Levelling Up the UK Economy: the need for transformative change, published by Palgrave.
Jonathan Wistow, Fellow of Policy&Practice and Luke Telford (University of York) have just published this new book on the ‘levelling-up’ policy debate. The official launch at the University of York is on December 14th.
The authors critically assess current policy initiatives about levelling up the UK economy by pulling together a wide range of evidence to provide insights about the agenda from macro, meso and micro levels of analyses. This includes qualitative data from a focused study with directors of regeneration across several ‘left behind’ local authorities and 25 residents of Redcar & Cleveland in Teesside.
The book frames the debate against a backdrop of historical analysis and looks at the shift from post-war capitalism to a post-industrial and neoliberal society which has exacerbated spatial inequalities. Using empirical evidence from Redcar & Cleveland, the authors show how social and economic policy has exposed deindustrialising areas to insecure employment, crime and anti-social behaviour. And also has produced resentments about political voice and representation.
The book has received a very positive critical reception from highly respected academics working in this field:
“This excellent book provides a powerful, critical examination of Levelling Up, and grounds its assessment within a much-needed political economy perspective. It traces the ‘left behind places’ problem to the nature and evolution of UK capitalism itself. Further, it goes beyond the usual aggregate statistical metrics used to measure and discuss the scale of the ‘left behind places’ problem, to delve into the lived experiences of those living in those places. By means of this political economy and qualitative approach, the authors rightly conclude that the UK Government’s Levelling Up programme is unlikely to deliver on its promises to transform economic fortunes and social conditions in ‘left behind places’, and may not even prevent geographical inequalities from widening still further. This stimulating book is essential reading for all academic scholars and policymakers concerned with the UK’s ‘left behind places problem’.” (Professor Ron Martin, Emeritus Professor of Economic Geography, University of Cambridge, UK.)
“Academics and policymakers alike need to read The UK Government’s Levelling Up Agenda by Luke Telford and Jonathan Wistow. This book is the most comprehensive qualitative study available on the ‘Levelling Up’ chapter in the policy history of local and regional economic development. Theoretically informed, interdisciplinary, and rich in policy nuances and political insight, the authors walk us through the rise and fall of this policy narrative. Rather than just leave things there, the authors conclude by offering an ambitious alternative path for our ‘left behind places’. This is social policy at its very best.” (Martin Jones, Vice Chancellor and Professor of Human Geography, Staffordshire University, UK)
“This is one of the most significant efforts to analyse the UK government’s Levelling Up programme. Not only does it brilliantly chronicle the moral, social and economic reasons for addressing geographical inequality, but it further details the transformative changes necessary to overcome the significant barriers that people in ‘left behind’ locales face in terms of gaining access to well-paid, secure employment. Recognising that spatial disparities in the UK are deeply entrenched and long-running, Telford and Wistow argue for a ‘phase shift’ in political economy that goes beyond the ‘sticking plaster’ approach to the present, which they suggest is unlikely to spread opportunity, revive communities and restore local pride. This book is likely to garner much interest from those interested in trajectories of inequality and the implications for place, people and government policy.” (Professor Julie MacLeavy, Professor of Economic Geography, University of Bristol, UK)
If you want to get a copy of the book, click here.
Dr Jonathan Wistow’s new book ‘Social Policy, Political Economy and the Social Contract’ has been published by Policy Press. Jonathan, who is a Fellow of Policy&Practice and Associate Professor in Durham University’s Department of Sociology, has produced a challenging and original study which promises to energise debates nationally and internationally on the role and efficacy of social policy.
The book has already received considerable acclaim: “Going beyond sticking-plaster solutions to economic and social problems, Wistow digs down to the deeper causes by examining social policy in the context of political economy.” Andrew Sayer, Lancaster University.
“In this important contribution, Jonathan Wistow shows how solutions to social crises have too often been forged while ignoring their complex structural economic and political roots. Social policy analysis, he argues, needs to be much more closely integrated into the wider question of political economy.” Andrew Lansley, author of The Richer, The Poorer.
