Over the last six months we have been working at pace to help councils to respond to Covid. Over recent weeks we have also encouraged the people we are working with to step back, reflect on this period and think about what it all means for the future.

A key observation for all the people we have spoken to has been the centrality of the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) in the response to Covid, with many of them expressing a desire to maximise the role of the VCS across the system moving forward. What is less clear to our clients is what this might actually look like. How can the positive energy of today be sustained, while doing the difficult work needed to support communities to ‘bounce forward’ (rather than just ‘bounce back’) and embed new ways of working?


While the conversations with system leaders and council officers were extremely rich, we have distilled three key takeaways from them:

  1. While the response to Covid has propelled some areas forward in their journey towards more joined-up working, this has been patchy and has not been the same experience for the VCS as it has been for Adult Social Care. Some felt that good relationships in local areas have become even stronger, while others described struggling and feeling left behind. This was most acutely felt by some parts of the VCS.
  2. Covid has demonstrated the vast inequalities that exist within and between communities and “exemplified the need for a whole system response to change” (Caroline Abrahams).
  3. Now is the time to start recognising the VCS as system leaders and equal partners, not as a ‘nice-to-have’. The VCS have real expertise around their communities - as subject matter experts and in delivery - and we need to harness this and not suppress it.


“Before we can take action, we need to be comfortable that opportunities and challenges are often the flip side of the same coin” (Sara Storey, DASS, Sheffield City Council).

Three key themes emerged from our discussions.

  1. “Supporting shielded people has created a real shared ambition and there is an opportunity to build on this” Jess Hutchinson, Assistant Director Young Adults, Hampshire County Council
  2. “[We need to think] about what enabling and building independence means for people now, and how to support them to build their confidence where vulnerability has been the leading narrative this year” (Sara Storey, DASS, Sheffield City Council).
  3. “There is an opportunity for the system to recognise that the VCS can lead on local solutions, working with public sector partners, so that people have access to a range of support in challenging times” (Dipika Kaushal, CEO, Voluntary Action Calderdale). Demand for support from the VCS has increased significantly over this period, and there is an opportunity to better understand the potential the shift from acute to community has to improve outcomes for people, if it is invested in and embedded over the longer-term.
  4. We need to “empower and invest in the expertise of the VCS and let them do what they are great at” (John Skidmore, DASS, East Riding of Yorkshire Council). Funding and commissioning has long been a challenge, and there is an opportunity and desire to think collectively about how we enable long-term, outcomes drive relationships which are not limited to tightly scripted specifications and short-term output measures. Local authorities can play a key role in this conversation. “Staff are often on a merry-go-round of short-term contracts. Flexible commissioning that can pivot based upon skills and needs would be a game changer” (Julia Munro, Head of Development, British Red Cross).

Our new report addresses how we ‘bounce forward’ rather than just ‘bounce back’

Download the report here.

Ralph Cook, Director, IMPOWER .

Impower are welcome sponsors of ADASS which furthers our charitable objectives.