What is social action?

Social action has many different definitions. Perhaps the best and most topical is – social action is about people coming together to help improve their lives and solve the problems that are important in their communities. It involves people giving their time and other resources for the common good, in a range of forms – from volunteering and community-owned services to community organising or simple neighbourly acts.

Whilst many of these activities occur without the support of the public sector (in which case the role of public servants is to ensure that the right conditions are in place for social action to thrive), some require more specific support from the public sector.

The New Economics Foundation recently held an enabling Social Action Conference (in conjunction with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport) and with it their latest online resource centre on all matters relating to Social action: What it is, what conditions does it need to thrive, what are the barriers and challenges, and how can stakeholders commission services better within communities. These can all be seen at www.gov.uk/enabling-social-action-guidance

In addition, the Department of Culture, Media and Sports Community Organiser Programme (COP) is being expanded to include:

  • Embedding community organising in 20 areas across England by setting up Social Action Hubs in each area to lead on the training, recruitment and development of Community Organising. Social Action Hubs will be locally rooted organisations and supported by an Experienced Community Organiser. Through training local leaders and volunteers at a neighbourhood level they will strengthen the networks of community organisers and be catalysts for resident led social action.
  • Setting up the National Academy for Community Organising to be the home of the “Foundations of Community Organising” qualification. The academy will be made up of a network of local and regional organisations delivering accredited training in community organising. The Academy will also develop new online training courses and programmes.
  • Building new partnerships and alliances to expand the community organising network. COLtd will work with a range of partners from the statutory and third sector to increase the reach of community organising. Partners will include the National Citizens Service, Step Up To Serve and Local Trust as well as Staffordshire County Council and other local authority bodies.
  • Engaging a network of Member Support Organisers to strengthen the network of Community Organisers. 10 Member Support Organisers (MSOs) will be recruited across England to support the growth of the community organising network. MSOs will bring Community Organisers together from across neighbourhoods and will support them to take collective action around their aspirations for the future of their communities.

Grants are going to be made available, download the full briefing papers to find out more.

Support Cambridgeshire are looking at various forms of social action, and more particularly how the voluntary or community sector can better demonstrate its impact, a subject which is becoming ever more important as funding regimes reduce and competition increases. If any community organisations are interested in coming together as part of a network forum to discuss the challenges and opportunities then please contact Russell Rolph on 01480 420603 directly. If there is enough interest an initial meeting will be convened at a date and time that suits participants.

Funding to tackle inactivity

From April 2017 Sport England will be accepting applications for the second round of its inactivity fund. The £3 million Tackling Inactivity and Economic Disadvantage fund will be available for projects which use sport and physical activity to improve lives and communities.

Research has shown that 32% of people in semi-routine and routine occupations, such as shop assistants and waitresses, are inactive. That compares to 17% of people in managerial and professional occupations. The Tackling Inactivity and Economic Disadvantage fund will support inactive people who have little income and are therefore economically disadvantaged. This group make up a third of the population in England aged 16 to 74 (14.6 million people).

Applications will be accepted from a wide range of community organisations, including non-sport organisations.

Two pots of funding will be available:

  • Pot one – A £2 million fund which will support larger projects with funding of up to £500,000. This funding will be given to projects which target those who have little disposable income. Beneficiaries will likely live very ordered lives but find it hard to find time for physical activity or feel that being active is just not for them.
  • Pot two – A £1 million fund for projects seeking funding of between £10,000 and £100,000. This funding will focus on those who are far less likely to have a steady income, or any income at all, living more chaotic lives with additional challenges. For example, they may have an offending background, be dealing with alcohol or drug misuse, or facing mental health issues.

Sport England says it knows that sport and physical activity can be extremely powerful in supporting positive social change for communities and individuals, that could mean using sport to improve someone’s mental wellbeing, help drive down crime rates in an area, or reduce social isolation in rural communities.

Applications are expected to open in mid-April 2017, for information is available at www.sportengland.org/funding/

Connecting with older people

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Charities and Volunteering hears that older people are often keen to volunteer but struggle to get information on how to do so.

Charities need better ways of connecting older people to volunteering opportunities and providing information about volunteering opportunities in retirement.

