Can Environmental Social Governance (ESG) or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) really have an impact on the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) Sector? Our lead for social enterprise projects, Susan Ross, talks about the Volunteering Challenge she's involved with.

As a VCSE advocate for over 20 years, having worked within the sector and volunteering in a range of guises including as a trustee for a community foodbank, palliative care charity, a voluntary director of a health and wellbeing CIC (Community Interest Company), and a chair of my local community association improving my own community. I guess you can say I’m often at the ‘coal face’ (yes I’m northern and no pun intended) of volunteering and community regeneration.  I also spend part of my professional life advising VCSE organisations, developing social enterprise and recruiting volunteers to take on a range of tasks including drivers for a community run electric vehicle car club.

Challenge in the Tees Valley….

Back in January 2022 I took on a new challenge as a ‘Social Enterprise Lead’ at ED/GE Innovation, working in the Tees Valley Business Challenge Programme.  A new and innovative challenge approach in the North East, focussed on the Tees Valley area, using Governmental Community Renewal Fund monies to deliver solutions, to complex issues across a wide range of sectors which all small and medium enterprises (SME’s) within the Tees Valley can respond to, known as the Tees Valley Business Challenge – TVBC.

It really is a challenge – to deliver a new type of innovation programme and develop new products and services, linking large businesses and SME’s within 6 months! For those of you reading this and work within the VCSE or funded organisations I can hear you shouting about the ridiculous timescales and short lived nature of such a programme. However, as a precursor to the long anticipated Government Shared Prosperity Fund it has been a unique way of working without the usual prescriptive nature which often precludes real innovation.

So far in the challenge I have worked with 8 businesses directly and networked with a further 9 through the various business support sessions, created and delivered through the programme. It has been really insightful seeing first-hand innovations across some pretty large and meaty issues including fuel poverty and decarbonisation of homes, improving mental health and wellbeing in the workplace and now a new challenge - volunteering. Supporting the VCSE to develop and increase capacity by connecting large corporates with VCSE organisations to co-create new and exciting frameworks and ways of working to make ESG/ CSR more impactful.

What even is ESG/ CSR?

Environmental, Social Governance is effectively the new Corporate Social Responsibility. It is a holistic way of doing business and now it is a legal requirement in the UK for companies with over 500 employees as of April 2022. It is how companies assess their impact on the world and how they measure and mitigate. Taking into account environmental factors such as carbon emissions, pollution, waste, energy efficiency and travel. Governance of the organisation to ensure that it abides by the highest standards of ethics, taxation, financial accounting, whilst encouraging whistle-blowers and deterring bribery and corruption. Socially it considers inclusive and diverse workforces, safety and advancement opportunities, community and charitable work. It should also work through supply chains and consider the impact through the entire value chain to the customers and end consumers.  Although legally it only currently affects large corporates it is effectively good practice for all organisations to consider measures to reduce an organisation’s negative impact and promote a vision for social and environmental advancement.

Is there an issue with ESG volunteering, can we make it more meaningful?

Think of the workplace volunteering you may have been involved in? I know personally that it often involves being allowed a couple of days a year away from the day job to give something back. But are we really giving enough? Is having some very highly paid and skilled executives painting a wall or digging a path, doing a litter pick really making a difference to our communities? Is it making a difference to their organisations? Are we effectively paying ‘lip service’ or simply enacting random acts of kindness?  Yes, it can be novel getting away from the day job for a few days (if you can spare the time and the mounting inbox of emails while you’re away) and from a team building point of view some socialising away from the water butt or kettle is a pleasure but does it support the local community? Is there a better way? Surely utilising the skills in marketing, sales, business planning, accountancy, HR, digitisation could be used much better in community organisations who would really value that support?

Alternative options?

Multinationals are already thinking differently about how they can give back to their communities and VCSE in different ways including eBay UK where they have an eBay for Change where social enterprises can trade with zero fees, they can also access business support to improve their offer, scale and develop new opportunities. Through the Tees Valley Business Challenge Programme I have had the opportunity to speak to a cornucopia of people from the corporate and VCSE world who would like to see another way. From the Managing Director of a multibillion pound organisation who would like to make new connections locally with new organisations and create new networks. To the VCSE advisor who would like to see longer-term fundamental engagement where new trustees come forward to the social enterprise Chief Executive who would like to see disruption to this way of working and more transformative ways created, maybe there is…

We have created the new Tees Valley Business Challenge Volunteering Programme where we are looking for challenge holders (large corporate organisations) and VCSE’s to come forward to work together to develop new ways of working. Proactively through a range of business support and design led workshops to create a toolbox, toolkit, or framework that will allow new ways to engage that will bring more fundamental benefits to both organisations and long-term working arrangements.

