Category Archives: Research

People, Places and Policy: the role of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector

Chaired by Patrick Butler, Social Policy Editor, The Guardian.

The final event for Third Sector Trends in England and Wales 2022 will take place Tuesday 30 May, 2023: 5.00pm for 5.30pm – 7.00pm, at The Mercers’ Hall, Ironmongers Lane, London, EC2V 8HE.

All reports from Third Sector Trends 2022 can be downloaded here.

Social policy in the UK is at a crossroads as Conservative government commitment to levelling up seems to be on the wane and a prospective Labour Government steadily starts to mark out its path for a shift in policy direction.

The voluntary, community and social enterprise sector sits in a good position to view the successes and failures of previous governments and to initiate and promote ideas for change. The question is, whose interests will it serve and for what purpose at a time when social inequalities are deepening and calls for social justice rising on the agenda.

Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland is hosting an event to debate the key findings and policy implications of the Third Sector Trends study in England and Wales. 

Building on four Third Sector Trends 2022 reports released to date, Professor Tony Chapman of Durham University, will outline the role the sector has in improving localities. He will compare dynamics in richer and poorer areas, consider the role of grant funders and look at how a mixture of innovative practice and solid, steady work based on the sector’s local knowledge, skills and experience helps to keep communities going. And crucially, whether the voluntary sector will engage with and contribute towards local social and public policy debate.

There will then be a debate. following panel responses to the findings. Panellists include:

  • Jane Ide, Chief Executive, ACEVO
  • Sara Llewellin, Chief Executive, Barrow Cadbury Trust
  • Stephen Miller, Director of Delivery and Impact, Power to Change
  • Rob Williamson Chief Executive, Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland

To book your place please go to by 10am Friday 19 May 2023

If you have any problem booking, please contact us on 0191 222 0945 or  

The contribution of the charity sector to health and wellbeing in the Home Counties

Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West VCSE Health Alliance partners have commissioned a research report from Tony Chapman and Jonathan Wistow of Policy&Practice at St Chad’s College and the Department of Sociology, Durham University. The aim of the report is to produce a clear picture on the structure, purpose, energy and impact of the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West in a comparative context.

The analysis will help to inform policy and practice debate by providing detailed analysis of sector strengths by considering: distribution of sector energy, financial robustness, workforce dynamics, quality of relationships with other sectors, partnership orientation and business confidence.

The project will complement two other studies on the role of the VCSE sector in supporting local NHS Integrated Care Partnerships (see previous news story). Each study is based on areas with very different characteristics. In Yorkshire and Humber, the study focuses on two metropolitan combined authority areas. While in Cumbria, the study is centred on a relatively spatially separate town and country area.

Collectively, the studies will collate data on the structure and activities of the VCSE sector in over twenty locations, of which 16 are designated as NHS Integrated Care System (ICS) areas. In Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West, analysis and interpretation will be especially challenging because boundaries between ICS areas are more blurred and permeable due to the proximity of Greater London. This produces complex travel to work area flows which means that resident populations can be quite different from the working population.

With comparative data to hand on statistical ‘neighbours’ and ‘strangers’ it should be possible to determine where VCSE sector operations are similar, irrespective of local circumstances and where they are different. This will produce clear messages for NHS Integrated Care Boards and Partnerships on where the transferability of policy initiatives which concern the VCSE sector are sensible and where locally oriented approaches should be adopted.

The contribution of the Third Sector to place

Now that the national statistical reports have been published for Third Sector Trends in England and Wales, it is time to look at the fine detail on how voluntary, community organisations and social enterprises contribute to localities and then think about the policy and practice implications of findings for local councils, NHS Integrated Care Boards and Combined Authorities.

Two new studies are being commissioned to do this which will be researched in parallel. As always, we’ll be using trend data to see how sector practices change in response to events such as the global financial crash, government austerity policies, the Coronavirus pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis.

But there’s a new twist to the story. Each study will collate evidence for the areas of focus – but in order to get beneath the surface of what is going on, comparisons will be made with their ‘statistical neighbours’

One study will be centred on Cumbria, in North West England, where Third Sector Trends has been collecting survey data since 2010. Six other areas have been identified which share statistical similarities: Northumberland, Shropshire, Suffolk, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. Cumbria County Council is commissioning this work and is keen also to look at the situation in the two new ‘shadow councils’ which will be established soon: Cumberland Council and Westmorland and Furness Council.