Focusing on individual, intergenerational and societal outcomes related to health, place and social mobility in England, he draws on empirical evidence to show how the social contract produces long-standing, highly patterned and inequitable consequences in these areas. Globalisation and the political economy simultaneously contribute to the extent and nature of social problems and to social policy’s capacity to address them effectively.
Applying social contract theory, this book shows that society needs to take ownership of the outcomes it produces and critically interrogates the individualism inherent within the political economy.
Details on how to obtain a copy of the book can be found here.
Third Sector Trends 2022 first report: structure, purpose, energy and impact of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in England and Wales.
Third Sector Trends has been running since 2008. The study has been surveying the sector every three years since 2010 and as such is the largest survey of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in England and Wales.
In 2022, 6,071 responses were received across England and Wales (an average of ~600 responses in each region). Designed to complement NCVOs UK Civil Society Almanac, it is the only fully representative longitudinal survey which can produce robust and detailed comparative analysis at a regional and national level.
This is the first of five reports from Third Sector Trends 2022.
There are about 200,000 registered voluntary and community organisations and social enterprises in England and Wales (including registered charities, cooperatives, community benefit societies, community interest companies, community amateur sport clubs and other non-profit making registered societies and businesses).
Micro and small organisations (with income below £50,000) constitute 63 per cent of all registered organisations but only receive 0.6 per cent of sector income. The biggest organisations (income £1million to £25million) receive 72 per cent of sector income but comprise just 5 per cent of organisations in the sector.
The sector employs about 1.1 million people, or 3 per cent of national employment. Employees provide about 80 per cent of sector energy while regular volunteers deliver about 20 per cent of sector energy.
There are major disparities in sector distribution regionally. For example in South West England, there are 4.2 organisations per 1,000 population compared with 2.7 in North East England. In the most affluent areas the proportion of small and micro organisations is much higher than in the poorest areas.
There are about 4.3 million regular volunteers working for VCSE organisations who deliver 312 million hours of work annually. If this work had to be paid for, it would equal £2.9bn (if valued at the level of the national living wage) or £4.9bn if valued at 80 per cent of average wages).
The purpose and impact of the sector is hard to pin down because boundaries between different beneficiaries are blurred. Using broader clusters of activity, the report shows that:
30 per cent of organisations say that they have a strong impact on improving personal health (including disabilities, physical and mental health), 33 per cent on social wellbeing (e.g. tackling social isolation).
34 per cent of organisations say that they have a strong impact on community wellbeing, but only 20 per cent of organisations have a strong impact on financial security (such as poverty, homelessness and unemployment).
Many organisations cover more than one area of impact. For example, 22 per cent cover both personal health and social wellbeing. 8 per cent of organisations say they have an impact in all four areas of activity.
The financial value of some sector activity can be measured – but much of the value of the sector’s work is ‘intangible’. But it is possible to give values to both types of impact. The value of the ‘energy’ the sector injects into society equals about £54 billion each year (that is the value of the time people put in to make things happen) – but the value added equals £191 billion or 3.2 times the injected energy.
Reflecting on the figures, Rob Williamson Chief Executive of the Community Foundation said:
“This first report clearly shows the importance of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in terms of size and employment in England and Wales. We already know the sector is the glue that holds society together by providing help and support to many in need but at a basic level it employs and pays tens of thousands of people and puts millions into local economies. Without it we would be poorer in so many ways.”
“The vital role the sector plays is why we at the Community Foundation have set up a cost-of-living fund to support organisations which may be struggling with the double whammy of increasing demand and increasing costs.”
Sarah Glendinning, Regional Director of the CBI said:
“Where both the private and voluntary sectors come together, both sides stand to benefit in spades. This report shows the huge value of the voluntary sector to the North East and the vital role it plays at the heart of local communities. Ultimately the deeper and more committed the partnership between businesses and the social sector, the greater the benefits for the region.”
