Developing Sustainable Support Services for the VCSE Sector

sustainable support

Over the last few years, we have seen the evolution, merge & collaboration and sadly closure of infrastructure support organisations due to the change in funding landscape. Since 2001 I have actively researched and worked alongside infrastructure organisations that support community organisations, charities and social enterprises, so I would like to share some approaches of how they are adopting and evolving to become sustainable at a national to local level. This article provides some guidance into:

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  • Acquisition and management of Assets
  • Specialist consultancy and training
  • Prime contracting and management
  • Social enterprise trading arms
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Economic Change can actively support you to develop these propositions, and help you to access funding streams such as and to pay for our support.

Acquisition and Management of Assets

Infrastructure organisations benefit from having a network of organisations who have a common needs. They need premises, meeting rooms and back office functions. It has therefore been a sensible approach to maximise the value of this network and optimise support for it, by creating a physical base for collaboration and meetings. Acquiring a building can give you security and and an investment for the future, or leasing a building at a peppercorn rent gives you the opportunity to generate reserves or reinvest the surplus income in business support activities.

Sources of Inspiration

  • CAN – Community Action Network was an early adopter to investing in assets and creating co-working spaces for the sector with their first Mezzanine at Waterloo. They provide business support and capital as well as running CAN Mezzanine, high-quality and affordable office space exclusively for the social sector. CAN Mezzanine is a registered charity and has been operating in the sector for over 11 years. Its charity office space portfolio currently includes six buildings across the London Boroughs of Southwark, Hackney and Hounslow and Bristol, housing over 120 charities and social enterprises. We are now one of their occupants at their space at the Mezzanine in Old Street https://can-online.org.uk/
  • Hastings Voluntary Action took on the management of Jackson Hall as part of a Community Asset Transfer. Jackson Hall was refurbished through a £748,152 grant from the Community Assets Programme. When the works completed in 2011, the building was transferred to Hastings Voluntary Action under a 30-year lease for a peppercorn rent. It provides an incubator hub for new and existing voluntary and charitable organisations.
  • Hackney Co-operative Development Agency  is a major provider of affordable business premises in Dalston, which are let at very reasonable terms to support growth of local businesses and community organisations. All income generated through HCD’s Workspace Lettings is re-invested in our community economic development and cultural programming activities.
  • Sobus is a new Community Development Agency for Hammersmith & Fulham. It has been created through the merger of the Community and Voluntary Sector Association Hammersmith & Fulham (CaVSA) and the Fulham Community Partnership Trust (FCPT). Building on the strengths of both organisations, sobus provides a wider range of support services and office space for local charities, community groups, social enterprises and start up businesses.

Next Steps

  • Measure and Demonstrate Impact – If you are planning to secure investment or a deal with the local authority to aquire the management of a property, it is important to demonstrate what you intend to do with it, and how it will benefit the local community. We have supported clients such as St Albans Community Association to evaluate impact of services and Bridges Community Trust to develop a framework for measuring the impact of their community asset to secure a long term lease Click here to find out more
  • Business Planning and Raising Social Investment – You will need to establish need, develop a robust business plan and successfully raise investment to realise a property. We have supported clients to implement a community share scheme and business planning to raise social Investment. We work closely with a range of social investors who can provide 100% finance for purchasing community assets.
  • Access Support for Community Asset Transfer from Public Sector – If you have identified a public-owned property that you think could be open to a transfer of management. Contact our client Locality https://locality.org.uk/our-work/assets/

Developing specialist consultancy and training arms

Some infrastructure organisations have developed specialist consultancy and training provision available on a local to national scale. It may be either public funded support, or beneficiary organisations can secure their own funding to pay for the services available. Some of these organisations have also developed a professional membership model to facilitate an active network.

Sources of Inspiration

  • International Centre for Social Franchising – Specialists in social franchising
  • Pure Leap Frog – is the leading provider of social investment and professional support to community energy projects in the UK.
  • Plunkett Foundation – Promotes and supports co-operatives and social enterprises in rural communities worldwide.
  • Locality – Locality is the national network of ambitious and enterprising community-led organisations, working together to help neighbourhoods thrive.
  • Project Dirt – Project Dirt is the UK’s most active network connecting and resourcing environmental and community projects.

