Supporting our communities when they needed it most: how the VCSE sector has navigated the coronavirus pandemic

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Throughout the course of the pandemic many people have been reliant on the voluntary and community sector to provide support. With local authorities stretched, services in higher demand than ever and individuals making use of support in greater numbers than ever before, the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector has been a lifeline for many.

However, the sector is not immune from the pressures caused by the pandemic. They themselves have been stretched with demand for services increasing, and with income streams having beeen limited many are now facing significant challenges to survival. 

The same storm but different boats 

The VCSE sector is a varied and vibrant sector, often providing bespoke and specialist support to people in greatest need. Diverse, specialised and adaptable, the sector was quick to respond and able to offer support at the outset of the pandemic. But the sector has also been shown to be vulnerable in the face of tightening finances, reduced volunteer availability and increased demand for services. 

Research carried out by NCVO in March 2021 reported that charities and the voluntary sector have had vastly different experiences during the coronavirus pandemic, with the impact of the pandemic being reported across the sector as “uneven and unpredictable”. The research showed that while some organisations have expanded their service offer, others have seen their income shrink drastically, or have found delivering services increasingly difficult due to the restrictions being imposed during the national lockdowns. 

Key findings from the research include: 

  • Nearly half (46%) of those surveyed reported demand on their services increasing, versus just 19% seeing a slowdown. 
  • 35% say their costs have increased in the past year, while for 34% they have decreased. 
  • 46% of organisations have had to use their cash reserves to cope with the impact of covid-19 on their organisations. 
  • 44% of respondents say they could rely on their cash reserves for more than six months, while 9% either have no cash reserves or not enough to last them a month. 

A report by Equally Yours, commissioned by the Funders for Race Equality Alliance in April 2021 highlighted the challenges facing the Black and Minority Ethnic voluntary and community sector. This sector has historically experienced specific challenges (such as a high number of organisations being eligible to apply for only a small number of available funds). The research suggests that the pandemic has exacerbated their financial pressures, but also highlighted other challenges, such as regional inequalities in the availability of funding and support, the precarious position of many smaller charities and voluntary organisations who have not been able to access government support, and the challenges of short-term funding, which makes it difficult to create long term plans.

These sentiments were echoed in a separate report from researchers at Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR) which looked at the value of smaller charities in responding to the crisis.

A new-found appreciation for the sector 

The voluntary sector made up a key part of the UK’s economy before the pandemic, not only as businesses and specialists within their fields, but also as part of the wider fabric of the communities in which they operate. Many within the sector would probably argue that they were not valued enough. Their expertise, flexibility and resilience in the face of challenging funding environments, have characterised the sector long before the pandemic.

During the pandemic, collaboration has been essential. In many areas the VCSE sector have been part of the vanguard of support for the most vulnerable in society, helping to organise local responses to the pandemic and fostering community resilience in the process. 

Research published in People, Place and Policy  in November 2020 observes that, at the local level, the pandemic has led to a strengthening of pre-existing ‘complementary’ relationships between the VCSE sector and local authorities, with voluntary organisations finding themselves further embedded in local systems of decision making, co-ordination and service provision. The research suggests that there is a newly visible and increasingly ‘complementary’ local role for previously ‘supplementary’ voluntary and charity-based organisations, responding to the needs of vulnerable members of the community.

Supporting the sector to move forward

Grantfinder is the UK’s leading provider of funding information for the VCSE sector in the UK. During 2020 we provided information on emergency Covid-related funding on our website and also offered all local authorities in the UK a free portal to signpost funding support to small businesses in their communities.

As the country starts focusing on recovery, we have recently launched a new funding portal that helps charities and community groups to find funding. My Funding Central is a simple to use tool, which provides users with regular news updates and tailored funding alerts. Annual subscriptions start at £50 and are free for small organisations, offering an affordable way of searching for available funding and connecting to potential funders. Over 1500 charities are already signed up and benefiting from being signposted to funding they may not have been aware of.

The impact of the voluntary sector is threaded through the wider fabric of our communities. As we come to terms with the social and economic trauma of the pandemic, these organisations will have a significant role to play. Ensuring that the sector is suitably valued and resourced will enable it to play as full a role as possible and help communities on the road to recovery. 


