We know this is a worrying time for the MS Community, our volunteers and our staff. The coronavirus has had a huge impact on our organisation and, like so many charities, we’ve been hit hard financially. We expect significant income loss this year and next.
We were already planning some changes through our transformation programme, but now we’re having to go further. We’ve started a consultation which will consider restructures and redundancies in two phases. This will include doing some work differently and stopping some of what we do.
Phase one, which started yesterday, affects primarily externally facing roles. This includes those involved in supporting the MS community, our influencing work, and staff involved in supporting our volunteers and fundraisers across the UK.
Phase two will take place in the autumn and will include support areas such as finance, facilities, administrative resources and fundraising processes across the organisation.
We know people might be concerned about the impact of the proposals – we want you to know this hasn’t been an easy decision.
If implemented, these plans will help us to achieve the vital savings we need so that we can continue to provide essential support to the MS Community and drive change on the issues that matter most.
You can find out more about each affected area by clicking the links below:
- Supporting our volunteers
- National services
- Fundraising in the community
- Research and influencing
- Research grants oversight
- Changes in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales
So that you can ask questions and share your views throughout the process, we’re running some feedback sessions on Zoom:
You can of course contact Supporter Care at any time via email or phone: [email protected], 0300 500 8084.
We also have an FAQ to help answer some immediate questions:
We’re aiming to improve the quality and consistency of our support to volunteers. We also need to reduce costs and address the substantial loss of income caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
We believe that the proposed changes would simplify how we support volunteers, improve our communication, and make it easier for volunteers to access information.
We hope that this will help us to respond to some of the challenges raised by volunteers in our 2019 review of support to local groups.
These changes are about our staff structure and our approach to supporting groups. They do not change the day-to-day work of our groups, or the roles of local volunteers.
The proposed changes
We are proposing that we create a new, UK-wide Community Networks team, which would bring together responsibilities that currently sit across a number of teams throughout the organisation.
The team would have responsibility for all day-to-day support to all local groups and their volunteers. It would have a clear structure with clearly defined responsibility for decision making, communication and engagement and day to day support.
We would have a smaller, more focused Volunteering team who would lead our overall volunteering strategy across the UK, but would not have a role in day-to-day support to local network volunteers.
Impact on our local staff presence
These proposals would see us reduce the number of staff we have working locally, and we would no longer have a team of Local Network Officers (LNOs) or Regional External Relations Officers (REROs)/External Relations Officers (EROs) across the UK. Instead we would have a team of seven Regional Development Officers across England, and one Community Development Officer in each of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This team would be smaller than the current team and each staff member would cover a larger geographical area.
We appreciate that local volunteers often really value the relationships they have with local staff. However, we believe that by shifting our regional staff away from day-to-day support and towards a more flexible role focused on developing the entire MS community, we can increase our reach and impact.
We also believe that a skilled, UK-wide volunteer support team can still ensure that the day-to-day needs of our volunteers are met, by providing high quality, consistent and responsive support on the phone and online.
How will the proposed structure support volunteers better?
As well as helping to reduce costs and therefore rebalance income and expenditure following the COVID-19 crisis, we believe that this approach would have a number of benefits:
Clarifying decision making: Bringing together a number of specialist roles from across the organisation (for example finance, health and safety, safeguarding) into a single team. This means that we can make sure the requirements we place on our local groups and volunteers are simpler, more joined-up, and fully involve volunteers from the outset. We’ll also create a small number of new roles to support areas which currently lack a clear ‘owner’. For example, someone to manage and support the range of IT systems that our volunteers use, such as the Volunteer Portal, or MS Society email accounts.
Bringing together communication and engagement: We know that our communication to volunteers can feel disjointed, with information shared in lots of places. This means that it isn’t always easy to find out the things volunteers need to know. We’re proposing to create a new small team to handle all of our communication to local network volunteers, and to make our communication simpler and more relevant to the needs of volunteers. This will include things like improving the volunteer website, Teamspirit, and emails to volunteers. It will also look at building new ways of sharing information like a programme of webinars or online forums for volunteers.
Consistent support: There are currently lots of ways to get in touch with the organisation, but it often isn’t clear who you should speak to about what issues, or how to give feedback. We’re proposing to introduce a new volunteer support team which will operate standard business hours and will be the first point of contact for all questions from volunteers in local groups. They’ll be able to answer questions on the phone or via email, and will ensure that volunteers are able to get quick, consistent and accurate answers to your questions. It will also include a new, dedicated role to support with volunteer recruitment, something we know is a priority for many of our groups.
