Reflections on ‘Coming up for air’ report, Keith Johnson

Keith Johnson Senior Development Worker at Hunts Forum

When Covid silenced our streets and threatened to overwhelm our health services, charities and community groups were amongst the first to step forward and offer support to our communities. Many funding bodies worked with organisations to allow funds to be used to help with the pandemic response rather than simply for the intended purpose and new funds came into being to support and extend those offers.

The local State of the Sector survey highlights how Cambridgeshire charities, community groups and social enterprises have weathered the pandemic better than was expected in the early days. Many, particularly larger organisations have even seen their reserves grow.

However, it has not been good for all, with many being negatively affected by the pandemic and some charities closing their doors or facing a financially uncertain future.

In much the same way as business, the third sector has been busy adapting, changing and responding, not simply to the needs presented by the pandemic, but also through the other ways of working we all confronted and the opportunities and challenges these presented. Were we entering a period of calm after the storm, the sector would have a great chance of coming out of Covid stronger, more digitally aware and more effective. But we aren’t.

Instead of calm, we are moving headlong into a cost-of-living crisis. The quake of the pandemic may have sent a tidal wave our way, but the quakes of Brexit, untamed energy price rises, food price rises, rampant inflation, rising rents and mortgage interest rates, the value of wages being ripped apart and more have turned this into a tsunami facing society and threatening the lives and livelihoods of vast swathes of society.

It has long been the role of charity to mitigate the worst impact and excesses of political and economic choices, but can a sector that is still trying to recover from the impact of the pandemic do much more than offer solace to a few, rather than protect many?

The survey highlights the concern of many in the sector locally about the levels of funding before the current cost of living crisis slapped us all in the face like a wet mackerel. These rising costs not only affect us as individuals but also impact on the ability of charities, community groups and social enterprises to operate. As much as it is a frustration within the sector that most funding bodies operate this way, typically, funding is received to deliver a project, this could be for a few months or a few years, but within this there is little room for rising costs as these agreements came about after years of low inflationary pressures. Already, in this developing economic crisis, many organisations are beginning to see budget forecasts falling apart and no recourse to improve on the income for the agreed project from the funder.

‘Get additional funding from another funder, may be thought from those outside the sector, but just try finding a funding body willing to provide funding to continue a previous project, let alone add funding to an existing project funded by someone else.

Many charities and community groups, as the survey shows, have also seen volunteers leave and not return. Staff are stretched with many burnt out. Recruiting for vacant posts- paid and unpaid- is becoming increasingly difficult.

The inevitable increase in calls upon the services of the Voluntary and Community that the latest crisis brings with it risks colliding with the dearth of staff- paid and unpaid- to meet that demand. Funding always helps, but when the people are not there to do what needs to be done, the money means little. It is unlikely that funding will be available to improve the salaries, terms and conditions of paid staff to encourage people into the sector and a contracting economy will further reduce the potential pool of volunteers. With more people having to work longer hours they personally will have less time to give, the retired, once the bedrock of charity volunteering, will be called upon to give their time to their struggling families and to their own needs.

Yet, without funding for the sector that not only provides services to those in need but also reverses the decade-long cut in salaries and terms and conditions for the majority of charity workers, it is likely that in an attempt to step up and help people where government and enterprise have failed, many charities, community groups and social enterprises will become dangerously overstretched. This is likely to lead to potentially dangerous levels of service delivery, greater staffing collapse and an increased reliance on an ever dwindling pool of potential volunteers (who may themselves suffer burnout) and pushed to breaking point charity finances.

Political and economic choices will be made as to who is and isn’t protected from the worst of this crisis and how that protection is provided. Much of this will be based upon how the decision makers view what is important to the economy and society.

As always, charity will do what it can and amaze us all with its innovation and passion, but what emerges from the current crisis may herald a bleak future for charity, many individuals and society at large depending upon those choices made.

Reflections on ‘Coming up for air’ report, Mark Freeman

 

What the 2022 State of the Sector Survey tells us about the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) in Cambridgeshire

A great deal has been written about the impact of the pandemic on the VCS over the last years. We carried out research in both 2020 and 2021 that showed that groups were adapting and growing but they had concerns about funding and burnout. Many of our findings have been backed up by national surveys[1].

