Lessons from the pandemic


In September 2020 Support Cambridgeshire were commissioned to carry out some quantitative research into how the sector and statutory partners had adapted and worked together during the period of lockdown as part of this we talked with:

  • 19 groups made up from a range of countywide, small and newly formed community groups and charities;
  • representatives from 6 district/city hubs and the county hub.

We carried out some basic desk research into reports and research carried out by other local and national bodies, we combined these findings with our first-hand experience in working with organisations[1] during the period March to September 2020. This included learning from networking events, from requests for support and from catch up calls with colleagues. The report forms part of a wider document that is available here.

We have witnessed thousands of individual acts of kindness, some small some big, but all important, and all of which have contributed to the fact that people and communities in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have weathered the crisis up to this stage as best as possible.

The Surprises

It has been a surprise the number of bridges we have seen built. Organisations and statutory partners have reacted in ways that would not have been envisaged without the catalyst of a global pandemic.

Adaption – By the time local government looked up, activity was happening on the ground. Organisations, communities and individuals were the first and the quickest to react to the needs of people across the county. In the main everyone recognised this and went along with it. Statutory partners were able to adapt as they developed their own services and what emerged was a set of co-produced solutions that were different in each area and that built on the infrastructure that existed locally.

Relationships – These have proved vital and are the oil that allowed the machine to function. Where they were better and stronger we often saw better and more co-ordinated responses, but we have also seen new relationships formed and new partnerships entered into.

Very often how well things worked was down to who knew who. This highlighted the importance of connectors – individuals who bridge communities and organisations and can bring people together. It also highlighted the fact that it is essential for statutory partners to engage with local organisations and to build connections and trust.

Equality – Not everyone has been impacted by the pandemic in the same way. The virus has shone a light on issues of inequality; it has amplified inequalities of all type including digital, health, ethnicity, income or any other indicator. We have seen those suffering these inequalities facing additional pressures and barriers to staying safe or healthy, or access services. Much of the work of organisations has been to look at how they can reduce these barriers with their client groups to ensure people are best able to ride out lockdown or other restrictions.

What we learnt

Our overriding lesson was that there was no one correct response to the pandemic. Responses were not perfect, they were sometimes messy, confused and complicated, but organisations and statutory partners innovated, adapted and worked tirelessly to help and support people. Errors were made and these were addressed in positive ways as all organisations found ways to adapt and survive.

On the whole organisations in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have faired reasonably well. Whilst both CCVS and Hunts Forum have had to help organisations find solutions to difficult problems brought on by loss of funding or other areas, we have not seen large numbers of closures and the groups we work with have avoided large scale redundancies.  Whilst organisations have lost funding, seen demand increase and had issues with volunteers not being available, we have not seen the large scale issues reported by Groundwork in their national research.

Organisations are worried.

We asked organisations whether they could continue to deliver essential services, especially during periods of further lockdown. The overriding answer was yes, but not with the capacity of first-time round, burnout is an issue as are availability of resources and volunteers with the right skills and experience.

Funding is a crucial issue. In an immediate and short-term response funders and councils have stepped in coupled with government grants or furlough payments to enable organisations to adapt services and meet demand. However, there is a growing concern about future funding. There is acknowledgement that many funders have overspent in the crisis, that local councils will be even more cash strapped than before the crisis, and that we are entering into a protracted recession. In addition the restrictions necessitated by the crisis have severely impacted on organisations ability to fund raise. We will never know if locally the sector has lost the £34.5 million predicted. But numerous national research reports say that the sector has lost anything up to £10 billion nationally.

Local is good…

Each district responded differently in response to the very different characteristics of their area and to the organisations active in the location, to geography and to the relationships that were in place and that developed. This tailored response from the local authority was welcomed by all organisations; but it did make it harder for those working across multiple districts to ensure they were plugged in to all the right places.

However, this approach has meant that not all communities have had the same support or services, resulting in a bit of a postcode lottery. Often, we have seen more activity in more deprived areas and this is born out by the groundwork report nationally.

