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Chris on Challenges, Changes and Triumphs

Chris Abraham

For many of us – as individuals and as organisations – change can be challenging.

Routine can be something we cling to out of comfort…but it’s not always the healthiest way for us to grow, develop, or discover new strengths.

This year, we’ve all had that demand for change and agility forced upon us, and, sitting at the heart of the voluntary sector, I’ve seen day by day and week by week how incredibly willing, able and enthused our organisations and groups have been in their bid to adjust and evolve.

Here at Community Action Suffolk, we’ve been demonstrating that from the very first moment we all learned of the national lockdown coming into effect.

We swapped staff meetings for virtual gatherings; in-person networking for online collaboration; office life for home-working, and even the introduction of a full ‘virtual classroom’ approach to our teaching delivery, so as not to miss the critical opportunity to keep educating and training our hundreds of network members on key topics.

In fact, with a significant proportion of my day now involving Teams meetings, cloud-based phone systems and online document sharing, I can hardly believe that a year ago we didn’t even have Office 365 in place!

Our digital transformation has been rapid, and I’m incredibly proud of how our team has used it to swiftly learn new approaches and master the delivery of conferences, the support of colleagues and our sector, and even the ability to bring some ‘fun’ to our video chats in this strange time.

But none of this is to shy away from the fact that we’ve also been faced with big decisions, unexpected diversions and some clear and present challenges. For example, we had to take the conscious decision to postpone the redevelopment of our business plan. This is something all our leadership team take extremely seriously, but we, like many VCSE organisations, reached the decision that this ‘road-mapping’ should take place at a time in the future, while continuing to deliver against our core aims to respond to the pandemic.

We’re also extremely aware of the challenge of supporting our network groups, charities, community buildings and grassroot organisations in restarting in a Covid-safe way, full of confidence, and alert to the needs upon them in such a different world.

It’s the parent and toddler groups, the village halls, the coffee mornings and drop-ins which will help so many across Suffolk feel that a more ‘normal world’ has resumed, so our priority is to do everything we can to help the organisers of these get back on their feet.

Thankfully, the task of this is made so much easier and more effective thanks to the incredible shift in collaboration and partnership progression we’ve seen in recent months.

I have noted time and again throughout this peculiar year just how impressively and positively work has begun happening with collectives of voluntary sector organisations, with Borough and District councils, and with all kinds of mutual aid groups and networks.

It’s this distinct shift which I very much believe will be retained in the road ahead.

This month, as for many of you and your organisations, I know we’ll be following the course of the government strategy and commencing a new era for our ‘way of working’.

It will no longer be ‘entirely at-home’, but nor will it be as much of an ‘under one roof’ structure that it was before the pandemic.

We’ve formally had a Blended Working Policy approved by our trustees, so our ‘new normal’ is something which feels much more fitting, much more agile, and much more efficient than ever before.

But what about you? I’d really like to end by asking – how have you changed, and perhaps, even more importantly, how can we help you change and develop for this new era?

My team and I are really keen to shape the Community Action Suffolk support in a way which responds to your biggest worries and dilemmas, and helps you navigate the way forward.

Please do drop me a line and let me know what’s troubling you, or what one thing could help you return to what you do best and allow you to thrive as 2021 unravels.

Email me on chris.abraham@communityactionsuffolk.org.uk