This survey was carried out over February and March 2022 and shows that locally groups have weathered the storm relatively well. The impact of the pandemic has been more negative than positive, with groups on average scoring the impact as 4 out of 10.

Green survey with the title overall how has the pandemic impacted your organisations.

It is however debatable as to whether the storm has come to an end. Even as we learn to live with Covid and we return to a more ‘normal’ life, the sector and those that they support are caught up in the next wave of circumstances that impact on them. There will be a fallout from the last two years that we will need to understand and navigate, this will be complicated by the environment we all work in. We are all now grappling with the impact of the cost of living crisis and the war in Ukraine. At the same time many experts are predicting significant health impacts over next winter due to flu and possible new Covid variants.

What we have learnt is that although there are issues of concern that need to be addressed, overall the sector remains resilient and forward-thinking.

Trust in charities is rising according to government figures[2] and the last two years have demonstrated the ability of small charities and community groups to deliver essential services and support at a local level. Couple this with the optimism that the survey showed, 59% of respondents believed 2022 was going to be better for their organisation than 2021, and we believe that we are at a point where the role of small organisations and the communities they work in is recognised as the best way of reducing inequalities and providing opportunities.

More people are seeing this, and the Commission on Civil Society[3] write:

“With their unique combination of trust, agility, community, purpose and prevention, the charity sector is a powerful part of the public services ecosystem, with the potential to do even more than it does today. From mental health to social care, children’s and youth services to housing, a large proportion of the UK’s 160,000 charities and the 910,000 people who work for them play a fundamental role in providing or supplementing public services”

Locally we are seeing statutory services looking at how they work with the sector and communities. Local councils are looking at full system thinking and co-producing services with the sector. The new Integrated Care Systems in health have working with communities and the sector embedded in their core principles. We know that these changes will not happen overnight and that they will be hard to implement, we also know that the sector has its issues and is not fully ready to help, but it is there and there is a willingness to learn, engage and adapt. The whole system from a national to a local level has to work hard to find ways to support charities and especially those local small charities that are embedded in and engaged with communities.

The two big issues from the survey

Two big issues arose from the survey, these were funding and volunteering.

 

Volunteering

Volunteers are essential to the work of the sector and by our calculations could be worth over £117million to Cambridgeshire in a year. Over the pandemic many people signed up to volunteer but these were often short term opportunities and numbers were increased by the emergency nature of what was needed and by the number of people on furlough or working from home. The survey showed that over 70% of those responding were experiencing some issue with recruiting volunteers, and 56% were having issues retaining existing volunteers.

“All our members are elderly, frail. Since covid we have lost some, some are reluctant to come out. Present volunteers are not getting any younger either and commitment and time are difficult. We are considering bringing our group to a close.”

As a sector and a society we need to address these issues. Locally Cambridgeshire needs a county portal that allows groups to reach potential new volunteers, and that allows interested people to find volunteering opportunities that excite and interest them. We need to ensure that groups are offering people the support and flexibility they need to give volunteering a go. Volunteering opportunities need to be flexible and safe; they need to fit with the way people live and work.

We don’t need a national system, we need local investment into a system and the structures that make local volunteering easier and more accessible. We need to work with the business sector to look at how they can support their staff to volunteer. We must create the opportunity to volunteer in schools so that people get the bug early. We need to create volunteering opportunities that appeal to people at all stages of their lives.

Fundraising

The survey shows there has been a mixed impact on local groups due to the pandemic but 80% of groups see a lack of funds as an issue. The survey has also shown that there have been different impacts on finances for organisations, whilst most reported a neutral impact a higher number reported a negative impact than reported a positive one.

We know that many foundations ‘opened their coffers’ over the pandemic to fund additional support to enable groups to adapt, grow and deliver more. We know that government both locally and nationally also found money to support the sector and the work it did. The upshot of this will be the tightening of funders’ belts in the next few years. This will have a dramatic impact on organisations who will (along with everyone else) be faced with rising costs to deliver their work.

