two women painting together

Small charities, big impact: thoughts on Small Charities Week

Published: 18/06/20 | Categories: Author: Ruth Marks

This week is Small Charities Week , a week to celebrate the excellent work of small charities. The recent coronavirus pandemic has shown how vital this work is, as demonstrated by the #NeverMoreNeeded campaign. Our CEO Ruth Marks gives her thoughts.

The voluntary sector varies greatly, from small community groups to large multi-national charities, with each organisation not only playing a unique role in serving its users but also in their scale and contributions. WCVA works to support all of these varying organisations to make a bigger difference together.

Here in Wales, micro- and small charities make up more of the sector than elsewhere in the UK. Over half (53%) are micro-charities and nearly one-third (32%) are small charities[1].   This means that so much of the essential work carried out by the voluntary sector is delivered through smaller organisations.

The glue that holds us together

But being small can be a huge advantage in the right circumstances. Many of the unique properties of smaller organisations are derived from their size and scale, as identified by The Lloyd’s Bank Foundation (a major funder of small and medium sized charities). They argue that this includes a better response to local needs, better representation of the local community, and agility in decision-making means that these organisations are often the ‘glue that holds services and communities together’.

A great example of this is Stephens and George Centenary Charitable Trust, in Merthyr Tydfil, which was launched with the purpose of investing in the education of young people – in response to the low literacy levels in the area.

From its new building, the Dowlais Community Centre, it offers over fifty classes including archery and salsa dancing to engage people in the community. It also offers a music studio, gym, community cafe, and gardening project.

The Trust has been able to adapt to the coronavirus outbreak; 47 new volunteers have joined and they’ve delivered 900 educational packs for young people across the borough, provided over 3,500 free food parcels to families and moved some of their activities online – including art, history, and chess.

Distributing funding to smaller charities

The Covid-19 crisis has had  a devastating effect on the financial resilience of the voluntary sector, especially for smaller charities which are less likely to have reserves. Many have also faced difficulties as government funding has changed in recent years, meaning it is hard for smaller organisations to apply for contracts or grants. Which in turn could mean a reduction in the number of people that can be supported by these organisations in the future.

WCVA has played a key role in distributing funding to help smaller charities. Most notably in recent months as we have enabled small charities to support their communities following the impact of the floods in February, and to provide new services through the coronavirus pandemic.

For example, Toogoodtowaste is a re-use charity based in Rhondda Cynon Taf. They collect donated furniture, electrical and household items from members of the public and after quality controlling, servicing, repairing and cleaning the items, they return them to residents. Storm Dennis caused a peak in demand for their services and WCVA funding enabled them to continue this essential service.

And more recently, the Centre for African Entrepreneurship, a Swansea based charity, utilised Voluntary Services Emergency funding to work on reducing isolation, anxiety and hunger. The Centre provided bespoke online and telephone services, and food collection and delivery activities to 200 people, including migrants, refugees and asylum seekers who feel isolated.

Active Inclusion

It is clear that with the right support, smaller charities can be central to our economic and health recovery. WCVA has run the Active Inclusion programme since 2014, using European Structural Funds to reduce economic inactivity in Wales and improve the employability of disadvantaged people.

Active Inclusion funding has been awarded to many small charities to support people into work. These smaller organisations are community-based and adaptable, and so they can provide a different kind of support.

For example, Môn CF, in Ynys Môn, originally established to support the most deprived areas of the island as part of Welsh Government’s Communities First scheme, but since 2012 it has evolved to become the go-to organisation for individuals looking for help to upskill, find work and progress in the Anglesey area.

Their current Active Inclusion-funded project offers both practical and structured support for those not in employment, as well as one-to-one support from experienced mentors encouraging participants to gain skills, improve self-confidence and help them find jobs.  They also offer 16 week supported employment opportunities, with an end goal of permanent positions for their participants.

A different future

Looking to the future, we hope that Wales is able to support more amazing small voluntary organisations to contribute to their communities. For example, small charities could play an exciting role as part of the wider social prescribing space – helping to improve people’s health through non-clinical services.

With the right support and policy in place, Wales could work to ensure that small charities can continue to use their distinct attributes to deliver real benefits for communities right across Wales as we enter into a different future.

[1] Micro-charities have a turnover of less than £10,000, small charities less than £100,000.