But what’s the benefit to the corporate sector? Isn’t it just another box ticking exercise for my ESG framework….

Sadly, the VCSE is often seen as the poor relation, possibly because we are always trying to find money to keep services going and having to complete for ever decreasing pots of funding.  However, the VCSE sector has an abundance of expertise, collaborative ways of working, methods of engaging with people directly and understanding from a ground-up approach. The sector is like no other, the passion, innovation, excitement and commitment is in my opinion unparalleled. They strive to continually improve the ways in which they work and also to improve outcomes for our communities.  Not to mention the feel good factor when you can see the difference you are making directly to peoples lives. By engaging with the VCSE and working within VCSE organisations it can bring a new perspective, understanding, emotional intelligence and can broaden your skills set. It can assist aspiring leaders to work in different organisations whilst giving something back and using skills to help them grow and in doing so become more sustainable and do more great things.

The benefits of working together can bring real value for both sectors, creating new networks, suppliers, where communities can thrive.

Will it work? What if we can’t create the cross-sector systems to create meaningful change?

Who knows after all this is the point of the TVBC programme to trial new ways of working, experiment and innovate. In the words of a well know drinks brand ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ In my humble opinion the worst that can happen is that we connect a range of organisations cross sector and in doing so we start new partnerships. That in my book, is a win! Thanks for reading, Susan.

Want to know more?

For more details of the Tees Valley Business Challenge please check out the website:

TVCA Business Challenges - Edge Innovation (ed-ge.uk)

My name is Ryan Siddall and I am an Innovation Manager working for NEPIC and the Innovation SuperNetwork. On a daily basis I work very closely with large and small companies across the North East and I’m continually inspired by the sheer scale of manufacturing, academic and innovation expertise that is housed in the region.

My undergraduate degree in chemistry from Newcastle University has provided me with a sound technical understanding of chemical processes that are carried out on Teesside, but since joining NEPIC, I’ve developed an appreciation of the impact that innovation, continuous improvement and collaboration has on the chemical, process and pharmaceutical industries. The success of the region relies on knowledge sharing between large and small companies; SMEs are small and agile enough to develop innovative techniques and processes to make a huge impact on the manufacturing sector, and larger companies have the infrastructure and financial clout to accelerate these innovations to commercialisation. Organisations like ed/ge, NEPIC and the Innovation SuperNetwork are essential in allowing SMEs and large companies to network, share best practice and ultimately collaborate for the benefit of the sector and region.

The Tees Valley Business Challenge is a great initiative designed to bring larger and smaller companies together to tackle an industrial problem. NEPIC are supporting Procter and Gamble’s Newcastle Innovation Centre to take the first steps on their sustainability journey. The centre has recently installed an efficient gas-powered steam generator which is used to power the site, and this releases a fair amount of Carbon Dioxide. The aim of this challenge is to seek innovative engineering solutions from SMEs to help reduce the level of CO2 emitted from the generator. It is hoped that an engineering company from the Tees Valley can come up with an ‘outside of the box’ approach to emission reduction.

Traditional carbon capture technologies require significant footprint and capital investment, making them unsuitable and inaccessible for smaller companies and sites such as R&D facilities, offices, hotels etc. P&G are looking for engineers to design a simple unit, utilising simple technology, which can be ‘bolted’ on to the existing generator to reduce some of the CO­emissions. Successful challenge solvers will be given the opportunity to work with P&G at their pilot plant to be able to test their designs in a manufacturing environment.

Further details are listed below about the challenges and how to apply.

Five challenges were launched on the 17th and 18th of February, the webinar recordings for each events are available on the website. You can also find them individually below:-

To get involved in this programme, organisations, businesses, and charities will need to register their interest for at least one of the five strands mentioned above and have a registered office or trading address in one of the five Tees Valley Authorities (Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland or Stockton-on-Tees)

A small business can participate in more than one strand and find further details about the challenges and our FAQ on Edge website: https://ed-ge.uk/project/tvca-business-challenges/

Small and medium business including charities have until the 7th March to submit their expression of interest form via the Edge Innovation website here

The key dates for the programme are highlighted below:-

This is an exciting opportunity for innovative small businesses that can develop a solution to help P&G start their sustainability journey.