The nature of a national emergency meant that many funders relaxed their funding criteria and their need for monitoring. This was welcomed as it gave groups the space to adapt delivery to suit a changing environment. It also meant groups concentrated more on delivery and less on applying or monitoring. We also know that a lot of funding was short-term and needed to be spent quickly. This is difficult for smaller organisations to manage who need time to ramp up delivery, it has also resulted in a lot of organisations growing quickly with little hope of maintaining that growth.

We need a new type of funding. It has to be flexible and it has to fund outcomes and not projects. Funders must be less prescriptive about monitoring. Most charities monitor their work as they want to know what is and isn’t working and trustees need to be able to govern. We need to work together to ensure that one monitoring report can meet all stakeholder’s needs.

We need to look at core cost funding that will allow charity to deliver on its mission. Projects can’t run without the core of an organisation, so we need to move away from funding projects. Lloyds Foundation[4] state they

“Trust charities to spend the funding we give them as they judge best to achieve the greatest impact.”

We need to see more of this. Charities are best placed to know what is going to work and have an impact. A move to more collaborative funding will increase the impact and enable charities to spend more time and money delivering their services.

Charities need to plan, real impact takes time to happen, and sustainability is not about constantly replacing short-term funding. We need funding to be longer-term. Three years as a minimum but 5 or 10 years if funders are looking at addressing complex issues that rely on building trust and relationships.

The importance of infrastructure

The work of infrastructure (those organisations who work to support the sector) at local and national levels has to be recognised and supported. If there is a need for charities, and those that work with and fund them, to do things differently, they will need support to accomplish that.

“A lot of what we have done locally won’t make the papers, but we have laughed and cried with staff and volunteers over the pandemic. We have informed, advised and supported them. We have helped them gain new skills, build new relationships, and find new resources. We have worked with partners to ensure that the sector was recognised and supported.”

Infrastructure has shown its value over the pandemic and investment has flowed into it. However, locally and nationally, this has not been uniform which has led to different levels of support to groups across different areas. This has inevitably resulted in people being offered very different service levels as the number of local charities and their ability to deliver services, t, is better where the charities have had more support. One respondent wrote:

“They offer the best possible support to the sector – they are pro-active, professional, experienced, thoughtful, kind and considerate.”

To conclude

We have a vibrant and diverse voluntary and community sector in Cambridgeshire. On the whole there is optimism for the future. 59% of respondents think that 2022 will be a better year than 2021 for their organisation.

We have seen the sector working with other partners to make the pandemic as bearable as possible.

We have seen incredible efforts put in by staff, volunteers and trustees.

We have seen groups adapting and learning to ensure services were continued and improved.

We know that there are challenges ahead but we have seen positive changes starting to happen. We need to build on what we have, learn from our mistakes and celebrate our successes.

 

References

[1] https://www.lloydsbankfoundation.org.uk/we-influence/the-value-of-small-in-a-big-crisis

http://cpwop.org.uk/what-we-do/projects-and-publications/covid-19-vcse-organisation-responses/

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/public-trust-in-charities-and-trustees-experience-of-their-role/public-trust-in-charities-2021-web-version

[3] https://civilsocietycommission.org/conversation/understanding-the-ecosystem-charities-and-public-services/

[4] https://www.lloydsbankfoundation.org.uk/we-fund

Mental Health and Learning Disabilities Expression of Interest

NHS Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group are working with Hunts Forum to appoint a Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector partner to manage a two-year programme, with a total budget of £750,000, to support people with mental health needs (including those with a learning disability who also have mental health needs).

