The levelling up agenda: Developing a vision with charities and volunteers

At the beginning of June, we submitted a paper to Neil O’Brien MP, the prime minister’s advisor on levelling up. This was to inform his development of the government’s white paper. In our report, which we’ll publish at the end of July, we:

  • set out a vision for levelling up
  • outline a set of principles for how we think the government should approach this agenda
  • present solutions to strengthen the work of charities and volunteers.

Over 200 organisations contributed to the report through workshops, submissions, and our online form signposted in our previous levelling up agenda blog.

Thank you to everyone who gave their time to feed into this work, particularly to the Small Charities Coalition and NAVCA for engaging their members in this rapid process.

A vision for levelling up

We think that levelling up must be about building stronger and more inclusive communities, as well as a fairer and more prosperous economy.

Charities and volunteers want the levelling up agenda to succeed. The work of charities and voluntary action is rooted in community, and through them, we realise our shared values and principles as a society.

This important national agenda will require all parts of government, central, devolved, and local, to collaborate with the public, private and voluntary sectors. Charities and volunteers are embedded in the communities they serve so have a vital role to play. 

They see first-hand how rising inequality has been exacerbated by the pandemic. To resolve it, different levels and types of support will be needed to help people and their communities realise their ambitions.

Supporting charities and volunteers to play a role

To achieve meaningful and lasting change, the government must back charities and volunteering. If we’re to ‘build back better’ from the covid-19 pandemic, it must be a collective endeavour and mobilise the spirit, resources, and ideas across the sectors and within communities. Our report focuses on three areas where the government can take practical steps to support charities and volunteers play a role.

  • Power and decision-making. We want to see decision-making devolved, with more power in the hands of communities and local institutions – not detached from the centre but emboldened by a new partnership settlement. 
  • Funding and resources. We want to see long-term funding secured through community endowments, boosted philanthropy, and more sustainable local government mechanisms and powers. 
  • Community, space, and participation. We want the spaces and places in our communities to be hubs for building and harnessing relationships, opportunities, and ideas.

Upcoming plans in the process of levelling up

As the government develops its plans, there is real money – over £5bn committed to improve everyday life for communities across the UK (albeit currently mostly earmarked for physical infrastructure spending), and we think charities and volunteers have a crucial role in shaping and implementing this national agenda. 

We’re working with government officials, parliamentarians, and special advisors to make sure the white paper includes the recommendations we’ve made.

Throughout July, we’ll work with other infrastructure bodies to prioritise and further develop the recommendations. At the end of the month, we’ll publish our full report and offer a framework for advocacy and engagement. 

We want members, charities, and volunteers to have more opportunities to voice priorities to decision-makers – something we’re working on too. As we said to Neil O’Brien MP, we hope this is the beginning of the engagement, not the end.

Though NCVO submitted the report, this collaborative approach – through consultation, by including recommendations from across organisations, in opening our draft to comments – we hope reflects the aspirations and energy of the sector. 

Thanks again to all who contributed and we look forward to continuing our work together on this important agenda.

If you have any questions, comments, or ideas about this work, please email us at

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Alex joined NCVO in March 2017 as one of our lead consultants and is now head of networks and influencing. Alex has worked extensively in the youth sector, particularly within international development, and worked with UNICEF, Youth Policy Labs, the National Youth Agency and the British Youth Council. Alex was previously a trustee at Girlguiding UK, The Diana Award and a member of an advisory committee at the CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation. Alex founded an LBGTQ+ organisation supporting youth activists around the world.

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