By Julie MacInnes, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Health Services Studies, University of Kent and Principal Investigator for the CAVEAT study

Around three years ago, I was fortunate to work with colleagues from the University of Kent, Brighton and Sussex Medical School and the University of Surrey on a research project to understand the impact community-based volunteering has on our communities in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The findings from the COL_VOL project, funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration Kent, Surrey and Sussex (ARC KSS), highlighted the important role many voluntary community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations played in supporting the health and wellbeing of older people self-isolating.  For example, online social activities or befriending schemes - with the support of volunteers - had a positive effect on older people's physical, social and mental wellbeing.

However, we also discovered that there were concerns from these organisations over the future sustainability and the lack of knowledge, time and resource to demonstrate the impact of their work. Few organisations were able to demonstrate and highlight the difference their work had made to the lives of those they supported, the benefit to their volunteers or to wider health and social care provision.

Based on our findings, the COL-VOL project team went on to develop the CAVEAT project. We decided to develop and test an interactive, free tool that would help VCSE organisations demonstrate impact and the value their services and activities provide.

Although originally, created for use by VCSE organisations that work with older people, we found that much of the content can be useful to organisations providing services to other groups, as well as being of relevance to service commissioners and funding bodies.

We officially launched the CAVEAT toolkit this summer (June) - see links below. The virtual event was well received. More than 200 people from across the VCSE sector, and beyond, attended to learn about the features or the toolkit, discuss the resource and ask questions.  

Over the course of the last three months, we have had more than 350 visits to the CAVEAT website and have already received more than 190 registrations for the toolkit alone.  Not surprisingly, the majority of registrations were from the Kent, Surrey and Sussex area (88), 48 were from the south and south east of England, and the rest from other parts of the UK. Although, the majority of registrations were from charitable organisations (89), there has already been interest from local authorities and national government (30). The healthcare sector was also well represented with registrations from the NHS - including Integrated Care Boards (13), as well as interest from care providers (3) and social housing providers (4).

It is still early days to measure the true impact our work is having, but the above statistics are a positive start. This month (September) members of the CAVEAT team presented the toolkit at the Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference in Sheffield. Looking forward, we are aiming to hold workshops within our three Integrated Care Systems (ICS), Kent and Medway, Surrey and Sussex.

For more information on the development of the toolkit please see the project summary here.

For a brief guide on how to use the Toolkit, visit the CAVEAT Toolkit video here.

Visit the CAVEAT project website here.

Visit and register for the CAVEAT Toolkit here.

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