The small businesses that are involved will be given a £5k grant to develop a ‘prototype’ solution with the opportunity for five of the businesses being apply to apply for an additional £45k grant to further develop their concept.

Can new funding opportunities such as the Tees Valley Business Challenge, really impact on the mental health and wellbeing of employees across the Country?

I am a proud advocate of the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Sector (VCSE), having worked and volunteered within the sector in many guises over the last 20 years. This has included regenerating ex-coalfields communities and operating a very ‘ground up’ approach to community development through within a Rural Community Council.  Working as Lottery Officer, a VCSE lead for a Local Authority as the Community Strategy and Partnerships Manager, and more recently a Social Enterprise EV Car Club developer. In my own time volunteering as a trustee for a community foodbank, palliative care charity, a voluntary Director of a health and wellbeing CIC (Community Interest Company), and a chair of my local community association improving my own community, I have seen first-hand the importance, strength and diversity of the sector.

Recently I took on a new challenge as a ‘Social Enterprise Lead’ at ED/GE Innovation, working in the Tees Valley Business Challenge Programme. A new and innovative challenge approach in the North East, focussed in particular on the Tees Valley area, using Governmental Community Renewal Fund monies to deliver solutions, to complex issues across a wide range of sectors which all small and medium enterprises (SME’s) within the Tees Valley can respond to, known as the Tees Valley Business Challenge – TVBC.

It really is a challenge –to deliver a new type of innovation programme and develop new products and services, linking large businesses and SME’s within 6 months! But before I go too far down the path of the new challenge, I first want to focus on the Social Enterprise part of my role and the vital role this ‘sector’ brings to all aspects of society. The VCSE ‘sector’ affects real changes in communities at all levels and new innovative ways of delivering the Government’s Community Renewal Funds may bring a more fundamental approach, to developing sustainable Social Enterprises in the future. I have a real passion for tackling key societal issues and as with this programme, a ‘quick win’ could have been an easy option but why take the easy option? when you have the potential to make a real difference even within six months, that’s half a year after all!

So what is the Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise Sector? Is it even a ‘sector’? 

The term VCSE sector is an all-encompassing term that attempts to categorise voluntary, community, charitable and social enterprises. Over the years, it has had many different titles, including ‘The Third Sector’, The ‘VCS - Voluntary and Community Sector’, the ‘Charitable Sector’ to name a few. In my opinion, it is hard to categorise, as the sector touches all areas of society and business. The key difference is, that organisations are either charitable and seen as not for profit, or when an organisation seeks to make profits, those are reinvested back into the organisation for social benefit thus making it a social enterprise. These Social Enterprises are value driven, independent organisations, which principally reinvest any surpluses made to further their social, environmental and or cultural aims and objectives.

VCSE organisations range in size, from small community groups delivering ‘knit and natter’ sessions in a local community centres, to billion pound organisations such as The Arts Council which is the UK’s number one charity (at the end of December 2021 it had an income of £1.4bn and 618 employees according to the Charity Commission).

The VCSE sector is fundamental to the delivery of services across the UK and the social, environmental, health and cultural benefits it brings. This was never more evident, than during the health crisis of 2020 where the VCSE sector was the backbone, to supporting communities across the country cope and survive during the pandemic. The sector is dynamic, entrepreneurial, and fast to respond to any given issue or crisis. Just take the current Ukrainian situation where the sector is responding quickly to arranging donations, and collections of essential items to be shipped over to support the refugees fleeing their homeland. But even in times of relative calm the sector identifies gaps in communities across the UK and develops responses to them in a rapid and commercial manner.

Who supports this network of dynamic VCSEs?

Infrastructure organisations across the UK support the VCSE sector to develop, improve, respond to challenges, innovate and have a voice. Within the North East VONNE ‘Voluntary Organisation Network North East’ works across the region and supports VCSE organisations and infrastructure bodies to :

How is the sector funded and sustainable?

Funding is, and always will be, the most challenging element of the sector and it is why more and more of the sector, are moving to socially trading organisations such as Social Enterprises, Community Interest Companies (CICs) and Co-operatives. This allows the organisations to ‘trade’ i.e. to sell products and/or services to make money, which is then reinvested within the organisations to continue their charitable objectives.

