Let’s Talk Islington

Navinder Kaur, chief executive of Voluntary Action Islington and member of Islington Council’s inequality task force, talks to Islington Life about the strengths of our communities, the importance of cross-sector partnerships and her excitement about the future

The world has changed so much in the last 10 years. Austerity and huge events such as Covid-19 and Brexit have changed our understanding of the world and exposed deep inequalities.

As part of its mission to create a more equal borough, the council wants to understand how the challenges of the past decade have impacted local people – which is why they’ve launched Let’s Talk Islington. The council is talking with and listening to local communities, businesses and schools about how we can improve life for everyone who lives, works and studies here.

As part of this work, the council has set up an inequality task force to provide expert advice and insight into the issues we are facing. Navinder Kaur, chief executive of Voluntary Action Islington (VAI), is a member of the taskforce.

How did you come to be chief executive of VAI?
I’ve worked in Islington for 18 years, at first for the council in what used to be the play and youth services. What’s really nice is, there are people I worked with then who are still around. I am now working with people who haven’t been here so long, but who are equally committed and passionate. I joined VAI as chief executive in November 2020 and I feel very lucky to be working alongside such committed and inspiring people.

What is VAI and what is its role?
VAI is a membership organisation that provides information, training and support to voluntary and community organisations. There are lots of organisations that deliver essential community services with the support of volunteers. We help them with this by giving them access to our online platform, where community organisations can upload their wide range of volunteer roles. For instance, they might be looking for support in their food hub, or looking for befrienders or mentors. We match them with residents who are looking for volunteering opportunities, who have come forward through the platform and our outreach service. We’ve been running our volunteer centre for 13 years.

Another service we offer is good practice guidance for community organisations. We also link organisations together, so they can talk to each other and work in partnership, and support the development of the voluntary and community sector. We might help small groups to form, put governance structures in place, register with the Charities Commission, get volunteers, fundraise or help with business planning. The other way we support is by bringing the council and voluntary sector together.

Why is it important that the council and voluntary sector work together?
The council has its place in the community, but they need the voluntary and community sector to advise, guide and contribute to be effective. These local organisations are the voice of the community.

They know what’s happening on the ground. The positive here is that there’s an amazing amount of new initiatives being driven by the council. In the last 10 years, the ambition, drive and vision has changed hugely. The challenge that we are all trying to address is how we can work alongside our communities more effectively, to help shape that change. That is what Let’s Talk Islington is all about.

Tell us more about Let’s Talk Islington. What made you want to get involved?
I think effective dialogue with our diverse communities through our voluntary and community sector is really important – not just because it’s my job to promote their work, but because they have the best connections with our communities.  I want to make sure that there are effective mechanisms that enable people to truly engage and share their ideas and experiences.

By doing this, we can identify not just the gaps in services, but find out what works, what doesn’t and find solutions together. It needs to be a two-way process, where we learn from each other. To do this, we’ve got to build trust. It is about tackling inequality, it is about reducing poverty, it is about everybody fulfilling their potential and accessing opportunities in order to do so, but it’s also that we need local people to inspire us.

We need to use this challenging time as a launchpad for change. It is only through true partnership with our communities that we can give everyone in the borough the opportunities they need to succeed.

Get involved
There will be plenty of opportunities to contribute your views between now and April 2022. Look out for upcoming events and be sure to fill out the survey for the chance to win a £100 voucher. Visit the Let’s Talk Islington website or pick one up at your local library. Local voluntary and community groups can also submit data, case studies, and other evidence about local inequality and deprivation. You can also get in touch by emailing letstalkislington@islington.gov.uk and be sure to follow along on social media @IslingtonBC and using #LetsTalkIslington

There’s lots to do but with your help, we can make a big difference. Join us in working to challenge inequality and create a more equal future for everyone in our borough.

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