The Proposal

In order to support the Mental Health and Learning Disabilities Collaborative there is an opportunity for a VCSE provider/partner organisation to develop a two-year programme which will deliver the following outcomes:

  • Provide a representative voice for the VCSE organisations as part of the Mental Health and Learning Disabilities Collaborative
  • Ensure effective sector engagement and consultation to help inform decision making, innovation and development of solutions to support the ICS priorities for Mental Health and Learning Disabilities
  • Ensure that the MH/LD VCSE sector is engaged with the agendas of the other Place Partnerships and Collaboratives within Cambridgeshire and Peterborough ICS, including North and South Place-based partnerships.
  • Manage a two-year programme of activity in partnership with the VCSE sector to deliver projects and services which will support system outcomes and ambitions for adults with mental health needs (including those with a learning disability who also have mental health needs) across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. This will involve developing a robust process enabling organisations to apply for funds to support activity, monitor delivery of these projects and programme and feed intelligence back into the Mental Health and Learning Disabilities Collaborative and wider ICS system.

The deadline to submit your completed submissions is midday 8th July 2022 and should be emailed to info@huntsforum.org.uk.

To read more details – click here 

 

State of the Sector 2022 Report

Support Cambridgeshire, the partnership between Cambridge CVS and Hunts Forum of Voluntary Services, is launching its latest annual State of the Sector report. This yearly survey informed infrastructure organisations such as Support Cambridgeshire, local authorities, funders and others of the challenges, trends and patterns taking place across the voluntary sector in Cambridgeshire.

Due to the pandemic, the survey had been put on hold for a year while the sector adjusted and reacted to its environment. However, two years later, the Support Cambridgeshire team felt it was vital to take a snapshot of how the organisations responded and reacted to the pandemic and if initial fears around the impact were valid, and therefore ‘Coming up for air’ was compiled.

The reports look at the impacts of the pandemic on the sector, focusing on the issues, barriers and support that those groups will need to move forward and continue to support the communities they serve.

Some of the highlights include;

  • Generally, groups weather the storm pretty well
  • There are concerns around social isolation, increased services, and the division and inequality in society.
  • Funding continues to be a concern and issue for all groups
  • The way groups want support is changing, and digital is here to stay

If you would like to read the report, click the link below.

 

Blue background with bubbles with writing on it state of the sector 2022 click here to read it

Living Sport looking to enhance activity in Fenland plus offering everyone free training

Living Sport are supporting people from all backgrounds and communities to support others in their communities to be active, we are offering some FREE places on the Sport Level 1 Award in Assistant Coaching (Sport and Physical Activity)

They are also interested to hear from anyone in the Fenland area who is keen to help others in their community to be more active, or if they have ideas that could help people to get outside, be active and meet new friends.

You can find out more about the course generally  See here

To discuss the course and/or to express interest (including discussion of any special learning requirements) please contact anna.oleary@livingsport.co.uk

 

Sport Level 1 Award in Assistant Coaching (Sport and Physical Activity) Flyer

Launch of the Support Fenland report

In January 2020, Lloyds Foundation Bank funding Support Cambridgeshire Partnership to develop and deliver a CVS support project for the VCSE organisations of Fenland.

At the time, and it is still the case, there was no official infrastructure support for Fenland groups, unlike other districts like Huntingdonshire, City or South Cambridgeshire. The Lloyds Bank Foundation grant aimed to showcase how this type of support can develop communities to grow from within and be a worthwhile financial decision by funders.

The project started with a range of conversations with existing groups, local people and other interested parties to find out what people would like to see the change in the way charities and communities are supported. This information and the experience both partners have in delivering work in the district developed a tailored offer for VCS in Fenland. It also has given both teams the time and ability to learn more about what Fenland groups need to thrive.

 

Mark Freeman, CEO at CCVS, stated ‘Support Fenland has allowed us to get some time to understand better and clarify what we already knew about the wonderful communities of Fenland. We hope that the Support Cambridgeshire partnership can continue to work within the district, and we will be able to find further funding to give the level of service Fenland groups deserve.’

 

Julie Farrow, CEO at Hunts Forum, said ‘ The Support Fenland project has been exciting. It has allowed both charities to develop links and partnerships, which we hope with further funding will allow us to deliver more in Fenland. The report, I feel, demonstrates this need very well and comes from the communities themselves.’

 

In March 2021, the project funding ended, but some work continues through the Cambridgeshire County Council, Support Cambridgeshire contract. Both Hunts Forum and CCVS are keen to fund further funding to allow the work that has been completed to be built on and developed further.

