Making the changes - our story

Ever since Laura and her family decided they were moving to America, we’ve been thinking about what it meant for the future of the Third Sector Café. The café has been a joint project from the start, and the option to carry on without Laura didn’t really seem much fun for Sophy, back in not-as-sunny-as-Atlanta Sheffield. We did consider packing up the cafe – over 6 years we’ve both put in many voluntary hours and perhaps – at the end of the day – that could be said to be enough? But…. When we started the café, we had a feeling that people working in the ‘third’ sector in Sheffield could benefit from connecting with each other more,  sharing their  know-how and contacts,  and, well, just giving each other a bit of mutual positive “you can do it” type encouragement when it’s needed.
At the time, not everybody agreed with us. Many people felt there was no space in the city for ‘more meetings’ and others said we were in danger of ‘trespassing’ on their territory if we discussed xyz subject! We totally understood then – as we do now – that the city does offer a lot of opportunities to meet up for third sector people and that no-one wants to  – or should - give up their valuable time to come along to yet another meeting unless they get something from it. But over 50 cafes later, I think what we have learnt is that the Café does offer a benefit that many value.

That there is a real benefit in creating more opportunities to discuss challenges and share solutions to issues many organisations share (you know, shrinking funding, but ballooning need; more beneficiaries with more complex problems, but fewer people with time to spare to volunteer … etc).
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And alongside this realisation is our increasing excitement about the wonderful resources offered online now. The online space has transformed so much in the past 5 years that we think that now is possibly the most exciting time there’s ever been to be setting up and running a networking organisation because of the amazing blossoming of tools and expertise around creating and running virtual communities.

We know that many of you will not agree that an online community can offer the benefits that coming along to a ‘real’ café can (although of course, there is no reason why an online community cannot also host ‘real’ meet-ups .. something to think about in the future). But we’ve decided that this is what we are going to aim to do next: the future of the Third Sector Café looks digital.
And as many organisations share our challenge – how to make the online world work for them – our plan is to conduct our experiments in public so that you can watch along (and contribute to!) our experiment .. in the hope that some of the things we’ll be learning, may also be of use to you too.

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So first up, Laura and I will be doing the first of what we hope will be a regular new series of vlogs (videos) where we will share our plans for the Autumn, and the thinking behind them. Our plans include a look through our ‘back catalogue’ by returning to some of the themes and speakers that have interested you (and us!) most. To kick this ‘back catalogue’ series off we’ll be tackling volunteering and leadership. We may even come up with a better name for the series

Thanks for reading,

Sophy and Laura

Sophy HallamHarland Works