What does a greener, fairer, stronger future mean for the VCSE sector?

22 October 2020

Caroline O’Neill, Head of Policy and Partnerships at Community First Yorkshire, provides a view from the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector of plan to reshape our economy for a greener, fairer and stronger future.


Covid-19 has required us all to reimagine how we work and how to plan to rebuild our businesses and communities.  Whether you are involved in production, commissioning services or providing grants and funding, involved in community support or leisure activities, a private sector business or charity or community group, working in government or planning local services, or are part of the service economy, Covid-19 has created the need to adapt and respond to changing circumstances.


The York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has been no exception to organisations responding to change, with the need to revisit the Local Industrial Strategy (LIS) and Economic plan.  The LIS provides the wider and longer term context for planning and implementing the Covid-19 Economic Recovery Plan – Reshaping our economy for a greener, fairer and stronger future.


Over the past few months, Community First Yorkshire, along with other partners, has been working with the LEP to develop a plan to reshape the economy to address the challenges arising from Covid-19 and prioritise areas for investment, support and collaboration.   As well as drafting the overall plan and identifying ‘ten pledges’, colleagues have met to discuss four thematic topics: Place and Infrastructure, People and Community, Business and Innovation, and Land Use and Environment.


Community First Yorkshire has been part of the Place and Infrastructure and People and Community meetings, enabling us to provide the perspective of the VCSE sector. We have shared our views of the future with private sector, business networks and local authority partners and worked collaboratively.  It has been an excellent opportunity to talk about the breadth of the sectors’ contribution during this crisis period, and the value of voluntary groups and charities to our economic growth and the health and wellbeing of people in our communities.  Conversations about rebuilding our market towns and communities have created a stronger shared understanding of the contribution that all parts of our business community, including voluntary organisations and charities, make towards creating a greener, fairer and stronger economy.  Re-energising our market towns and city centres, and supporting the opening up of our coast areas and visitor attractions recognises the importance of VCSE organisations to build on the community cohesion we have seen during Covid-19.


Commenting on the ten pledges and priorities for actions gives voice to the practical work of the voluntary and community groups, which have played a significant role in this period, working in communities, creating local networks and reaching people who would not otherwise access help.


Having the VCSE voice round the table meant we were able to bring a different perspective to the People and Community conversations:

–          recognising the vital role VCSE organisations play alongside private and public sector organisations to build a more inclusive economy

–          providing observations and insight about the various challenges on the horizon, in particular talking about the impact of loneliness and isolation people are feeling working from home or self-isolating and the demand on debt advice services helping people to manage their finances and access state support

–          highlighting the importance of community buildings in our market towns and village halls across our rural areas, as places to create new touchdown points for home workers to meet others and venues which bring people together for activities and conversation

–          calling for information to be provided on where job opportunities are for people looking at retraining and deciding on the best route for them to take to find employment

–          enhancing careers and training information, advice and guidance (IAG) to help people retrain and upskill as part of the recovery. This is particularly relevant for young people across the LEP area, especially those leaving school and university at this time.  The Government’s Kickstart programme is an important strand for providing work experience, to help young people get on the first rung of the career ladder and VCSEs can play a part in this

–          highlighting the role which volunteering can play as part of the mix of opportunities for people to maintain their skills, retrain and work in new sectors.


Reshaping our economy is also about building on the positives we have been experiencing:

–          home working has given the area a real and unique opportunity for people to live here and ‘work’ anywhere, which has been a long-term ambition, especially in rural and coastal communities

–          retention of young people in the area they grew up in, may now have a different dynamic with more acceptance of remote working, which links with the need for ensuring good digital infrastructure and connectivity

–          the importance of local supply chains, and in particular the role NHS organisations (GPs, hospitals) and social care have as local anchor institutions in driving the economy.


The LEP recovery plan is clear and focussed for impact and to further the ambitions for York and North Yorkshire. There is an opportunity to align the recovery plan, with those of other public sector organisations, for greater impact and in particular working together to make the most of our local communities, we can make a step-change towards greener, fairer and stronger York and North Yorkshire.



Caroline O’Neill

Head of Policy and Partnerships

Community First Yorkshire

19 October 2020

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