First came austerity. Next came the Covid-19 pandemic. Now we are deep in inflation and the cost of living crisis.

The combined effect of these socio-economic hurdles has undoubtedly blown a big hole in the voluntary, community, faith, and social enterprise (VCFSE) sector in the area. And of course, let’s face it, everywhere else.

It is our lived experience; this is our story.

Our sector has had to weather a 'perfect storm' of recent years. Many groups face an escalating need for their services.

At the same time there are reduced numbers of volunteers, declining income, vastly increased running costs. As a result with many overstretched, over stressed staff and volunteers.

Hannah Morgan-Gray is the chief executive at North Herts & Stevenage Centre for Voluntary Services (CVS).

This is the charity which speaks up for, advises, and supports the hundreds of VCFSE groups and organisations which work in North Herts and Stevenage.

Hannah says: "Last November, our 'All About Us' survey assessed responses from the sector in North Herts. 67 per cent of respondents said that their service had been affected by the cost of living crisis and a frightening thirteen per cent stated that they were potentially at risk of closure.

"We each experience the impact of the cost of living crisis but for many groups they will be experiencing their own crisis – for survival."

This 'perfect storm' really is having a catastrophic impact on our communities. Just take a look at what the statistics from the survey tell us:

71 per cent of survey respondents said that funding was one of the main challenges that they faced.

76 per cent said that they anticipated funding to be a main challenge.

61 per cent reported that low levels of volunteer recruitment and retention was one of the most significant issues that they faced.

These are responses from some of the most actively concerned, constructive and optimistic people in our area!

Derek Richards, business manager at the North Herts & Stevenage CVS says: "By nature the sector is incredibly resilient. It must be to survive.

"However, the present crisis – coming so soon after the pandemic - is particularly brutal. Inflation has affected each of us personally and charities and voluntary groups are no exception.

"The very same people that are struggling to survive are those supporting and protecting the most vulnerable in our community."

Katie Staddon, project manager of, the home of volunteering in our area, says: "The 'All About Us' survey shows what a significant issue volunteer recruitment and retention is among community groups and organisations locally.

"The cost-of-living crisis coupled with lasting anxieties around mixing with others means that many charities have lost some of their most loyal volunteers who are often the lifeblood of the organisation.

"Without them and new volunteers stepping forward, many of our most vital charities will struggle to survive."

Derek Richards added: "I think it’s important to mention that it’s not just one type of group that is suffering. Herts Sport Partnership recently highlighted how clubs were likely to close because of a lack of volunteers.

"Faith groups have also said how volunteers haven’t reappeared since the pandemic. But they are desperately needed."

Final word here to Hannah Morgan-Gray: "Without living the experience it’s difficult to understand how complex and stressful it is to lead a community group as they continue to carry out their amazing work of delivering help and services and generating activities in our communities."

Now the time is ripe for us to listen and talk, to share and learn and find solutions together. We are stronger together and we are more effective working together.

We’ll be taking positive action to make this happen at the 'All About Us' North Herts Community Conference later this month.

With thanks to the support of our partners Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation and North Herts Council we look forward to welcoming representatives from all community groups at the 'All About Us' North Herts Community Conference on March 23 in Letchworth. Has your group registered to attend?

For further details about the conference, and to register visit