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Civil Society Futures is the independent inquiry into the future of English ‘civil society’ – everything we do together that’s not the state and not for profit, from faith groups to Facebook groups, social enterprise to social media to social movements, formal and informal.

How can civil society thrive in the next ten years?  What are the challenges? What are the possibilities?  This is what Civil Society Futures is trying to find the answers to.

One year on from its launch, from 26 April and into May we’re sharing what they’ve heard so far – centred around the theme of putting power in the hands of people and communities – and they want to involve people more as the inquiry continues up to the end of 2018.

What has the Inquiry heard so far?

In the past year the Inquiry team has travelled around the country, hearing from over 1,500 people, from local communities to large organisations. What it’s heard is that:

Civil society really matters – it is a valuable and essential part of our daily lives, bringing people together, building their confidence and capability, offering a helping hand to those in crisis, delivering services, challenging injustice.

But our generation is facing new challenges.  More impersonal and more divided, we face the possibility of an ‘us and them’ future.  Frustration with local and national government.  Inequality. Racial tensions. Robots replacing humans.  Impersonal transactions replacing human relationships. Many feel like power is out of reach, have little control over the future.  People are losing trust in big institutions including charities.

Civil society needs to respond.  Its big role in the coming years is to generate a radical and creative shift which puts power in the hands of people and communities, connecting us better and humanising the way we do things.  This includes:

  • Transforming the places that matter – from local communities to the internet
  • Bringing us together – across racial and other divides
    Shaping the future of work – and find purpose in activities beyond work
  • Reimagining how charities and other groups are run – and building new kinds of organisations and movements

The Inquiry wants to reach Sector professionals people in power in charity / volunteering / related sectors (large organisations, funders, sector leaders, membership bodies), Innovators people across civil society creating radical change (both informal and formal across community, activism, social enterprise, tech, charity and more.

Find out more by reading the 1 year work in progress reports below or watching the Civil Society Futures animation.  And please tell them what you thinkleave comments, share your views on social media #civilsocietyfutures, share your story, host a discussion or write a blog.

You can also read reports on the first year’s work:

Civil Society Futures Summary Report – Work in Progress

Interim research report – end of year



The blog below was originally published in Alliance Magazine

In September 2015, a group of UK-based foundations and NGOs met at the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to discuss responses to the refugee crisis that was engulfing Europe. The images of Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body on a Turkish beach had jolted many from unease or disbelief to shock, sympathy and compassion.  Although the UK was not experiencing inflows like mainland Europe, there was a groundswell of public support for refugees and positive coverage of an issue all too often mired in controversy.

Some of us thought that there was scope for collective action and the meeting led the establishment of New Beginnings, a pooled fund managed by the UK Community Foundations Network (UKCF). Although both Barrow Cadbury and Paul Hamlyn are strategic, long-term funders in the area of migration we thought it was important to help set up this responsive fund. Firstly, we were hearing that small local groups were over-stretched and overwhelmed by offers to volunteer. Often the first port of call for people who want to engage with this issue and welcome migrants and refugees, these groups were inundated with requests but ill-equipped to harness this new energy and interest.

As long-standing investors in work to understand public attitudes to refugee and migration issues, we were under no illusions that the crisis would lead to a dramatic and positive shift in views. However, this fund seemed opportune given that surveys have found that the public have more positive attitudes to migration in their local area than at national level. There is also extensive evidence to show that meaningful contact with migrants and refugees can be a very powerful experience that shapes how people feel about this issue.

We were also struck by the US experience of building a movement in support of migrants and refugees. There, advocates and their philanthropic partners have found that a healthy immigration movement requires investment in both large and small organisations. The ability of these organisations to engage meaningfully with the public, and not just their core supporters, has proved critical.

With New Beginnings we were motivated by the chance to build on the momentum generated by external events and to help often fragile community groups become more resilient and reach out to newer constituencies. Given its short-term nature, the fund was not designed to fill gaps in service delivery – of which there are many – but to build capacity in engaging local communities in support of their work at a time of great demand. To that end, we are also in the process of developing workshops to enable some of the groups involved to strengthen their approach to communications and to tap into existing networks and reach new supporters.

In May 2016, New Beginnings awarded £506,000 in one year grants to 45 organisations, 39 of which received up to £10,000 and seven partnership projects that were awarded up to £20,000. Typical examples include Restore, a Birmingham based group that has seen massive increases in volunteer befriender requests over the past year. Also supported is Oasis Cardiff Partnership, which will work with new arrivals to help them integrate, partly through sessions organised by volunteers from the local community and also a ‘Friends and Neighbours’ group.

New Beginnings will launch a second round, of a similar size to the first, later this summer. Approaches from foundations or donors interested in contributing would be very welcome. One of the issues we and the other funders and partners hope to address this time round is the paucity of applications from refugee or migrant led organisations. How do we go about reaching these often over-looked and low profile groups that have the potential to make a significant contribution towards long-term change?