Rhiannon Bearne, Director of Policy and Representation, North East England Chamber of Commerce said:
“Once again this important study shows how and why economic and social impact go hand-in-hand. In the North East charities don’t just offer vital services and support for our communities: they contribute a massive £1.6bn in value, creating good jobs and helping create a strong economy. With a difficult winter ahead of us all the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland’s new cost of living fund will make a real difference to this vital part of our region’s economy.”
The report’s author, Professor Tony Chapman, St Chad’s College, Durham University said:
“Where the added value generated by the voluntary sector ‘lands’ is hard to predict. This is because the impact of charities’ work isn’t always immediate. A real strength of the sector is its ability to accumulate energy and value which is produced collectively by many charities.
Keeping things ticking over in civil society often nips problems in the bud before they become critical needs. Without that support, individual needs are undermined and the strength of community ties can fray. And in times of local or national crisis, such as in the Coronavirus pandemic or the current cost-of-living challenge, the latent power of the sector can be released to tackle problems quickly and vigorously.”
The report does not include a detailed description of the research methodology. If you’d like to read in more detail on the methods used, please see this report (where there are further links to a report on analytical techniques).
We ask people who took part in the study to tell us how things are going once they’ve seen the report: Here are some responses (anonymised where necessary with [square brackets]).”I wonder if there is space to talk about how people running and working in the third sector often do so for several entities? I think for the financial impact element, this should be taken into account, as in terms of value this is often missing, The reliance on people who by nature, want to make a difference, and therefore end up doing several roles across organisations. This often is missed in studies.“
“Our organisation would fall into the category of semi-formal, medium sized TSO, as described in section 2.3 of the trends report.The principle challenge we have, is that we have historically relied on the leadership of a single dedicated individual to push the organisation forward. We are now in a position where the current leader is departing, and there is no replacement...
Recruitment has been largely unstatisfactory and unsuccessful because:a) The recruitment process can’t measure traits like long-term dedication and motivation.b) The previous leaders were intrinsically motivated—the pay wasn’t as big a concern. The“great resignation” phenomena has meant that less people are willing to go above and beyond and—rightfully—demand more for their work. In practice, this has meant the pool of applicants is much smaller/not there...
On top of this, several key non-management staff have left and cannot be recruited until our leadership position has been filled. As with the above, we have relied on the intrinsic motivation of long-term staff rather than employment benefits and pay. With our current budgets, we simply cannot match other organisations, so recruiting has been a serious obstacle for us.We have seriously questioned whether our organisation is viable in this new world. It will be such a shame to close because we are a specialised charity supporting people with learning disabilities, and one of the last truly local organisations in our area.“
“Our marine conservation charity has already engaged with more beneficiaries (almost 20K in 10 months) than ever before despite doing a lot less-organised face-to-face events. We are working smarter online which is essential if we are to achieve net zero targets set by government. Online activities make us more productive and efficient. As a result we are able to deliver more nationally and internationally.”
“Awaiting gas and electric bills. Water has already increased .”
“[Our] prime services are advocacy, entitlements and accessible travel and a walk in centre with peer support and volunteering. We recognise that in addition to this the societal attitudes and unconscious bias regarding disablement underpins many aspects of the lives of people with disabilities. We have had increasing difficulties funding our services that span a range of situations regarding disablement including carers. We operate a mix of referrals, self-referrals, word of mouth contacts and an outreach programme of regular connection with disability specific groups…
We have had extreme difficulty funding our services. One of the major factors post lockdown has been the impact from major and regional charities that serve specific disabilities. They all lost income in lockdown, through a mix of charity shops not being open, other fundraising mechanisms being paused and some shift of public donations towards endemic related causes and appeals. Their financial models seem to be that significant elements of their workforce were funded by this income generation…
“This has had a number of impacts, firstly much of that workforce was not core functions but rather outreach and support elements relative to their specific disability. They were the first part of the workforce to go and this has had an impact on end users. The larger charities ‘circled their wagons’ in order to survive. Post lockdown they are now looking to return to their previous structure.
