State of the Southwark Sector 2015

Southwark’s Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) is a key part of the fabric of society and crucial to the wellbeing of local people. Community Action Southwark (CAS) conducted research in 2012/13 as a foundation for their Value the VCS campaign to raise policymakers’ appreciation of the importance of the sector. In early 2015 they repeated this research in order to see what has changed.

What did we find out?

Southwark has a large VCS, reflecting its history as an impoverished and unequal borough, its diverse communities and its central London location. The sector ranges from large ‘household name’ organisations like the Salvation Army and British Legion, to tiny unconstituted neighbourhood and community groups. Incomes range from around £125million p/a to absolutely nothing. The majority of small organisations operate with no paid staff, but together local charities employ around 15,000 people.

In an ongoing climate of austerity it remains crucial that we continually demonstrate the value of our work and of the sector’s approach. The research therefore updates our data on employment and spending by local charities, the massive contribution of volunteers (which in financial terms would cost over £47million a year) and the preventative and crisis-level work organisations carry out (61% and 33% of organisations respectively).

Along with obvious areas like education, health, the arts, and support for children and families, the VCS works on topics from horticulture and parks to transport for the disabled. The ‘soft’ support provided is valued highly by users. We have a very large local faith sector (with 466 Christian charities alone) and organisations supporting people from specific ethnic backgrounds and their ancestral regions across the globe, reflecting adaptation to a changing population.

It was no surprise to find that funding and increased demand are primary concerns, and problems like premises and recruiting volunteers affect some groups. There is demand for unrestricted and core funding as well as difficulties in applying for and delivering contracts – particularly when competing with larger and private organisations. As in 2012, the proportion of organisations which fear they may have to close within the year is at a concerning 11%.

CAS emphasises the importance of good governance and strategy, collaboration and impact analysis in helping organisations deal with these difficulties. However, more than half of VCOs are still not measuring the impact of what they do. While 81% say they are collaborating in some way, 67% are not sharing any resources and this needs to be addressed.

CAS will continue to use the research findings to develop their support and speak up on behalf of voluntary and community organisations. The irreplaceable contribution of the sector is essential to the sustainable wellbeing of our communities.

If you have any questions about this research please contact Rachel Clarkson, Senior Policy Officer: or 0207 358 7020.