Hounslow VCSE Survey Report 2023

Below is Hounslow’s Annual VCSE (Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise) Survey finding report for 2023.

To read more about each section/theme, expand the boxes below.

The majority of our respondents are well-established VCSE organisations that have been operating for over 10 years, and 95% having operated for over 3 years.

In terms of organisation size, 34% of our respondents reported annual financial turnover within the medium band of ‘£50,001-£250,000’; 19% reported in the turnover band of £50,001-£100,000. A higher proportion of medium to larger respondent organisations than previous years (in terms of annual turnover) may indicate those most resourced to engage. Nationally, there has been a decline in small- medium sized organisations (according to the NCVO Research findings) which can be attributed to the strain on the sector through cost pressures. Nevertheless, all sector surveys are reliant on the organisations that respond, and therefore, the decline in small-medium respondent organisations of both national and local surveys may reflect resource capacity rather than actual reduction in numbers.

In 2020/21, NCVO found that ‘social services’ were the most common type of provision from VCSE sector organisations. Hounslow’s VCSE Survey respondents broadly aligned with this, with 60% classifying provision as supporting ‘Health and Wellbeing’ services in 2021 as shown in Chart 4. In 2023, ‘Health and Wellbeing’ services are still the most common type of provision although the proportion of respondents providing these types of services has reduced to 44% (potentially due to Covid). The main beneficiaries of service provision from 2023 respondents were BAME communities, Children and Young People, Parents and Families, and People with Disabilities.

Nationally, the ongoing cost of living crisis has negatively impacted volunteering numbers and morale nationally, with 53% of organisation reporting difficulties retaining and recruiting volunteers in April/May 2023, up from 43% in January 2023 in the CAF Charity Resilience Index research.

For Hounslow, 45% of survey respondents also reported volunteer ‘recruitment and retention’ challenges in 2023. Specifically, respondents noted issues in recruiting specifically new volunteers and younger volunteers. National sector research suggests that the declining rates of home working may have left potential volunteers with less time to dedicate to voluntary work. In addition, the rising cost of living can also pose challenges for the availability of volunteers, as the crisis increases economic strain on households and consequently exacerbates the need for paid work. Difficulties in recruitment of volunteers may prevent growing capacity as organisations are forced to either recruit a paid workforce – a further strain of resources – or lower operational capacity.

Despite difficulties of recruitment, our survey is reporting proportionately more organisations with monthly volunteers compared with previous years. Whilst in 2019, 18% of respondents reported no monthly volunteers, this has reduced to 3% in 2023, despite the pandemic and cost of living crisis effects outlined above. Whilst only 3% of organisations had no monthly volunteers, Chart 7 shows 30% of respondent organisations had no paid staff. This reiterates the reliance of Hounslow’s VCSE survey respondents on their committed voluntary support.

The Council supports VCSE organisations to strengthen the skill base of their workforce by offering training. Respondents noted the organisational skill shortages that would most benefit from training is ‘Networking and developing relationships’, which has overtaken ‘Using websites and social media’ when compared with 2022 (Chart 8).

The nature of many VCSE services necessitates face-to-face delivery and 61% of respondents operate under a completely face-to-face model currently, and the rest of the respondents delivering a hybrid model of operation. This may give some context to how the VCSE sector was affected by the pandemic, seen on a national scale, with lockdown and social distancing prohibiting many activities. Nevertheless, in Hounslow's 2021 published VCSE Sector Survey (which is linked on the contents page), resilience was shown through adaptability evidenced by 53% of respondents in that year having changed the way they delivered services to online.

A higher proportion of respondents noted needing different types of facilities and spaces in comparison with 2022. Accessibility and transport are the biggest barriers to service users for VCSE organisations. This is significant given the people reported as being the main groups supported by these organisations, are those who may have greater accessibility needs (e.g. people with disabilities), or those reliant on public transport (e.g. children and young people). Issues around accessibility may prevent people who need support from receiving it, especially when a high proportion of the support is face-to-face only.

Chart 12 shows Hounslow’s community of VCSE sector organisation with 83% of respondents having collaborated with another local VCSE sector over the past year. Overall, the top three reasons for collaboration/ partnership were for services (48%), space (24%) and funding (24%).

