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Cafe-style thinking for Islington’s voluntary sector post-Covid

Words and photos by Ryan Evans

London Metropolitan University recently hosted the Islington Voluntary, Community, Faith, and Social Enterprise Sector conference; the first of its kind post-Covid. This conference was also the first hybrid conference with a focus on the protection of those still vulnerable to Covid spreading.

“We’ve demonstrated our strength, and part of today is how we can actually build on that strength in collaboration going forward, in essence, that’s the objective of today,” said 55-year-old conference organiser and Voluntary Action Islington CEO, Navinder Kaur.

The world café-style workshop included 77 people in attendance and 11 online from different charities and organisations. From childcare to mental health and volunteering, all were here with the collective goal to improve the borough of Islington. The government’s Indices of Multiple Deprivations that was released in 2019 said that Islington was the fourth-worst cared for borough in London. 

Islington is the “53rd most deprived local authority area in England (out of 317 local authorities) and 6th most deprived local authority in London. It has the tenth highest level of income deprivation affecting children, and fourth highest in England for income deprivation affecting older people,” it said.

Unfortunately for the community and its organisations, Covid lockdowns and restrictions created a knock-on effect, with people seeking help from smaller services and organisations instead being pigeonholed straight into the larger more mainstream support, such as the NHS, which wasn’t always necessary.

“It was really hard in the beginning in 2020, most of the organisations here today didn’t have a clue or the capacity to work online. It took months for most of them to reengage with the other organisations and with service users to try to do the same things they were previously doing, but with all the work in partnerships with other organisations that we had, we had an idea of what to do and how to work through this,” said Marta Aparicio, Volunteer Service Manager for Voluntary Action Islington.

Aparicio noted how Islington Council has been a huge help in providing support for local organisations through the pandemic, with over a thousand DBS checks going out to volunteers to work at vaccination clinics. “We were supporting each other, and the Council was really supportive too. We managed to send organisations to train on how to use Zoom, how to use collaborative tools, and stuff like that. 

“The council has been an amazing support for our sector to keep running.”

Cafe-style thinking

But two years on, Voluntary Action Islington and Help on your Doorstep have worked together to create the world café style of thinking, in order to engage organisations to work together to come up with ideas on how to improve their own services and how to work more efficiently for the residents of Islington.

Questions about community sector improvement were passed around and answered by the seven groups, which came up with many important future plans for the sector.

Yvette Ellis, who works for VAI and was a part of one of the groups, expressed how well the event and questioning went. She said: “It went really well, everyone had something to say, and everyone chipped in. People have come in from their own organiation with a fresh point of view and they had things they’d come across in their organiation they’d come across, it was good to hear how they’re thinking.

“The woman who was sitting across from me, she’s fairly new to the sector and said she’s learned a lot after today; everyone today has learned something.”

Vasiqa Farooq has met with the CEO of Voluntary Action Islington, Navinder Kaur, to discuss forming a collaborative partnership with the University, Voluntary Action Islington and Islington Council. The aim would be to form better working partnerships between the organisations in order to provide our students placement opportunities within the voluntary sector within Islington, and possibly create graduate schemes/ work opportunities with Islington Council.

Vasiqa is currently arranging a meeting with London Met’s Director of London Engagement, Sophie Cloutterbuck and Head of Work Based Learning, Vanessa Airth with VAI’s Navinder Kaur and Islington Council members.