Agenda item

The Committee will receive an update on the Voluntary and Community Strategy. The intention is that the Strategy would provide a high-level framework to guide partners across Buckinghamshire in how to work together towards a whole system, place-based approach to working with the Voluntary Community Sector (VCS) and local communities to address needs.



Gareth Williams – Cabinet Member for Communities and Public Health

Mark Ormerod – Director of Leap

Claire Hawkes – Service Director Localities and Strategic Partnerships


The Cabinet Member for Communities and Public Health reported that one of the areas that the Covid 19 pandemic had highlighted was the impressive partnership collaboration with the voluntary and community sector. The response from the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) from the very first week of lockdown had been phenomenal. Buckinghamshire had a population of 550,000 with a diverse spread of needs. 1800 volunteers stepped forward through the Clare Foundation and Community Impact Bucks. The partnership had been working together through key disciplines such as financial insecurity, providing food to those in need and supporting mental health issues.


The partnership already had strong foundations before the pandemic and have worked together as a VCS Strategic Group for the last three years. The Cabinet Member commented that the Strategic Funding Group worked together to co-ordinate funding across Buckinghamshire and with the Covid-19 pandemic was more enmeshed with the Council than it was before. They were represented on the Strategic Partners Board, Health and Wellbeing Board, Children’s Partnerships and the Corporate Plan.


Mark Ormerod (Chairman of the VCS Recovery Partnership Board and Director of Leap) reported that this year had seen the fastest period of change in the voluntary and community sector with the covid-19 pandemic with groups and individuals coming together to help support their communities. The response nationally and in Buckinghamshire had been incredible with unification against this common threat. There were 4,700 community organisations and 2,500 charities in Buckinghamshire.  The funding partners have invested £1.6million in assisting communities. The Board was at an evolutionary stage and he commented that it was important to keep the momentum going and to recognise the vulnerability of the voluntary sector and to monitor resilience as it would be difficult to replace if it was lost. Many charities were dipping into their reserves. In terms of charity donors and corporate responsibility they were looking at a ‘cliff edge’ in the next 12-14 months as many individuals and companies were feeling the squeeze from the pandemic.


It was important to ensure that there was cohesion and connection into the Community Boards with the VCS sector and at the micro level that there was granular insight and solutions to fixing problems locally. Through issues like food poverty, homelessness etc. they were connected at a local level and you could get a number of organisations tackling this issue but not working together as well as they could be.


The Service Director for Localities and Strategic Partnerships reported that the VCS were critical partners and that they have been connected into every part of the discussion and if any decisions were required, the Council could go the VCS Recovery Board who acted as a sounding board. A Workshop was held on 25 August hosted by the Clare Foundation to look at co-designing the VCS Strategy.