In the meantime, the team has written a report looking at what they discovered.

grey box with clcik here to read the support fenland report written in it

The National Lottery Community Fund Review

Now is the time for a conversation about how The National Lottery Community Fund can best support UK communities to prosper and thrive going forward. As part of their ongoing commitment to putting communities first, The National Lottery Community Fund has launched their Strategic Renewal process to help shape how they invest in communities in the future – and they want you to get involved!

The National Lottery Communities Fund stated in their latest newsletter the reasons why they feel now is the right time for this review.

Thanks to National Lottery players and you, our grant holders, we have made a significant difference to communities, including through the pandemic. Now, as the UK emerges from the pandemic The National Lottery Community Fund has a critical role to play in supporting communities to unleash their energy and potential so they can get to where they want to be. Communities across the UK are facing fresh challenges and opportunities and have new hopes and aspirations. This is an exciting and inspiring time, and we want to hear from you to help us understand how we continue to effectively support communities across the UK.

 

To read more about the review check out their website : https://www.puttingcommunitiesfirst.org.uk/?dm_i=5P0C,I2SL,1TXR81,27S6W,1

Update on Ukrainian refugee support programme

Support Cambs sit on a number of regional and national meetings (as well as some local ones) that are looking at responding to the potential influx of Ukrainian refugees under the government scheme.

At this stage there are more questions than answers but Govt at all levels are trying to address how things will work and how people can be supported and kept safe. The details of how the scheme will work locally are still being ironed out. There is potential to look at local support hubs to allow families and hosts to meet one another and to be a focus of support but this will depend on where people are settled. Voluntary groups will have an important role to play. Part of this role will be providing specialist services to support families, but also organisations will have a role in helping families engage in communities and have access to non specialist services. Families will potentially be arriving with very few possessions so given the first key takeaway below if you do have donations please keep them for potential local donation.

At this stage there are a couple of important takeaways.

  1. Do not donate goods, the Red Cross and others in Poland and other countries are overwhelmed and are having to divert resources to sort it out.
  2. As a general rule those leaving Ukraine do not have the UK as one of their preferred destinations. But a small percentage of the large numbers leaving the country is still more people than the UK takes in under usual circumstances.

Cyber-attack is an issue so please be aware as individuals and charities. There are lots more scams, there are also potentials for cyber attacks on those organisations known to be helping refugees. Please advise staff, volunteers and those you work with to be vigilant.

Adult Education Budget Consultation 2021-22

 

You still have time to have your say on improvements to Adult Education in our live consultation. If you have already taken part, thank you and if not, we would be delighted if you could share your views via consultation survey by 10am on March 15.

 

The Consultation

 

We are keen that local residents, businesses, colleges and other stakeholders get to share their views on how we best use the Adult Education Budget. We have launched a consultation on additional policy changes, which follows the consultation we launched at a similar time last year.

Proposed changes are outlined within the following consultation questions, and we welcome any feedback from our providers, stakeholders, and local residents to inform our thinking as we continue to reform and shape the delivery of AEB in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

Responses from this consultation will be used to support the ongoing development of our long-term vision for skills, the AEB funding rules and and the new Economic Growth and Skills Strategy which is due to be published early this year.  You have until 15th March 2022 to send us your feedback. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Thank you

Parminder Singh Garcha, Senior Responsible Officer, Adult Education Budget.

 

Fill in the survey here

The State of the Sector 2022 Survey – We need your help!

As we move into 2022, the past two years have hugely impacted our voluntary and community sectors.

 

In the past, our annual State of the Sector survey has been a vital source of information for funders, stakeholders along with us as infrastructure organisations.

It gives us the information on the issues and barriers you are facing and therefore allows us to plan to make sure our services are fit for purpose.

 

Therefore, we are asking as many charities, not-for-profit organisations and community groups as possible, to fill out the survey, so we can see what is happening across the county post-COVID.

 

Fill in the survey here

Closing date 21st March 2022 – for more information please contact mark@cambridgecvs.org.uk

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