Local charities stretched to breaking, with half not sure of surviving

On the first-ever local charities day, our report reveals an uncertain future for many small charities, despite three in four seeing demand rise

Fewer than half of local charities are confident they will still be around in five years. It’s a shocking statistic, particularly given the fact that organisations with an annual income of less than £100,000 make up the vast majority of the UK’s voluntary sector.

On Local Charities Day, 16 December, Localgiving’s second annual report [pdf] on the sustainability of local charity and community groups finds a sector stretched to breaking point. Despite three in four organisations reporting a continued increase in demand for their services, 60% say they know of one or more local groups that have been forced to close in the last year alone.

Talking to the hardworking people behind these organisations, we hear passionate voices frustrated by a constant uphill struggle. Linzie, for instance, is the only paid staff member at Chelwood Foodbankplus, an independent charity operating four food banks in Stockport and the surrounding area that helps hundreds of people each month. She says community support is high but her organisation still struggles to make ends meet.

Linzie’s role covers everything from running the operations and managing volunteers to writing grant applications. Contracted for just 16 hours a week, she regularly works more than 40. The charity is supported by a number of volunteers, but they come and go because of other commitments.

Like many of the groups we at Localgiving support, Chelwood has seen a massive increase in demand for its services as a result of job insecurity and zero hours contracts. Many people are referred by the police and other government agencies, but the charity receives no public sector funding for its work.

As a local independent group, Chelwood often finds itself overshadowed by national organisations and their teams of professional fundraisers. Generating food donations at local level is increasingly difficult, with many national supermarkets stopping collections altogether. Linzie says people often tell her they have donated to Chelwood via a food bin in a local shop, not realising it is going to a different national network. She fears for Chelwood’s future. The process of applying for grants is confusing and overwhelming, making gaining funding a constant battle. Despite being aware of the resources and training available to help with fundraising, she simply doesn’t have the time to dedicate to learning.

Linzie’s story is just one of many. The issues facing the local voluntary sector are complex and wide-ranging – and there is no silver bullet. Much good work is being done to raise awareness, funding and support for local charities and community groups, from training opportunities to matched funding campaigns. But there is plenty more to do to ensure these unique organisations are able to continue helping local people in the future.

Talk to us on Twitter via @Gdnvoluntary and join our community for your free Guardian Voluntary Sector monthly newsletter, with analysis and opinion sent direct to you on the first Thursday of the month.

Lou Coady

The GuardianTramp

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