In this post-Brexit haze the refugee crisis now seems quite distant. However, the rationale for the fund remains, perhaps even more so now that some of the fault lines and anxieties that existed before the vote have surfaced and have uncovered a tension that risks undermining the UK’s long tradition of welcoming newcomers.

Trusts, foundations and other philanthropists and supporters now more than ever need to demonstrate collective and sustained support for the often unglamorous work of these community groups and the volunteers working with them.

Ayesha Saran is migration programme manager at Barrow Cadbury Trust.
Alex Sutton is senior grants manager at Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

This blog represents the views of the two trusts and not the views of all funders of the New Beginnings Fund.

Foundations contributing to the pooled fund include: Comic Relief; Barrow Cadbury Trust; Paul Hamlyn Foundation; Pears Foundation; Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales; The Rayne Foundation; City of London Corporation; BBC Children in Need and Oak Foundation.


“The idea of being bothered about immigration made me laugh! I’m from Birmingham. It’s never been a concern of mine. I can’t imagine caring about someone else being born in a difference place to me. (Black British born female participant).”
The Runnymede Trust has launched a new report about British ethnic minorities’ views on immigration and Europe. The publication entitled ‘This is Still About Us – Why Ethnic Minorities See Immigration Differently’ used high-sample surveys and focus groups across several different areas of the country to gauge opinion.


Produced by the UK’s leading independent thinktank on race equality and race relations, its findings show:



  • Immigration is seen more positively by BME groups, because they focus on the economic and cultural contributions an immigrant can make to British life.
  • BME people are more likely to feel that the public debate around immigration negatively impacts on them personally, even if they or their parents were born in Britain;
  • They feel sometimes they need to ‘prove’ they are British;
  • Most broadly share concerns of the wider population around the pace of immigration, but they are more worried about the pressure on services than on cultural impact;
  • Participants were more ambivalent about Europe and are less likely to take advantage of free movement within EU borders;
  • People were more concerned about Britain being a ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants;
  • BME people are more likely to be concerned about the impact of benefit cuts on immigrant families;
  • On citizenship and the immigration system, BME groups are more likely to be concerned about the cost of the citizenship process, family visa policies and Home Office responses to immigration queries;
  • There were variations between different BME groups: Long-settled communities were more likely to believe newer migrants had easier experiences;
  • BME people are more likely to view Europe in explicitly ethnic or racial terms.


You can read the full report here.

Joy Warmington, CEO of brap, writes about 30 years of equalities practice in Birmingham and the need for clarity, a shared vision and getting on the front foot.

Here’s a quick question for you. For every £100 that a man working in Birmingham earns, how much do you think a woman earns? Ninety five pounds? Ninety pounds? Maybe as low as £85?


We’ll reveal the answer at the end, so while you’re mulling over that here’s another one. The unemployment rate for white people in Birmingham is about 9%. What’s the rate for black people? If you doubled 9%, try again. The answer is actually three times higher – 26%. The unemployment rate for Pakistani and Bangladeshi residents is similarly out of kilter, currently standing at 18%. But here’s the really interesting thing. Back in 2004 the white unemployment rate was 6% while the black rate was 18% – again three times higher. Over the course of a decade, despite all its strategies and plans, the city was unable to reduce this stark inequality.


Why is this? Well, it’s not just Birmingham that’s been asking these questions. A number of cities – from Plymouth to Sheffield to York – have held fairness commissions in recent years to understand why entrenched inequalities persist. As useful and, in some cases, penetrating as these commissions have been they have tended to ignore the nuts and bolts of how public agencies ‘do’ equality – how they go about tackling discrimination, eradicating social patterns of disadvantage, and fulfilling their legislative equalities duties. This is a serious gap. Understanding why these approaches have failed may go some way to explain why serious inequalities continue.


New research From Benign Neglect to Citizen Khan, providing a bird’s eye view of equalities practice down the decades shows that many ideas have been resistant to change. Whereas society has changed greatly over the last 30 years, our equalities tools have remained remarkably similar. For example, in 1984 Birmingham City Council set up a Race Equality Unit with the aim of addressing institutional racism and improving access to council services. By 1989 the Unit had 31 staff, including race relations advisers in housing, education, and social services. The Unit’s annual report for that year shows its activities included training, monitoring uptake of services, helping different departments devise race equality schemes, improving access to services (mainly by translating information), and organising outreach events. If you were to include something about community development (helping local community groups to support disadvantaged people) these activities would all be part of the Standard Six – the half a dozen key actions that have dominated equality strategies and policies over the decades. They’re the things that crop up time and time again, regardless of the organisation’s sector or the demographics of its service users. Ideally, equality approaches would be dynamic – constantly evolving as we better understand what works. Unfortunately, this generally hasn’t been the case.


We don’t want to suggest that no progress at all has been made, of course. For one thing, the number of excluded groups considered by equalities practice has increased. For example, public authorities in Birmingham didn’t fund any lesbian or gay groups during the 1970s or 80s – a situation which would be subject to serious scrutiny today. In addition, equalities practice is beginning to explore the impact of leadership and organisational vision when it comes to embedding best practice, and organisations are beginning to focus more on partnership working. However, there are still some things we need to get better at.


Firstly, as agencies work together more closely we need to be crystal clear about what ‘equality’ means. This may sound simple, but if you speak to people in different organisations you’d be surprised at how many answers you get. This is no longer an option. Different agencies have to be on the same page when it comes to delivering fairer outcomes for the most vulnerable. Secondly, and connected with this, we need a shared vision of what good quality of life looks like for Birmingham’s residents. This needs to be informed by what people think is important and by the common needs of people from different communities in the city. In other words, it will involve much more clarity about the ‘domains’ of equality that are important to a wide range of people in the city. Thirdly, we need to devise a series of entitlements necessary to guarantee these needs and measure the provision of these through a multi-agency, multi-sector programme of activities.


Finally – and perhaps most importantly – we need to take equality, cohesion, and integration seriously. In addition to the Standard Six, the clearest feature arising from a historical survey of equalities practice is that we’re constantly reacting to things. Whether it’s an influx of new migrants, riots, or legislative changes, equalities practice has always been devised in response to a particular crisis or problem. We have never stood back, thought about the type of society we want to create and then pursued this vision with vigour. It’s clear that equalities practice has usually been seen as a side show to the main business of delivering services. This can’t continue. We need to get on the front foot. Rather than react to problems we need to proactively shape the future.


Which brings us back to where we started: how much does a Birmingham woman earn compared to a man? The answer is £81 for every £100 he earns – a gender pay gap of 19%. This is bad enough itself, but it’s also worth noting that at our current rate of progress it’ll be 2038 before pay equality is achieved (and this is assuming there will always be progress: between 2012 and 2013 the gender pay gap actually increased). It’s becoming increasingly obvious that our traditional approaches to equality are delivering progress at too slow a rate. If we do what we’ve always done we’ll get what we’ve always got. And what we’ve always got has let down too many people.


It’s time for a change.


Disabled people and their families should be able to live, learn, work and get involved in their communities without extra costs getting in the way according to a new Commission launched today.  The Scope Extra Costs Commission is a year-long independent inquiry that will explore the extra costs faced by disabled people, and families with disabled children, in England and Wales. It will look at how businesses, local and national government, as well as the public and voluntary sectors can work in new and innovative ways to drive down extra costs.


The commission has been launched in response to Scope research, which reveals that disabled people pay a financial penalty on everyday living costs – on average £550 per month, with one in ten paying over £1000 a month. The report revealed that disabled people have a higher cost of living in three areas:


  • Having to spend more on everyday things like heating, or taxis to work
  • Paying for specialist items, like a wheelchair or a hoist or other equipment
  • Paying more for everyday products and services, like insurance, travel, clothes and cutlery.


Markets must work more efficiently


The Chair of the Commission, Robin Hinlde Fisher, said “The markets are failing disabled people, and they are all too often paying more than they should in many areas of their lives.


“The extra costs disabled people pay have a direct impact on living standards, preventing many from contributing fully to their local communities.


“It is crucial that companies, regulators, local government, trade bodies, and disabled people’s organisations give us their perspective.”


Effects of Extra Costs


The impact on disabled people’s finances and living standards is stark. These extra costs mean disabled people find it harder to enjoy family life fully, participate and contribute to their local communities, live independently, get into education and training, find and stay in employment, build their own financial resilience and contribute to pensions.


Over the next year a panel of business experts, economists, and disabled people will look at how businesses, local and national government, as well as the public and voluntary sectors can work in new and innovative ways to tackle the disability premium.


Find out more about the Commission here and join the debate on Twitter using #extracostscommission


Ellie Brawn, Public Policy Adviser at SCOPE, blogged recently, for the Barrow Cadbury Trust, about extra costs faced by disabled people and the Extra Costs Commission. Read the blog here.

Saidul Haque Saeed, Community Organiser for Citizens UK: Birmingham, blogs about the success of a recent Public Accountability Assembly


Founded in April 2013, Citizens UK: Birmingham – a chapter of Citizens UK – is our city’s largest civil society alliance of faith, education, trade union and community groups, committed to training and applying the craft of community organising.


Last summer, we launched a ‘citizen’s listening campaign’ when teams of leaders in each community had thousands of face to face conversations. We heard the real life stories of the people of our city. We built relationships and we built collective power.  Then in October over 200 of us came together to turn these stories into a common social justice agenda and recruit leaders onto action teams. We have 5 specific areas of work: living wage, mental health, jobs, benefit payment delays and public safety. Five action teams have been working hard over the last 6 months to impact change.


On the evening of Wednesday 14 May, 429 citizens from across our membership and diverse communities gathered to do some business at our Public Accountability Assembly. We put our priorities to the decision-making powers in Birmingham. This was not a hustings or an elections debate. We assembled to seek public commitments to our specific social justice agenda.  Our approach is simple and effective.  We believe that ‘90% of an action is turn out’, mobilising hundreds of people from across our alliance to attend. The buzz and energy in the room with so many people added to the sense of unity and reinforced what a milestone the evening was.


Every proposal was preceded by a moving testimony by a person affected by the issue. They were people speaking publicly for the first time in their lives – the youngest were 10 years old.  No multi-slide power point presentations for speakers to hide behind, no jargon and strategy speak.  Any long-winded response not addressing the issue wasn’t going to go down well when compared to the powerful testimony which connected with the audience moments earlier.


And then we put our proposals to the decision-makers to see if they agreed with them. And they all did – with every proposal we put forward.


  • We won a pledge from a Clinical Commissioning Group Chair for a world class mental health service for young people, ending the scandal of no access for 16 and 17-year-olds.
  • We won the Council’s backing for our campaign to make Birmingham a Living Wage city and a commitment to a roundtable meeting with employers and business leaders on jobs investment.
  • We won the Police Commissioner’s backing to pilot the CitySafe scheme in our neighbourhoods. He also agreed to host a meeting with the boss of National Express (re bus safety).
  • We secured the Department for Work & Pension’s commitment to take action on benefit payment delays and provide a direct contact point for our alliance to refer cases.


Community organising is about building power and participating in democracy: being realistic in what we demand and winning key victories to improve the lives of people across the city. There is no better example of this than from the many young people at the Assembly who demonstrated their readiness and ability to train as leaders and act in public life.



Email:  [email protected]      twitter:  @CitizensUKBham        facebook:  Citizens UK Birmingham

In this cross-post from Birmingham Settlement, Chief Executive Martin Holcome gives his personal take on rising energy costs and how this had led the creation of the recently launched Fuel For Food campaign.


Like many others I’ve been watching the debate about energy company profits and price rises. I find myself disillusioned with the whole thing; I feel helpless and outside of the discussion; I don’t feel I have a voice and neither do the people I work with. Individuals are of little relevance or consequence – it’s about the wants of corporate finance, majority shareholding institutions concerned more with money than the needs of people. Those on the margins don’t matter, dividends do!


Whilst politicians consider whether levels of profit are too high or if it should be made easier to switch supplier, what I and my colleagues know, and can evidence, is that many people are suffering real hardship. One of the services we run at Birmingham Settlement is a debt advice service and the numbers of people coming to us for advice has spiralled this year. Yesterday we had 53 people through our door seeking financial help and advice – the largest number we’ve ever had in a single day.


I would like politicians and energy company CEOs to spend time with some of the people who through circumstance beyond their control cannot afford the fuel needed to heat their homes or cook their food. We work in partnership with others such as food banks to provide support where it is most needed and I’m afraid a response we are increasingly hearing from clients is ‘there’s no point, I can’t afford the fuel to cook the food’.


I was involved in a discussion a few days ago about whether the UK was the 5th, 6th or 7th largest economy in the world – it seemed to depend on which report you read; the discussion went on to whether it was right for people to be limited to three food parcels per family, irrelevant of circumstance. I was amazed that the idea of food banks now seems to be an acceptable concept, everyday language – is it really acceptable in 2013 that the second largest city in one of the biggest economies in the world has such a problem; that its own citizens cannot cook the contents of a food parcel because they have no fuel?


I am reminded of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – the most basic human life needs include food, drink, shelter, warmth – how on earth can we expect people to grow and prosper if they can’t cook a meal?


Winter is almost on us and for too many this means additional hardship as they will not be able to meet the costs of soaring fuel bills; they will no doubt face the consequences of not being able to contribute to the billions handed out in dividends to the privileged few.


At Birmingham Settlement we have suggested a practical measure that could really make a difference. We are asking the energy companies to give every household access to an hours’ supply a day irrespective of debt and personal circumstance. This means if prepayment meters have no credit fuel would still be available for one hour everyday – we suggest between 12 noon and 1 pm. Energy providers (electric and gas) have the technology to make this happen. The residential supply of water cannot be legally disconnected, where as fuel is increasingly disconnected; and to the poorest families in our society. This is wrong! Profit making energy companies need to show social responsibility – support society by putting more back, and now!


Birmingham Settlement has begun an e-petition to ask the Government to legislate for the basic human right for every household to be able to cook a hot meal each day under a Fuel for Food campaign – you can support us by signing the e-petition here.