This has led them to start of looking for funds from sources such as foundations and lotteries. This has created a number of imbalances for our charity. The larger disability specific charities have both marketing departments (which are specific and trying to boost support for specific disabilities) and can afford to employ the strategists, bid writers, researchers and fund managers to enter the competitive world of fund applications. Most of these charities deal with the specific disability and not the societal issues that span most disabilities. These charities, which operate as any business, are now busy competing with each other and smaller charities and there is a distinct imbalance of equitable access.”
The sixth iteration of the Third Sector Trends Survey ran across England and Wales this summer producing a nationally representative sample with 6,070 responses.
We’ll be looking at the structure, purpose, energy, finances, relationships and impact of the voluntary and community sector in the coming months. But to begin with, a briefing report has been written to provide some tasters on things that will be explored later in greater depth.
Big representative studies that are regularly repeated help to show the effect of major events such as the Coronavirus pandemic or the current cost-of-living crisis. And often the findings can be surprising.
As can be seen in the chart below, larger charities have come out from the pandemic quite well financially but smaller ones were more likely to struggle.
Early headline findings about the financial confidence of the voluntary sector can be compared with previous rounds of the study. Compared with 2019, it looks like charity leaders’ confidence has bounced back. When we did an interim study in the depths of the Covid crisis (June 2020) we found that only 13 per cent of organisations thought that income would rise in the next two years.
The complete analysis of the data from Third Sector Trends will take many months. Results will be published in regular briefings and reports. But you can find a briefing on the early headline findings here.
We asked people who had taken part in the survey, if they’d like to tell us how things are going, now that the results had started to come out. Here are some examples (some quotations have been edited to preserve anonymity using [square] brackets). If you have read this page once before, new stories from charities appear at the top:
“[We] operate within and around the Carlisle area, we deal solely with young adults between the ages of 16 and 25 years of age. Our main focus being the prevention of homelessness with that age group. Like many cities and towns up and down the country, [our medium sized city] does have a problem with suitable accommodation for many of the underprivileged groups or individuals. and there is very little support in the area, or likely to be. We have noticed the need in our client base to extend the age of support and that the difficulties are becoming more complex with the cost-of-living issues, and the impact of the COVID pandemic on the well-being of a number of people. What we see is more difficulties being presented but less face-to-face, so we have adapted to using facebook and the telephone to resolve a number of issues. The lack of face-to-face itself is a complex issue in that, as a supporting agency you are never quite sure if people don’t want to come or that their social anxiety is hitting new highs. With our client group I believe it is the latter. And to counter this, we offer counselling.”
“Our work is evolving from mainly working to resolve social isolation and improve people’s wellbeing to now needing to focus on how we can help people focus on their core needs such as heating and eating. We are working to figure out how we can best address these issues – but we may have issues around our capacity and are concerned for the wellbeing of our staff and volunteers who are working with these issues front line.”
“We are working in challenging environments which are becoming even more complex with the cost-of-living crises when we have not yet fully come out of the Covid-19 Pandemic. There is a reduction of funding available for groups to apply for or not enough core funding to support organisations who are struggling to provide much needed local services. Many of our projects are time expiring and there is not enough replacement funding available to keep much of the good working going.”
“We are busier than ever now and it’s a real challenge”
“We’re doing pretty well- we’re doing lots of training for new members, which is good!”
“We are doing well – the staff team is excellent. That said, we have a fairly substantial gap in our budget (largely for salaries) this year – we do have funding applications in, in progress and planned, and it’ll be OK… but it’s a constant challenge! We also haven’t yet properly costed the impact of ‘cost-of-living’ – this will have an effect on staff, too.”