The Council is the second top collaborator with 71% of respondents having worked with Hounslow Council in some capacity over the past year. Many have taken part in Local Government engagement activities. Most common methods were responses to policy engagement (69%), attendance at a workshop (61%) and writing to a local councillor (50%). When asked about how organisations would like to be communicated with about general news, funding, service or policy development, respondents favoured newsletters (81%), online forums on specific topics (55%) and in-person forums on specific topics (52%). This may speak to the VCSE limited capacity to attend forums as opposed to reading a newsletter.

Chart 4 showed the most common type of service provision from survey respondents as ‘Health and Wellbeing’, this gives the opportunity for much greater engagement with health organisations with comparatively low collaboration and partnership with the NHS and related bodies. Nationally, the NHS notes the importance of the VCSE sector engagement with health.

The VCSE sector is eager for more collaboration in the future, with 90% of respondents interested in more opportunities to work with other organisations. The perception of what this may look like was varied, but most commonly include opportunities to network, share information and work together to deliver services. Being involved in policy development and strategic partnership boards was also rated highly. Earlier questions identified networking skills as an area of interest for some free training, which could equip staff and volunteers to further seek collaboration opportunities between organisations for the future. Respondents noted that council engagement and collaboration could be improved through having a named, single point of contact to enable rapport building with VCSE organisations. This was important to respondents for both clarity and to ensure an established understanding of the organisations in Hounslow’s VCSE sector.

In the context of Covid, and the Cost-of-Living Crisis, there have been various funding options available to the VCSE sector organisations. There are very few respondents who rely on only one funding stream for all their income. Highlighted through the pandemic, where many VCSE organisations suffered loss of income through closure of charity shops and no fundraising events, the diversification of funding streams speaks to the development of resilience in this sector.

Chart 17 shows that respondent organisations in Hounslow’s VCSE Sector survey have overwhelmingly (72%) experienced increased expenditure, as expected through rising national costs, but our sample showed many organisations had unchanging income positions. Increasing expenditure, whilst income is somewhat consistent, reflects the national sector challenges around the continuing Cost of Living Crisis and inflation rates. Nevertheless, if overall expenditure is increasing, whilst reported income is stagnant, this builds pressures on the sector.

When asked to rate the support they receive from the Council, respondents rated the Community Partnership Unit, Ealing and Hounslow CVS and Mental Health and Wellbeing Group the highest. To meet their organisation’s needs over the next 4-5 years, respondents wanted to see further support from the Council on funding advice, including bid writing, to help create sustainability of finances and fully benefit from the funding and Government support available. Additionally, respondents spoke of the need for more training discussed in Chart 20.

Resilience of the National VCSE sector has been crucial over the past few years due to the pandemic and continues to be through the Cost-of-Living Crisis. Charity Aid Foundation reported that in September 2023, more than half of charities were worried about survival and 41% cannot help more people than current numbers due to capacity. Survey respondents also reported a similar narrative with 38% of organisations struggling to meet demand due to the Cost-of-Living Crisis, and 41% of respondents foreseeing meeting demand as one of the biggest challenges to their organisations in the next 1-3 years, up from 32% in the previous year.

Nationally, only 30% of organisations felt confident in the security of their funding which has led to cutbacks in some organisations (CAF, 2023). For Hounslow, 31% of respondents were confident in their organisation’s financial stability with secured funding. A further 44% were confident in their organisation’s finances but without having secured funding, which may speak to the diversification of funding streams that Hounslow’s VCSE sector use (as outlined in theme page ‘support/funding’).

High levels of confidence for the future from respondents suggests fair resilience in Hounslow’s VCSE sector, despite ongoing concerns around demand management and volunteer recruitment noted in earlier pages of this report. 60% of respondents noted that one of the biggest challenges for the next 1-3 years is creating a sustainable funding base, and many funding streams are unlikely to be long-term solutions, for example, a third of respondents received time limited Covid funding from Hounslow Council or other funders. Confidence in organisations' financial position for the next year is fairly high although fewer organisations have secured their funding for next year. Reported higher expenditure than income of VCSE organisations from our survey links to another top challenge (income generation) being faced in the next 1-3 years for Hounslow’s VCSE sector (Chart 24).

Despite challenges in the economic environment for the VCSE sector, there are many strengths and opportunities in Hounslow’s VCSE sector. Dedication of staff and passion for volunteering are reflected through Hounslow’s base of committed volunteers who continue to provide invaluable support to residents. Respondents also noted the many opportunities to expand on the success of the sector, through collaboration (as elaborated on in the engagement page) and networking to ensure information is shared widely amongst the local VCSE organisations.