Centralisation nationally probably caused as many problems as it solved, this included ‘Boris boxes’ and the national volunteer scheme. We did not see these issues replicated between county and district functions and organisations working at the different tiers. Essentially things worked well between local partners from all sectors.

Embrace change but maintain the focus

Client services will look different going forward even once the pandemic is behind us. Much of the move to digital delivery will be combined with a return to face to face work for many charities. There is likely to be changes to where and how people work and there is a universal desire from many statutory partners to continue to use video for many of the meetings they convene.

Communication has been key, and especially social media. Facebook and WhatsApp have been pivotal in the setting up and development of groups; they have also played a key role in allowing communities to keep in touch. This change from one central communication path to many creates a challenge in the future for organisations and statutory bodies communicating key messages.  They must also ensure they meet the needs of those not able to access digital communications.

Organisations have faced challenges in maintaining the day to day functions of service delivery and not moving away from their mission.  This is a particular issue for small organisations who have had to alter their services but who have few resources and little time to spend on this. These organisations will need support to enable them to embed essential changes to meet the demands of the new normal.

Moving Forward

Much can be learnt from the pandemic, from the impact it has had on organisations, and from the way that we have seen the best and the worst of society Locally we would like to see the best of this practice encouraged and built on. This will allow real change to come from relationships and partnerships that have flourished due to Covid 19.

Keep reducing bureaucracy

There has been a significant reduction in bureaucracy during the pandemic. Organisations, funders and statutory partners have worked together to implement new services to ensure that people have been given the support they need. We want to keep this new way of working that has seen a more outcome focused rather than output focused partnership. It has been recognised that this is already starting to slip as partners regress back into their old ways of working.

A more equal partnership

We want to continue, and build on, our journey shoulder to shoulder. This means continuing to develop a more equal partnership built around common values, trust and transparency, and an investment into co-produced solutions.

Local is good

Communities have stepped up. They have recognised their needs and have worked with new or existing organisations and structures to ensure the needs were met in the most appropriate way. We want to see more weight given to local knowledge, to social value and to community investment when deciding on how to deliver services.

Empower and invest in communities

We want to see investment into communities and the organisations that sustain and nourish them. This will help to build skills and strengths and ensure truly community led, co-produced solutions. We also need to see real power divested into local communities to ensure they are at the heart of delivering solutions and services.

Support is important

Communities and the organisations that work in them have many strengths and skills, but for them to continue to deliver they will need ongoing support and the opportunity to learn and develop – well-resourced and effective support organisations are crucial to deliver this.

Thank you

Our thanks go to all the organisations we interviewed and to the representatives from the district/city hubs and from the county hub. We have not named the organisations interviewed as we wanted to maintain full anonymity.

We would also like to thank the staff from Hunts Forum, Cambridge Council for Voluntary Service, Peterborough CVS and Living Sport who carried out the research interviews, and to CCVS for collating the results.

You can read more about the impact of COVID-19 on the sector, including additional information on this report on this Sway page. We will be adding to this as new research is published and as we develop further case studies.

Support Cambridgeshire is a partnership between Hunts Forum, Cambridge Council for Voluntary Service and Cambridgeshire ACRE.General enquires info@supportcambridgeshire.org.uk www.supportcambridgeshire.org.uk

[1] When we are talking about organisations, we are referring to charities, community groups and mutual aid groups. We will use this shorthand throughout this report.

Not another ……… survey – The five reasons why we do an annual survey

Every year along with our partners from Support Cambridgeshire we carry out a survey of Cambridgeshire charities and community groups, and every year this survey joins the list of surveys that land in peoples inboxes and flashes across their social media feeds. So why do we do it!

Guest blog from Mark Freeman the CCVS CEO and the question master.

Tick with words asking people to take part in the 2020 Survey of Cambridgeshire community Groups and Charities and the Support Cambridgeshire logo
If you are in any way involved in a Cambs charity or community group please take the survey

Doing the annual survey was one of the first things that landed on my lap when I started at CCVS and it still seems to be there, but why do I bother. Here are my 5 reasons, they are specific to the work CCVS and Support Cambs does but are equally applicable for other charities and community groups.

  1. It helps us to develop our services.

As a member organisation dedicated to supporting charities and community groups it is essential that we are delivering what is needed. A big part of knowing what groups want is found out by asking them as part of the survey. These are Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘known unknows’, in other words those areas that groups identify where they need more training or support. If we aren’t delivering these services then we will not be seen as relevant and groups will go elsewhere for support.

  1. It is a perfect way to demonstrate need.

Funders want to know what the need is for the project you are asking them to fund. This is fare enough as they want to fund work that will solve a demonstrable issue. The survey gives us information on the needs of those we work with and allows us to develop new ways to meet those needs, it then gives us the evidence we need for the funders. Local intelligence is a real boon when answering the need question and fills in gaps that national research and information often leaves.

  1. It gives us invaluable insights.

As well as the support side of CCVSs work there is the championing and advocacy role we have for the wider charitable sector across Cambridgeshire. We want to be able to highlight what the sector does, how big it is and what might be stopping it making an even bigger difference. The survey gives us information on this and helps us to understand the ‘state of the sector’. When we are then talking about the sector we have facts and figures that help us make our point, combine this with stories and examples and we are able to build a stronger case and tell a clearer story.

  1. It gives us feedback on what we do.

We have to get people to fund us and this often means we have to demonstrate that we make a difference. For support organisations this is often difficult to measure and the survey allows us to collect valuable satisfaction data. It gives us an opportunity to (hopefully) shout about how well received our work is, it generates a number of nice recommendations and it shows that we are needed.

  1. It gets me through my ‘why do I bother’ patches.

OK, maybe it is only me that sometimes asks “why am I doing this”; as I write another report, try and balance another budget or try and fix the IT/phone/building problems that people seem to assume that I have an answer for.

We are really lucky that we get some fantastic comments about the team, and the work they do as part of the survey. Every so often I simply look back through these and it acts as my very own fast charger, a couple of minutes re-reading the comments gives me the energy and the enthusiasm to keep going. If we were a shiny tech company we would get these painted on office walls, or made into mouse mats or mugs, or written on the side of busses – but I don’t have time or a budget; simply reading them every so often will have to do for now!

The survey is a lot of work, it is a real team effort to try and get people to fill it in, but it gives us a valuable insight into the local charitable sector, it allows us to do our job better, and it helps with fundraising. I firmly believe that it is one of the most important pieces of work we do every year.

If you have anything to do with a Cambridgeshire charity or community group please fill the survey in.

In return I will find some funding to get mugs and mouse mats made for the team.

Decision on which deckchairs to move delayed as healthcare in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough slowly sinks.

Earlier this week the Cambridge and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) met to look at what funding it could cut to help it relieve its £192 Million deficit. This was of importance to local charities as they were looking at the funding for community services which includes a number of small grants that were to be ended or renegotiated. This blog concentrates charities but other community services that play a vital role are also under threat.

The first thing to say is that the groups affected have worked really hard with Support Cambridgeshire, and especially Julie Farrow from Hunts Forum to show the value of the work they do and to raise awareness of the impact of the cuts. This blog is simply CCVSs views which incorporate points raised by both Support Cambridgeshire and Healthwatch Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. You can read a statement from Healthwatch here.

The second thing to say is that the CCG are the second lowest funded per person in the country. This means that they get £350 per person less than West Norfolk CCG as an example. This is compounded by the speed at which the area’s population is growing. This is not new news, but it is relevant. What is also relevant is the fact that the CCG made a disastrous decision to contract out its older people’s healthcare and adult community services a number of years ago and lost a lot of money. It is probably also worth pointing out that this is not the first round of cuts for the sector from the CCG, I can still remember when many more projects were funded, including CCVS!

So what were the plans? I have highlighted the charity aspects from the papers which recommend

The Governing Body is asked to approve:

The outcome of the MDT process, Steering Group, COT and IPAC discussions is that we would cease funding or decommission the following:

  • Dial-a-Ride
  • The Stroke Association
  • The Alzheimer’s Society
  • The Carer’s Trust Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, Norfolk
  • The Health and Wellbeing Network
  • ECHIS (The Evelyn Community Head Injury Service)

The CCG would seek to renegotiate service provision and/or payment for the following:

  • The Care Network
  • Cambridge Hearing Help

The CCG would continue to fund:

  • The East Anglian Children’s Hospital

Just some initial thoughts.