“Covid dealt a hard blow to membership and income generation, and the projects that we could undertake. We are recovering.”
“We are a mental health charity working with people in a deprived part of the country. We deliver a range of services aimed at improving mental health, preventing crisis and developing resilience. We face a challenging funding environment with competition for funding higher than ever and rising costs. We face a recruitment crisis like many places but it is enhanced by our inability to pay market rates. The NHS trusts instead of working alongside us and investing in our skills and community knowledge seem intent on pitting themselves as our competitors in a bid to justify their own income streams.”
“We have just re-opened after the pandemic. We are on a reduced timetable due to loss of many volunteers. We are trying to gauge the demand for our services after a two-and-a-half year closure.”
“Housing development in this area of the South West has increased phenomenally. This has pushed agricultural land prices up and put land purchase beyond our reach. We are an environmental organisation and are dismayed at the Government’s war on nature. The removal of European protections for wildlife and our environment is depressing for our members.”
“We have now stabilized our number of third age member numbers which are now slowly increasing. There is still some concern over Covid issues from some.”
“Stable and becoming financially sustainable.”
“With a lease responsibility for the building we are experiencing difficulties with the cost of energy and heating.”
“The operating environment right now is far more challenging than at any time during the pandemic. Statutory thresholds are so high that demand is escalating to levels that are not possible to respond to in the VCSE sector and much of that demand is not best-fit with our services. Far too many people with severe and enduring mental health challenges and people in real emotional crisis are being referred to counselling and therapy services when they are not in a position to be able to begin a therapeutic healing and recovery journey. They need crisis support, stabilisation and, in some cases, medical intervention. They are being pushed from pillar to post which is re-traumatising. The system around us is spiralling downwards and is breaking. With future prospects of cuts and continued under-investment this will only get worse. The story is the same for any charity we speak to that is trying to support victims and survivors of abuse and violence or other vulnerable individuals.”
“Tough. Retail sales down. Room hire okay but people don’t want any increases in fees.”
“We are currently in negotiations to join up with another group which would help both our groups in different ways.”
“For [our charity], the past five years have been a real struggle. There has been no funding available from the local City or County Council. The whole of the COVID period was a huge disappointment – especially trying to force vulnerable adults to use on-line learning from home. These adults barely have money to buy food and are reliant on food banks and during the COVID period their Universal Credit was cut by £20. These adults (many who cannot read or write English) were forced to look for employment and prove to the job centres that they were actively looking for employment. Yet, centres like ourselves were forced to close and not provide the basic services that we provided in the community.”
“The Energy crisis has encouraged people to take up our energy services. Unfortunately, we are a micro charity and have no paid employees, it is difficult to keep up with the demand. Funding is so difficult to find.”
There’s a good deal of nervousness amongst leaders of Third Sector organisations just now about the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on their ability to meet the needs of their beneficiaries. Inevitably, these worries also make them think hard about the wellbeing of their own organisations.
Third Sector Trends has been tracking sector mood every three years since 2010. We started at a time when the impact of the 2008 financial crash was still rebounding around the economy. By 2013 government had adopted dramatic austerity policies which were tearing into local authority budgets. In 2016, the survey returned to a nation convulsed with excitement or anxiety about Brexit.
By 2019, thankfully, things were looking better in the economy and government was talking about ‘levelling up’ and investing heavily in ‘left behind places’. But little did we know that Covid would turn everything upside down again by spring 2020. And now the big worry is the cost-of-living crisis and an uncertain economic future.
The voluntary sector has had to contend with its fair share of problems since the financial crash of 2008. In an in-depth study of a representative sample of 50 organisations over the last 15 years in North East England and Cumbria, Third Sector Trends has watched how charity leaders navigate their way through choppy waters.
The latest report, Going the distance: how third sector organisations work through turbulent times, has just been released.
How can Christian organisations obtain the money they need whilst holding on to their principles? How vigilant should churches and other Christian organisations be about the provenance of money which they receive through donations, grants or from investments?