Developing our community: We’re proposing to create a new team of regional development officers in England, who will take responsibility for building the MS community across a region. They will focus on bringing groups, volunteers, MS professionals and people with MS together to develop new partnerships, share good practice, respond to local need and engage with the wider community. They won’t be a source of day-to-day support for our groups (that will be provided by the Volunteer Support team) but will undertake at least an annual visit to each group. We will create a similar role, a Community Development Officer, but with a slightly broader remit in each of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Improving the volunteer experience
These proposed changes aren’t all about structure, we also want to work in a different way to improve the experience of volunteering for the MS Society, and the impact we achieve for the MS community. Our review of support to local volunteers last year highlighted challenges with how we make decisions that affect how our groups work, and how volunteers can provide feedback.
We will introduce a clear and transparent decision-making process so that all decisions about how groups or volunteers work are always made with the involvement of volunteers, making sure that volunteers are part of discussions on how we manage risk and grow our impact. We’ll also set up systems to share the feedback we receive so that everyone can see how we’re doing, and how we’re acting on that feedback.
Changes to individual grants
Before the start of the COVID-19 crisis, we awarded grants both through our national grants programme and through many of our local groups. At the start of lockdown our national grants programme was paused. This was to help control expenditure and also because of the challenges of securely managing a paper-based grants system when based at home. We’d also found that demand for grants had started to decrease as many of the items we support would be difficult to obtain or arrange during lockdown.
We have long planned to modernise our national grants programme, which would have included investment in new systems to move the application process online, to simplify the process for applicants, and to reduce turnaround times. We had also hoped that this would reduce the cost of awarding grants, which in some cases can exceed the value of the grant itself.
Given the significant decline in income caused by the COVID-19 crisis that investment is no longer possible, and we are having to make very difficult decisions on where we need to focus.
We now propose to continue the pause of our national grants programme for at least a two to three-year period. Instead we will focus on supporting local groups to award grants in a consistent and high-quality way.
We would create a new Grants Coordinator role in our proposed Community Networks team, who would act as the grants expert and contact point for grant giving groups.
They will work closely with local groups to develop grant giving best practice, bringing together their own experience and knowledge with that of our volunteers.
Over the medium-term (two to three years), the Grants Coordinator would also support the organisation to consider if and how to resume a national grants programme, should this prove affordable and considered a high priority by the MS community.
Strengthening our national services
There are a range of specialist roles across the organisation who currently have a UK-wide remit for providing support to people affected by MS. There are others whose roles could be expanded to become UK wide, enabling us to increase the reach, impact and equality of our service.
We’re therefore proposing that we move a small number of existing roles to increase the consistency, reach and impact of our support to the MS community. Where we’re proposing to change some reporting lines from a devolved nation to our UK-wide teams, we’re not intending to change the location of where the individual member of staff is based.
We’re proposing the following:
Moving the small team in Scotland responsible for our self-management programme to our UK-wide team, reporting to the Assistant Director of Information and Support
Moving the specialist neuro-physiotherapist from our team in Belfast to the Specialists team in our helpline. During the lockdown period they have started to provide advice and support on the phone and online. We want to re-focus their role on providing this support across the UK
Moving the information officer in Scotland into our helpline team, to focus on providing nation-specific information to the MS community
Moving the small team responsible for supporting our MS Support service into the helpline. This will build alignment and consistency between all the information and emotional support we provide to the MS community, whether in a local group by an MS Support Volunteer or by the helpline
To reduce expenditure and maximise opportunities to raise funds we need to re-align our community and events fundraising resources, as one national team. This will enable us to give donors and fundraisers a consistent, high quality experience. As well as better support those who already know us, bring in new supporters, and increase our funds raised.
Through more efficient use of resources across the UK, this proposal will see us reduce our overall fundraising team by four roles.
To bring together all four nations’ fundraisers based in the community. As a team they will deliver a UK-wide strategy, focussing on supporting high value relationships and new business development.
Our fundraisers in the community will deliver national MS Society fundraising products and campaigns. And provide a consistent and effective programme of fundraising support to volunteers - in particular our local groups - to help them to generate income through their own events and initiatives.
Having one national team to support product development, marketing, delivery of mass participation events and ensure consistent supporter experience across the UK. We’ll continue to appropriately reflect geographical differences.
To create a community fundraising support team who will take a lead on answering simple questions and provide fundraising support, as well as take a lead on large scale communications. Enquiries will be assigned to a single, named team-member who will stay with the enquiry until completion.
Regional external relations
We’re proposing replacing our Regional Staff roles (RERO and ERO roles) who are responsible for service improvement in their local areas, with a focussed Stakeholder Engagement Team. The team would be responsible for encouraging health and care service improvement across the UK by:
Producing content for professionals to promote service improvement and innovation
Providing digital networking opportunities for professionals to connect
Delivering a series of Regional Forums for professionals around the UK so that professionals in a specific area can get together, coordinate care and develop service improvement plans
This team would also be responsible for coordinating the MS Society’s work with professional bodies such as the Association of British Neurologists, and the UK MS Specialist Nurses Association to promote initiatives that are important to people with MS. The team will be responsible for coordinating the MS Society’s work with Industry.
