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Volunteer Cornwall 'closes doors' on new volunteers

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Media captionVolunteer Cornwall reduces the opening hours of its centres after a change in government contracts means it has lost £90,000.

An organisation which saw a 40% boom in the number of people volunteering has suffered a financial blow after changes to a government contract.

Volunteer Cornwall (VC) recruits and places more than 1,000 volunteers each year with organisations such as Age UK Cornwall.

It previously operated the government's Back to Work scheme and used the profit to re-invest in its volunteer centres.

But the government recently switched to using organisations which could offer a region-wide service, rather than just in one county.

As a result, VC lost just under £90,000 as the income relating to the contract dropped from £143,000 in 2011 to £55,800 this year.

'Olympic-factor'

That resulted in all its administrative staff being made redundant and its four volunteer centres being closed every Friday and each lunch-time so the remaining staff could keep up with the paperwork.

Andy Brelsford, from VC, said: "Since we made those changes in the autumn, the number of inquiries has dropped simply because there's nobody there to answer the phone.

Image caption Andy Brelsford said the government should consider how the contract changes are affecting organisations

"We think we got an Olympic factor which encouraged more people to come out and get involved in volunteering, which was great and we were optimistic it would set us up for the rest of the year.

"Since then, we've found the volunteering levels have very quickly dropped back."

Mr Brelsford said those changes came about as a result of the contract changes.

He said: "In the old days we had those contracts [directly issued to] ourselves.

"But national changes in government procurement and contracting means those contracts for back to work support are now all held by big, national companies, and we can only participate as a sub-contractor.

"We barely get paid and now there is no surplus money to invest and our centres are struggling."

As an organisation, Volunteer Cornwall recruits people such as Barbara Wyper, a retired midwife who now helps with advocacy for Age UK Cornwall.

Since May, she has been helping 91-year-old Peggy Beard, from St Austell, who is visually impaired, with any benefit forms she needs to complete.

Mrs Beard said: "I couldn't do it myself because I can't see to write, so I need the help and she's been absolutely wonderful.

Image caption 91-year-old Peggy Beard said having a volunteer has helped her keep her independence

"I'm very, very happy because it means I'm able to stay in my house which is lovely."

But it is not just those receiving the help that benefit.

Mrs Wyper said: "The big thing is it makes a difference. I enjoy doing it, I know that it benefits people and it benefits me to know I'm helping."

With a sudden drop in the amount of contact VC has with the public, the concern is that services such as those that Mrs Beard benefits from could come under threat.

In a statement, the Department for Work and Pensions said: "The Work Programme is run by a number of prime providers who have the flexibility to sub-contract to smaller charities and voluntary sector organisations across the country."

But Mr Brelsford added: "I would say to the government they do need to take some action, they do need to listen to what the providers are saying and do something about it before other providers find themselves in the same position as us."

But it is not all doom and gloom, VC has just opened a new centre in Truro which the city council has provided rent free.

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