Measuring the value of our city of social passion – A blog by Tracey Allen

A blog by Tracey Allen, Director of SEA PR, a company delivering social action public relations for businesses including social enterprises,charities & organisations keen to develop their social value & impact…

When I set up my business, SEA PR in 2012, I wanted to create a service which charities and social enterprises could use to help them get their message out in to the wider domain. Nearly four years on we have now also just launched Giving Times – a FREE news platform to further support social action messaging which includes business social action news too.

Whilst we knew there was a lot of compassionate activity going on in this welcoming city of ours, we did not know just how much social passion there really was, and the deeper we dug, the more stories of altruism we unfurled. We learn each day of amazing charitable support that goes on, but in the run up to Christmas it becomes more and more apparent that people in our community go above and beyond to help those who need support, at what is advertised as “the most wonderful time of the year.” (Well guess what – it’s not for everyone!)

Amazing examples such as Anne Bickmore BEM, creating Christmas hampers for families in her spare bedroom, or the Time2Give Ball that was launched to raise volunteering hours instead of money, or the volunteers out with Christmas shoppers, shaking their collection tins to raise vital funds for the likes of Brighton Housing Trust (BHT) to provide warmth and shelter for the homeless over these cold and grey days and nights.

Through Giving Times, what we are also learning day by day, is just how many businesses invest time, money and commitment into this community – because they care and because they know the importance of supporting social initiatives.

It’s clear to see that Civic leadership stretches across the whole of Brighton and Hove, whether it is co-ordinated third sector activity or private enterprises investing in the community they serve. What we are also learning is that there is thankfully so much going on in addition to what the public sector offers which is being reduced all of the time. But the question I ask myself this Christmas is “Where would we be if we didn’t have these passionate individuals giving up their time?” Where would the gaps be and how would they be filled? Today it was announced that volunteer hours across the UK equated to £50bn – and £50 million of that is given in Brighton and Hove.

So as I watch all of this extraordinary work go on I wonder how do we keep encouraging more people to get involved in social action and should there be a way that is more coordinated and  has a measurable outcome, so that we can see and record the mutual benefit to all those who give up their time? Why don’t we properly measure these efforts through GDP?  Is the value of the Third Sector becoming more and more critical to the way we operate and function as a society, and if so what happens next?

Or, should we just let those who want to give to something they believe in, carry on regardless and hope (and pray) that others will follow in their footsteps when they have done their bit?

For me I would like to see some coordinated championing of different causes across the city which different organisations can own and support. It could be a “call to arms” of social issues which need addressing, such as campaigns for the development of more homeless feeding stations or shelters, or more focus on supporting the current befriending activities that help end loneliness and isolation in the elderly or let’s raise the roof on our support for children & young people in the city. But let’s do it together for maximum effect and to record the social value.

For businesses and their staff, it would make volunteering more meaningful, relevant, responsive and sustainable, especially in times of public austerity when corporate and personal philanthropy is needed, noticeable and in demand. The voluntary system isn’t a perfect system, it’s a shame we need it, but we do.

And here at SEA PR we will continue to encourage businesses and social enterprises to tell their story, via Giving Times, in the hope that even more people will be inspired to make a positive difference to this city.

Our civic duty therefore relies on each and every one of us. There are communities who are already working towards this idea across the city and maybe what we need to do next is make sure that we’re all aware of what everybody is doing annually, so we have a grasp of what tomorrow’s real economy for our young people really looks like.