Lilla Farkas from the Third Sector European Team (3-SET) is looking back at 22 years of supporting the voluntary sector to access European funding.
It is the end of an era for WCVA as the Third Sector European Team (3-SET) is saying goodbye this summer. The work of the current 3-SET team has been built on the success of its two predecessor projects which date back to 2001, all funded through the European Structural Funds and Welsh Government.
For over 20 years the support has enabled the voluntary sector in Wales to benefit from European funding in a unique way compared to other nations. This funding has supported organisations, communities and importantly, people, who may have struggled to access other mainstream provision.
We’ve provided a voice to the sector to give some control over how the funding programmes have been designed and delivered. It has helped organisations build and develop their knowledge and skills in managing and delivering complex funding streams and has provided a space to develop co-operative relationships across institutions and sectors both here in Wales and within the EU.
While the overall aims and activities of these projects remained the same throughout the years, the sector was able to influence and focus the activity to address the specific needs organisations and communities were facing in each funding period.
VOLUNTARY SECTOR SUPPORT UNIT
It all started with the launch of the Voluntary Sector Support Unit (VSSU) in 2001, which was designed to help the voluntary sector’s involvement in the European Structural Funds under the 2000-2006 funding period.
In addition to providing hands-on support to organisations, the project also enabled WCVA to widen and strengthen the sector’s role in the strategic governance and oversight of the Structural Funds, through representation on steering groups and partnerships including the Programme Monitoring Committee.
3-SET IN THE 2007-2013 FUNDING PERIOD
Building on the experience and success of the VSSU project, WCVA launched the Third Sector European Team (3-SET) project in 2008. The 2007-2013 funding period saw the introduction of a more strategic approach in how funds were allocated in Wales. This meant that funds went to fewer and larger projects, providing a significant challenge to the sector in accessing this vital support.
The nature of 3-SET’s support moved to have a strategic focus to ensure the sector was supported in the most appropriate way. We facilitated networking between organisations benefitting from European Structural Funds, and provided representation for the sector in strategic level discussions. In addition, 3-SET was also working as part of the wider Spatial European Teams (SET) network (later renamed as Specialist European Teams network), complementing the work of the four regional, local authority led SETs.
3-SET IN THE 2014-2020 FUNDING PERIOD
In 2014 the final evaluation of 3-SET was published. This report highlighted the project’s success and the considerable demand for its services. In doing so, it evidenced the need for, and ultimately recommended, the continuation of its services in the following funding programme.
This brings us to 2015, when the current technical assistance operation was launched, this time using a two-pronged approach. This meant that in addition to delivering 3-SET, WCVA would also be an Intermediate Body, enabling it to distribute European funds on behalf of the Welsh Government. The WCVA Intermediate Body is the only voluntary sector body of its type in the UK, and its establishment acknowledged the significant impact and success of the voluntary sector’s involvement in the funding programmes so far.
A defining moment for 3-SET came less than a year into the project: the outcome of the Brexit referendum added a new workstream to the 3-SET work programme. This was not anticipated at the time of the project’s inception, but thanks to the flexible design of the operation, 3-SET was able to respond quickly.
The team was uniquely placed to provide strategic support and direction to the voluntary sector at a time of extreme uncertainty. The challenges were aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost of living crisis. Focussing on protecting the legacy of European funding and helping the sector transition to the new and relatively unknown funding landscape became a priority.
When the UK Government announced that it would seek to replace the European Structural Funds with the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, 3-SET quickly moved to understand, inform and influence its development. Over the years the team has engaged with a wide range of stakeholders and political actors, representing the wider voluntary sector position on how the future funding arrangements need to work for our communities across Wales.
LOOKING BACK AND FORWARD
With the imminent closure of 3-SET, now is a good time to look back on the past two decades of European funding support, and to look forward to the future. Looking back, EU funding has played a major role in improving the lives of many people in Wales – as recently highlighted in our impact report – and WCVA is proud to have helped deliver this.
Looking forwards, it’s clear that there are still many unanswered questions and opportunities to improve the delivery of the funding strands that have replaced European funding. Where the capacity and support will come for this work is still an open question.
Over the years we have collaborated, supported, and worked alongside too many people and organisations to mention, but we would like to thank each one of you for coming on this journey with us. While the next chapter may not be clear, we are confident the sector will continue to make a positive impact for our communities in Wales!