The other study will be in Yorkshire and Humber – focusing upon three areas: ‘South Yorkshire’, ‘West Yorkshire’ and ‘Humber and North Yorkshire’. Two of these areas are combined authorities – so their statistical neighbours will be all the other combined authorities including Tees Valley, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, West Midlands, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, West of England and the soon to be established Northumbria Combined Authority. Humber and North Yorkshire is an area with widely varying characteristics – so that will make the project even more interesting.

This work has attracted a lot of interest in Yorkshire and Humber and will be supported by NHS Humber and North Yorkshire Integrated Care Board (ICB), NHS West Yorkshire ICB, NHS South Yorkshire ICB, Sheffield City Region, West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Yorkshire Sport Foundation.

The most surprising element of the analysis, which arises from doing the research in different types of areas in parallel, will be an opportunity to compare ‘statistical neighbours’ and ‘statistical strangers’. Then we’ll know what the VCSE sector does in more or less the same way everywhere – and where the real differences in the purpose, practice and investment of energy lay.

Commissioners and researchers are not strangers to each other though. We have worked together before to develop new ways of making sense of sector strengths, purpose and impact – especially in the fields of health and wellbeing and community sustainability. And doing stakeholder consultations, to see how people respond to the findings and initial recommendations, will be central to the success of both projects.

It’s an intriguing opportunity which will help to explore how the VCSE sector contributes to place through a new lens – but will also have the wider benefit of producing data for all these other areas which may also be interested in the findings to see how they ‘fit’ in the wider scheme of things.

Previous recent studies underpinning this new study in Yorkshire and Humber and Cornwall can be found here:

Chapman, T. (2022) The contribution of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector to health and wellbeing in Humber, Coast and Vale, Durham: Policy&Practice. The-contribution-of-the-VCSE-sector-to-health-and-wellbeing-in-Humber-Coast-and-Vale-February-2022.pdf (

Chapman, T. (2022) The structure, dynamics and impact of the VCSE sector in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly. Durham: Policy&Prctice

Chapman, T. (2021)  The structure, dynamics and impact of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector: a study of West Yorkshire Combined Authority, West Yorkshire & Harrogate Health and Care Partnership and Humber Coast and Vale Health and Care Partnership areas, Durham: Policy&Practice.

Third Sector Trends: relationships, influencing and collaboration

This is the fourth report from the Third Sector Trends study of England and Wales in 2022. In 2022 the study was supported by Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, Power to Change, Barrow Cadbury Trust and Millfield House Foundation.

Assessing the whole sector’s value in England and Wales involves more than simply ‘adding up’ the contributions of individual organisations. That is, firstly, because the value of the sector’s social productivity is greater than the sum of parts; and secondly, because value is not ‘owned’ by individual organisations – but rather, is shared.

This report shows that Third Sector organisations can rarely, if ever, achieve everything on their own. Most organisations, large or small, work together well – but rarely to the point that they lose their independence. Informal neighbourly relationships are the most common: 73 per cent of TSOs do this. But there is a lot of semi-formal complementary activity too – where organisations work together towards shared goals (51% of micro TSOs get involved in such work, rising to 82% of the biggest organisations).

There is a great deal of engagement with local social and public policy where TSOs attend formal meetings or contribute to consultations (including 61% of micro organisations rising to 84% of the biggest TSOs). A good deal of active ‘behind-the-scenes’ interaction to influence policy goes on too (rising from 36% of micro TSOs to 56% of the biggest).

National government is more likely to be pleased than perturbed that the Third Sector gets involved in local social and public policy debates. But over the last decade, while respecting the right of charities to campaign, Ministers and the Charity Commission have become concerned about ‘illegitimate’ political activities.

Evidence on the incidence of campaigning, until now, has been extremely limited. In 2022 Third Sector Trends sought to find out how widespread political engagement is by asking participants, firstly, if they ‘tend to steer clear’ of politics. Percentages of TSOs agreeing that they steer clear of local politics rises from 67% of the biggest organisations to 80% of the smallest.

