South Craven Community Action and Bentham Development Trust
CrAven, norTh YorkShire

The four infrastructure organisations in Craven work in partnership – at first informally, then through CLIO

2004-05 Craven Local Infrastructure Organisations (CLIO), a formal partnership agreement between the organisations, is formed 2007 Initial discussions on merger begin; Away Day held to explore options further 2008 Decision in principle to merge taken by boards of three organisations; working committee established July 2009 One of the organisations, Craven Voluntary Action goes into liquidation end of 2009 Boards decide to abandon merger

Infrastructure organisations in Craven, North Yorkshire, initially attempted a three-way merger, with two continuing to pursue the process after the third went into liquidation. In the end, no merger went ahead, but it was still possible to rationalise infrastructure services. One of the organisations, South Craven Community Action, is now providing support services across the whole district, while the other, Bentham Development Trust, is instead focusing on local service delivery for its core communities in the Bentham area.
Craven is a rural district that sits on the western side of North Yorkshire. Historically, four key voluntary organisations provided infrastructure services in Craven. South Craven Community Action (SCCA) focused on the south of the district, providing infrastructure support to voluntary organisations as well as delivering services direct to communities, such as an after school club and children’s play project. Bentham Development Trust was initially a community body largely concerned with the implementation of economic and environmental regeneration in Bentham itself. Its role had developed over the years to increasingly embrace a social and service role and to reach out beyond Bentham but it was really only in the community transport field that it operated outside its original boundaries. Sitting alongside these organisations was Craven Voluntary Action that concentrated on central Craven, and a volunteer bureau working across the district, which had become independent from Craven Voluntary Action in 2005. Recognising that there was duplication in some of their services, the four organisations began working together informally from 1999. For example, they started producing a joint newsletter for frontline organisations. They also divided up some representation tasks and agreed on allocating specific areas of work to individual organisations. For example, while SCCA’s infrastructure support continued to be focused on South Craven, it started delivering relief care, childcare and services for older people across the whole of Craven district. Bentham Development Trust (BDT) focused on providing services in North Craven, as with its widely dispersed population, this area required distinct skills and resources. BDT’s projects included helping to deliver a market towns initiative in and around North Craven. Over the last ten years, this form of collaboration worked well for all involved. With the introduction of the ChangeUp programme, North Yorkshire Forum for Voluntary Organisations brought infrastructure organisations from across the county together to form a formal consortium with agreed

Working committee undertakes preparations and holds consultations with funders

Working committee continues to prepare a two-way merger between SCCA and BDT

SCCA changes its name to Craven Community and Voluntary Service and alters its Memoranda and Articles to reflect its wider role


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terms of reference. SCCA represented Craven in this group. Prompted by this driver to rationalise, the infrastructure organisations in Craven came together as Craven Local Infrastructure Organisations (CLIO), forming a formal partnership in 2004/5. In 2007, the partnership was tightened further. CLIO delivered an IT support programme in Craven, which SCCA led on. In the same year, Craven Voluntary Action employed a funding advice worker for the whole partnership. The partnership also began making joint applications to funders such as Capacitybuilders (via North Yorkshire Consortium for Local Infrastructure Organisations) and Lloyds TSB Foundation. During this time, whilst looking to tighten the partnership further, the organisations began to explore the possibility of merger. This culminated in an Away Day in 2007 to explore options in more depth. The outcome of the away day was that they would tighten up the partnership agreement but maintain their local focus, acknowledging their original aims of supporting communities in those distinct areas.

motivations for merger
Between 2008 and 2009, Craven Voluntary Action was experiencing increasing capacity and resource problems, and as a result of this, SCCA started picking up more and more of Craven Voluntary Action’s work. As such, Craven Voluntary Action approached SCCA to look at a potential merger option. This prompted discussions within the wider Craven partnership. It came to the fore that at the same time, some of Bentham Development Trust’s (BDT) funding streams were coming to an end. BDT thought that merging would be an opportunity to ‘feel part of something’, and to be less isolated. They wanted to explore economies of scale that could be achieved in administration and to open up greater chances of receiving further project funding to meet the Trust’s wider aspirations. The Chair was also concerned about the decline in the number of people wishing to be involved as trustees or volunteers - critical for an organisation that is supposed to be membership led. As such, it was decided that a three way merger would be a sensible option to consider.

moving towards merger
Following the decision to merge, a small working committee was established, made up of chief officers and a trustee representative from each organisation. This group started to look into the feasibility of merger in further detail. SCCA approached key local funders, North Yorkshire County Council and the Primary Care Trust, on behalf of the partnership, to explain the situation and their decision. As both statutory partners funded Craven Voluntary


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Action, they wanted to hold direct talks with the organisation about its financial situation. These discussions took a little time and unfortunately, Craven Voluntary Action went into liquidation in July 2009. This effectively left parts of the district without infrastructure support. During this time, SCCA had been funded by the local authority to carry out a mapping study of the voluntary sector in Craven. SCCA took this opportunity to consult with frontline organisations about their expectations and needs from infrastructure support. As a result, SCCA had a good understanding of what support was needed and felt prepared to fill the gaps left when Craven Voluntary Action ceased trading. Discussions took place between SCCA and key statutory partners, who were happy to back SCCA as the key infrastructure organisation in Craven. meanwhile, SCCA and Bentham Development Trust remained keen to pursue a two-way merger. Deeper talks took place between the two organisations. The working committee, comprised of the chairs and chief officers from both organisations, remained the key driver and each board was kept informed about developments.

