My blog on the latest civil society data and the launch of the new £9m Inclusive communities fund

Change is a constant factor for the Third Sector. As the Chief Executive of Heart of England Community Foundation, I’ve had a front-row seat to witness the evolving landscape of the sector for almost three decades. Evolution in our sector is driven by various factors, including economic fluctuations, shifts in volunteering patterns, and changes in funding sources and governments. Today, I want to reflect on the key findings from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) Civil Society Almanac 2023 and explore how these findings intersect with the launch of our brand new £9 million Inclusive Communities Fund Programme.

NCVO Civil Society Almanac 2023 – A Snapshot of the Voluntary Sector

The NCVO Civil Society Almanac 2023 provides a comprehensive overview of the state of civil society in the UK. Having read the report in some detail, I have summarised my key takeaways as follows:

Changing Organisation Landscape: In 2020/21, there were 163,959 voluntary organisations in the UK, marking a slight decrease from the previous year. The pandemic had a significant impact, encouraging the growth of micro-organisations while seeing a decline in small and medium-sized organisations in the period since.

Sector Diversity: The voluntary sector encompasses a wide range of activities, with social services being the largest subsector, representing nearly a fifth of the sector’s size. Interestingly, the top 10 organisations by income are predominantly focused on social services, research, and international development.

Geographic Distribution: While voluntary organisations are spread evenly across the country, most of the biggest organisations are based in London and the South. Scotland has the highest rate of voluntary organisations per population, followed by Northern Ireland, England, and Wales.

Volunteering Trends: The pandemic had a significant impact on volunteering. The number of people volunteering formally and informally saw fluctuations, with a decline in formal volunteering but a rise in informal volunteering. Certain demographics, such as older people and those in less deprived areas, were more likely to volunteer formally.

Workforce Dynamics: The voluntary sector’s workforce declined by 4% in the past year, but it has still grown faster than the public and private sectors over the last decade. The sector is disproportionately staffed by women, and its workforce has an older age profile compared to the private sector. Like many across the Third Sector, recruitment at our organisation too, has been a challenge since coming out of the pandemic.

Income and Expenditure: Income and spending in the sector increased consistently until 2019/20 but fell in 2020/21, largely due to the pandemic. Income from the public and investment decreased, while government income increased.

These findings illustrate the resilience and adaptability of voluntary organisations in the face of challenges, particularly during the pandemic. It’s clear that the voluntary sector plays a crucial role in addressing societal needs and inequalities.

A Resilient and Adaptive Force

The findings from the Almanac speak volumes about the tenacity and resourcefulness of voluntary organisations. In the face of unprecedented challenges, these organisations have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to keeping their doors open. Whether it’s a micro-sized charity or a large organisation, the ability to adapt to changing circumstances has been a hallmark of the sector.

The COVID-19 pandemic, a once-in-a-generation crisis, underscored the sector’s agility. While some sectors struggled to respond to the rapidly evolving situation, voluntary organisations swiftly pivoted their operations to meet emerging needs. The slight decrease in the number of organisations in 2020/21 reflected the evolving landscape, with smaller, more local initiatives shooting up and growing, while larger ones saw some significant challenges. These fluctuations were indicative of organisations resizing to better serve their communities in a post-pandemic world.

Addressing Societal Needs and Inequalities

The Third Sector is very much the bedrock of our communities. Colleagues across the sector are on the front lines, addressing a wide spectrum of needs and inequalities every day. From social services to international development, local therapy services to sports clubs – the depth and breadth of activities serves to illustrate the sector’s agility in tackling critical issues.

The pandemic revealed this indispensability outright – especially in supporting the most vulnerable members of society. From food banks distributing meals, to mental health organisations providing crucial support, this Third Sector played a pivotal role in mitigating the pandemic’s social and economic impacts.

In a world where inequalities persist, the voluntary sector stands as a beacon of hope. Local community organisations transcend geographic, economic, and demographic barriers, consistently reaching those who need support the most. Volunteering rates, both formal and informal, are a testament to the compassion and community spirit that underpin our communities. The fact that people, particularly older individuals, and those in less deprived areas, continue to volunteer their time also showcases the enduring commitment to making a positive impact.

Furthermore, the sector’s workforce, largely composed of women and older individuals, signifies the dedication of its members. Their commitment to serving the community goes beyond just numbers; it’s a reflection of a deep-seated passion for creating a more equitable society.

In conclusion, I believe the NCVO Almanac findings, and the launch of the Inclusive Communities Fund highlight the enduring value of voluntary organisations. Their resilience in the face of adversity and their unwavering commitment to addressing societal needs and inequalities underscore their indispensable role in creating a more equitable and compassionate world. The voluntary sector is not just an essential component of society; it’s a beacon of hope, fostering positive change and driving progress.

The Inclusive Communities Fund: A Beacon of Hope

Now, let’s pivot to a momentous development that promises to shape the future of community engagement in the West Midlands. The launch of the Inclusive Communities Fund represents a beacon of hope for grassroots projects in the region. This £9 million Fund, resulting from a collaboration between the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), the Heart of England Community Foundation, and United By 2022, aims to extend the positive legacy of the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

The fund opened for applications this week and we are inviting applications from community groups, charities, schools, and colleges. It signifies our collective commitment to creating a lasting and positive impact in the West Midlands, focusing on physical and mental well-being, community cohesion, and ongoing community development. It’s not just about hosting a world-class event; it’s about ensuring that the Games’ legacy reverberates throughout our region.

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, emphasised the significance of the fund, stating that it is a means to deliver on the objective of leaving a lasting legacy at the grassroots level. The fund is a testament to improving the lives of local people and helping them thrive.

The Inclusive Communities Fund can be, and we will strive towards it becoming a powerful catalyst to address inequalities, foster community connections, and continue the legacy of the Games. It covers three key themes: physical activity and sport, mental health and well-being, and arts, culture, and creativity. These themes align with the broader societal needs and aspirations we’ve witnessed in the NCVO Almanac findings.

A Future Shaped by Community Resilience

The NCVO Almanac and the Inclusive Communities Fund launch are interconnected. They typify the dynamic nature of the voluntary sector and its ability to adapt to changing circumstances. The findings from the Almanac underscore the sector’s importance in addressing societal challenges, while the Inclusive Communities Fund provides a tangible means to do so in the West Midlands.

As we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of civil society and wider society, one thing remains constant: the commitment to building stronger, healthier, and more connected communities. The Inclusive Communities Fund represents a once in a generation opportunity for organisations and communities to make a positive and lasting impact in the West Midlands, turning the page towards a brighter, more inclusive future. Together, we can shape a future for the West Midlands that thrives and ensures that no one is left behind.

You can discover more from the NCVO Civil Society Almanac 2023 here and you can find out more about the Inclusive Communities Fund, including information about how to apply to the fund by visiting our website: Inclusive Communities Fund