Parliamentarians heard that although older people were often keen to give something back to their communities, many were unsure where they could get information about volunteering opportunities.

Dan Jones, director of innovation and change at The Centre for Ageing Better, told the meeting he wanted to see charities “think much harder about who volunteers are and how they involve them” in their work.

He also urged charities to focus to a greater extent on the skills older volunteers could bring rather than what the charity needed people to do.

Jones said the sector should be more creative, especially digitally, in how it connected people with volunteering opportunities, noting how effective the dating app Tinder was at connecting people.

But he warned that both digital and real-world solutions were needed to connect older people with volunteering opportunities, noting that a sizeable portion of working-age people were not using digital technology and there was a “big drop off” in digital inclusion after people left work.

Katy Owen, head of the Centre for Social Action and Evaluation at the Office for Civil Society, warned that although digital solutions could help increase volunteering among older people, the sector needed to be “a bit cautious about thinking digitisation is the answer”, noting that many older people were “not digital at all”.

Jones said that although older people were an asset for charities, he warned against them being a “substitute for the state in things the state is supposed to do”, saying there was a “policy graveyard” of initiatives trying to achieve this.

He warned that although up to 70 per cent of people volunteered once a year, there was a section of society that would not, regardless of the opportunities available for them to do so.

“Of the 30 per cent that don’t volunteer, I guess there’s a good 20 per cent that don’t want to,” he said. “You’re not going to change that – you’re not going to change who they are as people, and certainly not change who they are as people at 60.”


Volunteering and Sport England

Sport England have just released a number of funding streams to develop volunteers and volunteering opportunities across the UK, not necessarily focussed upon the typical sports experience.

As they state:

“We’re looking to strike a balance between investing in existing, proven ways of delivery and finding new and innovative ideas. Our aim is to find solutions capable of delivering game changing results. Remember, we are not necessarily looking for a typical ‘sporty’ experience. While sport and physical activity should be involved, it doesn’t have to be the sole focus. For instance, projects could look to engage young people to share their IT skills with the local sports club, improving its overall efficiency and management. Or maybe you want to organise a regular fun run to raise money for the local hospice – aside from the running, there are plenty of opportunities for volunteers to develop skills in marketing, photography, logistics, catering… We’re open to any ideas which can use sport or physical activity to engage people in volunteering or social action. Simply put, we’re looking for brilliant ideas”.

“We want to invest in projects that provide meaningful volunteering opportunities, offering individuals engaging, rewarding and enjoyable experiences. Of course, what this looks like will vary from person to person, so we’re looking for projects that consider people’s individual needs and aspirations and ensure they have the right support to get the most from the experience. We also want projects to demonstrate a double benefit; a positive impact on the wider community. That might mean anything from projects that help to achieve cleaner parks and river banks, to improved community relations as a result of an inter-generational project, or the re-integration of ex-offenders into the community”.

Projects will need to demonstrate the dual benefit of volunteering, for the individual and for their community, by improving:

  • mental well being
  • individual development, or
  • social and community development.

For more information on the range and type of  volunteer funding from Sport England click here.

Time-bankers bid to end loneliness in Cambridgeshire

On Monday 27 March the Cambridgeshire Timebanking Partnership will be launching a crowdfunder to raise funds to fight loneliness.

Loneliness can affect anyone at any stage of their life whether you have moved to a new area, are a new mum or are a pensioner who has outlived their friends.

Cambridgeshire Timebanks want to raise £3,000 in order to reach more people in their communities in need of companionship, social interaction and support and they are reaching out to Cambridgeshire business who share their beliefs and would love their support through:

  • donations to the crowd-funder
  • promoting the campaign within Cambridgeshire business, and
  • taking part in work-place events to raise money to fight loneliness and social exclusion.
Sponsor or part-sponsor the launch event by contacting Gerry Cano if you require more information.


Coffee with a teaspoon of advice

Cambridgeshire ACRE are running a series of advice sessions for village hall trustees, and any other community organisations that are interested in running, managing or owning a hall or community facility.

The latest advice session was held in Abbottsley, St Neots and was well attended.

Abbottsley village hall is a  wonderful old building and is being lovingly restored by the trustees.  They have already battled with the cold and damp in the hall, refurbished the kitchen area, replaced several floors and installed double glazed windows to match the historic original design.