Next Steps

  • Commercial Service Management – If you are setting up a new commercial service you will need to manage sales, team members, delivery of work and evaluation of the services. We have supported our clients such as ACEVO, Locality, Ariadne, ICSF to set up an event management, membership training and project management system using Salesforce CRM to manage consultancy and training services. Click here to find out more
  • Feasibility Studies – If you need assurance that there is a potential need and demand for your proposed services, we suggest undertaking a feasibility study. We have supported clients such as the Aspire Foundation, Enterprise Insight, Social Enterprise East Sussex to undertake market research & feasibility studies to anticipate what services their members might need and want to pay for and what sources of funding they could access to pay for services. This information has fed into business plans.

 

Prime Contracting and Management 

Infrastructure organisations can again benefit from having a ready network of organisations who have a common procurement interests. The current government is actively seeking to work with prime contractors who have a sustainable supply chain to deliver services. Some infrastructure organisations have taken on the role of becoming a prime contractor, and facilitating partnerships amongst local providers to bid for work.

Sources of Inspiration

  • Social Enterprise Kent – has operated as a prime contractor on a national and local scale, and supported the capacity of their local supply chain, through initiative such as STAMP. The STAMP Programme is an initiative funded by Kent County Council, Public Health and the Kent Clinical Commissioning Groups to support the development of a network of sustainable Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) organisations with the resources to continue to deliver outstanding adult health and social care services.
  • 3SC wins and manages public services contracts on behalf of third sector organisations. Using a consortium model, we manage the bidding process and build supply chains of local organisations, allowing smaller third sector providers to compete for, and deliver large contracts.
  • Prevista are launching a capacity building programme for their supply chain, as part of their role of achieving the Merlin Accreditation, working with funding streams such as Growth Accelerator and partners including ourselves and others.

Next Steps

  • Social Investment – As a prime contractor it is likely that you will need to secure social investment for managing cashflow or securing social impact bond projects. We have worked with clients to help prepare, pitch and successfully secure social investment for social impact bond projects.
  • Management System – As a prime contractor it is useful to have a robust monitoring system that your supply chain can input data into for reporting purposes. We have actively set up Salesforce CRM systems for prime contractors including Sussex Community Development Association, Social Enterprise North West, Locality, Social Enterprise Kent.
  • Capacity Building your Supply Chain – Your bid is only as good as your supply chain. Your supply chain members need to beable to demonstrate their impact and the robustness of their internal operations to manage, monitor and report on intervention and outcomes to give you a good chance of winning. We are currently working with clients such as Prevista who are working towards their Merlin Accreditation, Social Enterprise East Sussex, Social Enterprise Kent to help them develop the capacity of their supply chain with support on social impact measurement and salesforce CRM.

Social Enterprise Trading Arms

We have seen some infrastructure organisations actively develop and deliver trading arms, to enable them to generate income from the wider market place and not just the VSCE sector. This approach could require a deviation of resources from the core mission of the organisation, which is sometimes a challenge to achieve, but this diversification in income and client base could help you retain your core mission. An alternative approach is about becoming an incubator for spin outs and budding social entrepreneurs and becoming a joint investor. If the proposition is successful it might be a product you could license or franchise to other organisations.

Sources of Inspiration

  • Social Enterprise Kent – Has developed a business to business training proposition that offers a wide suite of accredited and non-accredited training qualifications to businesses and their employees.
  • The Aspire Foundation – Originally, set up to provide business development, management and fundraising support to the network of franchisees. It is now independent of these, developing a core trading facility and estates management service and has since gone on to collaborate and to advise a wide number of organisations that seek to promote social enterprise employment and training opportunities for disadvantaged people.
  • The Young Foundation – The Young Foundation has been instrumental in leading research, driving public debate, and implementing social innovation in the UK and abroad. The Young Foundation has created over 60 organisations, including the Open University, the Consumers’ Association, the Economic and Social Research Council, and the School for Social Entrepreneurs.

Next Steps

  • Feasibility Studies & Business Planning – To decide on which industry to launch a business within, we suggest that a robust feasibility study and business plan is undertaken. We have supported clients such as the Aspire Foundation, Mind in Harrow, SEES and the Young Foundation to undertake feasibility studies and business planning to anticipate and develop new trading services.
  • Social Investment – If you are developing a new product or service you might need to secure social investment. We can help you to navigate the options and present a business plan ready for investment.
  • Commercial Service Management – We have supported many different clients to develop processes and operations for managing the sale of products and services using Salesforce CRM to manage sales, marketing, delivery, and customer service processes.

 

Economic Change can actively support you to develop these propositions, and help you to access funding streams such as and to pay for our support.

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