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Researchers interested in young people’s issues to meet at St Chad’s

durhamlogoDurham University has an international reputation in many fields of study. But in one area, at least, it seems to have been hiding its light under a bushel. There are well over 50 academics and doctoral students at the University studying the situation of young people.

These researchers explore a huge range of applied issues from the evaluation of government youth engagement programmes to corporate social responsibility initiatives. There are many other pure research projects being undertaken too which can inform applied research – but only if the researchers all know each other and are aware of what they’re doing.

Policy&Practice at St Chad’s College are bringing together researchers from across the university on 12th March to open dialogue so that people can learn from each other and also promote the impact of findings from Durham University more widely. Academics are attending from departments and schools of Applied Social Science, Health, Geography, Anthropology, Education, Psychology and the Business School.

Everyone will present a five minute snap shot of what they’ve found out that they feel other people should know. After the event, a briefing will be produced to show the range and depth of work across the institution.

How willing are third sector organisations to borrow money?

thirdsectortrendsstudyThere’s been tremendous speculation over the last few years about the level of demand for loans in the third sector. What is happening on the ground has been clouded, to some extent, by a current preoccupation with ‘social investment’ as opposed to borrowing in general. Government enthusiasm for social investment is reflected in its establishment of Big Society Capital in April 2012, a wholesale lender, which provides capital for financial intermediaries to allocate to TSOs. There are now many financial institutions which serve the third sector marketplace including: Charity Bank, The Keyfund, CAF Venturesome, Social Finance, amongst others.

Most analysts agree that, to date, there is more money available to lend to TSOs than there is demand to borrow. One of the most probable reasons for this, commentators have concluded, is that TSOs have not yet entered the ‘investment readiness’ zone and need information and support before they do so. Furthermore, it has been shown that amongst those TSOs that are in the investment readiness zone, including those which have been strongly supported by potential investors, the ‘conversion rate’ into loans is, as yet quite low and transaction costs for investors are likely to remain high. Recent survey research from the Northern Rock Foundation Third Sector Trends study casts new light on the level of demand for different types of

Headline findings show that only a small minority of TSOs borrow money. About 14% say that borrowing money is at least of some importance to them as an organisation. By contrast, 87% of TSOs say that grants and 67% of TSOs say that earned income is of at least some importance to them. These headline percentages mask underlying differences.

Almost 95% of the biggest TSOs state that grants are at least of some importance to them. Indeed, fewer than 5% of the three largest categories of organisations state that grants are of no importance. Earned money (by doing contracts or other forms of trading) is of more importance to TSOs the larger they become (although the percentage of the biggest TSOs is slightly lower than for large organisations). Borrowed money is regarded as a resource of at least some importance by fewer than 6% of micro TSOs, but this rises steadily to 39% of the biggest organisations.

How many TSOs have a ‘tangible’ interest in borrowing? The research shows that about 16% of TSOs have a ‘tangible interest’ in borrowing money, and that only 4% have actually borrowed money in the last two years. Having a tangible interest does not, of course, mean that TSOs will actually borrow money in future – only through future waves of the research could it be known how many TSOs translate this tangible interest into action.

When organisations of different sizes are compared is it clear that few micro and small TSOs show interest in the idea of borrowing money (ranging from 7% to 12%), but few have actually done so (fewer than 1% of mi cro and small TSOs). Organisations are progressively more likely to have a tangible interest in borrowing the larger they become: 19% of medium sized organisations have a tangible interest in borrowing rising to around 41% of the biggest TSOs. The two biggest categories of TSOs are the most likely to have borrowed in the last two years: in fact over half of the biggest organisations with a tangible interest in borrowing have actually borrowed money.

Building demand for loans is not just a question of raising awareness about the benefits of loans and getting TSOs into the investment readiness zone. But rather, it will be to ensure that a range of factors converge simultaneously.

(1) That more TSOs make a commitment to take the risks of borrowing because they identify a good business case to do so.

(2) That there is a growing commitment by government and social investors to share the relatively high transaction costs of providing loans to TSOs that are new to this kind of activity. It is also necessary to be patient when waiting for a return on investment and be realistic about the level of return.

