A SUCCESSFUL initiative that enables businesses to effectively offer free professional support to the voluntary and community sector is being extended.

ProHelp, a key programme of Business in the Community, has been operating in Birmingham for seven years. Now the scheme’s co-ordinators are hoping to recruit more willing businesses to offer professional services free of charge across the West Midlands.

John Guilford, Regional ProHelp Manager, said: “We hope businesses will see ProHelp as an effective way of giving something back to their communities.

“Many companies are already doing pro bono work but through ProHelp there can be ways of making this more straightforward and to commit to the hours they want to offer.”

Each request for help is vetted by the scheme’s co-ordinators which many members prefer to receiving unsolicited requests for help.

John said: “When the requests are made we are able to check the scheme’s sustainability so no business is undertaking work that may be a waste of time in a few months.”

One group able to receive invaluable support is the martial arts’ group Red Dragons, based in West Bromwich. Carl Auty, who runs the group, saw its potential but knew there was a need to move to new premises – he will discuss the challenges during tomorrow’s get-together.

Chris Dewes, a partner at the Birmingham office of national law firm Shoosmiths,  co-ordinates the firm's involvement with ProHelp in the West Midlands and is another who appreciates the value of offering probono help through a co-ordinated programme.

He said: "Shoosmiths is an active member of ProHelp and our three Midlands' offices donate many hours of free legal advice to charities and other not-for-profit organisations.

"The firm has advised a range of businesses from an emerging technology company to a well established martial arts club on a variety of issues ranging from acquiring charitable status and start up units to negotiating a lease on new larger premises.  

“Earlier this year, Shoosmiths formalised its CSR policy, underlining the firm's commitment to making a clear and positive contribution to the communities in which it operates.   The new policy outlines three areas where staff can make a positive impact in the community:  pro bono work, financial donations, and employee volunteering.

"ProHelp is a great organisation which allows us access to those in the community who most need free legal advice.  We treat ProHelp clients with the same care and attention to detail as fee paying clients and it is extremely satisfying to see a new children's club or fledgling business get off the ground with our help."

Shoosmiths is not a hierarchical organisation and the firm's approach to Community Investment is no different, Chris explains:  "Our staff play a key role in the decisions that we make and we have created a support structure to allow everyone the freedom to actively develop pro-bono, charitable and community projects which they feel passionately about."

For more details about ProHelp, contact John Guilford on 02476 420115.

Alternatively, if you have a service you think would be of use to voluntary organisations, contact us at thrivepost@hotmail.co.uk.