A second question asked if organisations ‘campaign to further the interests of our beneficiaries’ – which is judged to be a legitimate activity according to the Charity Commission. Around a third of micro TSOs (36%) campaign – rising to 71 per cent of the biggest organisations).

In response to the publication of the latest report, Rob Williamson, Chief officer of the Community Foundation said:

“There’s talk in all sectors about the value of collaboration and this report shows the depth and importance of the sector’s internal and external relationships. These relationships maintain the third sector’s social impact because, collectively, the sector as a whole is worth more than the sum of the parts. It’s not all about formal partnership working, complementary action is vital too – where organisations stay independent but work collectively towards a common purpose.”

As the report’s author, Professor Tony Chapman of Durham University said:

“Becoming agitated about illegitimate political activities of charities, like as not, reveals as much about the government’s political insecurities as it does about the sector itself: not least because the enormous range of political opinion and activity within the Third Sector is so complex that it defies meaningful categorisation.

“The Third Sector is full of strong-willed people, who are committed to the causes that they pursue. And rarely is the sector shy of raising its objections when injustices are thought to have been committed. Surely, sustaining productive relationships between government and the third sector is much more important to Ministers when trying to achieve national, regional and local objectives than fussing about tweets.”

Laura Seebohm, Chair – Millfield House Foundation, said:

“It has never been more important for voluntary, community and social enterprise sector organisations to engage in policy and campaigning activities, on behalf of the communities they work with. It is therefore heartening to see sector organisations finding time and energy, against the odds, to advocate for wider change.”

The report is available to download here.

And a short blog is available which captures key controversies arising from the report which can be accessed here.

All reports from Third Sector Trends in England and Wales 2022 can be found at the Community Foundation’s website: Voluntary Third-Sector Trends | Community Foundation

Churches and ‘tainted money’

All organisations need money – and churches are no different. But churches should perhaps be particularly mindful of where their money comes from and how that relates to Christian ethics and theology. So where do churches get their money from? And does it matter?

Professor Fred Robinson was awarded a Fellowship by the William Leech Foundation to look at churches and money in North East England. This research came about because he had initially been thinking about Christian philanthropy in the region and controversies surrounding corporate sponsorship of cultural organisations. Together with current debates about the legacies of slavery and colonialism in the North East and elsewhere, it was clearly time to reconsider the relationship between churches and their finances – and how they deal with issues of ‘tainted money’.

The report Churches and tainted money is published today. The report covers wide ground with detailed examination of congregational giving; external funding including grants from the National Lottery; historic benefactions; endowments; and where churches invest money and who they bank with. The report also explores the practices of different church denominations, each of which has its own history, challenges – and vulnerabilities to criticism.

In the research, Professor Robinson found a good deal of pragmatism. It is argued that most churches are relaxed about seeking funding from the Lottery, for example, and are not worried about using banks that are heavily invested in fossil fuels. But most are also principled in respect of their investments, putting their money into ethical funds. It’s a mixed picture that can leave churches open to criticism and even to charges of hypocrisy.

Fred says: ‘This report aims to shed light on how churches deal with money. I think that, generally, churches need to give more thought to the provenance of their money and wealth, and also be more proactive, investing in activities that address current problems not just avoiding ‘sin stocks’. But there are, at least, encouraging signs that churches are doing more to face up to historic responsibilities, including legacies of slavery’.

The report will provide some food for thought for the churches – and get church members thinking about whether their churches need to be less pragmatic and more principled in their approach to money.

Churches and tainted money can be downloaded here.

Testing times ahead for Third Sector finances

Third Sector Trends has been surveying the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector every three years since 2010. In 2022, 6,071 responses were received across England and Wales (an average of ~600 responses in each region). This is the only fully representative longitudinal survey which can produce robust and detailed comparative analysis at a regional and national level.

This is the third of five reports from Third Sector Trends in England and Wales 2022. Headline findings are provided below, but if you want to go straight to the report, here is the link:

Relationships with grant-making trusts and foundations

Relationships with grant funders have changed since 2019. The research shows that many grant makers relaxed their approach to funding during the Covid-19 pandemic (percentages refer to TSOs which ‘agree’ or ‘strongly’ agree with statements).