Trustees had the opportunity to network, share best practice, and discuss potential challenges and opportunities over coffee and cake.

The teaspoon of advice came through two discussion topics:

Governance and incorporation

PAT Testing and the current requirements for village halls

Cambridgeshire ACRE will be running several more of these coffee style mornings throughout 2017.

Trustees have commented how valuable it is to see what other halls have achieved, and how they have managed and funded projects.  Trustees have regularly told ACRE that they usually leave these events with a list of new ideas to take away and implement in their own halls.

If you are an existing village hall trustee, or if you are taking your first steps into thinking about managing a hall, then why not come to one of these events. For dates, venue location and times, or to simply book a place contact Lisa Chambers at Cambridgeshire ACRE.

A visit to number 10

Julie Farrow, CEO of Hunts Forum and lead partner for Support Cambridgeshire recently attended number 10 to meet with the Prime Ministers Special Advisor to the Third Sector.

Hunts Forum and Support Cambridgeshire were one of a number of community based infrastructure organisations invited from across the UK,  the similarity with them all was their ability to deliver innovative solutions to community based problems across the sector.

It was a great day by all accounts.

Some of the subject matter dwelt on future commissioning possibilities and frameworks, social value and why the Social Value Act has failed to deliver as the government thought it would, and the thorny subject of funding in a world of ever decreasing finances.

I think Julie also met Larry the cat, who was asleep under a radiator (his normal resting place apparently).

Asked why Hunts Forum and Support Cambridgeshire were invited she said:

“I think Cambridgeshire as a county has a mixed geography, both urban and rural, which is of interest to national government. The fact that Hunts Forum and Support Cambridgeshire are smaller infrastructure organisations was also a factor, because we have delivered a large number of innovative solutions to community issues over the past few years, and will continue to do so”.

Asked if the voluntary sector is gaining influence with national government she said:

“The Advisor seemed very interested in what all of the representatives around the table had to say. She was actively taking notes, and was specifically interested in the current issues with commissioning, particularly in smaller counties where smaller organisations would like the opportunity to deliver services, but cannot, because the framework lends itself to bigger and more robust organisations. The Advisor talked about a Kitemark for commissioning standards, which would be a useful starting point.”

Asked if there were still barriers to national government and the voluntary sector she said:

“Not barriers, just opportunities. It is very clear that as central and local government has had to change and alter the way it works due to competition and constrained resources, so too will the voluntary and community sector. Working in partnership is going to be a key aspect of gaining funding and delivering services in the future.”

The State of the Sector Survey

Support Cambridgeshire will be issuing the annual State of the Sector survey in the next three weeks. We are urging all community based organisations to reply with their thoughts and comments.

The survey will be embedded within the next Support Cambridgeshire newsletter, and will be circulated among a variety of extended networks in order to receive more replies than ever before.

The survey is critical as it provides relevant and timely information about the state of the voluntary and community sector across Cambridgeshire, and its used to work with statutory and business partners on issues of training, governance, funding and strategic development.

It is a highly powerful tool for engaging with partners and stakeholders across the public and private sectors. It enables the process of voice, influence and representation.

The more organisations that take the time to complete the survey, the better picture we will have on issues, challenges, success stories and best practice.

Previous surveys have informed us that:

  • training programmes have to be geared to the needs and requirements of the sector, with an understanding that the sector is changing rapidly.
  • information and advice needs to be circulated through a variety of different routes into the community, both on and off-line.
  • giving seldom heard communities a voice is critical for the process of social action and community cohesion, and
  • working in partnership is vital to the success of a community presence within Cambridgeshire.

If you are a community based organisation or group and work within Cambridgeshire, and have never completed the survey before then why not subscribe to our newsletter and receive the link.

Alternatively, you can contact Support Cambridgeshire for an electronic copy.

Employee Supported Volunteering – What is it?

Employee Supported Volunteering (or ESV) is a process whereby employers allow employees to volunteer for good causes, or give their skills and time to support community projects or voluntary organisations. The emphasis for ESV is less about workplace challenge days (clearing a path, draining a pond or painting a fence or community building) and more about the structured transfer of knowledge and skills between the business and community sectors. This is often called skills based volunteering.