One of largest UK charities which evidences the essential balance between their charitable work and trading side of their business is St John Ambulance. Many will know St John Ambulance as the country’s leading charity for first aid, yet they do so much more. They are one of the largest youth training scheme providers in the UK, which is often a steppingstone for young people’s careers in the medical and healthcare professions. They were on the front line in the battle against Covid-19, mobilising a vast workforce (apparently the size of the Royal Air Force!) to support the vaccination role out. Yet, they are constantly reimagining what they do, to ensure that they are leading with social, cultural and environmental developments. Recently they have undergone a challenge thinking process, to identify key areas of business development and ensure that they remain viable as a charity. One of the key areas they have identified and are innovating within, is the area of mental health and employee wellbeing.

So how does the Tees Valley Business Challenge, St John Ambulance and mental health and wellbeing link together?

The Tees Valley Business Challenge – TVBC is using a design led approach, to understand complex challenges for large organisations and marrying those with SME’s who can respond to the challenge and bring new innovation, aka the Solution Developers! The programme is a short six month pilot, to deliver challenges across five key areas:

The programme had four key challenge areas when initially created (Healthcare, Digital, Manufacturing and Social Enterprise) with one ‘overarching’ challenge theme. As work got under way, across the four challenge areas to identify the focus, it soon became apparent that mental health and employee wellbeing was highlighted in each of the cluster networks and their potential challenge areas.

A small team of ‘connectors’ I.e. people like myself with an understanding of the various sectors worked with stakeholders and cluster networks to identify, understand and define the challenges. Then connect larger organisations who had a particular challenge in that area which they wanted to find a new solution to. Within the Social Enterprise sector, we worked with a whole range of organisations to understand what the challenges were with around ten challenges originally highlighted. We then worked with VONNE to scope and define the challenges in more detail, narrowing the challenge areas including:

When discussing the challenges with each of the cluster leads it became apparent that mental health and employee wellbeing had been discussed in all of the clusters in one form or another. Thus, our overarching challenge of wellbeing was created.

Discussions and ‘sense checking’ with other partners and the VCSE sector quickly led to discussions with St John Ambulance. St John Ambulance are a volunteer-led health and first aid charity – responding to communities and saving lives​. Their internal innovation work on mental health and wellbeing was a reflected the gaps and needs identified through our own research with the VCSE partners locally.

Setting the scene – mental health in the workplace

Mental health has become a growing concern for workers and companies, since the start of the pandemic in 2020, and before. Although there were attempts made to develop solutions, little progress has been made regarding the replicability and scalability of solutions due to a lack of understanding and actions from employers.​

Overall, people neglect the fact that there are factors about themselves outside of work which could impact their mental health at work. Nowadays, wellbeing has become a main factor for employee retention pushing industries to innovate and provide impactful solutions.​

With growing awareness surrounding mental health in the workplace, it has become impossible for employers to ignore their responsibilities towards staff. The lack of regulatory guidance and structure around mental health in work spaces has created a gap that most companies are failing to bridge.​

The future of mental health in the workplace

St John Ambulance and the Tees Valley Business Challenge Programme would like to get to a future state where:

Getting to the ‘nitty gritty’ of the challenge

We would like to see organisations within the Tess Valley area apply for a grant of up to £5,000 to research any new products, business models, and/or services which:

Will support employers to become more aware of the benefits of good mental health within the workplace to focus on prevention rather than the response to mental health incidents.​

The organisations/ Solution Developers will then have the opportunity to apply for a further £45,000 to develop their ideas further and to develop new products, services which will support employers to focus on improving mental health and wellbeing working with St John Ambulance. This is a simple application process, starting with an Expression of Interest.

But can a difference really be made to such an important yet complex area in such a short time?

St John Ambulance, their history, and modern ways of working can without a doubt, bring changes to mental health and wellbeing for employees and I believe that the passion, creativity, dynamism, innovation and expertise of SME’s in the Tees Valley will bring a drive to make a difference.

Applications are invited for the first round funding until midday on Monday 7th March, so we don’t have long to wait to find out.

The ambition for the overarching challenge is to use the collective insight cross-industry to solve a challenge that provides value regardless of the companies sector.

