In our last newsletter we announced that our bid for large-scale funding to continue our activities beyond 2014 had not been successful. Our current funding expires shortly and I will then take over from Pete Alcock as director of TSRC. I’d like to begin by playing a warm tribute to Pete’s leadership of TSRC in the first five years of its existence. He has had the challenging task, first of all, of managing a dispersed and unruly consortia of academics spread over several universities and involving upwards of 40 academic and research staff. Secondly, though, a key part of our mandate was ensuring that the research we carried out was shaped by, and was relevant to, the needs of the policy and practice communities, particularly in the voluntary sector itself. At a time when higher education was just beginning to come to terms with the importance of demonstrating the “impact” of our work, we were at the vanguard of this and faced the challenge of reaching out to an incredibly diverse set of people and organisations. Again, Pete oversaw all this and I believe that, from a standing start, under his leadership, we have made significant and innovative contributions to thinking and practice about knowledge exchange.

I’ve always thought that 1 April is a good date on which to start something new and risky, and it might seem particularly foolhardy to state that my job is now to secure a future for the centre in the absence of the large-scale “core” funding which we no longer have. But that’s my intention.

I’m optimistic about doing so for a number of reasons:

  • thanks to the University of Birmingham and the Barrow Cadbury trust, we have funding which demonstrates their belief in the value of what we do. This funding underwrites the equivalent of 3.3 FTE research staff until late 2016.
  • we are involved in some other funded projects -  a major cross-European study of third sector impact funded by the EU’s Framework 7 programme; TSRC colleagues (former research fellows) at the University of Southampton are leading projects funded by the ESRC:  David Clifford - Future Leaders Programme; Rose Lindsey - Secondary Data Analysis programme; and we have various other funding irons in the fire.
  • we are contributing to teaching in Birmingham University at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, which we hope will lead to more students studying third sector issues and, in the long term, becoming active scholars.
  • we will work with academic partners who were involved in the first five years of TSRC, and with others who weren’t, to develop a greater range of research activities. This might mean we look more like a virtual research centre, but a very tech-savvy voluntary sector will see no problem with that.

I’m also greatly heartened by the support we’ve received from some prominent national third sector organisations, despite the fact that they share our disappointment.

We know that our work has had a significant impact on the voluntary sector. Next week, for example, NCVO launches the latest edition of its Almanac, the key evidence source on the state of civil society in the UK, used by thousands of voluntary organisations as well as by public agencies and funders. The Almanac is underpinned once again by our productive joint collaboration with NCVO on the generation of reliable statistics on the sources of charities income. That work is now being taken up by ONS in efforts they are making to capture the scale of the non-profit sector in the national accounts. Recently, our analysis of the salaries of charity chief executives demonstrated the importance of investing in large-scale data collection; we analysed data from the accounts of a representative sample of 10,000 charities. These are just three examples of the wider public value of our work and in forthcoming newsletters we will showcase others.

Over the next year I hope to also showcase findings from a wider programme of work – for example, material which will demonstrate the considerable efforts we are making to map the wider UK third sector.

It took a long time for this Third Sector Research Centre to get off the ground. In the five years of our existence, Pete and myself have had cause, every day,  to be grateful for the support of our funders;  the research and knowledge exchange activities of our staff; and the commitment and engagement of our stakeholders.

We don’t intend to let that go to waste. Stick with us, work with us, support us where you can - and we will keep going.

Professor John Mohan
Director (c. 1 April 2014)
Third Sector Research Centre