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Introduction

The north of England has a rich and vibrant civil society. In the past, that strong civil society produced radical solutions to tackle social problems, including the establishment of co-operatives, mutual societies and trade unions. More recently, as the welfare state has found itself unable to tackle social issues alone, civil society has been strengthened by its voluntary and community organisations and social enterprises – which, taken together, are commonly referred to as the ‘third sector’. Reliance on the third sector to find and deliver social solutions is stronger than ever as the North is undergoing considerable change, in response to – and as part of – longstanding economic and cultural trends.

IPPR North is currently leading a programme of research on the future of civil society in the North. This will initiate and assemble a coherent evidence base to help inform and shape local, regional and national policymaking regarding the role of civil society in the north of England. As part of that programme of work, this report presents groundbreaking new evidence on the state of the third sector in the north of England in 2017.

About The dataset1

Data was collected in 2016 by St Chad’s College, Durham University using online questionnaires across the north of England.2 A total of 3,594 responses were received, including 1,462 from the North West, 1,083 from Yorkshire and the Humber, and 1,012 from the North East. This represents a response rate of 12.7 per cent across the North.3

This data will be analysed in depth, and a series of reports exploring key trends and relationships in detail will be published from the early summer of 2017. This report presents initial headline findings from the study from across the whole of the north of England, and explores three key areas of analysis.

The size and strength of the third sector in northern England, including:

  • the contribution of the sector to the northern economy
  • the range and diversity of third sector activity in the North
  • the strength of relationships within the third sector, and with the public sector and business.

The financial situation of the sector, including:

  • how the sector is resourced and financed
  • how the financial situations of third sector organisations (TSOs) – with different characteristics and working in different areas – vary.

An examination of third sector organisations (TSOs’) expectations about and preparations for the future.


1 See the inside cover for more about the Third Sector Trends survey.

2 In the North East and Cumbria, 5,455 paper questionnaires were also distributed to ensure that a large sample was garnered from an area with a smaller population of TSOs.

3 In addition to the subtotals for each sub-region, 37 other responses were received from organisations working in the North but based in other areas which are included in the dataset. Full details of the methodological approach and assessment of the representativeness of the survey sample will be published in the early summer of 2017 in each of three region reports for the North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber.