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The contribution and value of the VCSE sector in East Sussex

This report explores the value and contribution of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in East Sussex – including how the sector responded to Covid-19 and how people see the sector’s future. As well as a detailed look at the positive contribution organisations are making in East Sussex specifically, we offer an interesting perspective on how to present the value of the voluntary sector in a way that goes beyond traditional ‘impact’ or economic metrics; and explores how funders, the public sector and VCSEs can best support each other in the future.


We hope this work informs both future thinking about cross-sector collaboration in East Sussex; and how other local authorities consider the contribution and value of the voluntary sector. 

You can read highlights from this report and find out more about how commissioners and VCSE organisations can work together here

The STAGE Partnership: Learning and Legacy

In our latest report, we explore a recent partnership between small, medium and large charities who provide specialist women’s services across the North East, led by Changing Lives. It is a positive story of a partnership in action – sharing not only success factors, but also a frank account of the challenges and measures put in place for the partnership to grow together and establish a legacy. We hope this provides inspiration for other charities interested in working together.

I wanted to make sure that there are no blind spots and there is honesty. This is so important now, as the sustainability of so many charities is challenged – it was ever thus, but it is seriously exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is the responsibility of us all to do everything we can to sustain a diverse and thriving sector.’

Laura Seebohm – Executive Director of External Affairs at Changing Lives.

We’re better together

This report shares eight factors that have enabled health partnerships to respond effectively to Covid-19. Previous barriers to the NHS, councils and the voluntary sector working together – such as information governance, organisational boundaries or agendas, and lack of trust – were removed, or set aside, in order to respond swiftly to a ‘tsunami of need’. The research is based on learning from 11 partnerships in different areas of England, who took part in the Building Health Partnerships programme. 


As a result of working together, health partnerships:


  • Reached the most isolated and vulnerable community members
  • Protected against overwhelming demand on statutory health services
  • Improved referral pathways and access to services
  • Provided a more focused/targeted response when required
  • Ensured that services meet local needs
  • Distributed information to communities quickly and efficiently
  • Built on, and made best use of, community assets (e.g. volunteers)
  • Ensured the right people are at the decision-making table.


‘Without the third sector, Wirral wouldn’t have been able to cope and mitigate against the impact of Covid-19 the way it has.’


Who is the report for? 

The report is aimed at anyone interested in building cross-sector relationships to improve local health and care outcomes – NHS systems (particularly ICS/STP leads and PCNs), commissioners, clinicians, local authorities and professionals from the VCSE sector.

Trust, power and collaboration

Trust, power and collaboration shares practical suggestions for taking a ‘human learning systems’ approach to commissioning and funding relationships. We aimed to capture the varying experiences of those adapting their practice, and identify both what is happening and what needs to change to enable different ways of working – for both VCS organisations and funders/commissioners. This research was carried out in partnership with Northumbria University and The Tudor Trust.


You can read a summary of practical tips for trust-based commissioning here


Small charities and social change

Advocacy, lobbying, campaigning and influencing are essential tools in the effort to tackle inequality and injustice. 


Small charities have a distinctive role to play in promoting and informing social change, with an agility and a direct relationship with the people at the sharp end of poverty, violence and discrimination that can be harder to achieve in larger organisations. 


In this study, we explored how and why small charities are challenging, shaping and changing policy, practice and attitudes. 

Totally Socially Final Evaluation

Totally Socially aims to support individuals and groups in local communities to turn their ideas into action and was initiated to provide demonstrable evidence of the value of putting communities in control.

The three-year programme is funded by The National Lottery Reaching Communities Fund (March 2017 to March 2020). The Totally Socially approach evolved from the Coast & Vale Community Action (CaVCA) ethos of doing things with, not to, communities and is a vital part of their working principles. Through the programme this has become a two-way process. The listening and learning happening in communities flows back into CaVCA too, informing its practice overall.

Evidence of the need for Totally Socially was gathered from local community organisations, voluntary groups, service users and local residents, highlighting that while services continue to be available for those in greatest need, those who are vulnerable but not yet at the threshold of entitlement are becoming further disengaged and isolated. There are particular issues for those with (often undiagnosed) mental health difficulties, families with dependents with additional needs, and older people who are isolated.


