Friday, January 14, 2011

Update on our shops

FINALLY our new shop at 10A Market Street in Newmarket is really close to opening. The shopfitters will be starting work this Monday and should be finished by the 30th of this month. Our projected opening date is 1st February, but it's possible this may slip a little depending on how long it takes us to put all the stock out and do final tidying up.

We will be installing some of the new "gift aid" tills which will make it possible for donors to gift aid the proceeds of sale of their donated items if they are UK tax payers. The way this works is that the donor fills in a short form when they leave donations and the items are bar coded so that their sale can be tracked through the till. When a gift-aided item is sold, we send off a letter to the donor letting them know how much was raised and checking that they still want to give it to the charity. Provided they are happy for us to keep the money, they need do nothing more and we send off a monthly claim to the inland revenue who will give us an amount equal to the tax that the donor paid on an equivalent sum of their normal income. The system also helps us track our stock as it means an automatic record is kept of donations coming in and sales going out. We plan to install the new tills in both the Burleigh Street and the Market Street shops.

If you've been to 61 Burleigh Street recently you'll have noticed that our staff and volunteers worked hard over the Christmas "break" to put in a new "books and media" section in the raised area that was previously used for storage. This has approximately quadrupled the existing shelf space for books, CDs, videos and DVD's while making room in the rest of the sales area for more clothes and other items.

We've done some rationalisation of the shelves at our second hand bookshop at 188 Mill road and it is now staffed entirely by volunteers for half of the week. We would like to say a very big thank-you to the volunteers for agreeing to take on this extra level of responsibility. It is VERY much appreciated and will make it possible to continue with this shop which is much loved, but unfortunately does not have sufficient trade to cover the wages of a full-time manager and still make a profit to be used for the welfare work of the branch.

Please visit our shops to support the volunteers and make all their hard work worthwhile.

We also need donations of anything saleable. We move stock between the shops, so please feel free to take items to whichever is most convenient for you.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Branch volunteering and "Big Society"

There's lots of discussion about "Big Society" but not much light about what it may mean in practice; particularly for voluntary organisations which already exist.

Having experienced initiative after initiative over twenty-odd years on the branch committee, what  would I like to see?
  • A single point for organisations to sign up as bodies who can take volunteers. One of the most frustrating things for me has been the waste of my time completing repetitive forms for each new bright idea about encouraging volunteering that emanates from Whitehall. I'd like to see a system (possibly using the existing volunteering add-on to our Charity Commission registration) that let us register as bona fide users of volunteers who are not either axe murderers or operating suicidally dangerous premises. Having done that once we wouldn't need to keep confirming that, yes, we do have a health and safety policy, Employers' Liability Insurance etc. 
  • Recognition for existing volunteers if we (and they) choose. There are large numbers of people who have volunteered for years and years because they have no realistic prospect of getting paid work and they want to put something back into society. In an absolutely ideal world I think there would be an option for people like this to have an alternative type of benefits (maybe called something like volunteering tax credits) that was not a way of forcing or bribing people to "volunteer" but recognising their choice to make a contribution rather than sitting at home watching daytime TV.
  • A centralised and simple way to record the amount of time volunteers have put in (maybe a website where we could submit details). Again it should be up to the volunteer and the organisation whether they want to be included.
  • A single system which could be used to register any volunteer instead of the present alphabet soup of initiatives aimed at getting people into meaningful activity. Ideally this could be used to produce references and some information about what they've done to assist them in future job applications, and would be computerised rather then involving more bits of paper.
  • Sort out the position of volunteers under the age of 18; most urgently those who are under 16. At the moment if a volunteer under the age of 15 wants to work in a charity shop, the shop has to apply for special permission from the local authority, and must do this for each volunteer. It would make youth volunteering much more of a practical proposition if each place where young people were to volunteer had just one set of registration requirements and only had to do one generic risk assessment of the venue's suitability for young people, rather than an individual assessment for each young person. It would also help if there was some sensible reassessment of the need for background checks of adults who will be working alongside young volunteers.
At present I strongly suspect that some young people are drawn into risky forms of activism simply because more responsible organisations dare not involve young people because of the difficulty of staying within the law.
  • An educational component in all volunteering activity, to be developed by the organisation with the aim that the volunteer would learn something meaningful about the functioning, purpose etc. of that organisation, rather than simply being used as an extra pair of unskilled hands.
  • A more sensible attitude to using volunteers for tasks that are sometimes done by paid staff, rather than the mantra that "job substitution" is to be avoided at all costs. Of course it would be unacceptable (and a breach of employment law) to sack paid staff and replace them with unpaid volunteers. Some roles (such as the inspectorate in our case) would be quite unsuitable for volunteers. But there is nothing magical about being paid and it is equally unacceptable to waste charity funds through a bigoted attitude that volunteers must always be subject to a paid manager and not expected to take responsibility. Voluntary organisations are not job creation schemes and, in the long run, this kind of attitude helps no-one because properly-used volunteers release funds that can be used to employ paid professionals for the tasks that genuinely can't be done by anyone else.
  • A sane attitude to using volunteers to save money — of course this is a good thing (provided it can be done without detriment to services). There is nothing to be ashamed of in using volunteers to stack shelves if it means another dog or cat can have a fracture repair done by qualified veterinary staff.
(Cross-posted, with a few edits, from our i-volunteer entry).

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    Animal Welfare Statistics for 2010

    During the whole of 2010, our clinic provided a total of 4,165 treatments, of which 2,786 were for dogs, 1,243 for cats, 87 for rabbits, and 49 for miscellaneous "small furries".

    We also neutered 246 animals, chipped 248 and rehomed a total of 22 dogs, 67 cats, 11 rabbits and six miscellaneous animals.

    In addition, our partner, the rabbit residence rescue rehomed a much larger number of rabbits with financial help from us for neutering and vaccinations. I don't yet have these figures, but will include them later.

    Sunday, January 9, 2011

    Thank-you RSPCA HQ!

    I've just been notified by HQ that our application for a grant to restart our emergency assistance at private vets has been approved. This means that we will be able to give at least some help to animals whose owners have not registered them at our clinic if they have an emergency which can't wait until our next ordinary clinic session.


    The amount of money which will be available for each individual animal will necessarily be strictly limited; if we don't do this it will simply run out within a couple of months. Most of the time it will simply cover the vet's consultation fee, plus some initial first aid aimed at keeping the animal alive and pain-free until they can be transferred to the next available session at our clinic. 

    It will not be possible to cover expensive surgery which cannot wait, such as emergency pyometria or caesarian operations, so please, please, if you have a bitch or female cat and would not be able to pay for this yourself, get her spayed unless there are medical reasons why this can't be done.

    If you are on benefits (including working tax credit etc.) and know you would struggle to afford emergency treatment for your pet (or could not afford to take him/her to a vet at all), PLEASE get them registered by taking them to one of our standard sessions for a check-up or get them microchipped or vaccinated at the clinic. If they are not vaccinated and belong to a species (cat, dog, rabbit) which needs this, getting it done will protect them from several nasty diseases and will also mean that they are registered. Our veterinary service provider is only prepared to see registered animals outside normal clinic hours.

    Registration only applies to an individual animal; if you have multiple animals it is essential that they all visit the clinic.