The grant to Dial-a-ride is £6,516 a year or 0.003% of the deficit. The fact that this service is for Cambridge only and is not seen as clinical does not mean it is not saving the health service money. People can get ambulances, and in fact the CCG have a contract with the ambulance service. But dial-a-ride is so much more than just getting people to hospital, and is also I assume way cheaper per trip.

Cambridgeshire Hearing Help (CHH) work with 6500 users at 43 clinics across Cambridgeshire plus house bound provision to help them with hearing aids, they receive £34,682 or £5.34 per user. Specsavers receive £1,682,653 a year for their audiology service and charge £17 a session and people have to get to the shop. So, if these are to be renegotiated as per the papers lets hope loads more money goes to CHH. These figures do not even start to think about the value added of the CHH delivery model and the benefits of working with volunteers.

Why is the first main finding on the East Anglia Children’s Hospice (EACH) entry in the papers is “This service has great reputational impact on CCG if funding was ceased.” I think that the work EACH does is fantastic and needs to continue, and I hope that the proposal to continue to fund it was not because of the possible reputational impact and simply because EACH is fantastic!

So what’s the problem and what’s the solution?

There is undoubtedly a lack of money in the system and things need to be fairer. The local MPs are on the case


We should be putting pressure on whoever we can to get a fairer funding settlement, just as we are for education (what has Cambridgeshire done to upset the Whitehall mandarins to get such lousy settlements in education and health?)

Along with this we need to help the CCG understand the true value of funding the voluntary sector and the added value we bring. The savings that family carers make to the health system is massive, and so funding them to be better able to continue seems like a no brainer, but the CCG feel that the service supplied by Carers Trust is not cost effective as

“ this service provides services for carers rather than patients themselves and is more of prevention and crisis management rather than clinical provision.”

So if it prevents people accessing expensive services and helps the management of crises outside the system it should be welcomed. At an event I attended recently a Carers Trust volunteer and ex carer stated (and I paraphrase this)

“Carers Trust didn’t save my life, but they definitely saved my sanity and allowed me to continue to provide care for my partner”.

I know all the charities facing possible grant cuts would have similar stories, and I know that much work has gone on to ensure that these are shared with the CCG decision makers. At the end of the day they have to decide if it is making decisions based on just the basic figures, or if it recognises that prevention is always better than a cure.

Adult Education – A chance for charities to take part in commissioning

The Adult Education Budget for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is moving to the Combined Authority (CA) from next April. They have now started the process about how provision will be procured and if you want a slice of the pie don’t drink too much over New Year as you will need to be bright eyed and bushy tailed on 2nd January to start looking at making your application.

We here at CCVS are still getting our heads round how all this will work having attended a recent workshop, but fair to say it is not only us with the new CA admitting that they have been on a steep learning curve over the last eight months. There are a couple of sets of slides from the recent workshop that we will make available if we get them, and anyone who is thinking of bidding will need to get to grips with the CA skills strategy which is yet to be published, but more info on the priorities etc can be found here. http://cambridgeshirepeterborough-ca.gov.uk/about-us/programmes/adult-education-budget/

UPDATE. This page now contains copies of the slides from the presentations as well as a summary of the questions and answers from both workshops.

The timetable for this is, in the words of the CA

“We now intend to publish our SSQ and ITT on Wednesday 2 January 2019, following which will be a 38-day tendering period, closing on Friday 8 February 2019.

Evaluation of all SSQ’s and ITT’s will take place in February/March with contracts being awarded in early April.

Second Market Engagement Workshop – Early December 2018

Standard Selection Questionnaire and Invitation to Tender issued – Early January 2019

SSQ and ITT deadline submission date – Early February 2019

Evaluation of tender submission – February/March 2019

Contract award date – Early April 2019

Full AEB devolution – August 2019″

The budget for 2019-20 will be around £12.1 million. Of this around £9 million will go to the main provides, predominantly the big colleges. This leaves around £3 million for more local provision. That will be what this procurement round will be for. We think there may also be some small grants as a tender to run a programme was released but this is not guaranteed, we will keep you updated on this as we can.