During discussion the following points were made:-


  • A Member welcomed the approach and the information provided on the work on the draft Strategy. She expressed concern about the resilience of the voluntary and community sector, particularly as some organisations were dipping into their reserves. It had also been difficult to fund raise during the pandemic. Everyone needed to be supporting charities, voluntary organisations and groups including businesses in their local areas to make communities more resilient.
  • Another Member also expressed concern about this and that the impact some organisations had on local communities was not always understood. He gave an example of Queens Park Art Centre in Aylesbury. If there wasn’t any support not only would this organisation be difficult to be replaced but there would be financial implications for the Council, including additional support required for resident’s mental health. Funding for these organisations was key and whilst the community boards could help support local community groups consideration needed to be given to groups that covered a wider area.
  • A further comment was made that there was a huge industry involved with the VCS and looking at charities that have an income under £1million make up 82% of the income in the charitable sector. The smaller charities were based in the rural areas, addressing BME issues and less likely to have access to reserves. There was a perception that charities who had above £1million income had an advantage in bidding for contracts in the public sector. Smaller organisations were unlikely to have full time fundraisers. It would be very difficult to map the VCS in Buckinghamshire. She would rely on the Community Boards to protect the smaller organisations and she commented that some organisations may not be aware of funding available from these Boards. The Chairman reported that his Community Board were looking at having a small grants panel to look after these smaller organisations who found it difficult making bid applications.
  • Reference was made to legacy Councils who had supported some unique charities. In Chiltern there were the Revitalisation Groups who had funding secured for this year but for future years had been told to work with Community Boards. An example was given of the Misbourne Midsomer location trail which had been set up to support local businesses. It had received some traction through a walking festival but because of the pandemic many businesses had been closed temporarily.
  • In response to the points made above the Cabinet Member reported that the Council had limited resources and would not be able to support all community groups in Buckinghamshire but it was important to be smart about how funding was utilised. Some larger charities had also approached the Council expressing concern about their funding as they would not be able to apply to Community Boards. The Council did have a central grants co-ordinating role. He gave an example of the Citizens Advice Bureau who had previously been supported by legacy councils and provided a critical role for residents. They would be supported through the central grants system which included a grants policy. In terms of mapping out organisations having 16 Community Boards would help provide a clearer picture of organisations covering Buckinghamshire. The Cabinet Member reported that he felt that the Council had a good process in place with the central grants system being supported by Community Boards. Mark Ormerod reported that as part of the VCS Recovery Board one of their main aims was to access national funding and lever that into Buckinghamshire. One of the issues was that Buckinghamshire was perceived as an affluent County and officers needed to provide granular insight into the needs of local communities. Individual organisations should play to their own strengths locally with an awareness of the system they were operating in linking in with Community Boards and the wider centralised funding streams.
  • A question was asked about what metrics the Council would be using to measure the success of the Strategy and the key indicators used to do this. The Council was living through unprecedented times and it was important that the voice of the VCS was heard particularly those organisations that did not have access to social media or internet connection. The Cabinet Member reported that the Strategy would be organic and it would need to be flexible and responsive to ensure that the VCS groups were part of collaborative and partnership working which was key to the Strategy being successful. He referred to the Working Together examples in the slides such as the Partnership Capacity Fund which was a collaboration of Heart of Bucks, the Rothschild and the Clare Foundation and encouraged applications which helped address key areas such as physical activity and health and helped marginalised groups. Particular reference was made to a £73k grant being awarded to the consortium led by The Oasis Partnership for their project Listen Learn Adapt which was intended to work closely with BAME communities to support community engagement. It was important to protect the VCS and vital information provided by Public Health was used to direct resources. There was a trend of social prescribing by Primary Care Networks and services needed to continue so that referrals could be made to a range of local, non-clinical services to address people’s needs in a holistic way. A measure would be the need to protect all parts of the VCS and marginalised groups. There were 5349 responses to the health impact survey which could also be used as a measure of success. Mark Ormerod referred to escalation reporting with key reporting from sector specialists and logging issues, profiling them in terms of impact and then address them accordingly. There were also national data logs which had been shared with Community Impact Bucks and as the emerging voluntary framework was developed it was important to have the right metrics which were shared jointly where each partner could hold each other to account. There was some good data from the business intelligence unit regarding social determinants on how fair and equitable Buckinghamshire was to live and work in which could be applied as the framework was developed. There were good metrics already of the investments that had been made in food, health and wellbeing and debt management. The Service Director reported that the VCS Recovery Board worked well strategically on sharing intelligence and could pick up early warning signs. The Delivery Plan would be crucial and the VCS Recovery Board would drive this forward using engagement sessions across Community Boards.
  • A Member commented that a few charities were operating at capacity particularly during the pandemic. For example, food banks were operating at 2.5 times their normal activity and in the future there would be an issue of funding, volunteers and space. In the future there would be pressure of debt and it was important that they were supported in their work.
  • A recommendation was suggested that with changing times and the new unitary authority it was important that all grants were co-ordinated across Buckinghamshire by a director of charitable funds who could raise awareness for all small, medium and large charities on what funding was available. Grants were currently supplied from a number of areas such as the Strategic Funding Group, Community Boards and High Wycombe Town Committee and it was important to provide clear information to community groups on funding opportunities.
  • In connection with the comment made above a Member stated that it was important to send out early communications to charities and voluntary organisations to provide a clear understanding on what funding would be available next year and longer term so that organisations could plan. Another Member commented that Community Impact Bucks sent out a list of available grants with a link on how to obtain funding. She commented that a small grant went along way and Member support was really important.
  • Particular concern was raised about youth club support especially helping young people during covid and the need for increased funding and support e.g. training youth workers. The Cabinet Member reported that there were some interesting innovative projects being undertaken through the devolution offer to help increase provision. Mark Ormerod commented that as the Stoke Mandeville event for young people was cancelled they had used the £20,000 funding to purchase and distribute bags of equipment - 600 families had been helped through the pandemic and the project had been co-ordinated and funded through children centres, Latimer Trust (who delivered bags along with food parcels), Rothschild and Clare Foundations and Heart of Bucks.
  • It was noted that the Councillor Crisis Fund was used during the summer whilst Community Boards were being set up and for this process approval was required from three councillors. This had now been replaced by applying for funding through Community Boards. A recent example was given in Amersham where a £2 million state of art development had been given £25,000 infrastructure funding from a Community Board. There were set criteria. The Director of Leap reported that there was information on micro grants on all funding websites with links available to other sources of funding. He commented that they had discussed developing a flowchart to help signpost local organisations to funding opportunities through geography and size of funding.


The Chairman thanked the Cabinet Member, Chairman of the VCS Recovery Partnership Board and Service Director for their excellent update on their work.

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