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Vital Signs North East: Community

Our ground-breaking study of the scale, dynamics and needs of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in North East England.

Community challenges

There are many different types of community – those of a place, but also those where people share a common interest or identify. Civil society – people coming together to do things out of care for others, creativity or to pursue a passion – is key to community strength. And local charities and community organisations are civil society’s lifeblood. But experience of community isn’t always positive. Some people are deliberately or unconsciously excluded. Others struggle to get their voices heard by those in power. In some places, institutions have declined while poverty and poor health have risen, creating ‘double disadvantage’ and vulnerability when disasters happen. Philanthropy – giving of money, time and expertise – can strengthen what’s great about community. But there’s less giving to go around at a time when pressures on civil society are greater than ever.

  • National challenges: mistrust in big institutions; decline in local news media; disappearance of funds for local regeneration; weak public sector policy around community transfer of buildings and land; drop in volunteering, stagnation in charitable giving and reliance on fewer people donating; donors’ continued reluctance to fund long-term running costs.
  • North East England challenges: lower levels of civic participation; weaker ties between people from different backgrounds; double disadvantage in many ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods; charitable giving skewed to London; double whammy of rising costs and rising demands for local civil society organisations leading to burnout and potential for closures

Community indicator North East England South East
% adults who say they belong to their neighbourhood 65 63 62
% adults who say people from different backgrounds get along in their area 81 84 86
% adults engaging in civic participation in last year 26 34 36
2019 General Election turnout % 64 68 70
% adults formally volunteering at least once in last month 14 16 18
% adults giving to charitable causes in last month 66 66 67
Added value of charities and community organisations per 1000 people £2.3m £3.2m (England and Wales) £3.3m

Community opportunities

Despite the challenges there are a number of opportunities in North East England via:

  • Strong ties within communities
  • Examples of grassroots organising, new forms of participation and of revitalised community anchors
  • Strong tradition and impact of home-grown philanthropy including through two leading community foundations
  • Excellent data and evidence of significant social and economic added value through civil society organisations.

The Community Foundation believes philanthropy can have a significant impact on community life in three key areas:

Supporting resilience and strong bonds in and between communities, and with those in power:

  • activities which encourage and increase civic participation, such as voter registration, citizens assemblies, grassroots organising and democracy reporting
  • long-term, core support for community anchor organisations especially in areas facing disadvantage and disappearance of social infrastructure
  • co-ordinated responses to natural disasters and emergencies through trusted intermediaries which can address immediate need and longer-term recovery

Enabling more and better giving, philanthropy and volunteering:

  • sharing experience and acting collectively, including by providing match incentives to inspire and engage others
  • gift and grant amounts which take account of inflation
  • businesses committing to donate 1% of pre-tax profits and employers to offering work-based volunteering as standard
  • investment in organisations’ capacity to recruit, train and support volunteers

Strengthening civil society organisations:

  • longer-term, less restricted support, enabling organisations to recruit and retain staff and volunteers and meet their core running costs
  • pro bono help especially around governance, strategy and finance
  • investment in civil society networks, infrastructure, digital and data use

Vital Signs Reports

The most recent reports from Vital Signs are here