(3) That there is a commitment by government (and the public sector bodies it funds) to: let longer-term contracts/social investment bonds to deliver public services which are sufficiently secure and have social objectives which are clearly stated, measurable and achievable.

These are demanding expectations and require a measure of culture change from all parties to recognise the pace at which new values and practices can be assimilated and be acted upon.

A fuller briefing on the findings is available here and the full report is available here.

Headline findings from the Third Sector Trends Study Published

thirdsectortrendsstudyThe Northern Rock Foundation Third Sector Trends Study has published its latest report. This working paper by Professors Tony Chapman and Fred Robinson presents headline findings from the most recent round of the TSO1000 survey which has been running since 2010. The findings show that the sector is more robust than the sector itself believes to be the case. That stated, it is recognised that on a day to day basis, organisations do have to ‘struggle against the odds’ to keep going: especially so in the case of middle sized TSOs.

The future is uncertain. It is clear that the financial situation for the sector as a whole is likely to be put under considerable pressure over the next two years as pressure on public spending continues. Furthermore, in North East England and Cumbria, it is apparent that the volume of grant funding to the Third Sector will reduce to a significant extent due to the closure of the Northern Rock Foundation’s grant funding programmes in December 2014.

These pressures will not exert themselves upon all TSOs in the same way. The smallest TSOs may be the most likely to experience income stability, but they are by no means invulnerable – they need grant funding and in-kind support to keep going. They form the majority of organisations in the Third Sector and make a massive contribution to the maintenance of social wellbeing in communities of interest or place. The work of such organisations and groups may not result in the kinds of ‘transformational changes’ that government at national and local level often hope for. But they hold things together – purposefully to neglect them would be a perilous strategy.

Medium sized TSOs are often under the greatest financial pressure and tend to be the most vulnerable to change in the funding environment. Often they are not in a position successfully to bid to undertake public sector contracts individually or in partnership – and often they do not want to. Those medium sized TSOs which deliver front-line services may find it increasingly hard to fund their work – which is worrying because they may provide essential support to beneficiaries. This may be happening when the demand on their services is rising – which may partly be due to the reduction or closure of equivalent or complementary services by local authorities or other public sector bodies.

Larger TSOs are amongst the most resilient in the Third Sector. This is because they have a stronger asset base and work across larger areas. Larger TSOs tend to prepare well for future challenges and opportunities because they have the resources to do so, while medium sized organisations can struggle in this respect – further threatening their stability. But larger TSOs are not immune to pressure. As public sector organisations seek better value for money from the contracts they let, the pressure to do more for less grows. Similarly, larger TSOs can sometimes be locked out from funding opportunities if preference is given to local grass roots organisations, or when it is simply assumed that they are better resourced than is actually the case.

While the future looks uncertain, it is clear that most TSOs are adept at survival. Few organisations in the Third Sector feel that they are on a ‘knife edge’. On the contrary, there is a strong sense that many organisations are adapting quite well to the ‘new normal’. Optimism about the future is relatively high, and indeed it has become more pronounced since we started studying the sector in 2012.

The full report is available here.

O2 Think Big programme evaluation 2014 is published

tbo2A report on the continued success of the O2 Think Big programme has been published by Teléfonica Foundation. Professor Tony Chapman began the evaluation of the Think Big programme in 2010 which allows for long-term assessment of the impact of the initiative. Think Big is a long-term youth programme, established in 2010, to provide young people with opportunities to set up projects to make a difference to their own lives and to the wellbeing of their communities. The aim of the programme, from the outset, was ambitious in scope: seeking to reach 1milliion young people by 2015. The programme engages young people to make positive choices for themselves and their communities. Moreover, the programme sets out to engage with adults, through campaigns, to think differently about the positive role young people can and do play in their communities.

In the Think Big programme it is assumed that young people can work out ideas for themselves and be doubly energised by the freedom the programme gives them to lead and develop projects in their own way. That stated, O2 employee volunteer mentors, Think Big alumni and youth partner organisations can and do help young people to build core skills including: communication, team work, creativity, project management and leadership skills. Those who support the programme may also be able to recognise that young people have different starting points in experiential terms, and that for some, relatively limited achievements or ‘small steps’ can represent ‘giant leaps’ in developmental or confidence terms.