However, with my passion for the VCSE sector, I hope that we will see applications from VCSE organisations to this challenge area to allow the VCSE to engage in more innovative programmes in the future, that do create real change, without the often ridiculous bureaucracy that comes with funding programmes, and maybe one day we will see less restrictive timescales too… one can live in hope!

  1. All small businesses are welcome to apply, not only those in the VCSE, however to be eligible you must be based or have a base within the Tees Valley Area. Good luck.

Want to know more?

Take a look at the Tees Valley Business Challenges.

Is the Tees Valley Business Challenge, the new opportunity for social innovation and tackling Fuel Poverty in the UK?

As an advocate of the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Sector (VCSE), having worked and volunteered within the sector in many guises over the last 20 years, which has included regenerating ex-coalfields communities and operating a very ‘ground up’ approach through a Rural Community Council.  Then working as Lottery Officer, a VCSE lead for a Local Authority and the Community Strategy and Partnerships Manager, volunteering as a trustee for a community foodbank, being a voluntary Director of a health and wellbeing CIC (Community Interest Company), Social Enterprise EV Car Club developer, and a chair of my local community association improving my own community. I feel it essential to understand the vital role this ‘sector’ brings to all aspects of society, how it can affect real changes in communities at all levels and how new innovative ways of delivering Community Renewal Funds may bring a more fundamental approach to developing sustainable Social Enterprises in the future. Tackling key societal issues such as fuel poverty and affordable warmth is one of my real passions.

What is the Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise Sector? Is it even a sector?

The term VCSE sector is an all-encompassing term that attempts to categorise voluntary, community, charitable and social enterprises. Over the years, it has been called many different titles, including ‘The Third Sector’, The ‘VCS - Voluntary and Community Sector’, the ‘Charitable Sector’ to name a few. In my opinion, it is hard to categorise, as the sector touches all areas of society and business. The key difference is, that organisations are either charitable and seen as not for profit, or when an organisation seeks to make profits, those are reinvested back into the organisation for social benefit thus making it a social enterprise. These Social Enterprises are value driven, independent organisations, which principally reinvest any surpluses made to further their social, environmental and or cultural aims and objectives.

VCSE organisations range in size, from small community groups delivering toddler group sessions in a local community venue, to billion pound organisations such as The Arts Council which is the UK’s number one charity (at the end of December 2021 with an income of £1.4bn and 618 employees according to the Charity Commission).

What is the benefit of the VCSE Sector?

The VCSE sector is fundamental to the delivery of services across the UK and the social, environmental, health and cultural benefits it brings. This was never more evident, than during the health crisis of 2020 where the VCSE sector was the backbone, to supporting communities across the country cope and survive during the pandemic. The sector is dynamic, entrepreneurial, and fast to respond to any given issue or crisis. Just take the current Ukrainian situation where the sector is responding quickly to arranging donations, and collections of essential items to be shipped over to support the refugees fleeing their homeland. But even in times of relative calm the sector identifies gaps in communities across the UK and develops responses to them in a rapid and commercial manner.

Who supports this network of dynamic VCSE’s?

Infrastructure organisations across the UK support the VCSE sector to develop, improve, respond to challenges, innovate and have a voice. Within the North East VONNE ‘Voluntary Organisation Network North East’ works across the region and supports VCSE organisations and infrastructure bodies to:

How is the sector funded and sustainable?

Funding is and always will be, the most challenging element of the sector and it is why more and more of the sector, is moving to socially trading organisations such as Social Enterprises, Community Interest Companies and Co-operatives. This allows the organisations to ‘trade’ i.e. to sell products and/or services to make money, which is then reinvested within the organisations to continue their charitable objectives. A new and innovative challenge approach is emerging in the North East and in particular in the Tees Valley, which is using Governmental Community Renewal Fund monies to deliver solutions, to complex issues across a wide range of sectors which all small businesses within the Tees Valley can respond to, known as the Tees Valley Business Challenge – TVBC.

What is the Tees Valley Business Challenge and how does it work?

The Tees Valley Business Challenge – TVBC is using a design led approach, to understand complex challenges for large organisations and marrying those with SME’s who can respond to the challenge and bring new innovation, aka the Solution Developers! The programme is a short 6 month pilot to review challenges across five key areas:

How are the challenges defined?