Most commentators accept that business can help to shape communities.

Most know that business, large or small, possesses a wealth of skill and experience, honed in a competitive market place.

Most hope that local business wants to support the community in which it trades.

Infrastucture organisations such as Support Cambridgeshire also recognise that community organisations across Cambridgeshire often lack the very skills that business has in abundance.

The task  is to bring both sectors together in a new and exciting Learning and Skills Exchange Programme.

The Office for Civil Society recently conducted  research on ESV across 11 pilots throughout the UK. Whilst there were pockets of good practice, the same recurring themes or barriers were identified:

There is very little resource to support ESV. The private sector is generally unwilling to fund, and resources are constrained in both the public and community sectors.

ESV only works well if it is a brokered relationship. Left to their own devices, the community and business sectors talk wildly different languages.

The community sector has to be clear with both its ask, and its offer to business.

ESV is a two – way street. It is not only about what business can give to its community, but what voluntary organisations can give back to business.

Support Cambridgeshire is a new partnership of three trusted community based organisations: Hunts Forum of Voluntary Organisations based in Huntingdonshire, Cambridge Council of Voluntary Service in Cambridge, and Cambridgeshire ACRE in Ely.

The partnership has come together under a three year programme funded by Cambridgeshire County Council, with the express aim of supporting the community and voluntary sector and achieving better outcomes for communities across the county.

The partnership wants to ensure that community groups can express influence, and map their own futures more distinctly. Part of this process is about making groups more business focussed and tender ready.

A key theme for this partnership is better engagement with business. We would like Business to provide bite sized elements of distinct support as required by Community organisations. This support could be through training, through face to face advice, or online or via the telephone. It could be in organisational development, HR, financial accounting, design or contract management.

  • The first stage of this process is to enlist interested businesses across Cambridgeshire.
  • The second stage is to ascertain what the community needs.
  • The third stage is to match both parties.

If you are a local business, and feel you can offer some free time to assist a community organisation, either through training or face to face or online support, then please contact Supportcambridgeshire in the first instance.

What we can offer to businesses

  • A mutually beneficial relationship between local business and community groups and organisations.
  • Partners with us will have a thorough understanding of community organisations and the requirements town and parish councils.
  • Development workers who can thoroughly assess requests for support and decide whether or not these can be met by local business.
  • Local business can be confident that any application has been bench-tested before they receive it, preventing lost time and a lack of clarity.
  • Development workers can liaise with local business to ensure that adequate progress is made with each application, and can broker relations between business and the community groups concerned
  • Each relationship will be defined as short term – a bite sized element of support which local business can easily schedule amongst their other work.
  • Clear feedback will be provided to business on the effect of their support.

In addition, participating businesses can expect:

  • a listing on our our website
  • use of our logo and strapline
  • a feature, article or relevant link within our monthly newsletter
  • invitations to networking and peer-learning events
  • opportunities for business promotion
  • the opportunity to assist in social action initiatives within Cambridgeshire neighbourhoods.
  • Staff development.
  • The opportunity to bench test new ideas on new audiences.
  • Reach into new markets and new market segments.

37.6 million secured for growth

The Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership is pleased to announce the securing of a further 37.6 million pounds of funding to support the growth of local economies via the Government’s Growth Deal.

The award comes on the back of  a strong devolution deal for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, funding for work on East – West rail worth 110 million pounds, and an additional 27 million to support study and research work for the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway.

The continued investment in the Local Economic Partnership is critical to unlock the key barriers to growth, delivering infrastucture upgrades and new housing that are vital to the economic success of the area and of UK PLC as a whole.

Previous Growth Deal allocations have been used to support a range of diverse projects, including the Ely Southern Bypass, improvements to King’s Dyke Level Crossing near Whittlesey, and the New Highways Academy at WATA to help train apprentices for the A14 road enhancement scheme.

The new allocation has been provided on a programme basis, giving flexibility about the best way in which funding can be used to support economic growth across the area.

The Local Economic Partnership will continue to work through specific proposals with partners, and on pipeline investment plans for the proposed combined authority.

Specific project investments will be guided by outcomes from any review of the Strategic Economic Plan.

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