Introduction 

The Tees Valley Business Volunteering Challenge came about through a recognition that volunteering has changed post-pandemic and that more could be done to connect large commercial organisations with Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprises (VCSEs) in the Tees Valley. The challenge was supported by the Tees Valley Combined Authority and funded by the Government Community Renewal Fund. It sought to develop innovative approaches to volunteering, Environmental Social Governance (ESG) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to bring real benefit to both sectors by harnessing the skills and assets within large organisations to support the development of the VCSE sector in the Tees Valley.

The challenge brought together a variety of diverse VCSE organisations and private corporations to utilise the expertise found in large businesses to advance the VCSE sector in the Tees Valley and create innovative collaborations and connections. The organisations involved are highlighted in the picture below.

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The challenge identified large organisations as challenge holders, VCSE organisations as solution developers, and EDGE created the connections and support package for the development of future products and services.

volunteering challenge

The volunteering challenge provided VCSE organisations with business support and grant assistance so they could co-create with large organisations to review ways of building a framework of engagement and formalised structured process(es) to link the sectors and develop ongoing long-term working arrangements.

Using design-led thinking EDGE created a bespoke programme of support for the VCSE organisations through a series of five co-creation workshops and capacity-building sessions.

The first two workshops focus on the VCSE organisations. Workshop one considered and analysed what their needs and current realities were, and what they wanted their future realities to be. The second workshop focused on their ambitions and understanding the anchors and challenges that were holding them back from achieving their preferred future realities. The anchors identified included:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the anchors were identified, the private sector partners were invited into the third workshop to understand the perspectives of the VCSE organisations, alongside the challenge holders, to help identify future solutions. The potential solutions identified were:

 

 

 

 

To support the development of these solutions the fourth and fifth workshops considered the structures required and the delivery mechanisms. All partners agreed that the developments should happen at a sub-regional Tees Valley level where they can cross-collaborate and build on the existing networks and partnerships in place. That a streamlined consortium should be created to move forward the concepts in a simplified lean approach without the need for bureaucratic structures. An aim for the consortium was agreed upon:

We want to create a locally owned infrastructure to develop strategic collaboration. We will create online and physical spaces where VCSEs, Local Authorities, funders and the private sector can access and share funding, skills, knowledge and impact measurement needs for effective strategic collaboration. We are aiming at developing an inclusive, reputable and unified knowledge base.

The cross-sector consortium would be developed building on the partnerships created through this programme, led by Redcar and Cleveland Voluntary Development Agency.

volunteering challenge 2

A roadmap for development was created and is highlighted below:

volunteering challenge 3

Outcomes

The challenge has contributed to closing the gap identified between the VCSEs and private sector organisations through improved networking and the development of stronger leads. The workshops encouraged the VCSEs to identify their realities and provided them with structures to aid the creation and maintenance of connections with the private sector. The VCSE and private sector perspectives allowed for the identification of three main solutions a) an online platform, b) strategic cross-sector collaborations, and c) improving networking and connections. This has in turn led to the designing of a plan of action and road map to attain the key milestones required to deliver the new innovative solutions.

Challenge next steps

We want to make it easier for small to medium-sized organisations from the Tees Valley to become design alert and for the VCSEs involved in the volunteering challenge to create new products and services based on the solutions identified in the volunteering challenge.  Our next steps involve developing a programme for an online platform through the Design for Growth programme. EDGE acknowledge that large businesses predominantly have larger budgets to invest in design, training, and expert facilitation, and this is not the case for smaller and VCSE organisations. Therefore, the Design for Growth programme is available to small to medium organisations from the Tees Valley for FREE.

You can read more about the programme and find out how you can get involved by clicking through the sections below:

Your time is appreciated, thank you for reading.

Sophie Hoyle

 

 

 

How can design thinking be applied in small and medium sized organisations to add perspective, inspire creative ideas and lead to innovative solutions?

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a practice which combines empathy, creativity, and rationality to guide the creation of innovative solutions to real world problems. By championing a people-centred approach, design thinking aims to uncover unspoken human needs and connect this with what is feasible. As a process, this can be seen through the Design Councils double diamond framework which contains four key stages:

Discover - research and empathise to identify user needs and opportunities.

