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The Vital Role of the North East's Voluntary Sector

Over the past couple of years, a large number of our clients here at Genee have come from the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE). This is due to our partnership in the Become Green Together programme, an initiative aimed at helping the North East voluntary sector become more sustainable, led by VONNE and funded by The National Lottery Community Fund and County Durham Community Foundation.


As part of this initiative, Genee deliver the Investors in the Environment (iiE) accreditation scheme to participating organisations, a 12 month programme in which organisations create or develop an effective environmental management system. Due to the funding available as outlined above, organisations have access to discounted or fully funded environmental support, an essential opportunity for a sector which is often restricted by limited resource but is significant in scale and impact within our communities.


The VCSE sector is worth £1.65 billion in the North East, according to the Community Foundation, which rises to £5.86 billion if you include ‘added value’. This unique social value created by the VCSE sector is delivered by over 7000 organisations across the North East, who collectively employ over 37,000 people and engage with more than 152,000 volunteers.


Trusted advocates for the community


Working with Become Green Together has given us an excellent insight into how the VCSE sector is a trusted advocate for our diverse communities in the North East, and a significant player when it comes to tackling the climate emergency and the pressures which come with it. The sector is values led, with aims to work towards the greater good and improving lives outweighing typical business drivers.


Climate change and the environment is the fourth most pressing issue for adults in the U.K. as of November 2023, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), but many feel overwhelmed with the issue and how to make an effective difference. ONS data in 2022 found that individuals either feel that their changes will have no affect, or it is too costly to make environmentally conscious changes to their lifestyles.


These concerns are not dissimilar to the pressures facing the VCSE sector when it comes to environmental action. This is why at Genee, we use the iiE scheme to simplify environmental action for organisations and businesses, meeting them where they are at. The iiE accreditation scheme acknowledges the primary drawbacks for businesses tacking environmental action: resources, time and capacity, a reality which is particularly true for the voluntary sector.


Through the iiE programme, participating organisations have access to a wide range of templates, from environmental policies to staff travel questionnaires, as well as training videos and courses designed to accommodate for those with limited capacity. With the staged approach within iiE, organisations will benefit from the programme whether they are an environmental novice with limited action taken so far, or a seasoned sustainability veteran with existing policies and procedures in place.     

  

Jacqui Coulson, Finance Director at Durham County Carers said “joining the Investors in the Environment Bronze Award initially felt quite daunting and we were unsure how it would impact on our Charity. However, with Jo’s assistance, the process has been straightforward and highly rewarding. Some of the initiatives have not only lessened our environmental footprint but also contributed to significant cost savings for the Charity. We’re now actively progressing towards the Silver Award.”


The wider impact


Part of the iiE programme and audit process looks at the environmental and social projects our members deliver to get a full picture of an organisations approach to sustainability and the wider impact they can have within their communities. This means we get to see first-hand the huge impact the VCSE sector has within the communities they engage with, and how the learnings from their participation in the project can filter down to extend this impact and influence. From festivals and community litter picks, to repair cafes and creating bird boxes and bug hotels with young people, the scope for sharing knowledge and supporting environmental action within our communities is vast and a somewhat unique opportunity for the VCSE sector.


Harnessing the power of community action is essential when tackling the climate emergency, and as noted by The National Lottery Community Fund, “it offers personal solutions to something that can seem intimidatingly large and abstract”.


Managing Director at Genee Jo Holmes said “I have been overwhelmed by the amazing work these organisations do and the impact they have on individuals’ lives. We love working with these organisations and have offered all VCSE organisations a 20% discount on their iiE fees to show our commitment to the sector and help them continue this vital work. The commitment, enthusiasm and progress our members have made has been outstanding.”

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