  • In 2019 only 46 per cent of TSOs stated that they received unrestricted or ‘core funding’ compared with 60 per cent in 2022. 
  • In 2019 only a quarter of TSOs reported that grant funders had approached them. This rose to 40 per cent in 2022.

There is good evidence to show that funders have taken a ‘lighter touch’ to grant-making approach during the pandemic.

  • Pressure to provide evidence of impact fell from 55 per cent to 32 per cent.
  • Expectations that practice should be ‘innovative’ fell from 74 per cent to 50 per cent.

Some aspects of inter-relationships with grant-making trusts and foundations did not change:

  • The percentage of organisations stating that grant makers made a long-term contribution to their work remained about the same between 2019 and 2022 at 31-32 per cent.

As the report concludes:

“The benefits of these changes are plain to see. 83 per cent of organisations have reserves now compared with 76% in 2019. In 2022, 45 per cent of organisations have not drawn on reserves compared with 36% in 2019… The question is, will those grant makers which became more relaxed about how they dispensed their money remain so?

Some grant funders have always operated in a responsive way to the needs of charities and social enterprises and trust them to get things done. Others may be keener again to shape and direct the way their money has an impact on local communities and seek evidence for the changes that were achieved.”

Public service delivery contracts

Political enthusiasm for engaging the Third Sector in the delivery of contracts was at its strongest in the first decade of this century. This policy drive derived from an assumption that TSOs could be incentivised to undertake work for government at local and national level in a ‘mixed economy of welfare’.

Despite government efforts to incentivise and help prepare TSOs to engage in the delivery of contracts, such opportunities still only attract small section of organisations in the Third Sector.

  • Due to their purpose and scale of their activities, fewer than 5% of micro and small organisations have been interested in public-service delivery contracts since 2013.
  • Medium-sized organisations (income £250,000-£1million) have become progressively less likely to engage in bidding for or delivering contracts – falling from 52% in 2013 to 36% in 2022.
  • Only the biggest TSOs (with income above £1million) have sustained involvement in such work (about 60% of bigger organisations in major urban areas and about 50% of bigger organisations nationally.

As the report concludes:

“Organisations that deliver contracts are the most likely to be struggling to retain staff and recruit others. If wages are poor, because contract values are too low, then staff will not be available to deliver them.  And to compound this problem, those TSOs which previously chose to subsidise contracts using trading income may struggle now to do this in challenging economic circumstances.”

Earned income from self-generated trading

Self-generated trading includes the delivery of services that clients pay for (such as childcare or community cafes), ticketing for events, rent of space or production and sale of goods.

  • About 60 per cent of organisations in the Third Sector earn some of their income by delivering contracts or self-generated trading of goods or services.
  • The proportion of TSOs which earn more than 80 per cent of their income from trading has fallen since 2013 from 20% to 14%.
  • The overall proportion of organisations which trade has not increased. In fact it has fallen very slightly, but steadily, from 68 per cent in 2013 to 66 per cent in 2022.

As the report concludes:

“The Third Sector’s own trading activity has been affected by the pandemic.  Many organisations stopped or reduced trading activity during the worst of the lockdowns. Like private businesses, they were not allowed to open for long periods. And, initially at least, when they reopened fewer customers came.

While Covid-19 may have accelerated change, the pandemic’s effect should not be over-stated nor its impact exaggerated. The proportion of organisations earning income has not increased over the years. In fact it has fallen very slightly and fewer organisations rely very heavily on trading now than in the past. More recently established organisations are less interest in trading than their older counterparts.”

Optimism about future finances

In spite of current difficulties with rising costs of energy and wages, optimism about finances has remained remarkably high.

  • 33 per cent of organisations expect that their income will rise over the next two years and 46 per cent think it will stay about the same.
  • Only 21 per cent of TSOs think income will fall (and fewer that 5% feel that income will fall substantially).

But as all previous rounds of Third Sector Trends surveys have shown, organisations of all sizes tend to be somewhat ‘over optimistic’ in their projections about future finances.

  • In a period of government austerity in 2010, 24% of organisations thought their income would rise, but this only turned out to be 11% of organisations in 2013.
  • In 2016, 36% of organisations thought their income would rise in future, but by 2019 only 18% reported that this had happened.
  • In 2019, 32% of organisations expected their income would rise. During the pandemic in 2020, optimism collapsed to just 13%. But by 2022, 18% reported that income had risen – the highest level since Third Sector Trends surveys began in 2010.
  • When surveyed in 2022, 33% of organisations thought that their income would rise over the next two years. It is too hard to predict what the actual percentage will be.