Define - interpret findings and narrow down on the challenges to address.

Develop - generate, iterate, and evaluate ideas.

Deliver - prototype, test assumptions, and refine solutions.

In reality this is not a linear process. It requires constant diverging (creating choices) and converging (making choices), and a willingness to re-evaluate what you know at every stage. At Edge, this process is a common thread through our work as a means of helping organisations to challenge the status quo.

Is design not just for creatives?

As a 2020 graduate of Northumbria Universities Design for Industry course, I have often heard it said that design is only for people who see themselves as creative. Since working at Edge, I have had the opportunity to disprove this assumption and the pleasure of seeing the positive impact design thinking can have on organisations when the right people are involved.

My colleague and I recently had the opportunity to further disprove this through our Design for Growth seminar at the Grow Tees Valley business conference. In attendance, were a range of ages, backgrounds, and disciplines, from college students to managing directors. The participants were mostly unfamiliar with design thinking tools and processes before the session.

In teams of up to ten, we gave each group a simple paper coffee filter and presented them with the following challenge: This is not a coffee filter. What is it?

 Starting with their coffee filter and a choice of who to design for, each group went through the process of empathising with their target user, defining what their users’ challenges are, creating ideas of how they could overcome the challenges and finally using the coffee filter to prototype their solution.

The groups created a variety of solutions including a folding fidget device to help tackle social anxiety with conversational prompts, and environmentally friendly disposable sleeve covers to stop children from wiping their food all over their clothes.

Granted, processes like this can often feel alien at first, but if these groups can produce such great and varied solutions with a coffee filter, two activities, and less than 40 minutes, what is stopping you?

What is the value of design thinking?

 Design thinking is proven to improve customer experience, increase revenue growth, accelerate time to market and drive social change. Of course, that does not mean every design process will lead to success, by nature all innovation processes are risky and uncertain. However, by encouraging quick, cheap, and smart failures, design thinking can also help to reduce this risk.

In the 5 months that I have worked at Edge I have already started to witness the impact design thinking can have on organisations. From small business re-imagining their concept in a way that better suits their users and investor needs, to cross-sector organisations co-designing a framework future collaboration, the feedback has carried a consistent message: the process helps people to view a problem from a new perspective.

In my opinion the potential to better imagine the perspective of another person is huge, and that is what makes my work so exciting.

Where does people meet process?

 It can sometimes seem contradictory talking about innovation while also talking about a structured process. After all, how can the act of creating something entirely new rely on a process which already exists?

The answer is that as much as we talk about processes and tools, design thinking relies on flexibility to adapt the plan based on the circumstance. The value of tools and processes used lies in the mindsets behind them. Seeking new perspectives and ideas, aiming to understand a challenge as fully as possible before trying to solve it and taking action so that fear of failure does not prevent progress.

That said the tools and processes are especially useful when this way of working is unfamiliar. New ways of working require behavioural change, which can be difficult without structure. Tools such as ‘personas’, ‘value proposition canvases’ and ‘journey maps’ are great for making ambiguous processes more tangible and providing guidance to ensure the human needs are considered in detail.

Design for Growth…

 At Edge, we believe that supporting organisations to incorporate design-led thinking tools and processes into their businesses will create a positive impact and growth within the Tees Valley. However, we also acknowledge that while large businesses often have large budgets to invest in design, training, and expert facilitation, this is not the case for smaller organisations.

As part of the Grow Tees Valley programme, Teesside University has commissioned Edge Innovation to deliver design thinking support to local businesses. Design for Growth is focused on the development of design thinking knowledge and the application of specific tools and mindsets to develop innovative solutions, products and services.

From November 2022 to March 2023, selected small to medium sized organisations from the Tees Valley will be able to participate in a series of workshops and business support activities to shape their future products or services.

The support activities, delivered by Edge, will consist of:

The programme is free to join and will include a minimum of 12 hours support delivered by Edge.

Want to know more?