GrantFinder and the Knowledge Exchange are part of Idox Funding and Information Services.

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Co-production in the criminal justice system

Community concept word cloud background

By Rebecca Jackson

Co-production in criminal justice was the core theme of a conference held last Wednesday by the Scottish Co-Production Network.

The speakers were invited to showcase their organisations as three examples of best practice. All the organisations have integrating partnerships and co-production at the heart of their values, and they spoke of the benefits and challenges they had faced, as three very different organisations, all looking to use co-production in the context of criminal justice.

Startup Stock Photos

Startup Stock Photos

Supporting vulnerable women

Tomorrow’s Women Glasgow, is part of a national pilot which aims to develop community- based justice options for people who are offenders. This specific pilot focuses on vulnerable women with complex needs who are in, or have recently been involved in, the criminal justice system.

The women-only centre offers a safe space for women to come and spend time and to work with mentors to address the barriers and issues which prevent them from leading positive, healthy lives. In addition to this, the women are invited to contribute ideas towards the running of the centre, planning activities, contributing to a newsletter and hosting open days.

“The scheme gives vulnerable women a choice, a voice, a direction and opportunities”

The project is run in association with the social enterprise Outside the Box. There are some examples of Outside the Box’s other projects here.

woman hands isolated on sky background

Improving transitions from prison

Pete from Positive Prison? Positive Futures… delivered an inspiring and thought-provoking presentation about his experiences as a person with a conviction who had served time in prison and how that drove him to help others upon their release from prison. He helped to set up the organisation Positive Prison? Positive Futures… (PP?PF) which seeks to “improve the effectiveness of Scotland’s criminal justice system so as to reduce the harms caused by crime and to support the reintegration of those who are or have been subject to punishment”.

He was keen to stress that the charity is not a service provider; rather it is an initial point of contact to help direct people with convictions to the available and relevant services which already exist.

“We’re kind of like in space when you use the gravitational pull of an object to slingshot you in the right direction (Apollo 13 reference anyone?!). People are coming to us going one way, we come into contact with them, build their speed and send them in another, safer, hopefully better direction!”

In addition to this, the charity engages regularly with the Scottish Government as part of committees looking into reform of the prison service, the redesign of community justice and have, among other things, influenced policy decisions around the release of individuals from prison including transitional care.

The charity works with recently released, or soon to be released people with convictions, looking at building relationships during the vulnerable first few weeks ‘on the outside’ where re-offending and suicide rates are high. They also offer mentoring to help prepare people for the transition from prison life.

Two adult education students studying together in class.

Co-production and young people

Space Unlimited is a social enterprise based in Glasgow, which offers a creative space for young people to become involved in the planning and review of the criminal youth justice system. It encourages young people from vulnerable backgrounds, as well as young people who have served time in prison, to use their experiences to change how offending and criminal justice is viewed by young people.

The scheme aims to provide a space to show how young people can use their views to influence how the system can work best for them, to avoid re-offending and help integrate them back into society. The young people interact with adult stakeholders from across the local authority and criminal justice sector, as well as charities and third sector organisations.

“We promote and encourage children and young people to view themselves as experts in their own right, using their own experiences to promote positive change in the youth criminal justice system”

Category Picture Community Development

Creating new spaces for dialogue

What all of the case studies sought to highlight were the key elements of co-production:

      • Assets
      • Capacity
      • Mutuality
      • Networks
      • Shared roles
      • Catalysts

The speakers discussed their learning and experiences, as well as the challenges they face, but all highlighted the fundamental belief underpinning co-production – that service users and service providers can learn from one another. We create better services by engaging service users – creating services with people, not for them.

Co-production is an approach which is widely spoken about in health and social care, but as the conference and its speakers highlighted, the application and remit of co-production could be rolled out over other areas of policy too. It is all about finding groups of people willing to engage and to listen – creating a space for an exchange of dialogue, knowledge and learning. And the results could potentially be hugely beneficial for both service users and service providers. This video from the New Economics Foundation (NEF) highlights some of the benefits of co-production in practice.


Co-producing Positive Futures learning event: how co-production, learning and partnership building can improve community experiences and engage people in the criminal justice system. Scottish Co-production Network, Glasgow, 28 October 2015.