As Rob Williamson, Chief Executive of the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, said

“This report shows that the push since 2010 for the future income of the third sector to be based on trading, contracting, social finance and digital fundraising have amounted to very little. We still see the continued  importance of grant funding, indeed the model of social finance has evolved into a blended model relying on a mix of grant funding and social finance…

“The pandemic sped up the modernisation of grant funding through trust-based, less restrictive models increasingly focussed on core funding which is a good thing. As funders we need to continue to work and flex alongside the sector to ensure the best outcomes for our communities.”  

As the report author, Professor Tony Chapman, concludes:

“Sector over-optimism is not a bad thing because it drives enthusiasm and commitment. But when hopes are dashed, it can make people in the sector feel disappointed…

“Economic conditions are precarious. But this is neither a ‘perfect storm’ nor an ‘existential crisis’. The Third sector is more robust than many commentators think. But there will be a mix of winners and losers as social market conditions change…

“When thinking about sustainability, it should be remembered that Third Sector organisations tend to be financially prudent.  More organisations hold reserves in 2019 and that they are ‘holding on tight’ to them rather than investing in new things. And unlike private businesses, very few organisations borrow money which reduces the risk of foreclosure…

“Crucially, organisations have learned over the years how to flex their operations to manage upturns and downturns in their finances because they are so accustomed to high levels of turbulence in their finances. Inevitably, some organisations will have to make redundancies and reduce the level of services they offer…

“So government, local public sector organisations, grant-making trusts and foundations and Third Sector infrastructure agencies need to keep a close eye, as they generally do, on which kinds of organisations may be most at risk. Otherwise, calls for blanket support for all organisations may water down or misdirect the value of such investment from where need is the greatest.”

The report can be downloaded here.

A blog in the implications of the findings can be found here.

Shaping the future of the Borderlands

Over the past decade, Policy&Practice academics at St Chad’s Colhalflege have been closely involved with strategy debates on how to support economic and social development in the Anglo-Scottish Border. 

This initiative was stimulated by awareness on both sides of the border of shared opportunities arising from the establishment of a Scottish Parliament in 1999. Subsequently, the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014 led to the Scottish government gaining new powers. This presented new challenges for politicians and business leaders in the North East of England and Cumbria who felt there may be detrimental consequences for their regions.

The Anglo-Scottish Border has, until recently, been a neglected area of British public policy. Yet it comprises 10 per cent of the UK’s land mass and has a population of over 1 million people. It comprises five local authorities: Dumfries and Galloway; Scottish Borders; Northumberland; Cumbria; and Carlisle Councils (soon to become Cumberland Council).

With a shared history and cultural identity, the area is largely rural with dispersed market towns and isolated former industrial communities connected by cross-border transport links. Low rates of firm formation, low pay, outmigration, an ageing population, transport accessibility and poor broadband connectivity in the Borderlands produce policy challenges.

Policy&Practice’s involvement preceded the Scottish Independence Referendum when, in 2012, the Association of North East Councils requested the Institute for Local Governance (ILG) to commission a new study: Borderlands: can the North East and Cumbria benefit from greater Scottish Autonomy?[1] 

The ILG, led by Professor John Mawson was a North East-wide public sector research and knowledge exchange partnership established to access the expertise of the region’s five Universities. It commissioned Professors Keith Shaw of Northumbria University and Fred Robinson and Jonathan Blackie of St Chad’s College to undertake the work.

Highlighting the economic, social and environmental opportunities of cross-border collaboration the report was instrumental in the establishment of the Borderlands Partnership between the five councils. In turn it led to the commissioning by the ILG of a further report in 2015 entitled Developing the framework for a Borderlands strategy[2] on behalf of the Partnership. This work was undertaken by Professors Jonathan Blackie, St Chad’s College, Durham University; Keith Shaw, Northumbria and Frank Peck, Cumbria Universities and involved ongoing support to the Partnership Steering Group. 