IVAR is the evaluation partner to Totally Socially. In the Mid-Term Review (Jan–March 2019) we spoke to more than 30 people and groups who had been supported through Totally Socially to gather their feedback and reflections. There were some surprising results, in particular those around the changes that had been brought about in reducing social isolation and improving people’s health and well-being. In October 2019, we were asked to build on the mid-term findings by speaking to people in communities (some repeat conversations, others for the first time) to home in on people’s experiences to better understand their journeys and ‘what it takes’ for people to make changes for themselves. This is the final research report of that evaluation.

The power of face-to-face grant-making: Small grants in Hartlepool

There is much talk of funders becoming less demanding, more straightforward and quicker in their dealings with applicants and grantees. In June 2019, a team from the Tudor Trust visited Hartlepool to test out a way of paring back bureaucracy and placing relationships and trust at the forefront of their grant-making. Involving both Tudor’s trustees and staff and local community group staff and volunteers, the approach centred around half hour face-to-face conversations, with the idea of co-producing applications for funding together. It represented one part of Tudor’s response to the challenge IVAR laid down in ‘The possible, not the perfect’, and drew upon the lessons learned from grant making in response to the Grenfell Tower fire.


This paper is based on the views of those who took part in these grant-making conversations. It highlights how these conversations allowed Tudor to understand more about the people they met, the communities they are part of and what they care about. It suggests that this approach made for a more proportionate and accessible experience for community groups, and recognises the difference that ‘small’ grants can make within communities. In addition, the experience of talking to a funder about their work and experiences offered added value – beyond money – to the groups.


The paper concludes by drawing on the experience and the findings to ask: what is required for this approach to grant making? Would it be possible, or even desirable, to do this again? What does this experience mean for Tudor’s broader grant making? And, might some of the lessons learnt here contribute to the wider conversation on how applying for grants can be a more positive and straightforward experience for applicants?

The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust

The purpose of this report is to share The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust’s experience of working over a relatively short time frame to achieve strategic focus and deliver impact at scale, and to identify learning that may be of value to other independent funders, both in the UK and further afield. These are the five areas of learning that we drew out:

  1. Developing a strategic focus: Learning for foundations interested in framing their work around a tightly defined goal.
  2. Values and attributes: Learning for foundations interested in thinking about how to frame their ways of working to meet the demands of a strategy delivered in close collaboration with others.
  3. A partnership approach: Learning for foundations interested in developing effective, trust-based partnerships with grantees.
  4. Risk and innovation: Learning for foundations considering their risk appetite and their approach to innovation.
  5. Advocacy approach: Learning for foundations interested in making best use of their potential to support effective advocacy for change.

Delayed Transfers of Care & the Voluntary and Community Sector in Greater Nottingham

This report is based on work undertaken through the Building Health Partnerships programme in Nottingham. The programme worked with the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE) and the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Integrated Care System (ICS) to help create a better picture of what it will take to reduce the number of patients who end up staying in hospital when other options (in particular going home) would be far better for their health and well-being.

The research exercise provided a unique opportunity for VCSE organisations to share perspectives on the services and support already being provided in the Greater Nottingham community, and to learn from local experiences where it is possible to improve outcomes for patients leaving hospital (and to avoid admissions in the first place).

Totally Socially Mid-term Review

Coast and Vale Community Action (CAVCA) appointed IVAR as its independent reviewer of the Totally Socially programme.

Totally Socially, a three-year programme funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, has been established to build on CAVCA’s work in local communities, getting to know them better and what makes them ‘tick’. The programme aims to help people to turn ideas for their community into action, from finding solutions to challenges to keeping good things going. The underlying ethos is about putting communities in the lead, working with what is already there and not predicting the outcomes. 

For this mid-term review, we were appointed to look at how Totally Socially has supported people in communities so far and what has been the most important learning along the way, approximately eighteen months into the three-year funding period.