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GaN Canny explores the views of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in Gateshead and Newcastle, based on our recent survey of their achievements, challenges, pressures and wider issues affecting the people they support. The survey was completed by 168 organisations from the region.

The report highlights a number of challenges. Funding and sustainability are the most pressing issues for local organisations, regardless of their size. Over two thirds of respondents commented an increase in demand for their services in the last year and many have reported year on year growth in demand for several years; “Although surveys show the overall headlines, my impression is that most voluntary and community organisations are working harder than ever to support people who are having hard times.”

At the same time, voluntary and community organisations have had to rely more on unpaid volunteers. Volunteer recruitment and retention is reported as the second largest challenge.

The individuals and communities using the services and facilities provided by the voluntary sector have experienced increased poverty, mental illness and austerity, impacted by welfare reform, Universal Credit and personal debt. Many public sector services are harder to access due to changing criteria, different locations and charges. The comments and concerns about general health and wellbeing exceeded those received in our past surveys; “More people than ever before in our working memory are being refused public services (health and social care), have less money and fewer resources, and there is a visible impact on loneliness and isolation and a growth in general mental distress. At the same time we are getting fewer resources than before to deal with this.”

The rate of change is having a destabilising effect in medium sized and larger voluntary organisations and there were more reports of governance issues, as trustees and management committee members have to take increasingly complex decisions.

Despite these challenges, the majority of respondents remain optimistic about the future of their organisations. Over a third want to increase the number of beneficiaries, nearly half want to increase services, more than half anticipate more volunteers, and a quarter want to increase staff in the next year. Two thirds of respondents said they had developed a new service, project, initiative or event in the last year and many are turning to more innovative ways of using social media, delivering services and attracting funding. There is a greater emphasis on income generation and the emergence of Community Interest Companies (CICs) has encouraged other organisations to focus more on trading.

There is still an optimism and willingness to engage in addressing major challenges, but we need to be involved from the start of the process, not invited in at the end as an afterthought.

GaN Canny