The programme of work’s value was highlighted in the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee report Our Borderlands – Our Future in March 2015.[3]  The initiative was praised by First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond and his successor Nicola Sturgeon.

Ultimately this led to the Conservative Party’s election manifesto commitment to “bring forward a Borderlands Growth Deal including all Councils on both sides of the border to help secure prosperity…” in 2017. The deal was signed by the two governments and partnership representatives in 2021.[4]   

The partnership is now responsible for the management and implementation of this cross-border integrated programme. Worth over £350million pounds, its aim is to deliver 5,500 jobs, expand tourism and other rural industries, improve public transport and ensure a strong place-based dimension.

In the next stage of this research and consultancy programme, Professor Mawson, now based at St Chad’s College as a professorial fellow in Policy&Practice, together with colleagues from Northumbria University, will be exploring leadership and governance issues surrounding the emergence of the Inclusive Growth Deal and Partnership. 

This work will form part of a two-year international research and seminar programme on the development of international cross-border partnerships supported by the Regional Studies Association.

For other news stories on the Borderlands, see: Strengthening the wellbeing of market towns in the borderlands.

[1] Shaw, K., Blackie, J., Robinson, F., and Henderson G. 2013.  Borderlands: Can the North East and Cumbria benefit from greater Scottish Autonomy?  Universities of Northumbria, Durham and IPPR North.  Commissioned by the Institute for Local Governance on behalf of the Association of North East Councils. Available here

[2] Shaw, K., Peck, F., Mulvay, G., Jackson, K. and Blackie, J, 2015. Developing the Framework for a Borderland Strategy  Northumbria and Cumbria Universities.  Commissioned by the Institute for Local Governance on behalf of Northumberland County Council. Available here

[3] House of Commons 2015.  Our Borderlands – Our Future.  Final Report.  Scottish Affairs Committee.  Sixth Report of the Session 2014-15. Available here

[4] The Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal.  March 2021.  Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Carlisle City Council, Cumbria County Council, Dumfries and Galloway Council, Northumberland County Council, Scottish Borders Council. Available here

Looming workforce challenges facing the Third Sector

Third Sector Trends in England and Wales 2022: employees, volunteers, diversity and investment in people – new report published today.

Third Sector Trends has been surveying the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector every three years since 2010. In 2022, 6,071 responses were received across England and Wales (an average of ~600 responses in each region). This is the only fully representative longitudinal survey which can produce robust and detailed comparative analysis at a regional and national level in England and Wales. This is the second of five reports from Third Sector Trends England and Wales 2022.

Employee retention and recruitment

There are about 200,000 Third Sector organisations (TSOs), about 40% of them are employers. The sector has a paid workforce of about 1.1 million people.

Over the last two years, 20 per cent of Third Sector employers have found it harder to retain staff and 43 per cent have experienced recruitment problems.

Problems with recruitment are widespread across England and Wales – but it is most intense in North East England (54%), North West England (48%) and in Wales (46%).

Recruitment problems are most severe in the largest organisations: 79 per cent of TSOs with income between £1million and £25million are experiencing recruitment problems compared with just 31 per cent of the smallest employers (with income between £50,000-£100,000).

Difficulties surrounding employee retention compound the challenging staffing situation many organisations face. Again, this is most serious in North East England (25%). Retention problems are most severe in the biggest organisations (53%) but affect organisations of all sizes.

Those organisations which deliver public services under contract for government departments or local authorities are finding retention problems the most challenging (27%), while TSOs which do not deliver contracts are less affected (15%).

One of the participants in the survey told us this afternoon:

We have recently attempted a third round of recruitment for two vacant posts (out of 8 employees). In order to try to attract applicants, we reimagined the roles to allow for trainees as well as experienced staff. We received 25 applications for two posts, with 20 of them applying as trainees. We shortlisted 8 of these. 7 pulled out prior to interview, so we ended up only interviewing one, who was not suitable. So our vacancies continue. These vacancies are related to project grants and the funders are very sympathetic but the projects are unable to go ahead without the staff, which means that there is unmet service need. Very frustrating. We will be trying again in January 2023.”

Reliance on regular volunteers

There are about 4.3 million regular volunteers working in the Third Sector. In workload terms, this is equivalent to 190,000 full-time equivalent employees.