A small team of ‘connectors’ I.e. people like myself with an understanding of the various sectors and challenge areas worked with stakeholders and cluster networks to identify, understand and define the challenges. Then connect larger organisations who had a particular challenge in that area which they wanted to find a new solution to. Within the Social Enterprise sector, we worked with a whole range of organisations to understand what the challenges were with around ten challenges originally highlighted. We then worked with VONNE to scope and define the challenges in more detail, narrowing the challenge areas down to three key areas:

Each of the challenges defined within the Social Enterprise cluster had significant need to be taken forward, however within the scope of the programme only one could be chosen. Discussions and ‘sense checking’ with other partners and the VCSE sector quickly led me to contacting National Energy Action (NEA). NEA are the national fuel poverty charity, that works to eradicate fuel poverty and campaigns for greater investment in energy efficiency to help those with low-incomes or vulnerabilities gain affordable heat.  Based regionally, in Newcastle Upon Tyne but with a national reach they were the obvious choice for a ‘Challenge Holder’ for the programme.

What is fuel poverty and affordable warmth?

As we all know the cost of energy rising, and the choice between heating and eating is an issue experienced by millions of families across the UK. In the Tees Valley, around 1 in 7 households cannot afford to access the energy which they need to stay warm and well at home. This situation is often defined as ‘fuel poverty’, but there is often a perceived stigma around fuel poverty, a lack of understanding as to what exactly the term means, and questions around the extent to which people recognise themselves as ‘fuel poor’ or at risk of fuel poverty.

Energy Bills doubling...

With domestic heating bills set to have doubled over the last 18 months, it is increasingly urgent that fuel poverty and the affordability of energy is recognised and addressed. Due to the current energy crisis those who have been on the 'edge' of fuel poverty will now find themselves struggling to pay their energy bills, yet have little or no support available to them. Meanwhile, those already unable to afford the energy they need will see their situations become unimaginably worse, forcing them to cut back on heating to avoid getting into debt and causing unnecessary damage to their health and wellbeing.

What about the climate crisis and decarbonisation?

The energy crisis is taking place within the context of the broader climate crisis and the UK government’s pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2050. The Tees Valley will play a crucial role in this endeavour, building on its historic industrial base to develop new technologies, services, and products to decarbonise different sectors of the economy. It is already at the forefront of ongoing revolutions in offshore wind, hydrogen production, and carbon capture and storage technologies, which have a significant potential to boost investment, jobs, and growth in the region. Innovators are also developing new products at different scales which will play a pivotal role in decarbonising the Tees Valley.

However, this current progress is not currently being harnessed to benefit those in or at risk of fuel poverty, and there is a correspondingly a real potential for the development of new products, business models, and links between communities and energy services to tackle fuel poverty, kickstart fair and equitable pathways to decarbonise homes, and improve health and wellbeing in the communities of Tees Valley.

Getting to the nitty gritty of the challenge...

We would like to see organisations within the Tess Valley area to apply for a grant of up to £5,000 to research any new products, business models, and/or services which:

Will link communities and energy services that can tackle fuel poverty, kickstart fair and equitable pathways to decarbonise homes, and improve health and wellbeing in the communities of Tees Valley.

The organisations/Solution Developers will then have the opportunity to apply for a further £45,000 to develop their ideas further and to develop new products, services or pathways to tackle fuel poverty, and kickstart a fair and equitable route to decarbonise homes, improve health and wellbeing in the communities of Tees Valley, working with NEA to support the reduction of fuel poverty in the long term.

But can a difference really be made to such a complex area in such a short time?

I believe that the dynamism, innovation and expertise in the Tees Valley will bring a drive to make a difference and as applications are welcome for round 1 of funding until midday on Monday 7th March we don’t have long to wait to find out.

As the ambition for the social cluster is to see Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) organisations engaged in innovative activities to develop sustainable solutions for the sector and wider population, I hope that this is a new way of working that may allow the VCSE to engage in more innovative programmes in the future that do create real change without the often ridiculous bureaucracy that comes with funding programmes, and maybe one day we will see less restrictive timescales too… one can live in hope!

Want to know more?

Take a look at the TVCA Business Challenge page.

Hello and thank you for visiting this post. I’d firstly like to take the opportunity to introduce myself. I am Dr Sean Gill, a Programme Manager at the Academic Health Science Network for North East and North Cumbria working in the Innovation and Economic Growth Team. AHSN NENC is the trusted intermediary between the NHS, academia and industry providing healthcare innovation across the North East and North Cumbria. We are dedicated to improving patient health, facilitating transformational patient safety and quality improvement, and supporting economic growth.