For more details on the Design for Growth programme, please check out our website:

Design for Growth

Thanks for reading,

Harry

Grow Tees Valley is a part-funded service available to growth-oriented Tees Valley businesses employing fewer than 250 staff with an annual turnover no greater than €50m per annum. The Grow Tees Valley project is receiving up to £3.238m of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.

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In times of uncertainty, can businesses and the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Sector work together to make meaningful change and support communities?

In spring this year, we launched the Tees Valley Business Volunteering Challenge with the aim of connecting large commercial organisations with voluntary, community and social enterprises (VCSE) to develop innovative opportunities for Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to improve volunteering, engagement and VCSE development. Throughout the innovative Tees Valley Business Challenge programme, funded by Government Community Renewal funds, we worked with large and small businesses to create new challenge-led innovations using people-centred design. This work ventured into the areas of fuel poverty and affordable warmth, creating new ways of supporting employees’ mental health and wellbeing, reducing anxiety in hospitals through product redesign, transformational digital efficiencies, and decarbonising manufacturing.

What has the challenge led to so far?

The programme aimed to strengthen innovation maturity, build resilience for post covid recovery and unlock growth potential within the Tees Valley area. It will take time to understand the true value and impact that the programme has delivered considering the scope of ambition and the 6-9 month timeline allocated to these aims. What I can say is that I have had the pleasure of working with a number of large organisations including St John Ambulance, National Energy Action, Accenture, Newcastle Building Society and Womble Bond Dickinson to name just a few. I have also worked with small and medium sized organisations from sole traders to more established businesses who are at the forefront of new product and service development that are agile, responsive, eager to collaborate and respond to large organisations’ challenges. One particular business described the Tees Valley Business Challenge programme as having ‘catapulted’ their business forward and has paved the way for turning their ideas into reality.

What has also been apparent is that all of these organisations are dedicated to continually improving what they do, reviewing their ways of working and are open to finding new collaborations to make things happen. All are focussed on ‘people’ be that their teams, individuals, or the communities and organisations within which they work. This links very heavily to our focus at Edge of putting people at the heart of design and innovation. If we focus on real people and their needs we can support the design of products and services that meet those requirements and make a difference and in business terms, increasing profitability, productivity, sustainability and value. This all seems a little obvious however it is surprising how often the focus shifts from the people to the product or service , which can soon become irrelevant in our fast moving world.

How does this relate to the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Sector?

In the volunteering challenge we engaged 8 VCSE organisations of various shapes and sizes from the Tees Valley area: larger infrastructure organisations who support other smaller community groups, charities focussed on supporting young people in care, and individuals recovering from addiction to another enterprise offering cultural activities and sustainability opportunities in the area. The programme offered small grants to the VCSE organisations to fully engage within the challenge. We created a bespoke offering, working to review their needs, considering how they currently operate, how they would like to operate in the future and to contemplate the ‘anchors’ or ‘barriers’ that may be holding them back from achieving their preferred future realities.

This intensive but rewarding schedule led to an overload of post it notes, Miro boards and the Edge team resolutely collating the information and validating the key areas which are potentially slowing down progress for the VCSE’s moving forward. These include:

The majority of these areas will take significant work to change and adapt, so can we actually make a difference? Without wanting to sound like a social media gif or meme, a wise man (Nelson Mandela) once said:

“We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make the difference”

So who am I to argue? But in all honesty, I truly believe that we can affect change. Sometimes it is by one small action, one good deed, a chance connection or a friendly smile, but we never really understand the impact that our behaviour and actions can have on others. This is one of the issues highlighted, how can we effectively evidence the social value and impact of the sector when the sectors impact is so wide, varied and yet so individual? Social change requires fundamental policy shift, political will, investment, time and the right people to make a difference.

I have worked and volunteered in the VCSE sector for over half of my life time and I can honestly say that I have seen a difference being made first hand, which is why I am so passionate about the sector. Sometimes this has been through that chance connection, meeting the right person, being in the right place at the right time, and other times it has taken years of persistence, perseverance and resilience to get that breakthrough. For me, the biggest impact happens when we work together, collaborate and focus on the things that we can do rather than the things we can’t.