Professor Fred Robinson of Policy&Practice was awarded a Leech Fellowship to look at how Christian organisations think about money, particularly money that comes from sources that appear to have values that conflict with a Christian ethos.
The problem of ‘tainted money’ has recently been generating a good deal of controversy in relation to the sponsorship of arts, culture and sport. There are also some lively debates about university endowments and the legacies of slavery. Christian organisations will get increasingly drawn into these issues — and they should have something credible to say about the positions they adopt and the actions they take.
Third Sector Trends began in 2008 and is the longest running study of the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector in the UK. The study, which takes place every three years, covers England and Wales – receiving over 4,000 responses in 2019.
We received 6,070 responses in 2022, 1,263 of which arrived with the help of many local CVSs and charitable trusts and foundations across England and Wales. The national survey closed on Saturday 1st October 2022 but we’ll be back in 2025 to repeat the study for the seventh time.
We’ll produce some ‘headline’ findings in the second week of October to accompany the launch of the latest report from our qualitative study of 50 organisations in North East and Cumbria which has been running for nearly fifteen years. And then there will be a series of in-depth reports over the next six months on a wide range of topics.
The findings from the study will complement Charity Commission, NCVO Civil Society Almanac and 360Giving data to produce robust estimates on employment, volunteering, sector finance and assets. The study then looks at how the ‘energy’ the sector has at its disposal is applied to local causes.
Even though this is a large-scale study, its purpose is to study the structure, dynamics and impact of the ‘local’ VCSE sector. Only by looking at several areas, is it possible to understand individual localities properly.
How did we do in Wales and English regions?
The graph below shows response levels by region. As the dotted lines show, we hoped to get over 500 responses in most regions of England and at least 400 in all areas – that ambition has been achieved.
The response rates when compared with sample frame distribution (n=110,000) show a different story with much stronger responses in North East England where we have been working the longest (since 2010) and in Yorkshire & Humber (since 2013) and North West England (since 2016, but Cumbria since 2010). Elsewhere the responses against the sample frame matched quite well. The exceptions are South East England and especially London which produced fewer responses proportionally to the population of charities in those areas – which is puzzling.
We got responses by sending direct invitations using all the available email addresses from the Charity Commission Register and by working with local VCSE sector infrastructure bodies in Wales and selected English regions (North East, North West, Yorkshire & Humber, South West and West Midlands). This is how it has worked. As you can see, they’ve done a great job in the regions we work closely with.
Who funds the study?
Over the years, the study has been supported by a range of funders including Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, Power to Change, Barrow Cadbury Trust, Millfield House Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Charity Bank, Cumbria Community Foundation, Northern Rock Foundation, Economic and Social Research Council, Sport England together with several local authorities, combined authorities and NHSEngland .
Third Sector Trends is independent and impartial. As such it aims to provide objective interpretation of rigorously collected data to serve the interests of the voluntary sector, local public and health sector, the Lottery, charitable trusts and foundations and businesses.
What evidence does the study collect?
The survey has a core set of questions which never change to ensure comparability. But in each round of the research, there is space to explore contemporary issues. The 2022 survey has, for example, specific focus on the following issues:
The extent to which the Covid pandemic has reshaped and refocused VCSE sector activity.
The positive role the VCSE sector can play in ‘levelling up’, ‘localism’ and ‘community wealth building’ agendas.
The contribution the VCSE sector can make to public health and, specifically, healthy life expectancy.
How the VCSE helps to secure economic and social wellbeing in localities.
How are the findings used?
The study is widely used by local authorities, combined authorities, NHS partnerships and VCSE infrastructure organisations in their strategic work and policy formulation. For an example of the full set of findings from the 2019 study at a regional level, see this report:
Data have also been used in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly to assess the strengths of the VCSE sector to support the development of strategies to align sector activity with NHS England priorities for Integrated Care Systems. The first of a series of reports can be found here:
It has also been possible to do in-depth work on aspects of sector structure and activity which has previously been neglected. Including, for example, issues associated with diversity in sector leadership:
The VCSE Sector across Humber, Coast and Vale is diverse, made up of many organisations and people that deliver their services supporting a wide range of causes. The sector is a crucial element to support people with their Health and Wellbeing.
