Professor Tony Chapman presented the latest findings from the Northern Rock Foundation Third Sector Trends study at Cumbria CVS’s Annual General Meeting and Compact Conference at the Forum, Barrow in Furness on 5th November 2015. The research, funded by Northern Rock Foundation and Cumbria Community Foundation demonstrates that the third sector in the county is in good shape, in spite of a long period of austerity. There are over 4,500 organisations and groups in Cumbria employing over 9,000 staff. But there are many more volunteers, estimated at 52,000 in 2008 but rising to 53,700 in 2014. Volunteers provide almost 4 million hours of voluntary support in the county – valued at £25m if the work were to be paid at the national minimum wage.
While the research shows that there is a good deal of financial stability in the sector, especially amongst smaller organisations – medium sized charities are feeling the pinch. In fact, 29% of charities in the poorest areas of Cumbria have seen their income fall significantly in the last year compared with just 7% in the richest areas. So it is not surprising that 13% of charities have had to draw heavily on their reserves to meet essential costs.
The sector remains positive about the future. Perhaps ‘too’ positive, Professor Chapman argued in his speech. He argued that fewer charities are likely to see the number of employees and volunteers increase as much as is expected – which may well produce a feeling of disappointment. But neither is the sky falling in – many charities can expect to do well. The worry is that charities and groups in the poorest areas are less well placed to win grants from big national foundations than their counterparts in the richer areas. So foundations need to think of new ways to rectify the situation by being more sympathetic to charities which bid for funds which might not look so exciting on the surface but nevertheless produce real social value.
The report, including a data summary, is available here: Third Sector Trends in Cumbria (November 2015).