Supporting the supporters: championing infrastructure

seb-elsworthSeb Elsworth has been chief executive of the Access Foundation since May 2015, where he is currently focusing on developing Access’ initial programmes and further establishing the organisation.

Seb was previously deputy chief executive at the Social Investment Business, director of strategy at ACEVO, a student executive officer at Leeds University Union and a trustee of Kings College London Students Union.


The launch of the Big Assist Beacons on 5 October in Manchester, hosted by NCVO and GMCVO, was a great opportunity to celebrate the work of infrastructure organisations who are managing to respond to shifting circumstances with great energy, determination and creativity.

Sir Stuart’s keynote speech included many examples of infrastructure organisations transforming and demonstrating that it is possible to recast the role of a CVS and other local umbrella bodies, and that this requires everyone involved to make hard choices.

A Pipeline for Investment

Hearing Sir Stuart’s speech and the achievements of these Big Assist Beacon organisations wasn’t the only reason I attended the event in Manchester – I also had our work at Access in mind.

Our Growth Fund will allow a range of partners to provide small loans to charities and social enterprises (£150K maximum, with £40-£70k a likely median range) and our capacity building programme will deliver grant-funded support for those organisations as they manage their transition to trading.

All of this work will be done via intermediaries so it’s vital that these partners are best placed to reach organisations with potential to become more sustainable and increase their social impact, through taking on repayable finance.

The Manchester event underlined the valuable role local infrastructure organisations could play in helping Access to achieve our ambitions. Whether as a formal partner on the Growth Fund or Capacity Building programme, or as part of the ‘ecosystem’ of support providers, connectors and conveners in their communities – we are keen to explore what we could achieve together.

I’m pleased to say that this is already happening. We’ve had several applications to the Growth Fund from community foundations, and I recently spent the day in the West Country meeting with Simon Bowkett of Exeter CVS (who also gave an inspiring speech about their work at the Manchester event) to discuss their work with partners from the private, public and social sectors.

Shared space, shared objectives

Exeter CVS’s redevelopment of their main office, Wat Tyler House, into a ‘wellbeing hub’ provides a physical manifestation of their efforts to work in a more collaborative way with these partners.

Thinking from a ‘customer service’ perspective, they have won the argument to co-locate a number of services under one roof. Working Links, drug and alcohol cessation specialists, a GP surgery and others.

The building is designed specifically to provide a natural ‘flow’ from one service to another – their architect had the image of a river in mind when redesigning the space, and even in its unfinished state, it’s clear how the new layout could support easier communication and collaboration.

In Devon we met with  both Simon and his colleagues at the Devon Community Foundation and Devon Communities Together, the local rural community council.

Their commitment to working together to identify social needs, explore new opportunities and then develop solutions to meet them is clear. For Access, this is precisely the kind of environment we believe holds great promise for developing effective packages of support and investment for our target audience.

The Growth Fund application process continues, and we’re moving into the latter stages of confirming our strategy for the capacity building fund. If you work for a local infrastructure body and would like to know more about Access, please do get in touch.


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