Many organisations are facing challenges in sustaining the energy produced by volunteers. Over a quarter of organisations (26%) have been losing volunteers who joined them during the Coronavirus pandemic.  41 per cent of the biggest organisations (income £1million – £25million) are losing these volunteers compared with 18 per cent of the smallest TSOs (income below £10,000).

The composition of the volunteer workforce has been changing in the last two years.

  • Nearly half of organisations (48%) state that it has been harder to hold on to older volunteers.
  • A fifth of TSOs (20%) say that they now have more volunteers aged under 30.
  • Just over a fifth of organisations (22%) report that their voluntary workforce has become more ethnically diverse.

Sustaining support from trustees is vital for organisations: but 17 per cent of organisations report that the number of trustees has fallen over the last two years. Trustee numbers have fallen most in North East England, East of England, South West England and in Wales (all with net losses of trustees between 3-5%).

Regular volunteers produce about one fifth of the ‘energy’ that the Third Sector injects into its work. And in micro and small organisations, volunteers put in all or most of that energy.

  • 80 per cent of organisations say that they rely mainly on volunteers who can commit time on a very regular basis.
  • Over three quarters of TSOs rely on volunteers who can work unsupervised. Reliance on regular volunteers who can work unsupervised is stronger in organisations based in more affluent areas (83%) than in the poorest areas (64%).
  • 85 per cent of organisations state that they could not keep going without regular volunteers.
  • 65 per cent of regular volunteers are reported to be service users and beneficiaries.

Diversity in sector leadership

In recent years, concerns have been widely expressed about equal access to leadership opportunities in the Third Sector for all members of the community who feel that they have a contribution to make.

Until now, debate has been hampered by a lack of reliable data on diversity and inclusion in Third Sector leadership.

  • In England and Wales, university graduates constitute 70 per cent of chairs of boards and 63 per cent of chief officers.
  • A majority of chairs are men (55%) but there are more women chief officers (62%).
  • 10 per cent of chairs consider themselves to have a disability compared with 8 per cent of chief officers.
  • About 8 per cent of chairs and 10 per cent of chief officers are Black, Asian or from other ethnic minorities.
  • Nearly 60 per cent of chairs are retired.

There are some indications of improvement to diversity in leadership since 2019.

  • The percentage of women chairs has increased from 43 to 46 per cent.
  • Chairs with disabilities have increased from 9 to 12 per cent.
  • Black, Asian and other minority ethnic chairs have risen from 6 to 8 per cent.
  • The proportion of graduate chairs has also increased from 64 to 70 per cent – suggesting that leadership opportunities for non-graduates at board level have worsened.

There has also been change in the population of chief officers of organisations.

  • The percentage of graduate chief officers has fallen slightly from 70 to 66 per cent.
  • The percentage of women chief officers has fallen from 65 to 62 per cent.
  • The percentage of chief officers with disabilities has risen from 7 to 10 per cent.
  • The proportion of Black, Asian and other ethnic minority group chief officers has risen only very slightly from 8 to 9 per cent.

Regional variations in the proportion of Black, Asian and other ethnic minority chief officers tend to reflect local demographics. However, London stands out from other all areas where 26 per cent of organisations have Black, Asian and other ethnic minority chief officers compared with an average of just 8 per cent across England and Wales.

Investing in people

The energy that Third Sector organisations can employ to achieve their social objectives is dependent upon the enthusiasm, skill and commitment of volunteers and employees.

Attracting and retaining people to work in organisations may be affected by the quality of the working environment and organisational commitment to training and personal development opportunities.

Overall provision of support for staff and volunteers is quite limited.

  • Only 45 per cent of organisations have a dedicated training budget.
  • 29 per cent of organisations provide digital training.
  • Fewer than 60 per cent of organisations offer flexible working and
  • Just 53 per cent of organisations make provision to support personal development.

But underlying factors help to explain why overall investment in people appears to be quite low. Organisational size makes a big difference. Only 16 per cent of micro organisations (income below £10,000) hold a training budget compared with 91 per cent of the biggest (income £5million – £25million).

The extent of investment in training and personal development is strongest in organisations based in the least affluent areas – where organisations tend to be larger and are more likely to be involved in public service delivery for local authorities or national government departments or delivering major grant-funded social programmes.

