The challenges facing the voluntary, community and social enerprise sector in Torbay

By Robin Causley, Community Funding Advisor

Throughout the pandemic, this column (by Torbay Community Development Trust) has been highlighting the crucial role the local voluntary, community, and social enterprise sector (VCSE), have been playing in supporting people with often complex social issues and in sustaining our local communities.

We have seen how the sector supported people in ways others couldn’t and reached communities where others didn’t.

We saw how the VCSE sector stepped up to the often changing and seemingly insurmountable challenges of the pandemic.

During the winter and third national lockdown, and continuing to and beyond the easing of lockdown, the sector has continued to show flexibility and resilience in adapting services to meet the basic and humanitarian needs of people during the crisis.

The sector locally supported people experiencing poverty and prevented them from being pushed into deeper hardships.

They provided emergency food parcels and toiletries and supported people’s mental health and wellbeing.

They did so by addressing isolation and anxiety, by providing data and internet access and laptops, tablets and phones and contacting them on a regular basis so that people could stay connected and access services.

Often, they were the only service to provide continuity and regularity of care, especially the “human touch”.

However, short-term funding is making it difficult for the sector to address the long-term problems made worse by the pandemic.

While emergency funding in 2020 and earlier this year ensured that many could keep their doors open, adapt their delivery model to continue to support people and meet the increased demand and complexity in need, many now face an uncertain future.

The need for social distancing, PPE, and the shift to hybrid models of working to support people facing complex issues has also led to higher costs for the sector to deliver its services.

These funding obstacles and the increased demands of the pandemic have presented unique challenges with the recruitment and retention of staff and volunteers.

Some in the sector locally, have needed to increase their workforce to cope with rising demand but as short-term funding comes to an end, so do staff contracts causing great uncertainty as to how the sector will continue to meet demand.

The VCSE sector has adapted its operations and service delivery to digital models effectively and efficiently.

The digital transformation proved particularly successful with younger people or those who would otherwise struggle with the time or cost to attend face-face meetings,

Yet, a number of local groups in Torbay have raised concerns with us over the impact of digital exclusion, particularly among people who could not afford to be digitally connected or those with difficulty in adapting to digital.

While many in the sector who have spoken to us have commended the resilience and impact of their staff and volunteers, local VCSE leaders have expressed concerns over staff burnout as teams continue to sustain the pressure of a prolonged crisis response.

This is further intensified by some charities reporting the difficulty of recruiting new staff and volunteers.

As the VCSE sector in Torbay looks ahead as we emerge from lockdown, more and more premises start to open up and the vaccine continues to roll out to more and more of the local population; this brings with it new challenges.

A number of organisations are looking for additional physical spaces, returning to group work and face-face provision safely and particularly how to navigate this when not everyone is vaccinated’

If we are to support our communities to recover from the impact of the pandemic and start to build back better and meet the government’s “Levelling Up” agenda, we need better investment in the VCSE sector.

The Lloyds Bank Foundation in their report:” Small Charities Responding to Covid-19”, has set out five key recommendations for funders, local and national government organisations that partner with or rely on services by the sector, which Torbay Community Development Trust fully endorses.

These are:

1. Longer-term unrestricted funding rooted in trust

2. Investing in organisational resilience and staff wellbeing

3. Sustaining and building on partnerships formed during the crisis

4. A robust welfare safety net to meet the needs of people

5. Suitable resourcing for public services particularly local government funding.

If your charity or other voluntary and community group or social enterprise would like any information or advice on funding or related issues, please contact me at