Sarah Morland reflects on her role as Partnership Manager with RVA

Primary interest
Voluntary sector
Sarah Morland, Partnership Manager for RVA, leaves us next week

Our Partnership Manager, Sarah Morland, is leaving RVA next week, after over seven years with the organisation. It was great to see lots of colleagues at the farewell celebration after the Wellbeing Forum today, and we know that many more will want to join us in saying a huge thank you to Sarah for her tireless work representing the sector at countless meetings and for her ability to communicate the breadth and value of the voluntary sector to partners and stakeholders. We couldn’t let her leave without reflecting on her achievements over the years, as well as challenges and hopes for the future.


It was a Masters in Change Agent Skills and Strategies which first led Sarah into work with the voluntary sector. Prior to her roles with RVA, she worked as a consultant, helping voluntary organisations with strategic planning, collective vision, collaboration, preparing for commissioning and measuring impact. Before joining the staff team, Sarah was also the chair of trustees for RVA.

Tell us about your different roles at RVA

Seven and half years ago,  I became the Business Ready Coordinator for RVA, an 18-month contract, funded through Transforming Local Infrastructure. I was helping voluntary organisations to prepare for the new operating world, so I ran a number of different workshops on commissioning, moving from grants to contracts, the commissioning process and so on. Part of this role was creating the Your Options Berkshire website, and that was a way to help GPs to link with voluntary organisations. On that bespoke website, there were a number of organisations saying how they supported health and wellbeing.

We got funding from the Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner at a time when they were beginning to commission voluntary organisations. The funding was to deliver workshops for frontline organisations, about how they could support victims of crimes. It wasn’t the usual frontline organisations who were directly supporting victims of crime — you never know when you’re supporting somebody, what they might be saying to you, so we did things about listening and where they could get help and that sort of stuff.

When the Social Value Act came in, saying that statutory agencies needed to take account of social value in their commissioning, we did a large piece of partnership work with health and social care and voluntary organisations, about what social value would mean for Reading. It didn’t go as far as it could have, but it got the conversation started.

When I started to going to lots of meetings as Partnership Manager I remember going to the A&E Delivery Board (now the Urgent and Emergency Care Partnership Board) and coming back from that and thinking I didn’t manage to say anything! I don’t know what we can contribute to the conversation. Then I asked to do a presentation about the voluntary sector to that board just saying exactly what we could offer. I think that lots of people in statutory agencies didn’t understand, and maybe still don’t, the breadth of the voluntary sector – they think there is an entity called The Voluntary Sector and they can have a relationship with The Voluntary Sector and they don’t understand that they need relationships with many different voluntary organisations. I think that what I’ve managed to achieve is getting that message across.

Last year, the Winter Pressures money which was used for the Hospital Navigators scheme was a direct result of me going along to those meetings. Usually the Urgent and Emergency Care Partnership Board would use the Winter Pressures money to employ more nurses, and they took a punt on funding voluntary organisations over the last winter, which was great — a good opportunity.

How have things changed since you started working in this area?

Sometimes change takes a long time! So just thinking about preparing voluntary organisations to get their heads around commissioning and contracts: to begin with it’s resistance – ‘we don’t want anything to do with that’ – and then gradually – ‘I suppose we do need to have something to do with it’ and then, ok, it’s not completely embraced, but there’s a realisation that that’s the world they need to operate in now. It’s also about individuals – and getting them to see the vision for the future.

What’s hopeful at the moment?

The hope needs really to focus on the small things. There is great stuff going on at neighbourhood level and it’s that sort of groundswell, grass roots that we need to focus on. The fear is that they get lost. Health want to be able to commission The Voluntary Sector. And The Voluntary Sector may be a number of big organisations that they want to work with. Smaller organisations making a real difference may get overlooked.

Social Prescribing is another one of my legacies. It started at  a time when the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) was still offering grants to the voluntary sector and there were already social prescribing services in other parts of the country.We thought this was a good way for the voluntary sector organisations around here to be linked to those people who most need them to support health and wellbeing.. I put in a bid to the Partnership Development Fund and we got £30K for a year-long pilot, and we put in a another bid and got £25K for a second year of the pilot. Now we’re commissioned by RBC and the CCG to work in partnership with Age UK Berkshire. My concern about the increased investment in Social Prescribing is that there is still nothing which is going to the frontline organisations. There’s funding for ‘the link’ but there will be nothing for them to link to the future…

What has been the most enjoyable part of your roles at RVA?

Tilehurst Together was brilliant – that was only a tiny project, but a legacy from that is that there is an ongoing walking group that has 21 regular walkers. My dream was always to have a network of walking groups across Reading and, hopefully, it will still happen. Walking groups help address loneliness and isolation, mental health issues, connect people with each other – so that they can start supporting each other rather than being reliant on others. Walks allow people to have fun and get some fresh air and a bit of exercise, so they are looking after themselves as well.  We had two really good coordinators for Tilehurst Together. It was an opportunity to be a bit more creative as well, because they ran some really good short workshops.

The other thing I have really enjoyed – and it is a privilege – is that through the Urgent and Emergency Care Board I have got to meet really great people in the big partner organisations, the people who are within the Royal Berks, with Berkshire Healthcare, within the CCG, within the ambulance service, directors or assistant directors of adult social care, across Berkshire West…

What’s next for you?

I’m taking January off to sleep! And to rethink –  I will do some work, but I want it to be different work. I am already going to be volunteering one day a week supporting clients at Thrive and I’ll continue to volunteer at the Weald and Downland Museum, and do a bit of fundraising volunteering with two or three other charities. I’m a keen gardener, a keen walker, love doing my crafts, and cycling (when it’s nice weather!). Volunteering is a huge part of my life, I love chatting to people you wouldn’t chat to normally – if I’m at the Weald and Downland for a day, I just get to chat to everyone and that’s lovely. I like the variety there. I’ll also be getting a puppy in the summer, and I’m doing a bit of dog sitting in the meantime.

Sarah is also tweeting her highlights @sarahmorlandrva