What we gleaned from our workshop, this was what we heard and will need to be clarified if you want to bid.

  • There will be about £3 million available to tender for
  • There will be no minimum or maximum contract size (update there will be a £50K minimum now)
  • The process will involve formal online tendering
  • Although you will be bidding for 1 year this will decide the delivery partners for the next 3 years. If you don’t get in now there will not be another window for at least 3 years.
  • There will be an emphasis on accredited training, but if what you do is pre accreditation level or you use successful unaccredited training to move people on then there will be some weight given to this – but not lots from what we heard
  • The new team want to hear from you if you have any questions or comments. Importantly if you do apply and are unsure ring them do not make assumptions.
  • The process will be by the book, do exactly what they ask and do not try and simply bend the application to fit your work, it will not score well.
  • They are open to consortia bids, but please talk to them first. This is partly because they are putting a 20% cap on what can be outsourced.
  • There are likely to be separate priorities for Cambridge, Peterborough and the rural bits in-between.
  • The funding criteria and I assume cost per learner are not set by the CA, they are using national guidelines.
  • This will be quite an onerous application process so if you going to do it start early, there will be no extensions.
  • If you are successful you will be subject to the audit rules for this funding, this will include recording information on the Individual Learner Record (ILR), make sure you think about admin within any budgets.

One of the advantages of this move to the CA is that it may well have allowed additional money to be drawn into the area and this money will not be clawed back if there is a year 1 underspend. That said they are still looking at how they deal with possible underspends.

The other key advantage is that they appear to be starting from scratch, and the long tail of old providers have to join the party anew. This means that we should be able to address the fact that many local providers were not able to get a foot in the door. That said those who were at my event included people from Suffolk, from Boston, a national org based in Hemel Hempstead, from People Plus formally A4E and a number of other national providers.

My one concern was about the weight given to social value and the Social Value Act. I felt that the answer to my question on how this would be taken into account was vague with a reply that there was a question about it in the ITT but no idea on weighting. I have not been impressed about how any of the local commissioning has addressed social value, but we will have to wait to see if it would score extra to be a local provider using local people to deliver locally etc. We will be pushing the CA to give due consideration to the Social Value Act so that local non profit providers are given the extra makes for all the added value they bring.

We are not the experts on this but we are happy to have a conversation with anyone with any questions. That said the CA stressed how approachable they are so maybe go directly to them.

“Good things come in small parcels”

“Good things come in small parcels”

I am not sure where this quote comes from so I will attribute it to my Mum (who was small), who used it every Christmas when someone (usually me) complained that they didn’t have any big presents.

And you know what my Mum was obviously very wise!

The Glue that binds


Every day here at CCVS we work with groups that are doing amazing things, and many of those are doing that with very little funding and little or no paid staff time. In fact, this year 58% of those groups who responded to our annual survey had an income below £50,000 a year; 69% had 5 or less staff, and 35% had no staff.

These groups are at the core of what makes the communities in which we live ‘good places to live’. These small groups bring people together. These small groups provide services to fellow community members. These small groups, unfortunately, replace underfunded statutory services. If I look at the village where I live there are groups doing all these things and more. The archaeology society has brought people together through its programme of digging test pits across the village, its local talks, and now its work with local schools. The local Baptist Church runs a mother and baby/toddler group that allows parents to come together, make friends, and provides activities for the children. The local infant school PTA raised over £20,000 to provide the children with new IT, exciting learning opportunities and additional resources.

Robert Putnam said that we are now bowling alone and the latest national survey shows that volunteer numbers have reduced and that people volunteer for shorter periods. But I wonder if the small groups working in communities and the volunteers they have simply fly so far beneath the radar that few, outside their communities, know they are there. We know that some groups are struggling to get volunteers. We know that volunteering patterns are changing. We know that people work more hours for more years. Whilst these problems are real, and groups need help recruiting and retaining volunteers and developing volunteering opportunities that fit with people’s other commitments, I am always astounded by what people do and what the groups and organisations they give time to do. Last weekend alone me and 12,405 other people across the UK volunteered at Parkrun and Junior Parkrun events; 116,928 people finished the events. People were connected, active, healthy, and doing something in and for their communities.