As part of the Tees Valley Business Challenge programme, I’ve been working with North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust on a challenge which needs a new product design approach. We are looking for solutions that would provide a discreet transfer for those who have passed. This doesn’t mean we need to be talking with healthcare specialists, more that we need to identify designers, engineers and inventors who understand how to make a product work.

North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust provides services to more than 400,000 people living in Stockton-on-Tees, Hartlepool, East Durham and parts of Sedgefield. It is an integrated hospital and community services organisation. The Trust faces challenges to improve on services delivered throughout their networks regarding the transfer of deceased people. When a patient passes away, the body is transferred from the ward to the mortuary through the trust premises. This can create anxiety and stress for patients, visitors and staff. The trolley that is used for the transfer purpose makes the process visible for all who may see the trolley. Also, the industrial trolley doesn’t make for a discreet journey for a loved one.

At present there is a lack of discretion for those who have passed during transportation through the hospital premises. Often, patients sharing the same ward where a death happens will witness a non-discreet mortuary trolley. This can also be difficult for visitors. When visiting a family member or friend, visitors can be exposed to the transfer of deceased people, leading to increased stress and anxiety. Medical workers are facing difficult situations every day. The sight of body removal in such environments inflicts extra emotional damages that impacts mental health at work for all present staff.

Solutions to this challenge will offer those who have passed a transfer with full discretion. Ward users would then be able to reside in the premises without having the stress and anxiety linked to the experience of seeing a mortuary trolley transfer. Although visitors would still be confronted with the illness of a family member or a friend, it is hoped they could be spared unnecessary anxiety or stress. Medical workers can then focus their efforts on the other ward users, while fulfilling their daily duties with as little emotional trauma as possible.

To get involved in this programme, organisations, businesses, and charities will need to have a registered office or trading address in one of the five Tees Valley Authorities (Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland or Stockton-on-Tees). Further details about the challenges and our FAQ.

This is an exciting opportunity for innovative small businesses to develop a solution for the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust and create a trolley that can ensure a discrete transfer. Successful applicants will be given a £5k grant to develop a ‘prototype’ solution with the opportunity to apply for an additional £45k grant to further develop their concept.

About Dominic Lusardi

I am an award winning Digital Business Leader & Non Exec Director (NED) empowering a multi-sector; global client base to fuse disparate technologies into innovative and forward looking solutions. I have extensive experience of utilising my entrepreneurial flair to direct and engage Boards, panels and steering committees to develop business and digital strategies to revolutionise and develop their digital thinking.

It has often been said that I have an innate ability to predict future trends. I can also distil a digital vision into a common language that engages people. This enables them to adopt a shared vision creates a common understanding and delivers results. Through a background of hardware, software, games development, media production, network infrastructure & immersive tech, I have unique understanding on the application of digital for business

I have partnered with traditional organisations to leverage the benefits of new technologies whilst securing the best return on their existing digital assets. I have guiding them to embrace immersive technologies including Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Holograms, demystify tech and utilise their assets to reach a wider audience and increase their revenue. I am able to identify scale-up potential.

As an entrepreneur, innovator and early adopter of technology I am passionate about separating digital – how are we going to achieve the outcome and the thinking which is the value of your content and your message.

I have been identifying gaps in digital applications and potential creative opportunities since before the advent of the internet. Digital is a way of life for myself and is represented in everything I do from tech, to the many advisory roles I have held.

I have been successful in helping build a digital cluster and establishing senior and influential business network in the North East and I am consistently approached to advise on strategy for economic regeneration. I am committed to helping the North East develop its digital strategy and work across numerous projects to ensure critical digital thinking is at the heart.

I have been recognised and awarded for the work I have produced with the Tees Valley Tech Ambassador 2020, Top 30 most inspiring business leaders in the tees valley. Top 100 entrepreneurs in UK by the Sunday times and Maserati (2019). Business start-up, service/creative & growth awards. Scale up program- Entrepreneurs forum 2018

About the current challenge

The digital challenge is looking at data communication and visualisation within a multimodal logistic environment.

AV Dawson operates the Port of Middlesbrough and uses various reporting processes to ensure effective decision-making throughout all its business functions. The buzz surrounding digital transformation has highlighted the potential for organisations to streamline inefficient processes and utilise data effectively but AV Dawson has not fully reached its potential for digital transformation.

