Notes from the VCSE Strategic Forum, Wednesday 9th October 2019

The VCSE Strategic Forum met on Wednesday 9th October 2019. You can download the presentations here.

The Key Speakers included:

Patrick McKenna, Policy Advisor and Local Intelligence West – Office for Civil Society

Patrick outlined the information that is available for the VCSE community in the lead up to Brexit. Most of the relevant information is on the Government’s Brexit Portal. This includes a checker tool of 7 simple questions to help organisations get ready for Brexit. Patrick also highlighted a DCMS webinar especially for charities, in partnership with NCVO.

GDPR after Brexit was also discussed, along with the EU Settlement scheme. More information about the scheme can be found here.

Nicola Dawson, Service Manager – Somerset County Council Brexit Team

Nicola discussed SCC’s response to the Government’s No Deal Readiness report. A link to the report can be found here.

A Corporate Risk Assessment has been produced with short, medium and longer term work streams. Each Somerset District Council have identified a Senior Manager to act as Brexit lead. These leads are looking at a ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’. Nicola asked the Forum how best they can work together to reach hard to reach groups with relevant information.

A question and discussion time followed, during which Forum members discussed the impacts of Brexit on their communities and their organisations – both practical and emotional.

VCSE organisations can contact Nicola at

Katherine Nolan CEO and Vicky Sullivan Health and Wellbeing Coordinator – Spark Somerset.

Katherine and Vicky launched the research element of the 2019/20 State of The Sector report. The previous State of the Sector report (2016) can be found here.

Following Katherine and Vicky’s presentation the Forum broke into small groups to discuss the value of the previous State of the Sector report and explore key findings. There will be a survey sent to VCSE organisations in Somerset in the next few weeks. If you wish to contact Spark directly about the next report, please email Vicky at

Jackie Sopwith, CEO – Somerset Sight

Jackie provided an overview of the organisation which is currently celebrating its 100th year. More information about Somerset Sight can be found here.

Keeley Hawes, CEO – Community Council for Somerset

Keeley discussed the role of the 57 Village and Community Agents working with CCS.

Bite Size presentations

Emily Taylor, Engagement Lead Officer – Somerset CCG
Fit for Purpose – New Plan for Engagement for Somerset CCG

Scott MacMillan – The Volunteer Network
The Voluntary Sectors’ response to home schooling

The next full Somerset VCSE Strategic Forum will be held on Wednesday 25th March 2020.

New Grants Feed Grass-roots Action

Somerset’s County Councillors will have £2,000 each to fund community projects that improve lives under a new scheme launched this month.

The Improving Lives Grants Scheme has been created to kick-start and support voluntary and grass-roots initiatives that bring people together and help communities stay connected and thrive.

Whether it’s a project to reduce isolation, give parenting support, prevent falls or enhance emotional health and wellbeing – each of Somerset’s 55 county councillors can award up to four grants using their £2,000.

The £110,000 of investment is coming from the authority’s £1m Prevention Fund, set up to finance Council work and community projects that prevent issues, problems and needs developing or escalating. The aim is to improve lives while reducing future demand on the Council’s services – helping the authority remain sustainable in the long-term.

Grants can be used to ‘lever in’ funding from other sources but cannot be used to pay salaries. They can only be awarded to groups or organisations, not individuals. Any individual who has an idea for a potential project should contact their local County Councillor.

Councillor David Fothergill, Leader of Somerset County Council, said: “One of the most important things we can do to strengthen our communities is support locally-led projects built around bringing people together.

“Our elected members understand their communities and these grants will give them some financial muscle to make a real impact.

“We’re not being too prescriptive, but the initiatives put forward should be ones that engage their communities and improve people’s lives. Schemes that support vulnerable, less-advantaged or traditionally isolated groups will be especially welcome”.

Councillors can make applications to the Improving Lives Grants Scheme from 1 September up until 30 November. Applications will be assessed to ensure that they meet the criteria before funding is agreed.

Applications are encouraged from community groups promoting and providing opportunities for people to be socially connected, more physically active, eat well, enjoy the outdoors, be more independent and better informed about health and wellbeing.

It is expected that the majority of grants will go to Parish Councils and voluntary sector organisations; established bodies that can make a big impact at local-level.

Applications can only be made by elected County Councillors and have to benefit their own division.

Click here to find out who the elected Somerset County Councillor is for a particular area and their contact details to discuss your interest in the fund. 

For further guidance click here. 

The Future of Social Care Workshop Update

Following the two-part Panorama documentary films about the pressures facing social care, the VCSE Strategic Forum ran a workshop to engage with Adult Social Care Commissioners. There were 56 attendees who represented a variety of organisations.

The workshop included:

  • Exploring the challenges faced, and hearing from Stephen Chandler, Director of Adult Services outlining why Somerset chose to engage with Panorama;
  • Understanding what initiatives are already in place and how the VCSE can get involved;
  • Seeking views from the VCSE on how to collaboratively rise to the challenge.

The presentations from the day can be viewed here.

Key themes which came up in group discussions are below, and a summary can be accessed here.

  • How to focus more on prevention and early intervention;
  • The need for better awareness as some people were unsure of what Community Connect is and also Somerset Direct;
  • Commissioning;
  • Communications and engagement and strengthening links at a local/community level, particularly with parish/town councils.

As requested, Adult Social Care have produced information regarding Community Connect which can be viewed here.

For further information about support available, click here or call 0300 123 2224.

Further to the workshop, if you have had any additional reflections or thoughts on how we can collaboratively work better together or other innovative solutions you are keen to make us aware of, then please email