Business context

Community360 is an independent charity based in Essex. Their work encourages local communities to thrive, building partnerships and resilient networks for residents to live more independent, healthy, happy lives. As an anchor organisation, it helps over 500 voluntary and community groups to access the resources they need, whilst also connecting local people with their services.

With such a broad scope and diverse agenda, they needed a robust framework to measure and demonstrate the impact of their work within the community. At an organisational level, this would support their strategic planning and ensure the fair and effective allocation of resources across the network. More broadly, it would enable them to build impact case studies to access funding and drive policy changes based on the needs of the groups they serve.

By partnering with the University of Essex and engaging with research expertise, they aimed to build critical skills, explore new ideas, and establish a model for wider sectoral development.

Research solution

Community360 were keen to access the unique range of academic expertise that our institution has to offer. The Knowledge Exchange team at the University facilitated collaborations with academics in Essex Business School and the School of Philosophical, Historical, and Interdisciplinary Studies over a period of three years which supported a range of activities, including:

Contract Research
Evaluation Services

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, a key priority for Community360 was to enhance the range of evidence available to inform the organisation’s work. This included gathering new qualitative information about local lived experiences. Dr Alix Green, a Reader in History and public history specialist, and Dr Rebecca Warren, a Senior Lecturer in Accounting, led a listening project that revealed the human impact of the pandemic on the voluntary and charitable sector and local community organisers.

The findings were shared with participants, policymakers, multi-agency boards, sectoral partners and wider audiences through presentations, in a report and podcast series, highlighting the effects of the pandemic on staff morale, the wellbeing of service users, funding and fundraising activities, and the development of partnerships.

Dr Warren has also worked with Community360 to develop a framework to independently evaluate their time banking activities and demonstrate their social impact in a holistic way. It incorporated a range of potential data points and outcomes, including increased employability and reduced social isolation.

She also consulted on a community asset mapping project to support with resource management and distribution of funding at a grassroots level. It showed what assets already existed, how well they were being engaged with, and where there were gaps.

“By working with the University, we’ve been able to ask questions about ourselves and what we want to learn about the sector. I would encourage other community and voluntary organisations to participate in knowledge exchange. It provides a safe place to explore the potential of what you’d like to achieve and gives you the opportunity to draw in expertise from a range of skilled academics.”
Louise Willsher strategic head of innovation and growth, community360

Business value

Working with the university has given Community360 a strong foundation for strategic development and growth and enabled them to evidence the impact they, and the community and voluntary sector, are making. They have now built on the collaborative work with Essex even further through an Innovate UK funded Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP).

The multiyear KTP collaboration will enable Community360 to identify funding and partnership opportunities, build out their resources, and establish priorities based on community-led evidence. Working with the University will help to raise the profile of local voluntary sector, and to amplify voices of the community.

Read more about partnering with Essex expertise below