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This week we’re speaking to Jo McGrath, Strategic Lead for Sector3, an infrastructure company focussed on supporting VCSE organisations across Stockport and Greater Manchester. Sector3 is pivotal to the success of many VCSE organisations, especially in the current climate as we slowly emerge from Covid.

Jo, thanks for allowing us the time in your busy diary to have a chat. We’re looking forward to understanding more about Sector3, the VCSE sector it supports, and the wider economy generated off the back of many of the organisations you support.

Firstly though, I’m sure many people reading this want me to start by asking what VCSE stands for?

Ha ha ha I get that a lot when I speak to people outside of the sector – it is another of life’s acronyms, but it stands for Voluntary, Charitable and Social Enterprise Sector. I need to also add Faith into that explanation as well, as we support a number of faith organisations across the region. Sector3 works alongside a range of organisations to support their various needs and help to guide them in their thought making process to ensure their ventures are a success.

Ok, thanks for clearing that one up to start with, let’s move on to our first question: How then has the VCSE sector been impacted over the last six months and how is it recovering?

Sadly, the sector has seen an unprecedented demand on its services, coupled with a reduction in income for many groups.

The income has dropped because regular and much needed fundraising efforts have had to be put on pause due of social distancing. Some organisations we support have also seen a reduction in volunteer numbers as their volunteers come from the group that have been shielding – usually older people, who have time on their hands through retirement.

Positively however, what we have seen is new volunteers coming through, those who wouldn’t traditionally have the time because of work commitments but have found themselves on furlough.

Many VCSE organisations are now trying to find ways to recover and a number of organisations have come forward to support the sector either through grant giving or donations. All VCSE organisations are reliant on funding of some sort, so we work with groups to highlight and signpost them to the funding stream right for their organisation.

So Sector3 is playing a vital role in Stockport, can you explain in a little more detail, the wider role it plays?

Sector3 is here to support the sector, we do this through a number of activities, such as accessing grant funding, helping to signpost organisations to support for their organisation, finding volunteers, raising money to invest in the sector.

We also work as advocates on behalf of sector, making sure the important work the sector does is recognised and celebrated. Something that is all too often forgotten or overshadowed by big multi-million-pound businesses.

You mentioned earlier about funding, Sector3 has recently raised £45,000 with the help of its partners through its #KeepStockportCaring campaign. How will this money help the VCSE sector?

Every penny of the money we raised has be re-invested back into the sector to enable organisations to continue the vital work they do. When we were initially hit with the lockdown back in April, it soon became apparent that the VCSE sector was going to be hit hard by Covid. Many of the organisations we support carry out critical work in our communities which is often overlooked, such as domestic violence support and providing food bank provisions to those who need it most.

Sadly stats now show that we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of reported incidents of domestic violence during lockdown, teamed with extra pressures on families due to one or more parent being furloughed. This has put additional pressures on finances, therefore impacting on their ability to buy food. Food bank visits through the peak of the pandemic increased by 122%! A staggering and shocking increase in anyone’s book.

Sector3 decided that we couldn’t sit around and watch vital, usually unsupported organisation suffer, so we set up our #KeepStockportCaring fund and asked businesses, partners, stakeholder, such as Housing Associations to help raise the much-needed funds. We had a staggering response and raised £45,000. This money is, as we speak being transferred to those groups who need it most – everything from crisis support and food banks through to sporting groups and faith groups.

Looking forward Jo, what does the future look like for the VCSE sector?

Sadly, the sector still has a tough time ahead, much like other organisations such as private and public sector organisations, the VCSE sector will feel the impact of the pandemic for years to come.

The very nature of VCSE organisations is that they work at the grassroots of communities, they will be the first responders in dealing with the impact the pandemic has on health inequalities, unemployment, poverty, education and housing.

The VCSE sector’s role shouldn’t be underestimated and will be a key partner in the economic recovery and social recovery of our borough and beyond. We all need to support the VCSE sector to come through this, whether that is donating time, money or specialist expertise. To coin a phrase already used – ‘Every little helps’.

To find out more about the work Sector3 is carrying out, visit their website at www.sector3sk.org or follow them on social media:

Twitter: @Sector3SK

Facebook: @Sector3SK

Linkedin: /Sector3

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