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The Right to Survive?

Following last week’s publication of the DCMS Committee Inquiry Report, my thoughts turn to the Suffolk picture including that of our own charity – Community Action Suffolk (CAS).
CAS exists to ensure the sector, and its volunteers, is supported, safe and sustainable and that our communities are active and resilient. We provide (or signpost) whatever is needed behind the scenes to enable this, so the sector can concentrate on doing what it does best – making Suffolk an incredible place in which to live and work. However, it is easy to forget that CAS is also a charity and faces the same challenges as the sector we serve because we are part of it. For the most part, this gives us a stead footed insight into what the sector needs, how wider influences such as the economy or politics affect it, and many of the challenges we face.

The VCSE sector in Suffolk has never been more needed than in the current climate of national crisis and as a result, CAS has seen an exponential rise in need for support from the organisations and community groups within it. Our own findings from sector intelligence we have gathered in recent weeks, echo much of what the Inquiry Report finds and our personal experience of the current funding situation mirrors what the vast majority of our national counterparts are saying.

Our first Covid-19 Impact Survey which closed at the beginning of April concluded that:

  • The impact of Covid 19 was already significant on the sector – our survey indicated that if they had to rely on reserves – 30% of responding organisations would fold within 6 months and 60% would fold within 12 months,
  • 73% of organisations didn’t have a business continuity plan to help them cope when unexpected or fundamental issues beyond their control impact on their organisation, and;
  • 45% of VCSE organisations needed more volunteers

A summation of responses also yielded the highly concerning estimation that a “conservative amount” of circa £250,000 would be required PER MONTH during the crisis to cover operating costs during the pandemic. Given that this was a ‘quick’ survey, open for response for a week only, and was carried out right at the beginning of the lockdown measures, the 176 responses received represent a very small sample of the sector in Suffolk. At CAS, we estimate the size of the sector to be around 12-14,000 organisations and community groups. We can therefore assume the true value of that figure is, in reality, significantly higher. Indeed, at the start of this crisis, national infrastructure partners used intelligence from the sector to predict a £4.5bn loss within the first 3 months of crisis across the country.

The published Inquiry Report also pays attention to the dramatic fall in income experienced by VCSE organisations at this time. Key sources of funding for all of us in addition to grants and contracts and to varying degrees are, traditional fundraising – sponsorships, community events such as fetes etc; and trading. The vast majority of this is now ‘on hold’ with little hope of resuming any time soon. The majority of our survey respondents told us that they had “no income at all coming in at present” and then went on to tell us that if they could access emergency funding, 39% would spend it on critical premises bills first.

As I write this, we have now had nearly 900 responses to 3 surveys including this one – gathering
intelligence from both individuals in communities and VCSE organisations in Suffolk and are now
carrying out the Covid-19 Impact Survey with the sector for a second time to see how and if the
picture has changed. We have committed to doing this every month, for 6 months, to help inform
local strategies and enable us to support the sector to the best of our ability and to influence national

We also work with key partners every day to promote available funding and are seeing fantastic
examples of kindness and generosity across Suffolk though organisation case studies and our #SuffolkCommunityHero campaign which we know wouldn’t be possible to such an extent without the support of coordinating and support organisations in the VCSE sector.

The Suffolk Coronavirus Community Fund at Suffolk Community Foundation is enabling many
organisations to access funding locally from the much needed generosity of people living in Suffolk.
But will any of it be enough, and as people’s daily lives resume will the still prevalent need of this
sector be forgotten? There is no doubt the services which this sector provides will still be required
and if the sector did not exist, local and national authorities couldn’t pick up the tab for every vital
service we deliver. As kind and thoughtful human beings, the vast majority of us are suppressing our
inbuilt requirement for social contact to protect the NHS so as not to overload them – I ponder how
much more they would have to do if our sector wasn’t doing what it is right now?

In short, we welcome the findings of this report and support their recommendations for a stabilisation
fund with less restrictive criteria and support for those organisations that do not necessarily fall in to
the ‘frontline’ categories currently being used. We understand there is not enough in the public purse
to help every organisation, but more could be done to help those carrying out vital work at this time
that we could not do without.

So, do we have a right to survive? We may not, but we are all fighting for survival, and as Karl Wilding, Chief Executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations puts it “…people do have a right to the services we provide.”

Hannah Reid – Director of Innovation & Business Development, CAS

To read the full DCMS Committee Inquiry Report visit:

For more information & support from CAS during the Covid-19 pandemic visit: