Business in the Community entrant – VAST
As the local infrastructure support organisation for the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in Stoke-on-Trent, VAST supports more than 1,500 organisations.
It enables groups to deliver high quality services to local communities and to not only survive but to thrive.
During the pandemic it worked with Stoke-on-Trent City Council to put in place systems and support ensuring communities had the help they needed and that no one was left vulnerable and isolated.
In the week before lockdown VAST developed and launched a web portal where individuals or organisations needing or offering support could register. Requests for support were managed in conjunction with Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
VAST also worked to ensure organisations had enough volunteers and were aware of any extra resources available to them. The team worked tirelessly with all the individuals submitting offers of help to place them in appropriate volunteering roles as well as ensuring the website was constantly updated with the most current information.
During the various lockdowns the Stoke-on-Trent Together network received more than 25,000 requests for support from individuals, provided almost 5,000 food parcels in the initial lockdown period and placed almost 400 volunteers.
VAST also worked with voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations across Stoke-on-Trent to establish the effect the pandemic was having on the sector both in terms of extra demand on capacity and in lost financial resources and campaigned both locally with the city council and nationally to ensure the vital resource needed could be made available to the sector.
VAST saw that they were ideally placed to support the sector through inevitable increased demand once lockdown was over and communities needed to adapt to the new normal, facing whatever personal and economic hardships that may bring.
Prior to the pandemic VAST had lost funding from both Staffordshire County Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council and was surviving on self-generated income and project funding. The start of the pandemic coincided with the recent appointment of Lisa Healings as VAST’s new Chief Executive. As the pandemic swept the country Lisa and the team stepped forward to co-ordinate the local voluntary, community and social erterprise response and to forge new relationships with the city council.
VAST is now recognised and funded as a strategic partner of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, working alongside thecouncil for the good of the local community.
The VAST team work tirelessly to ensure local organisations have capacity to meet demands placed on them and have appropriate volunteering practices to meet the needs of their beneficiaries as well as working with individuals who want to volunteer to find fulfilling roles.
As the cost-of-living crisis escalated VAST once again stepped up and quickly redeveloped the website as a one-stop-shop for support and advice to the community. VAST were key partners in a new Stronger Together Through Winter Partnership and worked to support front-line charities to ensure they had the capacity to deliver in the face of increasing demand.
VAST supported the establishment of a network of Welcoming Spaces across Stoke-on-Trent. This is a network of community venues providing warm safe spaces, hot food and drinks and advice and support.
There are almost 70 Welcoming Spaces in the city and the VAST team work closely with them even producing a Welcoming Spaces Guide to ensure they can operate safely and effectively.
VAST have also been closely involved in supporting the local Ukrainian Refugee Network (a network of organisations supporting Ukrainian refugees) and supported the city council in working with refugees housed in local hotels.
VAST is currently working with Stoke-on-Trent City Council on a project aiming to identify gaps in social care provision to bring information, advice, and social care services to people in their local community through a series of community lounges.
VAST continues to be reactive and responsive to whatever situations arise.
Its Totally Stoked project is built on the ethos that everyone has something to give and it uses networks to share information and skills as well as matching donated items, including computer equipment, with those that need it most. Alongside this it brokers volunteering opportunities and supports organisations that rely on volunteers to help them function. VAST is currently developing a local volunteering quality standard and exploring funding opportunities for more inclusive volunteering projects.
VAST has been in existence for more than 100 years and was registered as a charitable company in 1986.
Lisa Healings said: “It is impossible to predict what the future will bring in the current fast-moving world but VAST will continue to provide the support, volunteering, advocacy and voice and partnership opportunities that the local voluntary, community and social enterprise sector needs to not only survive but to thrive.”
Now VAST has entered the Business in the Community category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.