A vital helping hand

A vital helping hand

Grant-making is the lifeblood of the charity sector says Rob Williamson, chief executive of the Tyne and Wear Community Foundation.

The voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in North East England has been remarkably resilient in the face of 10 years of economic and political change. But many groups are having to run faster to stand still, with pressure higher on those in the poorest areas.

Philanthropy and charitable giving play a critical role in strengthening their hand and improving quality of life across our region. Community foundations are independent charities dedicated to making a difference in a particular city, county or region.

We use our understanding and insight to make sure that generous people and businesses who give to local causes can do so effectively. That’s why the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland invests in research like the ground-breaking Third Sector Trends Study written by Durham University’s Professor Tony Chapman. Third Sector Trends gives the kind of detailed data on the charity sector which is taken for granted about businesses. We also publish Vital Signs North East, in collaboration with County Durham Community Foundation with support from the Garfield Weston and Esmee Fairbairn Foundations. Vital Signs ‘takes the pulse’ of the region and informs better giving.

ImageThe main issue highlighted now is inequality. Philanthropy has a critical role helping people and families experiencing poverty and disadvantage, and ensuring money gets to those parts of the region which are more affected by crime, unemployment and ill-health. It can also help to strengthen our cultural and environmental assets – both for their own sake, but also to encourage people to invest, live and work here.

Charitable grant-making needs to remain the life blood of the charity sector. Community foundations are committed to growing giving which can finance grants to groups now and for generations to come. But we are also looking to deploy a range of other resources to help groups we support to be really effective.

One example is the North East Social Investment Company (NESIC), in which we are a partner and investor. NESIC oversees the £10.2m North East Social Investment Fund which provides loans and other forms of repayable finance to charities and social enterprises that make a positive impact on vital causes in our region.

The Fund, run by Northstar Ventures, offers investments from £100,000 to £1m for purposes including operational costs, working capital and asset purchases. A Sunderland-based substance misuse recovery service, Achieve with NERAF, received £100,000 to help it deliver a new national government contract. The overall is to reduce crime, through work which prevents offenders falling back into drug and alcohol abuse. 

We are also broadening our impact by providing groups with advice, training and connections to other funders.

Newcastle-based Liberdade works with people with learning disabilities and autism in the North East of England, running arts and social enterprises. As well as grants, Liberdade has benefitted from a range of training and consultancy programmes through the Community Foundation, developing its governance and income generation in preparation for taking on a building – Gosforth Civic Hall – via an asset transfer. This in turn led to them receiving investment from the Fresh Ideas Fund, a partnership between the Community Foundation and the Northstar Foundation.

But our key message remains that more people and businesses need to get involved in giving to enable the ambitions of our communities to be achieved. Community foundations start with where you are and the causes that inspire you. Because no two donors are alike, we offer options allowing you to give when and how you choose. It might be by starting a charitable fund for you, your family or your business – a hassle-free and enjoyable way to give back. Or it might be by giving with others with shared interests, or planning a legacy to benefit the community you care about. Giving is also about your time.

A great way for businesses to make a difference is to encourage and support employee volunteering. It helps build individual and team skills and retain talent, and can give a great boost for the company’s profile. The North East Charity Awards, now a well-established and high profile event in the region’s calendar, profiles many companies, large and small who are doing their bit. But, as well as volunteering for activities, charities and voluntary groups need people with good business skills to join their boards of trustees. Community Foundations can advise you about all these options too.

Rob Williamson, Chief Executive, Community Foundation serving Tyne & Wear and Northumberland Communityfoundation.org.uk