Data is a key resource on which most decision are made. It is an abundant resource that can be easily manipulated due to the existence of multiple ‘single truths’ and the lack of methodology in place to ensure data validity throughout.

Each business function operates in data silos to produce reports, based on their specific data solution already in place.  ​Although data remains a consistent resource available in SQL, it is not used at the best of its potential, as it is utilised in siloed systems that often do not communicate without human intervention. The existing APIs and data sets have an inconsistent data structure creating challenges and delays to produce reports for each business function. ​Managers play a key role in the production of reports which impacts their quality and accuracy considering the human bias and delay between data production and interpretation. ​The need to extract and interrogate data and then integrate it into other systems can impact data quality, decision making as well as overall business performance and efficiency. Thus, highlighting a missed opportunity for accurate and valuable trend forecasting.

The reports on which decisions are based are produced by managers and used to assess business performance to guide decision-making. The time spent on reports production and the level of bias can be significant due to data inconsistency and human intervention thus impacting the quality of the information shared. There will sometimes be the need to question data in the reports, in which case the reports need to be ran again leading to duplicated effort, meaning reports are outdated by the time directors have to take a decision.

Beyond manager and directors, all cross-functional staff must comply to the needs and requirements of each department, multiplying the amount of training and reducing efficiency and upskilling possibilities. Suboptimum UI/UX doesn’t engage staff with operational systems therefore limiting new integrations.

The unstructured, biased and delayed data creates discontinuities across functions and biased decision-making at a higher level and an inability to build in trend forecasts. This creates further challenges to verify the data accuracy and take actions based on continuous data validation. ​

The solutions we are looking for

We are looking for solutions that would empower AV Dawson Directors, Managers and staff of their data resources and harness the value of digital transformation for data-driven decision-making.

In practice, cross-disciplinary data can now be accessed by all staff in real-time and read-only through a single portal of reliable data, offering multiple audience outputs based on reporting requirements. This increases efficiency while offering safeguarded data access for enhanced decision-making at every level. Each business functions can produce quick reports and snapshots of the department's current health at any time to validate decision-making. Business performance is quicker and easier to access allowing time savings and efficient on-demand decision-making. Directors and managers are able to take efficient decisions backed-up by correct and verified data. The information provided by data-based reports provide clarity on business performances on all timescales as well as historical trends.

The solution provides a data management solution for Managers and Directors to easily forecast trends, produce on the fly reports, deliver real impact to all stakeholders, and ensure the relevance of future investments by utilising digital technology to its fullest.

All staff are engaging with systems and developing better insights and processes for their daily activities. The improved user experience and ownership make it easier to use systems which enables staff to produce better outcomes in their roles and anticipate potential issues. With data system steadiness, training material and delivery become consistent throughout the entire company, easing training needs identification for upskilling and facilitating cross-disciplinary work within each business functions.

This system results in little to no time necessary for reporting tasks across business functions so the focus can be on valuable decision-making aimed at increasing economic, social and environmental impacts. Moreover, AV Dawson is able to position themselves as a leader in digital transformation within the industry by showcasing tangible examples of digital innovation which wins hearts and minds of their employees by realising benefits for employees and the business alike.

The Tees Valley Business challenge offers the opportunity to large, small, medium business including charities to get involved in the economic growth of the region. This will provide participating challenge holders, a palette of solutions to internal barriers, as well as the access to a pool of innovative talents and idea.

The participating Solution Developers will therefore be able to develop new products and services, or repurpose existing ones with a direct route to market if they are successful.

The programmes will open network opportunities for current and future supply chain activities with large businesses whilst providing business support for solution development. A schedule of business support activities will deliver transferable skills and knowledge in innovation generation and management throughout the entire programme duration. This includes:

Edge Innovation launched five challenges on the 17th and 18th< of February, the webinars recordings for each events are available on Edge Innovation website. You can also find them below:

To get involved in this programme, organisations, business and charities will need to register their interest for at least one of the five strands mentioned above and have a registered office or trading address in one of the five Tees Valley Authorities (Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland or Stockton-on-Tees)

A small business can participate in more than one strand and find further details about the challenges and our FAQ on Edge website: https://ed-ge.uk/project/tvca-business-challenges/

Small and medium business including charities have until the 7th March to submit their expression of interest form via the Edge Innovation website here

The key dates for the programme are highlighted below:-