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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.

Start somewhere

We worked with the Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology (CAST) to explore the extent to which small voluntary organisations are able or willing to consider how technology might have a positive role to play in their work. 

We found that although many organisations are keen to engage with ‘tech’, they don’t always know where to access appropriate support or have the time to learn how to practically implement and use it. 

Study findings include tips and advice from small voluntary organisations on overcoming the barriers to using technology; pointers for support organisations; and things for funders to think about – such as how they can support infrastructure, training and experimentation costs associated with ‘digital transformation’.

The Blagrave Trust 1981-2018 – Changing the Story

Over the last six years, The Blagrave Trust has undergone something of a transformation. This report shares lessons learned, insights gained and challenges that remain. It does not go into detail about the myriad ways in which the Trust has evolved, but it depicts the recent history in broad brushstrokes to convey the scale and drivers of change. Nor does it purport to be a blueprint, or a manual, but a story of how much can be changed with determination, urgency, strong leadership and a belief that: ‘We can with our partners change lives for the better, if we accept the challenge and responsibility to put our beneficiaries at the centre of what we do and how we do it’. 

Duty to Care?

The day-to-day existence of voluntary organisations continues to be precarious, and they report that the challenges facing the most vulnerable in society are deepening. We believe that foundations could be making adaptations to their grant-making practices in response to the circumstances and needs of small to medium voluntary organisations. In this study, we looked at examples of foundation practice from applications through to reporting, and propose actions and questions that other funders might consider.


With a population of over 350,000, Ealing is the third largest London Borough in population, and 11th largest in size. We spoke to four charities – three smaller, one larger – to understand the distinctive contribution, social value and funding challenges of small charities in Ealing.

First Give evaluation report

This evaluation explored two assumptions that underpin the First Give Programme: 

  1. That First Give helps young people to develop key skills in: leadership, public speaking, team working, design and delivery of research, being a responsible citizen.

  2. That First Give helps to ignite a ‘spark of social conscience’ that extends beyond participation in the programme. 


Our findings suggest that First Give builds confidence and helps young people develop key skills in leadership, public speaking and team working. It also seems to have added benefits of strengthening teacher-student relationships, building a sense of community within year groups and helping schools engage with the wider community. The evaluation also starts to outline what ‘a spark of social conscience’ might look like and how the programme lays the foundations for future social activities. First Give undoubtedly makes a difference to schools, teachers and charities, and these benefits are strongest where there is an alignment of values, vision for the programme and commitment to a social mission. 

The Future for Communities: Perspectives on power

This 18 month research project asked ‘what needs to happen for communities to feel and be more powerful in the future?’. The findings paint a picture of strong, resourceful communities affected by the challenges of poverty, transience and isolation; but also people and places where resilience and hope offer the prospect of positive transformation and change.


The research team held three dialogues to scope the issues, to hear from people in the nations and regions of the UK and to talk with people living and working locally in four places. The issues that kept coming up in their conversations were: 


  • Poverty. Poverty including in-work poverty is affecting people’s capacity to get involved. How will the changing job market of insecure work affect people’s engagement in the future? 

  • Transience. Changes in the housing market are reshaping more and more communities. Population change can bring new life and dynamism. But it can also bring insecurity. What does community mean for people who may not be able to put down any roots? 

  • Fragmentation. Divisions and distrust within diverse communities make them less powerful. In a changing world, can place still be a source of strength to everyone who lives there? And how do we maximise the benefits of our society? 

  • Isolation. Public spaces are shrinking. Where are the spaces where people can meet, talk and learn about each other? Will people increasingly retreat into their own homes and into virtual spaces? 

  • Democracy. Much has been written about alienation from politics, especially in the poorest places. Can we find new ways of doing politics that will reenergise our democracy? 


The report explores each of these issues, and concludes that communities and those who work with them have responded with commitment and energy to the challenges they face. They now need policies and investment that recognise the disadvantages that these communities bear and that confront lazy and discriminatory assumptions about the people who live there. Society – government, business and wider civil society – needs to get behind them.


The research was commissioned by Local Trust, carried out by the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR), and funded by the Community Development Foundation (CDF) and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). 

The value of small

This research shows that smaller local charities combine three distinctive features in how they support people and communities, which sets them apart from both public-sector providers or larger charities:

1. Who smaller charities serve and what they do: through plugging gaps left by other organisations; being the ‘first responders’ to people in crisis, and for creating safe, familiar spaces where people can receive practical support or be quickly linked to other local services because of the charity’s local networks. Examples in the research included the experiences of homeless people and refugees who were not being helped by public services but got the support they needed from small and local charities.

2. How smaller charities work: building person-centred relationships with clients for longer; being known for their ‘open door approach’ and understanding of local issues, and for being quick to make decisions because of flatter management structures. and reflecting more closely the diversity of their local communities through their staff and volunteers. Examples in the research included charities providing mental health services that were more welcoming and engaging for people who were turned away from public services because the issues they were facing were too complex or didn’t fit those organisations’ missions.

3. The role smaller charities play in their communities: using their well-established and far-reaching networks to act as the ‘glue’ that holds communities together. Examples in the research include charities helping communities cope better with funding cuts and service fragmentation. This combination of distinctive features in smaller charities is greater than the sum of their parts and offers additional benefits including: individual value for their clients, such as building confidence and self-esteem to help them prepare for and secure employment; economic value through charities buying goods and services locally and added value through recruiting more volunteers than larger charities and bringing in new funding from trusts and others which typically can triple the income they received from the public sector.

The Value of Small was commissioned by Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales and conducted by an independent research team comprising the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR) at Sheffield Hallam University; the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) and the Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership at the Open University.

The possible, not the perfect: Learning from funder responses to emergencies

In response to three different emergencies during Summer 2017 funders dispensed with ‘business as usual’ in order to provide urgent support to community organisations and services. We looked at what they did differently; what we can learn about responding effectively in an emergency; and what opportunities there may be for day-to-day grant-making practices. 


The collaborative programmes we looked at demonstrate that it is possible for funders to step outside their normal way of working. Drawing on their experience, we have proposed four areas where there is real potential to bring greater urgency, responsible lightness of touch and more open relationships into funders’ everyday work. 

Case Study Three: Volunteers Supporting Families (VsF), Southend

As part of the Volunteering and Early Childhood Outcomes evidence review we provided three case studies of current or recent volunteer programmes that illustrate and elaborate some of the points raised in the report. This is Case Study Three: Volunteers Supporting Families (VsF), Southend. 

The case studies are based on desk review of project documents and evaluation reports that include parents’ own views and experiences; and telephone interviews with key personnel in each of the projects.