THE FIRST ever Greater Manchester VCFSE Forum has taken place to drive forward the shared vision of a thriving sector that delivers for GM.

Key stakeholders from the ten districts of Greater Manchester were brought together with those from the GM VCSE Leadership Group for the inaugural meeting on 15 March.

The event was convened by Councillor Gerald Cooney, Tameside Council Leader and the GMCA Communities and Co-operatives portfolio lead.

Cllr Cooney said: “I was delighted to host the first Greater Manchester Voluntary, Community, Faith and Social Enterprise (VCFSE) Forum at Dukinfield Town Hall. In my role as the GMCA Communities and Cooperatives portfolio lead, I am committed to bringing key leaders together from across the city region to share best practice, build new relationships and develop a forward vision of collaboration and innovation across the sector.”

The event was an opportunity for the VCSE sector in Greater Manchester, the GM Integrated Care Partnership, GMCA, and local authorities and statutory partners to share solutions to common challenges and offer support. Attendees heard summaries of VCSE sector activity across Greater Manchester that demonstrated the wide range of work.

There are over 17,000 VCSE organisations operating in Greater Manchester that provided essential support to communities during the COVID pandemic and are now playing a vital role in responding to the cost-of-living crisis, in addition to regular work. The sector provided support and supplies during lockdowns and is now providing foodbanks, warm spaces, access to welfare advice and other crucial services.

Simone Spray, Chief Executive 42nd Street, Member of the GM VCSE Leadership Group and Chair of the VCSE Mental Health Leaders Group, said: “It was clear from the people attending and the depth of conversations that the VCSE is recognised as being a pivotal cog in the machinery required to tackle some of the most difficult, emerging and prevailing health and social care inequities that the people of Greater Manchester are having to live with.”

Jules Palfreyman, Chair GM Equalities Alliance, Member of the GM VCSE Leadership Group, said: “It was a really good opportunity to get out and meet real people doing real things in the bits of GM we never get to see from a Zoom screen. I met people – VCSE colleagues, statutory partners and elected members – whose work is so closely aligned to ours (GM=EqAl) that we’re already in touch and working on how we can collaborate. It was especially heartening to see strong cross-sector support for firming up fair funding arrangements and such a clear appreciation of why this needs to happen.”

A presentation was given on the risks facing the sectors and a discussion on a proposed ‘Fair Funding Protocol’, which received support.

Cllr Cooney added: “The presentations from leaders and experts in their field were incredibly insightful. They prompted some really interesting discussions around the Accord, social value, VCFSE infrastructure and fair funding protocols. Here in Tameside we have just recently agreed new equality and poverty strategies. Undoubtedly the VCFSE has a key role to play in both these important areas. I intend to get the forum together on a regular basis, and in doing so to visit each of the ten localities of GM. Thanks to all who came along and contributed to a really positive, informative and enjoyable event.”

The event also provided an opportunity for networking and relationship strengthening with attendees finding that they face similar challenges of funding, inequality and a need for action.

Simone Spray added: “I look forward to moving swiftly to the next steps, as we address these issues and develop a fair funding protocol to safeguard and sustain the brilliant work colleagues are delivering with some of our most vulnerable and disenfranchised citizens; the next few months will be critical.”