The Think Big programme demonstrably provided young people with a safe environment within which to generate and test their ideas, take positive risks and manage problems and disappointments in the process of running their projects. This is important for young people, especially when life chances are more restricted due to economic factors that have severely limited labour market opportunities. When opportunities are limited, research evidence shows, young people are more likely to become fatalistic – to trust in luck – rather than rely on their own abilities.

The Think Big programme is effective because it helps young people to become more resilient and feel more in control of their destiny. What really makes a difference for young people, whatever their backgrounds, is the trust invested in them to make good decisions and to be responsible for allocating the money invested in their projects wisely.

As a social programme, Think Big has wider ambitions than merely to promote the personal interests of individuals. Unlike programmes which concentrate wholly on meritocratic advancement, Think Big promotes positive interactions amongst diverse groups of young people and the communities within which they live. It also widens social horizons, contributes to social cohesion and increases levels of empathy and tolerance.

Think Big achieved these objectives by involving young people from all backgrounds and with different levels of capability and confidence. And that by promoting pro-sociality and social action (in addition to the development of individuals’ personal capability and confidence) there is a strong likelihood that young people will continue to make a positive contribution to their communities specifically, and to society more widely in the future. The full report can be found here.

Positive engagement from universities with their local areas can bring reciprocal benefits

fredrobinsonProfessor Fred Robinson has written an overview of research findings from a recent JRF project on universities contribution to social and economic renewal at the local level for Parliaments House Magazine. In the article, he argues that a university can be a fantastic community resource. Through their educational provision, universities can promote social mobility. They have a lot of expertise and some great facilities, and also provide many local job opportunities. And as universities are often located in areas of economic and social disadvantage, they should be well placed to support poorer communities.

Universities that provide students with community placements find that both students and local groups benefit from them. Academics working with local groups find that their research is not only more realistic but also has a purpose. Universities need to be more aware of their corporate social responsibilities, and more responsive to local need. They have much to give – and also much to gain.

Universities that provide students with community placements find that both students and local groups benefit from them. Academics working with local groups find that their research is not only more realistic but also has a purpose. Universities need to be more aware of their corporate social responsibilities, and more responsive to local need. They have much to give – and also much to gain.

Published by The House Magazine 17th October 2014. The full text can be read here.

Keeping Things Simple: how councils can work effectively with the third sector

keepingthingssimpleThe Institute for Local Governance held a conference on 24th October 2014 to debate the findings from a major new report by Professors Tony Chapman and Fred Robinson on how councils can work effectively with the third sector (which includes charities, voluntary and community organisations, social enterprises and other non profit organisations with a social mission). The event, held at Teesside University’s campus in Darlington, was attended by representatives from all 12 councils in North East England, Cumbria and five councils from Yorkshire and Humber.

A panel of facilitators led discussions during the day including: Karen Bowen, Chief Executive, Cumbria Council for Voluntary Service; Gordon Elliott, Head of Partnerships and Community Engagement, Durham County Council; Fiona Ellis, Trust Manager, Millfield House Foundation and Board Member of Big Society Capital; Kirsten Francis, Principal Policy Officer, Transformation Group, Northumberland County Council; Lesley King, Head of Policy, Improvement and Engagement, Stockton Borough Council and Judy Robinson, Chief Executive, Involve Yorkshire & Humber. The conference was opened by Cath Whitehead, Deputy Chief Executive of Darlington Borough Council.

New ways of thinking about inter-sector relationships were debated at the event in order to help maximise the impact of public sector and third sector interactions. Evidence collected over several years demonstrates that most relationships between the sectors are well established, productive and relatively problem free. But within the public sector, relationships with the third sector are often thought about as being unnecessarily difficult and demanding. This often arises from the circulation of negative stories about interactions which, over time, start to give an impression that all interactions are potentially difficult. A series of discussions took place included:

  • How, when and where to develop effective commissioning practices which successfully engage local third sector organisations in service design and delivery.
  • How, when and where to invest in the local third sector successfully to improve sector representation, sector intelligence and develop organisational capability.
  • How, when and where to invest in the third sector to develop local social growth agendas – and how best to understand (but not always necessarily measure) the impact of this investment.

The debates were then rounded up in a final panel session where practitioners and policy makers reflected on the key questions arising from discussions. A summary report is available here.

