Our launch – and we’re off!

There was a really good turnout for our launch on 1st February 2016 as 38 people, representing 33 organisations made time to be at the birth of Newcastle and Gateshead’s first ever voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) consortium. Most were existing members but some were new of the Consortium; all wanted to back the organisation to develop ways of working together and win business that benefits individuals and communities in Newcastle and Gateshead.

Full group smlThe event successfully launched

  • The Blue Stone Consortium; a new organisation which brings together Newcastle Voluntary Sector Consortium and Together Gateshead, the two VCSE consortia that covered Newcastle and Gateshead respectively. At the suggestion of one of our members we named the Consortium after the blue marble stone that marked the point on the old Tyne Bridge where Gateshead and Newcastle met; our work being to bring VCSE organisations in those areas together with others to improve the lives of local people and their communities.
  • Our offer to members and supporters; what the Consortium will do to help our members work together with commissioners, funders and social investors to improve the lives of some of the most disadvantaged people in our area. This included setting out the commitment the Board are asking members to make to make that offer a reality.
  • Our website; a place for the Consortium’s members, interested organisations and supporters to find out about our values, our current work and our achievements.


What was clear from the presentations and discussions is that there is a need for the Consortium

  • as an organisation serving its members
  • as an approach to bringing together funders, commissioners and investors with organisations that have a track record and reputation of delivering high quality services to their beneficiaries. This approach needs be both
  • reactive; waiting for tenders to come out and trying to gain intelligence and a line of sight towards contracts being let, and
  • proactive; working with each other to identify the needs of the people and communities we serve, identifying gaps, building business cases to fill those gaps, and engaging with commissioners, funders and investors to finance this.

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There are still barriers that prevent commissioners, funders and other supporters working with a collaboration of not for profit providers; to improve the health and wellbeing of local people, to regenerate communities, to help people find and maintain jobs with a decent wage, and to support young people to have and meet their aspirations.

The Consortium is one way to overcome some of these barriers.


The drivers which led to the setting up of the Consortium are still present; lack of opportunity for small, medium and large organisations to collaborate to share contract income; contracts being too large for many organisations to bid for and deliver on their own or with their network of usual partners; and competition from providers that have little or no understanding, reach or credibility with local communities.



Dr Guy Pilkington, Chair of the Newcastle Gateshead Clinical Commissioning Group presented the commissioning landscape and opportunities for the Consortium from an NHS commissioning perspective.

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He set out the three gaps the CCG aimed to close

  1. The Finance Gap – an annual shortfall of £30bn across the country between demand and supply. Preventing people needing acute care by supporting them to improve their health, preventing long term conditions and providing more and better care in primary and community settings will help close this gap.
  2. The Quality Gap – variations between organisations, areas and patient groups means that some people get poorer healthcare and experience worse health than others.
  3. The Health Gap – the difference between the burden of disease and illnesses we could prevent and the inequality in wealth between people in our area being a significant determinant of poor health. Reducing inequality would hep reduce this gap.

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The NHS Five Year Forward Review has set the tone of the approaches to closing these gaps. Locally, initiatives such as Deciding Together (consultation on specialist mental health services) and the Proof of Concept for the integration of health and social care in Newcastle are the mechanisms for changing healthcare and improving health.

He urged us to build alliances with each other and the statutory sector, add value, and take advantage of the personalisation agenda.

“This consortium way of working makes sense to me”



Alice Wiseman, Consultant in Public Health at Gateshead Council, then gave us a very comprehensive presentation on delivering Gateshead Council’s priorities. First she helped us understand the Council’s architecture for strategic planning; the Vision 2030 (One Vision, Six Big Ideas), the Council Plan 2015 to 2020, and the context within which that architecture is being designed and built

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  • Gateshead Council needing to save £77.7m by 2021 as a result of reductions in funding from Central Government
  • Changes in the population leading to an increase in the demand for health and social care services
  • High levels of preventable illness and disability
  • Austerity measures including Welfare reform
  • The policy direction for integration (commissioning and service delivery)


“The Gateshead Council Plan is clear that over the next 5 years, if we are to achieve desired outcomes for Gateshead, there needs to be a shift towards shared responsibility with communities and partners.”


With the key messages from Guy and Alice in our minds, we broke up into small groups to explore how participants could work with the Board of the Consortium and each other to make their organisations more sustainable, promote what they offer to individuals and communities in Newcastle and Gateshead, and benefit from the Consortium in 2016.

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In the discussions participants wanted the Consortium

  • to develop an evidence base to show funders/commissioners that VCSE providers make an impact to individuals and communities
  • to show that the VCSE is better placed than other sectors to give those individuals and communities a voice with strategic agencies
  • to ensure that the values of the VCSE are manifest in the Consortium’s work
  • to be ready for when contracts are let and this includes having developed approaches to manage competition between Consortium members


One key issue that Robin and Mick smlemerged from these discussions was that members have developed innovative solutions to health, social care, education, and community led regeneration problems in which commissioners and funders would be interested. Often, Consortium members find it difficult to identify and engage with such potential supporters to have those solutions developed and replicated.

A useful role for the Consortium would be to bring supports and members together.

The Question Time session with Alice Wiseman, Dr Guy Pilkington and Neil Shashoua, the Consortium’s Business Development Manager, responded to participants’ questions including

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  • Business opportunities – where will they come from?
  • What does the Consortium plan to do next?
  • Is EU funding really a possibility for Consortium members?


The launch ended with chats over tea and cake and an appreciation of Muckle LLP in Newcastle who hosted us in their beautiful Board Room in Gallowgate, Newcastle upon Tyne.


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