Listen to this website

The newly published results of the North East VCSE (Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise) sector COVID-19 impact survey, carried out by VONNE in partnership with Local Infrastructure Organisations (LIOs), including Connected Voice, and members of the NE and Cumbria Funder's Network, highlight a number of worrying statistics and confirm the severe limitations upon the sector in our region at the current time.

That said, the report also highlights how well organisations in our region have adopted collaborative working practices and digital service delivery in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"We would like to thank the 461 organisations that took the time to respond to this survey, giving us a representative picture of the situation in our region as a result of Covid-19. We also want to thank our colleagues in LIOs, local authorities, funders, social investors and others who promoted the survey and encouraged organisations to respond. Thanks also to Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, and to County Durham Community Foundation, both of which provided us with funding which has enabled this work; our thanks also to Millfield House Foundation, which provides core funding towards our work. Finally, thanks to Prof. Tony Chapman of Durham University for sharing the data from the 2020 Third Sector Trends study to help us extrapolate our findings to provide a regional picture."

These findings are being shared with stakeholders including local authorities, LEPs, private sector organisations and the health system, to make the case for additional support and resources for the sector, and with national infrastructure partners including NCVO, ACEVO, NAVCA and the Charity Finance Group, to help us influence government decisions affecting the sector.

Key findings

  • A third of VCSE organisations surveyed expect to lose more than 50 per cent of their income in the quarter April to June 2020, with small/medium organisations (those with turnover less than £500k) expecting the biggest income reductions. Aggregating this to a sector level across the North East, organisations could lose between £75m and £223m of income between April and June 2020.
  • The VCSE sector’s capacity is severely limited at the current time, with 53 per cent of the workforce not operational and 75 per cent of volunteers unable to support their organisations. Reduced capacity is likely to continue, with organisations expecting an average drop in staffing capacity of a third because of reduced income levels.
  • Almost 400,000 individuals are no longer receiving, or are receiving a significantly reduced service from the 269 VCSE organisations that support them. If this is aggregated against the 7,200 VCSE organisations across the North East (according to scale) the total figure is likely to be staggering.
  • The groups with the highest levels of currently unmet needs are children and young people, older people, and people with disabilities, including learning disabilities. These are also the groups most likely to be unable to access services either online or by telephone.
  • Only a third of organisations have successfully secured COVID-19 related funding. There is a clear need for unrestricted core funding alongside Covid-19 related and other project funding, to support the sector’s recovery and longer-term sustainability.
  • 40 per cent of organisations are at risk in the shorter-term, as they hold no reserves or only enough to cover three months’ core costs. Small/medium sized organisations are most at risk due to them losing income while holding fewer reserves. Despite this, only 13 per cent of respondents consider it likely or very likely that their organisation will close as a result of COVID-19.
  • 65 per cent of those surveyed rate the response by, and flexibility shown by funders, to be good or very good. Respondents request that funders continue to streamline and simplify application processes, and to be flexible, responsive and long term in their thinking.
  • The sector needs clarity and practical advice in the short, medium and longer term across a number of key areas, and this support must be flexible, responsive and tailored to recognise the range of impacting factors.
  • The survey indicates high levels of collaboration and partnership working with local authorities and other organisations, both to deliver services and to address demand for support directly related to Covid-19. A number of organisations among the 73 per cent that identified some positive impacts spoke of a desire to continue to collaborative and work in partnership over the longer term.

Key recommendations

  • The sector is likely to feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the associated impact of lockdown and social distancing measures for a long time. This is not only due to the reduction in organisational capacity and income across the sector, but also the increased demand for services created both directly and indirectly due to the societal impact on health and wellbeing, poverty and debt, and levels of unemployment. Therefore, long-term thinking is required both in planning for the sector, and responding with support for the sector. Uncertainty and rapid change are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Organisations must ensure they are geared up to be able to respond and flex to emerging needs. Funders, commissioners and support agencies must match this flexibility in terms of the support they can offer.
  • As well as a multitude of challenges, many opportunities have emerged from the COVID-19 crisis, including more innovative and digital ways of working, new collaborations and partnerships, and an openness and willingness to respond effectively. It’s important the sector is encouraged and supported to reflect and build upon this learning moving forward.
  • The swift reconfiguration of services and adoption of digital technology by the sector is to be applauded, but it should be recognised that not all organisations, VCSE staff and volunteer teams have had the capacity, confidence or access to kit or software to be able to respond in this way, and continued support will be required for them to do so. Many organisations have identified the need to tackle digital exclusion among beneficiaries, stating it is often the individuals most likely to be at high risk of COVID-19, or that are furthest from accessing services, impacted most by this. We must develop urgent solutions to this or the digital and inequality divide will widen.
  • We’re already seeing a greater capacity for trust and relationship-based funding and commissioning, and a greater willingness among funders and commissioners to work alongside local authorities, LIOs and VCSE providers collaboratively, aligning efforts to find solutions to address emerging needs.
  • As with previous emergency situations and economic downturns, we’ve already seen the unequal impacts of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in society, and this is likely to continue. Amplifying the voices of beneficiaries around the injustices they face must be at the heart of the sector’s role moving forward. We must influence wider systemic changes, and challenge the inadequate policies and practices upon which a light has been shone by COVID-19, and strive together to ‘Build Back Better’. This is a once-in-a-generation crisis, but also a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild.
  • Statutory agencies including the integrated care system, local authorities, combined authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships must ensure the VCSE sector has a ‘seat at the table’ to engage with, and input into, restart and recovery plans. We must ensure the sector’s needs are considered, and be given the chance to share our knowledge on emerging needs in communities. The sector has a key role to play, in partnership with statutory agencies, to develop collaborative solutions within recovery plans.

Download the full report (pdf)