So, there you are, small community organisations and volunteer led groups are the glue that binds communities together; as well as the deliverer of untold numbers of services and activities.

The growing darkness

dark moonNational research has shown that it is the smaller organisations that have been most impacted by austerity measures and changes to how national and local government fund the sector.

We have seen grants from local authorities fall in real terms for several years, and there is a real postcode lottery as to the funding a group might get dependent on where it operates. Coupled to this we have seen changes to how and what the Big Lottery will fund; and the consolidation (locally) of many corporate grants programmes into the Cambridgeshire Community Foundation.

Linked to the downturn in funding availability is the upturn in demand. As local authority and health thresholds for statutory help increase, more people are left to seek help from voluntary groups. There has been a marked increase in the use of Food banks. Many organisations working with those with mental health issues are seeing clients with increasingly complex needs and their ability to refer on to statutory or clinical services has gone down.

At the same time, there are growing pressures to get organisations of all size to meet different sets of regulations or rules. Changes in fundraising practice which came about following the failings of a number of big charities will have some knock-on effect on the small ones. Data protection will become an even bigger issue for all organisations regardless of their size. The charity commission is no longer there to support organisations but to regulate them. Whilst the impacts of all these changes may be less for smaller organisations their ability to know about them never mind implement them is a growing issue.

Organisations are run by volunteers in the form of trustees, and whilst calls to end charity such as that in the Guardian[1] are misplaced and written as ‘click bait’ the expectations and pressures are growing. Many small organisations are governed by individuals who are passionate about the work or cause; very few trustees are passionate about governance. Generally, trustees find themselves in the role after becoming a long term volunteer or by having been ‘asked’ by existing trustees in their acquaintance. It is essential that trustees are aware of all the different regulations, rules and laws that cover their work. From insurance requirements to financial management requirements and employment rights, the list is endless (or at least very long).

The light at the end of the tunnel

tunnelSo, to recap. We need small voluntary groups and charities for healthy local communities.

Healthy communities are better able to support, sustain and nurture individuals.

Small voluntary groups and charities are finding it harder to find the money they need to operate.

The trustees of the small voluntary groups and charities are being drowned under increasing regulation.

What these small groups, communities and individuals need is somewhere to turn to give them the skills, knowledge and confidence to deliver their services and stay sustainable. They also need someone who will champion their needs with statutory bodies and the wider public.

They need local infrastructure organisations like those in the Support Cambridgeshire partnership.

The Support Cambridgeshire annual survey shows the fact that organisations value their membership of both CCVS and Hunts Forum. They value the work we do to represent their needs and those of the wider sector and they appreciate the advice, support, training and communications. It is essential that this local service remains. Despite the wisdom of ages being available at the click of a Goggle search many organisations want some help in identifying the best resources, and in transferring the information into knowledge. Groups want access to local, free training that it is pitched at the right level. They want to be able to contact someone who will answer their question on all aspects of running a voluntary group. They want help identifying and applying for relevant funding pots. They don’t need consultants or long-term scrutiny; they don’t need courses in London or online.

Local infrastructure may well have fallen out of favour with many funders and with national government. Local authorities may try and squeeze it by asking for more for less. But local organisations value the service. By investing in strong and sustainable local infrastructure you are investing in a diverse and sustainable local voluntary and community sector; and therefore, in strong, resilient communities.

Local infrastructure may not impact directly on individuals lives and well-being but it does ensure that there are more groups out there that can, and do.

“It is difficult to sum up the support from CCVS in a few words! It is, quite simply, vital for organisations like ours who are small and inexperienced in many areas and also who sometimes struggle with confidence on bigger issues. It is amazing to know that there is high-quality support for us, and also such frequent and detailed updates about funding and what is going on in the sector. Thank you for all you do for us and organisations like us”

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/2017/aug/08/kids-company-is-charity-worth-saving