During the pandemic, there was much news coverage about organisations embracing digital technologies to shift services online.

But investment in digital training is limited. Fewer than 46 per cent of medium-sized organisations (income £50,000 – £250,000) provide digital training and even amongst the biggest organisations (income £1million – £25million), only 72 per cent do so.

Reacting to the news Rob Williamson, Chief Executive of the Community Foundation said:

“We have seen issues of recruitment across many sectors in the UK, the NHS perhaps being the highest profile, but it is clear it is hitting the charitable sector hard too and our communities will suffer. The last three years have seen the sector step up to support the most vulnerable in our communities, first during covid and now the cost-of-living crisis, but they are burnt out and many are leaving. With increased costs and reduced funding, organisations aren’t always able to pay high enough wages to attract staff. We and many other funders are looking at how we can support them to raise wages and cover costs. Our cost-of-living fund is supporting organisations over the winter to do that – but more needs to be done” 

The report’s author, Professor Tony Chapman, St Chad’s College, Durham University said:

“This is an especially difficult time for many Third Sector organisations with rising inflation, high energy costs and rising demand for services. About 40 per cent of Voluntary and community organisations and social enterprises are employers. Many of them are now facing serious problems associated with staff recruitment and retention. The report’s findings indicate that tackling the issue of traditionally low pay in the Third Sector is becoming an urgent priority.”

Sylvia Copley Chief Executive at ShARP (Shiney Advice and Resource Project) said:

“Here at ShARP we kept going right through Covid – that was hard but our funders were really helpful, and we were able to adapt delivery by moving to remote working so were able to provide telephone advice to people who needed it throughout national and local lockdowns. As we emerged from Covid we then saw this cost-of-living crisis coming and despite planning for increased costs there is now the possibility of a gap in our finances emerging, particularly for core running costs. As a Living Wage Employer we reviewed salaries about 18 months ago and moved pay for all staff above that level. But we now know that the cost of living crisis is going to hit us all impacting on the value of our salaries as things like travel costs and day to day living costs rise significantly. Our advisers will experience financial pressure along with everyone else, and whilst we can help with things like providing extra hours in the short term that is not sustainable in the longer term… we are having to reshape and expand services to meet  ever increasing need in our communities whilst at the same time we are facing rising costs for utilities and other core costs, have fewer volunteers to support us, and have a tired, depleted workforce many of whom have not had a proper break in two years”. 

The report can be downloaded here:

All other reports from Third Sector Trends can be found here: Community Foundation: Third Sector Trends.

Metropolitanisation and ‘left behind places’ in France and England

John Mawson, Professorial Fellow of Policy&Practice, is to begin the next stage of research on a new French Government approach to urban development. This will involve a detailed case study of the City of Tours and its surrounding region in the Loire Valley. The research builds upon previous work which involved a comparative analysis of recent trends in urban policy in the UK and France.

French and British governments have been promoting cross-boundary, collaborative municipal partnerships. These initiatives were designed to achieve critical mass in strategic planning and the delivery of key infrastructure and public services (such as employment, housing and public transport) to their central cities and hinterlands.

In England, Mayoral Combined Authorities and in France Métropoles have been introduced to improve national productivity and growth, It is hoped that benefit will spread to more disadvantaged urban and rural communities in the wider city regions.

Policy and management developments have been assessed in a series of case studies across France, supported by a French Interministerial Research Agency (including the Tours case study). The study in Tours started in 2017 involving researchers from the University of West of England, the University of Tours, and politicians, practitioners and local community representatives.

Implications were explored at a national conference in 2019 and findings were published in 2020 in The Governance of Métropoles and city regions: territorial reforms, spatial imaginaries and new forms of cooperation*

Professor Mawson and his colleagues will be undertaking a five-year review of the effectiveness of the Tours Metropole. This will include appraisal of governance and evaluation of social and economic impact. The work will be supported by the European Union’s Erasmus Programme.

*Mawson, J., Demazière, C. and Hall, S. (2020) ‘Les Métropoles Francaise vues d’Angleterre: un jeu entre l’etat et les notables?’  Chapter 2 in Demazière, C. et al. La Gouvernance des Métropoles et des regions urbaines.  Inter Ministerial Research Programme.  PUCA, Lyon.