The dynamic group of VCSE’s, that I have had the pleasure of working with over the last few months, already make a difference in communities across the Tees Valley and will further make a difference through the connections they are fostering with some of the largest businesses in the North East and beyond. They are working together to consider how many of the barriers, obstacles and anchors can be removed and turned into opportunities. This will no doubt create change, social impact, and value in our communities and to individuals across the area. This will come in many different forms, from supporting food supply to those most in need, warm safe places to go in the deepest of winter and in the longer term transformational changes that I hope make some of these current services superfluous. In times of turbulence, change and adversity we need to be positive, work together, create opportunities, be focussed on making a difference and in doing so overcome adversity and achieve a better future together.

What are the next steps if you want to know more?

See how things are progressing and find out more by joining our online session where the findings of the Tees Valley Volunteering Challenge will be presented. Hear from us, the voluntary sector organisations and the large businesses who have been engaged in the process on the outcomes to date, and the next steps for the programme to create new ways of working for the future.
On Friday 30th September at 10am online, click here to register Volunteering challenge findings presentation.

For more details of the Tees Valley Business Challenge, please check out our website.

Thanks for reading, Susan.

Through our work with the Grow Tees Valley project, we are able to offer free exhibition space to 15 small and medium-sized Tees Valley businesses at the Grow Tees Valley Conference. The Conference is at the Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough on Thursday 13th October. Over 200 businesses, investors and support organisations will be there on the day, so it creates a great opportunity to promote your products and services to a wide audience.

We are aware that the pandemic has made it difficult for small businesses to launch new products and services, so this is the focus of our support. We are working with marketing and events specialists Horizon Works Marketing to provide:

The workshops and exhibition space are being provided as a free support package to relevant small businesses, so we're looking for businesses that:

To express interest in getting involved, submit details of your company (name, location, sector and contact details) by email to hello@ed-ge.uk by 31st August 2022.

Grow Tees Valley is a part-funded service available to growth-oriented Tees Valley businesses employing fewer than 250 staff with an annual turnover no greater than €50m per annum. The Grow Tees Valley project is receiving up to £3.238m of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.

The high-profile Tees Valley Business Summit saw the launch of new products and services by seven local small businesses, with support from Teesside University’s Grow Tees Valley project and Edge Innovation. Having not been able to launch their ideas during the pandemic, the project provided help and funding to promote them to an audience of over 750 people from the local business community.

The products launched ranged across digital learning tools, new ways of engaging customers, a novel cooking solution and more energy efficient buildings. Together, the small businesses had spent time preparing their launches and helping each other get ready to exhibit for the first time. As a group the seven demonstrate both the breadth of business activity in the Tees Valley and the ambition shown to grow successful organisations in the area. Success with their new products is expected to lead to significant new employment opportunities and sales growth.

Dr Suhail Aslam, Grow Tees Valley Programme manager at Teesside University welcomed the launch. “Grow Tees Valley is about helping local businesses to overcome challenges and grow. The growth of local businesses is crucial to drive forward the Tees Valley economy and achieve our shared ambitions for the area. It was so exciting to see such great ideas, from local small businesses, coming through to market launch and to be able to help them on their way. I can’t wait to see what happens next for them.”

The seven businesses were from across the Tees Valley, with innovative Redcar-based architecture and design firm The Sustainable Design Studio one of those involved. Stuart Duckett from the firm described why they had taken part. “As a small business, we can’t generally afford to exhibit at large scale events like the Business Summit. In any case, it can be difficult to find the time to prepare for such events. The Grow Tees Valley support has given us a great opportunity to share our novel ideas around sustainable development and energy efficiency with a wide audience. We picked up lots of new contacts on the day and we’re now working on how to turn these into new business, helping with our growth plans.”

The seven businesses involved were Samson Forth, YLearn and RJB Enriched Design from Darlington, SeerBI from Middlesbrough, OGEL World from Stockton-on-Tees and The Sustainable Design Studio and Festival of Thrift from Redcar. Marketing and events specialists from Horizon Works worked with the businesses to prepare them for the day.

Grow Tees Valley is a part-funded service available to growth-oriented Tees Valley businesses employing fewer than 250 staff with an annual turnover no greater than €50m per annum. The Grow Tees Valley project is receiving up to £3.238m of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.

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.