“When the [SCCA] chief officer visited the board of trustees at Bentham, a couple [of trustees] were not as comfortable [about the merger as some of the others]. So we had to back-track. We had run on ahead a bit. They wanted us to do more work to prove the benefits and wanted to have it explained. They were asking ‘why should we do this?’

The decision not to merge
The working committee’s efforts culminated in the chief officer of SCCA visiting the board of trustees at BDT to discuss developments. It became clear at this meeting that a number of trustees were anxious about the prospect of no longer being solely focused on Bentham, and at the time did not have a full understanding of the benefits the merger would bring. The two chairs agreed to meet, but this was slow to happen. By the time key meetings were in place, BDT’s chief officer retired and around the end of 2009, the board made the decision that they didn’t want to go ahead with the merger. This decision reflected challenges that had arisen through the merger discussions. As Craven is a very rural district, the physical distances between the infrastructure organisations and the strong identities of the local communities that each served had been an issue throughout. A lot of work was done to try and mitigate anxieties in order to bring people on board.

“There was a subconscious understanding that there was a lot of duplication going on, and in terms of communication in and out of the sector, it’s much better to have the one channel rather than three or four.”

After the merger was abandoned
The decision not to merge still meant that infrastructure services in Craven were split across more than one organisation. In January 2010, it was agreed that Bentham Development Trust would relinquish any infrastructure activities that they undertook to SCCA, formally leaving them to focus their work in Bentham. They are now looking to become a local access point and work in partnership with Bentham Town Council.


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SCCA has since changed its name and altered its constitution. It is now the single infrastructure organisation for Craven, and is seeking to relocate to Skipton, a more central location. Although the failure of the attempted merger was an initial blow, SCCA, its partners and funders now see the recent developments as a good opportunity, offering a way forward for the sector.

“The modernisation fund from Capacitybuilders helped the process a lot. It enabled us to bring in consultants to help with some of the work, which freed up staff time to focus on other aspects of the process.”

Positive aspects of the process and its outcomes
SCCA, which was leading the merger process, was able to access good quality advice and support throughout the process, including from NAVCA, the NCVO’s Foresight website, the Charity Commission and Capacitybuilders. Although it was a difficult process for those involved, key stakeholders are positive about the openness of the process and the way things have turned out. For example, collectively, the key infrastructure organisations in North Yorkshire have recently put in a bid to the BIg Lottery Fund’s BASIS 2 programme. SCCA now has a new funding advisor, rural voice officer and community accountant, who are driving forward improvements. Key members of staff are now all based in one office so internal communication is much better and the management of projects has improved. SCCA put a lot of effort into trying to restore the confidence of statutory partners in the voluntary sector in Craven, after it lost investment when Craven Voluntary Action went into liquidation. The County Council and Primary Care Trust have now redirected funds to SCCA, so overall funding levels for infrastructure in the district are the same as before. SCCA has led on the development of a strategy for the whole of the voluntary sector in Craven, which many key voluntary organisations were involved in and have bought into. From that, SCCA has developed a business plan for the new infrastructure organisation. Key activities will include setting up a voluntary sector assembly for Craven, possibly mirroring local strategic partnership structures. The work will also involve bringing together a Contracts and Commissioning Voluntary Sector group and up-skilling representatives who can represent the district. All this aims to give the sector a stronger voice – whereas in the past the sector’s voices have been disparate and dispersed. From SCCA’s perspective, this shows that positives can come out of a difficult process.

“[Our relationship with SCCA is] very good, very open. One of the things that struck me was the openness through the [whole process]”

“Whilst the final outcome is not what we had planned, we are starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. Overall I think people would agree it’s starting to look better for the sector as a whole in Craven. Although as a sector, we still have a way to go.”


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CommuniTY CounCil for SomerSeT AnD CommuniTY ACTion

leSSonS leArneD
• • • • • The case study shows the importance of communication and making sure everyone is involved and on board with the process. Keep everyone as much up to speed as you possibly can. Spend time with organisations involved in the merger and their trustees from an early stage and be clear about the time it may take to get buy in from trustees. Find out what frontline organisations and stakeholders want and would expect from a single infrastructure organisation. Have the courage to stick with the process of rationalisation and see it through. In the end it is worth it. Be flexible enough to change direction if needs be.

for further information about this case study, please contact:
milton pearson, Chief Executive Officer, Craven Community and Voluntary Service 01535 634588 milton@sccaco.com

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