Hitting the Ground Running… my first month as Chief Service Officer in Kirklees
As part of the Cities of Service programme, Kirklees is one of four city councils to hire a Chief Service Officer. These senior leaders work with council executives, voluntary and community sector and private sector to develop initiatives where volunteers can have a real impact on the city’s biggest issues.
Rachael Loftus tells us about her experiences one month into the job...
In some ways there couldn’t have been a better week to start my journey as Chief Service Officer in Kirklees. There was something very special in the atmosphere, the sun was shining, and all of Yorkshire it seemed, was getting ready to make the Tour de France the most well attended first three days of a Tour ever. It was great to be welcomed on my morning commute by a French farm, complete with French farmers, just outside Huddersfield train station; to be at my desk overlooked by the inspiring site of Elmley mast, usually used to bring TV to most of West Yorkshire, lit up with the world’s highest laser; and on the day itself see the fantastic sight of thousands of Kirklees residents lining Holme Moss to become one of the iconic images of the Tour.
Being part of the action
Forget the yellow jersey, my CSO mind was constantly picking out the light blue t-shirts of the 12,000 volunteer Tour Makers who dotted the route, giving hours of their time to make sure the 2.5 million people who turned up were safe, happy and most of all knew which side of the road to point their cameras at. (“No, the French side of the road” I overheard more than once.) Speaking to some of the Tour Makers, I asked them why they’d got involved. Some were cycling enthusiasts, most weren’t, and the overwhelming answer for all of them was the same: “I wanted to be a part of it, and I wanted to be able to say I helped make it happen, even in a little way”.
Here in Kirklees, my job for Cities of Service is to work out how we mobilise that same level of good will and enthusiasm to meet some of our local challenges. Some of the first things we’re looking into is how volunteers can help reach out to our older population who may be suffering loneliness; how we can get more men to volunteer and mentor younger men who need a positive influence in their life. As we go on we’ll also look at how we help each other out in bad weather, and ways we can make it easier to find others who might be willing to help with something you want to do in your local area.
Sharing the impact
There are so many ideas we could try out that we’re lucky Nesta is supporting us to develop a “Service Plan”, the initial document that all those going through the Cities of Service programme develop. So, as I’ve been sat at my desk, working out how to use the printer, grappling with the metrics and the wording of the Service Plan, it’s been the words of the Tour Makers that have been ringing in my ears. If Cities of Service can do anything for the people of Kirklees, it has to be about making it easier for them to take part, and to point to their achievements. Now, not every day can be a Tour de France day, but in so many ways the everyday achievements of volunteers across the district have an even longer lasting impact. For me, Cities of Service must be about making sure people know the impact of their actions in a way that inspires them, and makes them proud to take part in their own way.
The 4 Rs in volunteering
The great thing about Kirklees is we’re not going from a standing start. Over a number of years there has been investment in the simple ways that help people to take part. The 3 R’s of recruitment, retention and reward for volunteers have been at the heart of the dialogue between the public and voluntary sector for a long time. Just as importantly, the 4th R, relationship, has been there to make sure that at a time of almost unprecedented change for local government and third sector funding, we have worked on the relationships that will sustain and grow the “service” movement in Kirklees.
Making it happen
Some of the exciting prospects for Cities of Service, and my role in particular, is how I can be a catalyst for this growth, how I can extend those relationships to also include the potential of the private sector, how I can unlock the wisdom of those other 193 Cities of Service who have started the journey before us and make it work for Kirklees and above all, how I can make it easier for everyone to engage in local action and be able to say “I helped make that happen”.