Saheli: Partnership Working, Our Experience and Learning

Rebalancing the Relationship, a new report from NCVO, ACEVO and Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales highlights ways in which larger and smaller charities can overcome the competitive commissioning environment and foster better collaboration to achieve greater impact for the communities they serve.

Priya Chopra, Chief Executive of Saheli, a Lloyds Bank Foundation grant holder, shares her experience of working in partnership.

Priya has worked within the Domestic Abuse field for over 20 years. She has been active in campaigning and policymaking on violence against women and girls including forced marriage and Honor Based Violence. Within her role as CEO of Saheli, she has been working to make a positive difference by ensuring that specialist services continue to work towards empowering women to live a life free from Abuse.

 

Saheli was founded in 1976 by a group of South Asian women community activists who had identified a need for support accommodation for South Asian women who were fleeing domestic abuse. They committed to creating a safe place for women to address the hidden harm and silent subject of domestic abuse and ensure women could leave abusive and life-threatening situations.

 

Saheli’s services include refuge accommodation, outreach support, children services in the refuge, group work in the community, aftercare and resettlement support, specialist counselling support, volunteering project and recently we have developed a social enterprise in catering called “Zesty Cuisine” to help women survivors of domestic abuse to gain skills, experience and move into paid employment. 

 

Saheli comes under the category of small to medium-sized charity. We have been working with organisations big and small for a long time. Initially, a lot of our partnership work would be delivering sessions on domestic abuse awareness jointly with other organisations or running group work. At that time, our source of income was local authority grants and we would have some small pots of money coming in through donations or working in partnership mainly to run training sessions or group work. 

 

We were no longer partnering with small organisations but working with larger organisations who employed people who bid on contracts as a full-time job. They knew how to negotiate a deal and write successful applications. We, on the other hand, were a team of five staff doing everything from frontline support, running a refuge, outreach, HR, funding bids and more.

 

 

During this time, our organisation was also developing and growing, and we started to apply for funding from the Big Lottery Fund, Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, and Tudor Trust to name a few. We were able to reach out to more women in the community and looking into developing a social enterprise. The idea was to diversify our income streams as we were being told again and again not to depend on one source of income.

 

After decades of austerity, the competition for contracts and tenders grew and we found ourselves out of our comfort zone. Bidding for contracts was something we had not prepared ourselves for. It was new to us and we had lots of learning to do. We were no longer partnering with small organisations but working with larger organisations who employed people who bid on contracts as a full-time job. They knew how to negotiate a deal and write successful applications. We, on the other hand, were a team of five staff doing everything from frontline support, running a refuge, outreach, HR, funding bids and more.

 

Our work was getting very busy and we were struggling to meet the increasing demand for our services. The first time we worked on a bid in partnership with a larger charity was not very successful. The whole experience left us feeling betrayed. We struggled to trust again and started to avoid partnership working. Losing the tender was a huge setback for us and more then that was losing our trust in partnership working.

 

Times were changing and we could continue to work alone but we needed to learn, change and grow. We started to connect with different projects and found that where we were partnering with outside our sector of domestic abuse the partnership worked for us as each organisation brought their own specialism and we learnt from each other.

 

We have come a long way in the last ten years. We have taken more risks and learned from our experience. We have successfully put in tender and done bidding for contracts. We are currently working in four different partnerships. We are learning all the time and feel more confident in challenging things we are not happy about and creating a space where differences can be voiced. In our experience trust can take some time to build especially if you are working with organisations or people you have not worked with before.

 

For the last four years, Saheli has been leading as a part of Big Lottery Funded Maya Project which is made of eight Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee women’s organisations. The eight organisations include the Bangladeshi Women’s Project, Wai Yin Chinese Women’s Society, Himmat Asian Carer Project, Wonderfully Made Women - which is the African Women’s Project, CDMUK   and Bauer Academy.

 

Maya Project has been running 32 services every week for Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee women.  Providing skills and confidence, language assistance, supporting women to find employment and developing their skills, inspiring women to change their life through empowerment and support. Sessions delivered include a group for older women 65+, younger women and women of all age groups.  

 

We have had amazing support from Lloyds Bank Foundation through their Enhance programme and have connected with other leaders and learnt how they have initiated partnership working. We have been part of an Action Learning Set from Lloyds which has given us much needed space to have difficult conversations and learn from each other.

 

The Maya Partnership has not been without its challenges. However, the experience has made us value partnership working and now we feel more confident to take risks. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we joined up with seven other organisations to deliver services to the community including women experiencing domestic abuse in North Manchester. The partners came together in response to need that was identified due to Lockdown and everyone pulled resources together and has been working for last six months to reach out the vulnerable families who have been affected by Covid-19.

 

Our learning has been that partnership working is not easy, it takes a lot of investment of time and resources but we truly believe that if you can get it right then the impact of the partnership can greatly benefit your service users and your organisation.