Third Sector Trends findings revealed at Community Foundation AGM

CF eventProfessor Tony Chapman delivered a speech last night at the Community Foundation for Tyne and Wear and Northumberland at the Sage in Gateshead. His talk referred to early findings from the Northern Rock Foundation Third Sector Trends study which was part funded by the Community Foundation. Tony explained to the audience that it was now possible to show that the voluntary sector was starting to bounce back after a difficult period during the depths of the recession. Whilst a majority of organisations have maintained similar levels of income over last two years, some have lost out – but to a lesser extent than in 2010-12. And some organisations are still raising their overall level of income significantly.

But as Tony explained, it’s not all a matter of money. The sector was showing considerable signs of resilience, and flexibility to adapt to a new situation – and in many respects the sector was feeling more confident about itself. However, the sector is still heavily dependent on grants to do its work, while earning income from contracts was still a minority interest. Even those organisations which are involved in social enterprise activities still tend to rely on grants to a large extent – showing that this part of the social marketplace still needs support. After all, Professor Chapman commented, if it was possible to make a significant surplus without support – the private sector would already be operating in this domain.

It is important to remember that the smaller organisations and groups which dominate the sector continue to make a huge contribution to the social wellbeing of North East England and Cumbria, Professor Chapman argued, and that the relatively modest levels of grant support they receive helps them achieve a great deal entirely through their voluntary efforts. They may not achieve transformational change for their communities, but they make a real contribution to the social glue and social wellbeing. If they were not there to do such work, society would be much the worse without them and especially so in less affluent areas.

The website for Community Foundation Tyne and Wear and Northumberland can be found at this web address. A full set of reports from the Northern Rock Foundation Third Sector Trends Study can be found here. All reports are free to download.

Keeping things simple: how to work effectively with the Third Sector


Professors Tony Chapman and Fred Robinson have completed a major new research report and discussion paper on how the public sector can develop strong and productive relationships with the voluntary sector.  Based on studies across Cumbria, North East England and Yorkshire, the report produces practical advice on what can be achieved and also some guidance on issues that are best left alone. An event is being organised by the Institute for Local Governance on 24th October 2014 to launch the report and to present its main findings.

The seminar will take place at Teesside University’s Darlington Campus and will be opened by Cath Whitehead, Deputy Chief Executive of Darlington Borough Council.  Expert practitioners will also speak at the event including Fiona Ellis, Millfield House, Judy Robinson, CEO, Involve Yorkshire & Humber and Karen Bowen of Cumbria CVS alongside senior officers in local authorities including: Lesley King, Stockton Borough Council; Gordon Elliot, Durham County Council and Kirsten Francis, Northumberland County Council.

Japanese Inward Investment in North East England

iflgThis new study, to be undertaken by Professor Tony Chapman, is funded by Institute for Local Governance and will conclude with a regional seminar on Japanese inward investment which, it is hoped, will take place at Teikyo University in Durham.  The study aims to get a better understanding of the social, cultural and economic  ‘journeys’ Japanese companies have made in establishing themselves in the North East.

The study will explore what attracted Japanese firms to establish in the North East and see how well industrial interactions and employee relationships have become embedded in economic, political and cultural terms. The study will also find out what contribution Japanese inward investment has made to strengthening social growth in North East England.

Interviews will take place with senior executives in Japanese firms which are well established in the region together with Hitachi which is building a major new plant in Newton Aycliffe. Professor Chapman will also interview key stakeholders in local authorities, chambers of commerce and local politicians to assess what can be done to build an enterprise culture in the region by capitalising on Japanese inward investment.

Third Sector Trends 2014 survey response a big success


Northern Rock Foundation commissioned Professors Tony Chapman and Fred Robinson of St Chad’s to undertake this major seven year study in 2008.  In its sixth year, a third wave of its major statistical survey of Cumbria and North East England is shortly to close.

The survey involved sending over 6,000 questionnaires to charities as well as promoting the study online.  More than 1,250 responses have been received so far which means that robust analysis can take place, comparing the situation with 2010 and 2014.

This year the study was also generously supported by Community Foundation Tyne and Wear and Northumberland and by Charity Bank in Cumbria.