Winchester’s Voluntary sector and City Council working together to overcome tough economic times

Winchester City Council is working with Winchester Area Community Action (WACA) and other voluntary organisations to find the best accommodation to meet their needs in these difficult economic times.

The combination of the economic downturn and the Comprehensive Spending Review has resulted in a reduction in the amount of both public and private sector funding available to support voluntary organisations. Just like the public sector they now need to do more with less, but this also presents an opportunity to re-think how the organisations work together in the light of the Government’s Big Society proposals.

The Winchester Centre in St George’s Street provides serviced office accommodation for 12 voluntary sector organisations. When the building opened in 1996 it was an innovative approach for voluntary organisations, but now the situation has changed. The current funding situation makes the premises no longer affordable for many charities and there are some vacant spaces.  As a charity itself, WACA cannot subsidise other occupants of the centre and needs to concentrate on its work in supporting the local voluntary sector at a time when demands on its services are increasing. WACA is working with the City Council to change the basis on which they manage the building and potentially return the lease.

Winchester City Council is working with Hampshire County Council and WACA to resolve this situation and options are being explored to find the best future arrangements for all the organisations in the building.

These are hard times for all the parties involved, but by working together we will be able to find suitable solutions to ensure the retention of these vital community services.

WACA Chief Executive Paul Williams said, “Times have changed – 15 years ago, office space and training rooms were the most important need for the voluntary sector in Winchester.  Now we need to help groups respond to the challenges of a different funding environment and take advantage of new opportunities to earn sustainable income.”

Leader of the Council Kelsie Learney said, “It is unfortunate that we may need to go through a disruptive period for organisations which provide such important services to our local community. At the same time there is a potential opportunity to find more affordable accommodation for the affected groups and free WACA from the burdens of running a building to concentrate on its core purpose of strengthening our local voluntary sector.”

Jenny Meadows, Manager at Winchester Citizens Advice Bureau which is accommodated on the second floor of The Winchester Centre said “Our essential requirement is that we are located in the City centre and are easily accessible. We are pleased to be co-operating with the Council who see us as a key client and who are working hard to support us during this difficult time to find suitable and affordable office accommodation.