This report has been commissioned by the Humber, Coast and Vale Health and Care Partnership and the VCSE Leadership Group to understand more about the sector and how our geography and the places that make up Humber, Coast and Vale are served.
Professor Tony Chapman, from St Chad’s College at Durham University has worked with the VCSE Leadership Group over the last year, completing an initial look at the size and scale of the VCSE sector, which showcased the value of the sector and contribution it can make to health and wellbeing of our people.
Following this report the group asked Tony to go further and look at how the sector is split across our unique geography that has a mix of urban and rural areas and a large section of coastal communities.
The findings within this report begin to plot the VCSE sector alongside the differences we see across Humber, Coast and Vale in terms of deprivation, health inequalities and our geography. The report provides a tool for strategists to think about the approaches to take ensure the VCSE sector can play its role in supporting the health and wellbeing of Humber, Coast and Vale residents.
The full report and a shorter summary report can be downloaded here:
Policy&Practice has published a new report on the structure and dynamics of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly. The research builds on work from the Third Sector Trends study and draws on data from a wide range of sources including the Charity Commission Register and the Office for National Statistics. The study was commissioned by Voluntary Sector Forum Cornwall and NHS Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group.
This report shows that Cornwall and Isles of Scilly has a large and productive VCSE sector. The sector is comprised of around 2,500 registered organisations and there may be as many as 3,250 additional small, local informal unregistered groups working under the radar of official statistics.
The VCSE sector in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly has an income of about £219 million. This is drawn from a wide range of sources such as contracts to deliver public services, grants, self-generated earned income, gifts and donations, investments and subscriptions.
Organisations within the VCSE sector employ large numbers of staff. There are estimated to be over 4,500 full-time and 5,000 part-time employees – this amounts to 6,000 full-time equivalent staff. The VCSE sector comprises about 4 per cent of all employment in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly
Volunteers play a vital role in sustaining the activities of the VCSE sector – and especially so in smaller VCSE organisations. Over 70 per cent of volunteer time is delivered in small VCSE organisations (with income below £50,000). The biggest organisations (with income between £1m – £25m) only account for about 4 per cent of volunteer time.
VCSE sector activity is estimated to produce a multiplier effect of £387 million of tangible economic, fiscal and use value and £250 million of additional intangible value. It is estimated that the VCSE sector produces a ratio of 3.6 to 1 added social and economic value relative to the energy injected.
The Bridge Project in Bradford appointed Dr Tanya Gray, Senior Research Associate in Policy&Practice to undertake a review of the pilot Together Talks programme. Together Talks uses volunteers as telephone befrienders to support people misuse to step away from intensive professional support and move towards independent lives.
This new approach to service delivery was forged to some extent from necessity. Recurrent government-imposed lockdowns made it impossible to deliver services in other ways. But the pilot programme was not devised simply as a stop-gap until things ‘got back to normal’. Instead, it was anticipated that elements of the delivery approach would outlive the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. The evaluation of the programme provides clear justification for continuing with the approach post-pandemic.
Together Talks was devised to tackle aspects of loneliness and social isolation which can often accompany the recovery process once intensive support comes to an end. But the pilot’s distinctiveness derives from the presence of a shared outcome – agreed with input from three specialist strands. This makes Together Talks a highly tailored scheme, focusing in on the need of an individual, whilst at the same time actively committing to collective need.
This review confirms that the project has remained personal and proximate to the needs of individuals, perhaps best illustrated by one of the volunteer befriender interviewed: ‘The best thing is how human it has all felt, very down to earth, very real and honest and direct.’