VOLUNTARY groups in Dorset need to find and build on better ways of working with statutory organisations.

Dorset Community Action chairman Alan Clevett told a conference in Dorchester on Friday that relationships were improving with a recognition of the value of community groups and volunteers, but said more needed to be achieved.

He said that in the past year £1.5m had been brought into the county by groups assisted by Dorset Community Action advisors.

In all around 186,000 volunteers are thought to work across the county in more than 400 organisations, annually holding around 7,000 events between them.

Mr Clevett told the group’s annual meeting that the challenge was for the sector to become clearly recognised for the work and community value it provided at a time when demand was increasing and statutory organisations were having to consider cuts in their budgets.

He said it was against this background that the DCA team had made real progress during the year – and he praised them for their work.

The chairman said it was thanks to Dorset Council funding that the group had been able to offer free ‘health’ checks to organisations and had offered a range of programmes and advice, helping with groups such as Big4Littlemoor in Weymouth and the Community Learning and Resources Centre in Wimborne as well as providing advice and networking events at a number of locations.

“We now need to build on that success and find better ways of working together with the statutory sector…we now live in a world where funding cuts seem almost inevitable at the same time we are facing an increase in demand.”

He said it was up to the voluntary sector to develop a stronger voice and to develop real partnerships based on trust and understanding.

His comments come as Dorset Council is considering cuts in the funding it gives to community groups with one option suggesting a reduction of ten per cent, or only giving grants to groups which have a benefit to council activities.

One of the others DCA speakers at the conference, Paula Bennets, said finding new ways of working and demonstrating the impacts and effectiveness of that work would become increasingly crucial.

She told how a Weymouth GP practice wanted to work with homeless people and had done so by taking their services to members of that group through the Lantern Trust working in the community, rather than at their surgery.

She said that often measuring effectiveness was difficult for voluntary groups, but sometimes a comment made the point. She said that in Dorchester volunteers at Age UK had their services described as “a port in a hurricane” - offering service users some respite and shelter from day to day challenges.