul on 27 October 2016, a charity that supports people who have experienced childhood adversity, focusing on families affected by HIV, as well as children who have been adopted and young people who have attempted suicide.
The Committee heard from:
Emma Colyer (Director), Jed Marsh (Assistant Director) and other staff of Body & Soul.
The following Members took part in the visit:
Lord Bichard, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock and Baroness Pitkeathley.
They were accompanied by the following House of Lords staff: Matt Korris (Clerk) and Simon Keal (Policy Analyst).
The Committee was given an introduction to Body & Soul, including its history and founding objectives. It was noted that at the time the charity was established there was little support available to younger people affected by HIV. It had since broadened its scope to focus on people encountering a range of long-term health issues, of which HIV may be a part, and associated childhood trauma. The staff noted that 20 years of developing treatments and shifting social pressures had led to changing needs for their services users, who they referred to as members.
The charity was based in London but supported people across the UK through a centres of excellence model. It had an annual turnover of approximately £1.2m and employed 18 staff plus five full-time equivalents.
The Committee was told that Body & Soul acknowledged that needs differed between individuals, and it therefore sought to provide comprehensive support for people’s physical health, mental health and life needs (such as facilitation and advocacy services). The staff said that fragmented support was problematic and not good for helping people with trauma. They received referrals from health and mental health professionals, and from other charities, but also got a lot of self-referrals.
The Committee was told that it was difficult to secure long-term sustainable funding, that could support innovation and strategic thinking, as most grants only lasted for one to two years. The staff noted that their funding was affected by the fact that people with or affected by HIV remained a stigmatised community.
There was a discussion about the relationship between charities and local government. The Committee was told that funding from local authorities had diminished and was now harder to access. Body & Soul noted that their model, based on ‘open access’ for beneficiaries no matter where they lived, had caused problems for some local authorities who were not keen to support a service model that was accessible across borough boundaries.
The staff observed that it was challenging for smaller organisations to go through procurement processes, and that commissioners did not always have an accurate view of who could provide services.
The Committee was told that innovation could be limited if few small organisations were engaged in service delivery contracts. Staff suggested that local authorities’ ideas of innovation often amounted to little more than making efficiencies, with little space to be creative.
The Committee also heard that there were increasingly prescriptive requirements to demonstrate impact for funders and that this could be a bureaucratic burden. Staff said that one local authority sent them a 12-tab spreadsheet to complete. There were also increasing expectations of delivering to short timescales, when in many cases it was difficult to turn around people’s underlying and complex problems within the specified timeframe.
The Committee was told that the engagement that Body & Soul was able to have with statutory agencies varied; some were very supportive, while others seemed overstretched and unwilling to engage. Staff said that they would like to see public funders take a more comprehensive and holistic approach to the issues that marginalised communities faced, less based on silos and more focused on their interconnected needs.
Body & Soul’s Director noted that increasing financial challenges might push charities to seek funding that risked moving them away from their core purposes, and they were conscious to avoid that path themselves.
The Committee was told that Body & Soul also undertook some commercial activity, including venue hire and training, to generate independent income. The Committee asked about this work and whether the charity had set up a social enterprise structure for it. Staff said that they had received conflicting legal advice about the need to formally set up a social enterprise structure for some of its funding streams and as yet had not chosen to do so.
The Committee was introduced to staff from the charity’s health and wellbeing service, who discussed their work with the charity’s members. This included a wide range of physical and mental health therapies and other forms of support such as legal advice and employment coaching.
The staff said that many people arrived with multiple difficulties which may not be sufficiently addressed by statutory services or which might fall between the gaps in provision. In some cases the charity received people who might otherwise be in the criminal justice system. They said that Body & Soul represented a necessary adjunct to statutory services by offering a holistic approach to individuals, flexible to meet their needs. The staff suggested that local authorities should make more funding available to help charities performing such roles, given their experience of increased numbers of people presenting with far greater degrees of crisis than in the past.
Body & Soul staff said that they were better at helping ‘hard to reach’ people because of their approach, and that as a result they were seen as a trusted organisation by the community.
The Committee was told that the charity had around 250 volunteers including for ongoing and one-off projects, with a core of about 80 regular volunteers. The staff said that they advertised for volunteers through community centres, local colleges, volunteer fairs and free online advertising, as there was no budget for volunteer recruitment. They always sought references and Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks for potential volunteers. As well as volunteers recruited externally, some of the charity’s members also volunteered to ‘give back’ to the organisation that had helped them.
The Committee heard that Body & Soul also relied on expert volunteers to support the services they provided, such as health and mental health practitioners, lawyers, employment advisors and others.
Body & Soul staff noted that for a charity to operate with more than a handful of volunteers it needed to have a volunteer manager to co-ordinate the work, but that it was very difficult to find funding to support such posts.
The Committee heard about the governance of Body & Soul. The Director said that all trustees were given an induction when they joined and that this was individually tailored depending on their background. They had also conducted a skills audit of the trustee board. She noted that the trustees were mindful of their responsibilities as a result of the collapse of Kids Company. She said that the board had a focus on impact and outcomes for the charity’s members and that having some members on the board helped to ensure that this would continue.
The Committee heard from the charity’s innovation team, who explained how they used new technologies to help their members. This included a project called ‘Beyond Boundaries’, which provided remote support to their members via a range of contact methods. Staff said that they hoped to scale up the investment in innovation while retaining quality and consistency, but that there were resource pressures in doing so. They had had an external evaluation of the work which had shown a positive impact.
The staff observed that the public felt less trusting of charities in general as a result of recent scandals. They expressed concern that smaller charities, who had not been a part of the scandals, might still be affected by the problems and suggested that small charities did not have the profile to help them overcome wider public mistrust.
The staff also noted that the charity sector did not always see itself as ‘professional’ and that this was a problem for its relationships with other organisations. They stressed that they were professional and should be treated as equal partners.