RAN came into being after a number of voluntary organisations that give information and advice to people who live or work in Reading came together in 2013 as the RAN Project funded by the Advice Services Transition Fund, set up by the Big Lottery and the Cabinet Office.
The original Project
The Project was made up of eleven voluntary organisations:
- Age UK Reading
- Berkshire Autistic Society
- Berkshire Family Mediation
- Berkshire Women’s Aid
- GRAFT (Thames Valley)
- Reading Citizens Advice Bureau
- Reading Community Welfare Rights Unit
- Reading MENCAP
They came together as a Partnership Board chaired by an independent chair from Reading Voluntary Action. Their aim was to develop a more coherent strategy for the Information and Advice services of Reading - more closely joined-up services for the people of Reading, and increasing resilience in a difficult funding climate. Over the duration of the project, the partnership made significant progress towards this aim by:
- commissioning an independent survey of local advice needs and gaps in provision
- piloting Advice Forums
- beginning to develop our Quality Standard for local organisations giving Information and Advice which won the support of Reading Borough Council.
- organising joint training
- and piloting a joint outreach service.
How we became an Independent Charity
Although funding for the project came to an end in December 2015, several partnership members felt that our work together should continue. The project had increased trust and understanding of each other’s operations and had laid a solid foundation for the next phase: the creation of a permanent Reading Advice Network (RAN).
We took the decision to form as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation, with membership open to any organisation providing Information and Advice to the public in Reading, Berkshire. RAN is therefore now run by a Board of Trustees elected by our Member organisations.
We were able to secure initial funding from the Earley Charity. We were registered with the Charity Commission in February 2016.
In July 2018, we were very pleased to have achieved the RVA Safe + Sound governance mark, which recognises the protection we offer our Members, our volunteers, staff & Trustees and therefore the most vulnerable in society.
The mark shows we have good safeguarding and good governance; important because we expect our own Members to achieve the same Safe + Sound standard in order to be subsequently assessed for the RAN Quality Standard.
Our Aims and Objectives
We set three aims, each linked to three underpinning objectives, building on the work of the Project:
- To improve the quality of information, advice and non-statutory advocacy that is available to people in Reading
- To make it easier for people in Reading to access the information, advice and non-statutory advocacy they need
- To become a focal point for information, advice and non-statutory advocacy services in Reading.
The pandemic and forward with quality
In 2020, we suspended assessment of the RAN Quality Standard due to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. It quickly became clear that our member organisations had largely adapted to continuing to offer high-quality information, advice, guidance and non-statutory advocacy by revised means - continuing to support their beneficiaries using online methods (where appropriate), by phone and through staff & volunteers working from home. RAN's trustees discussed whether our then-Standard (version 2) could be used to assess these changed delivery methods: clearly not.
Following consultation with our members, we have devised the RAN Quality Standard version 3, which includes assessment criteria for services delivered online, by phone and by staff & volunteers working from home. This version will be the one used when we hopefully recommence Quality Standard assessment later in 2021.