Voluntary organisations across Gloucestershire could be transformed by The Growth Hub

Exciting plans are underway which could plug Gloucestershire’s extraordinary provider of support for businesses, The Growth Hub, into the county’s voluntary sector – with the potential to transform hundreds of charities and the work they do.

By Andrew Merrell  |  Published
The incredible support already helping drive the Gloucestershire's business community could be about to be made available to its voluntary sector too.

Gloucestershire's drive to achieve a level of joined-up thinking that could have a huge impact on some of the county's most needy, if it can access funding to allow a ground-breaking relationship to flourish between business support experts and the county's voluntary sector.

If successful, the bid will allow the incredible services of The Gloucester Growth Hub, which has been supporting businesses big and small countywide for almost a decade, to open a dedicated suite of skills development for the Gloucestershire VCS Alliance, that represents hundreds of volunteer organisations and charities.

The proposed skills development programme would see VCS members able to access The Gloucester Growth Hub’s huge pool of resources – focused on everything from problem solving, leadership, management and productivity, to how to secure funding, deliver business plans, drive change, instil best-practice and attain targets.

Cate Hemingway, head of sector innovation at Gloucestershire VCS Alliance, came to her post after moving to Gloucestershire in the Covid-19 pandemic, and has been key to helping to engineer the potential game-changer.

‘It was just an idea to start with. We had been looking at ways of making the VCSE sector in Gloucestershire more sustainable and agile. It is difficult times for many.

‘After listening to the sector, I identified four different areas it would be helpful to support with; leadership, governance, finance and communications,' she said.

The VCS Alliance is a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO) set up in 2013 with the backing of Gloucestershire County Council.

The Gloucester Growth Hub, at the University of Gloucestershire's Oxstalls Campus, Longlevens.

'To start with all we wanted was somewhere to hold some meetings and The Growth Hub at Oxtsalls was an obvious venue – accessible, easy to get to, plenty of parking – but we got talking and the potential was obvious.

‘As soon as we talked about that – of some of these groups plugging into some of the same services The Growth Hub delivers for businesses – we immediately saw the potential impact it could have for the county and the VCSE sector.

'The Growth Hub team could not have been more positive and pro-active. They have bent over backwards for us,’ added Hemingway, who has studied and taught at both Cambridge and Oxford universities.

She also has more than three decades experience working  in the voluntary sector, in management and service delivery roles, including running a charity abroad, and is a qualified social worker and psychologist.

Gloucestershire has already made a lasting impression on her.

‘I have never come across anything like the Gloucester Growth Hub before. I think it is a pioneer. It is a space you can just got to, for free, to work or for support. It is a huge resource,' said Hemingway.

Alex Cottrell, Gloucester Growth Hub manager, said: 'The Growth Hub has been based on site at the University of Gloucestershire since 2014 and during that time, along with the wider county Growth Hub network, we have supported thousands of businesses in their ambition to grow, create new jobs and drive productivity.

Neil Smith, of Cheltenham-based managed IT specialists ReformIT delivers a seminar at The Growth Hub.

'Whilst we have been able to offer support to individual charities in the past, working with Cate and the VCS team on a dedicated programme like this is really positive, and represents an exciting step forward in future partnership working to address specific community and group needs.'

Hemingway added: ‘The voluntary sector in Gloucestershire has grown since lockdown; the number of organisations has grown.

'That is good in terms of the amount and variety of support available, but it creates challenges in other ways. There is a finite amount of money and an increasing number of people competing for it.

‘For us, this is about encouraging a system shift for our members, tweaking what is there already to work better, perhaps getting organisations to work together to create a stronger bid to win funding rather than compete against one another. It is about finding ways to work more efficiently and effectively with the resources we have.

‘The job of VCSE sector and all those within it is ultimately about tackling inequality. It is the fundamental thing that binds us all together.

‘If we are able to get the funding to make this relationship happen it could have an enormous impact on Gloucestershire.’

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