Service improvement within Health and Social Care will rely on dedicated professionals working with our Stakeholder Engagement Team to promote the uptake and adoption of services. The team will also play a central role in working with teams internally to provide data and evidence to make the case for better services in specific areas where we know services can be improved.
External relations, campaigns and evidence
We're proposing to reduce our External Relations team who currently have responsibility for our Professional Network and relationships with Industry by two roles and to re-focus their roles on engaging with Parliament to promote policy changes important to people with MS. At the same time, we will refocus some of the resource in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that have been dedicated to service improvement on public affairs and policy work.
We also know it is vital that people affected by MS have a voice and the support they need to campaign on issues that are important to them in their local area. We propose to increase our Campaigns Team by two roles to:
Support the development of toolkits and templates to support local campaigning
Provide opportunities for campaigners to share information about what has worked for them and what hasn’t worked
Provide ad hoc support to campaigners on issues that are important for people affected by MS
Make sure that the work we are doing involves people with MS in a thoughtful way
We’re also going to increase the ability we have to produce evidence to support new ways of doing things on the NHS and within Social Care and to help provide the case for changes to services in local areas. This evidence will be used both locally but also nationally by our Policy and our Public Affairs teams to provide a case for change in each of the four nations to influence change for people with MS.
We believe this proposal will make us more sustainable in a post-COVID future. It will also increase the opportunities for professionals to connect to each other, people living with MS and the MS Society. And enable them to dedicate time to learn about the latest evidence-based information and new ways of doing things to improve their services for people living with MS.
Last year the MS Society invested in an upgraded research grants management system to increase efficiency of how we manage the research we fund. This includes checking invoices, managing reports on the research we fund and queries from researchers.
Unfortunately, we’ve had to pause our research grant round for 2020 and expect to run a significantly reduced grant round in 2021, which will mean funding fewer grants. We therefore don’t have a need for as many people managing our research grants and propose to reduce the team by one role to compensate for this.
If these changes are implemented, we would no longer have two LNOs and an ERO working in Northern Ireland. The first point of contact for the local group volunteers in Northern Ireland would be the UK wide Volunteer Support team.
We would have a Community Development Officer whose focus will be on building the community across the country, developing new and innovative ways of bringing people together.
We would strengthen our policy and public affairs team to make sure we can influence the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive as effectively as possible. We’d achieve this by adding an additional part time role who will work alongside our Policy Press and Campaigns Manager.
Whist the Community Fundraiser would be line managed by the Fundraising Directorate they would still have strong links with the rest of the team working in Northern Ireland.
High Dependency Day Care
The day care service provided at the Belfast Resource Centre was suspended as the coronavirus crisis developed in March 2020. In light of the financial pressures now upon the organisation, we have reviewed the costs and reach of the day care service in Belfast.
We are sadly proposing to permanently close the day care service. This was not an easy decision to make and we know will be upsetting for those who value the excellent care provided.
We’ll continue to offer support, in the form of telephone and online activities for those affected. We’ll also be working with the Belfast and South Eastern HSC Trusts to ensure that the ongoing needs of affected individuals are fully supported. Other services delivered at the Resource Centre, such as the counselling service, yoga and reflexology services are not affected by the proposed changes.
If these changes are implemented, we would no longer have a Head of Services and Support, three LNOs, project assistant, Head of Policy, Communications and External Affairs and an ERO working in Scotland. The first point of contact for the local group volunteers in Scotland would be the UK wide Volunteer Support team.
The existing self-management team based in Scotland already has a UK-wide remit for providing self-management services to the MS Community. We propose moving the reporting line for this team into our national services, reporting into the Assistant Director of Information and Support. This team would be responsible for both small-group self-management provision and the development and provision our programme of information webinars.
We would have a Community Development Officer whose focus will be on building the community across Scotland, developing new and innovative ways of bringing people together.
We would strengthen our policy and public affairs team to make sure we can continue to influence the Scottish Government as effectively as possible by introducing an additional full-time role who will work alongside our Policy Public Affairs and Campaigns Manager.
Whist the Fundraising Team would be line managed by the Fundraising Directorate they would still have strong links with the rest of the team working in Scotland.
If these changes are implemented, we would no longer have two LNOs and an ERO working in Wales. The first point of contact for the local group volunteers in Wales would be the UK wide Volunteer Support team.
We would have a Community Development Officer whose focus will be on building the community across the country, developing new and innovative ways of bringing people together.
We would strengthen our policy and public affairs team to make sure we can influence the Welsh Parliamentarians, Welsh Government Ministers and Civil Servants as effectively as possible. It is proposed that a part time Policy Officer role is created. The Policy Officer will be line managed by the Policy, Press and Campaigns Manager.