Pastor's Blog

Learning points from Vennture (Hereford)

Introduction

Vennture is a fast growing and innovative Social Enterprise with a strong Christian heritage. Its mission is to love people better by showing the transforming power of the love of Jesus in the public space[1].

What we know today as Vennture is built on a rich heritage of Christian service extending back to the pioneering activities of the Revd. John Venn, Vicar of St. Peter’s Church. Arriving by Fish Cart in 1832, Venn recognised that poverty was endemic in Hereford and, as a result, many families were struggling.

Together with his sister Emelia, he initiated a wide reaching social program designed to support and care for the poorest in the community. Over the next decades his enthusiasm included such activities as buying land for allotments, building quality housing for working families, providing public baths and establishing a mill where corn could be ground and cheap flour purchased. Venn was instrumental in establishing the first public library in the city, as well as inviting the YMCA to open a hostel.

In 2013, the Hereford City Mission (founded by Venn in 1856), was reborn as Vennture to address the impact of the ebbing tide of public funding on local people[2].

Having spent 4 days as the guest of Rob Thomas (Vennture, CEO) and seeing much of their activity at first hand, I see best practice demonstrated in a number of areas.

Planning and preparation

  • addressing the issues and needs that are actually there – not the ones you think are there
  • know the area. Research Local Authority and Government sources to determine the social and economic data that they use to determine policy and resource allocation
  • know the people. Be aware of the actual needs you can reasonably address
  • develop one central hub to focus activity. A clear framework with key gifted people
  • prepared to undertake activities that may not seem (or be seen as some) as overtly Christian. Loving through serving with no direct proselytising is Kingdom building
  • prepared to work with/alongside all interested groups throughout the community – Police; Business Leaders; Local Authorities. Ambulance Service, Hospitals
  • a common vision with shared goals
  • a commitment to excellence: good enough is not good enoug

Project activity

  • all work is intentional and relational
  • core values common to each activity/work stream
  • rigorous selection and training for paid staff and volunteers. Training set at the highest possible standard, often using outside agencies (e.g. Lean On Me – the Triage facility in the Night Economy)
  • delivery of (agreed) outcomes with detailed record keeping to confirm delivery and demonstrate value for money
  • commissioning not partnership; collaborative relationships to agreed goals
  • cross agency working demands respect. This will only be earned over time and, more             importantly, through delivery

Support

  • volunteers need paid staff: a ratio of 15 volunteers to 1 paid member of staff is suggested
    training to the highest level possible, often using outside agencies
  • developing and supporting staff through supervision and pastoral care (volunteers routinely deal with stressful and challenging circumstances)
  • focus on key issues – be wary of overextending and not delivering to the required standard
    regular reviews of activities at supervisory, managerial and strategic (Trustee) levels
  • external oversight on the Board of Trustees from qualified individuals recruited from beyond   the traditional core groups of the organisation

Communication

  • the incarnational nature of the activity generates awareness. Visibility develops a local profile and trust
  • informs and inspires to generate involvement
  • expressed through all media – web, blog, local press - using a consistent in house style and format. The “brand” is known and recognisable
  • data capture and record keeping is essential to enable good communication

Summary

Vennture feels called to be the parakletos[3] to the community it serves. Everyone at Vennture is committed, driven and focused. They are non judgmental and affirm the inherent worth and value of everyone they engage with.

There are excellent links with local stakeholders, many of them traditionally wary of working alongside Christian groups. It’s very clear that Vennture is well respected and trusted because it delivers what it promises and does not go beyond or outside its agreed remit and outcomes. Their business model can be replicated elsewhere and the modular nature of the various activities, around a clear portfolio of core values, allows for expansion as resources permit.

Vennture’s work is clearly making a difference as the data and outcomes indicate. What we must not overlook nor forget is that these successes mean positive change for people’s lives, bringing love and hope where previously there was little or none.

Notes

[1] Details from Vennture website http://vennture.org.uk/ (accessed 6th October 2016). My thanks to Rob Thomas, Vennture staff, local volunteers and community contacts for making this visit possible
[2] Information from Vennture website, and Volunteer Induction Pack
[3] Parakletos - encourager, advocate

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