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Partnerships Make Progress

Significant progress has been made in the development of voluntary community partnerships and co-operatives in South Tyneside, councillors will be told next week.

With the public sector facing unprecedented financial challenges, the vital role played by volunteers, community groups and the third sector is becoming increasingly important.

A report to the Borough Council highlights that much work has been done over the past year to strengthen this important area of work.

Councillor Nancy Maxwell, Lead Member for Voluntary Sector Partnerships and Co-operatives, said: "Against a background of depleting government funding, the third sector is proving to be enormously important as it can help us to deliver services that our residents rely on.

"We need to look at new methods of delivery so that sustainable services can continue to be provided for the people of the Borough."

A Third Sector Strategy has been developed which is driving much of the progress in this area.

One of the key changes is the formation of a single, overarching organisation following consultation with the third sector last year. Called Inspire South Tyneside, the new organisation is a result of a merger between the Community Voluntary Sector (CVS) and HealthNet.

Working closely with the Council, Inspire South Tyneside provides a platform for the effective dissemination of information, advice and guidance. It also provides a brokerage service, matching volunteers with opportunities available.

To help community groups maximise their funding opportunities, a Community Funding Portal has been developed. This can be accessed by anyone in the community who wants to find out about and apply for funds and is being increasingly used by groups seeking to find funding sources.

A Funding Forum has also been established which shares information on external funding bids and opportunities and identifies areas of collaboration. A number of events have already been held to help community organisations access funding more effectively.

Members will also be told that a Community Pride Strategy is being produced to provide a more strategic partnership approach to develop and support volunteering within the Borough while the Council will create its own volunteering policy.

Councillor Maxwell added: "Volunteers make a huge positive impact on a variety of social, cultural and economic issues.

"Volunteering can empower people and help communities to fulfil their potential. Our army of volunteers play an increasingly important role in the Borough and it is only right that we do all we can to support them."

The report highlights that the Council has agreed in principle to transfer 19 facilities to a range of social enterprises. Some of these assets have already successfully formally transferred, such as South Tyneside Gymnastics Centre which is now earning a national reputation as a centre of excellence. Run by a community interest company, it provides activities for more than 500 regular users and has overseen significant investment in the building and expansion of activities since the formal transfer.

The community asset transfer is a good example of how the Council is working towards its ambition to become a 'co-operative council.' A cooperative council is one that works in partnership with local community organisations to get the maximum from all of the resources available for the area. In doing this, it builds the four key values of honesty, openness, fairness and social responsibility into its day to day business.

The report will be presented at next Thursday's Borough Council meeting.


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