State of the Sector 2021 - Oldham

Read the 2021 State of the Sector report for Oldham


The State of the Sector report analyses the significant social and economic contribution the VCFSE sector makes in Oldham Borough and across the whole of Greater Manchester and follows on from previous research conducted in 2010 in Salford and in 2013 and 2017 across Greater Manchester.

We are launching this research to promote a better understanding of the VCFSE sector in Oldham, explore how we can work together to strengthen its impact, and its ability to realise the significant role it plays in supporting people living in all parts of the borough, across communities of geography and identity / experience.

The report illustrates the amazing size, reach, spread, scale and diversity of the VCFSE sector, with key findings including:

  • There are 1,326 voluntary organisations, community groups and social enterprises making a difference in Oldham
  • 70% are micro organisations, with an annual income under £10,000
  • 12% of the sector identify as being a social enterprise 
  • £90.4 million is the total income of the sector (2019/2020)
  • 84% of organisations have at least one source of non-public sector funds, bringing significant value to the city-region’s economy
  • 38% of organisations have used their reserves in the past 12 months
  • 45,720 volunteers (including committee/board members), giving 166,910 hours each week
  • Volunteer time in Oldham is conservatively valued at £82 million per annum (based on the real Living Wage £9.50 per hour) but in reality is likely to be much higher.
  • 30% of organisations who employ staff indicated that they paid the real Living Wage to their employees
  • 85% of VCFSE organisations have had some direct dealings with other VCFSE organisations. This includes 83% with Oldham Council, and 49% with private organisations

This research has been commissioned by Action Together as part of 10GM alongside GMCVO and the other key infrastructure organisations within Greater Manchester and undertaken by the Centre for Social and Health Research at the University of Salford. To describe growth patterns and trends and draw some comparisons, this survey is based on previous State of the Sector questions originally developed by Sheffield Hallam University. This report forms part of a wider collection of reports which may be downloaded from

Read the State of the Sector reports for Rochdale and Tameside.


Our reflection on the 2021 Oldham State of the Sector Report

For over a decade Action Together have joined other community and voluntary infrastructure organisations across Greater Manchester to conduct the State of the Sector research. Over that time we’ve seen big changes to the sector, but never more so than in the last year. COVID-19 has changed all aspects of our lives, and with it the way the voluntary, community, faith and social enterprise (VCFSE) sector works – during a time when charities and volunteers were essential in the response to the pandemic. The overall size of the sector hasn’t dramatically changed, but it is fragile and still struggles with short term funding, high competition for grants, and securing the resources it needs to grow.

The sector is resilient and by its nature diverse, doing incredible and essential things that help to tackle inequality, reduce hardship, and enrich people’s lives. In this report, you’ll learn about the important work that the sector does, and the support it needs to continue benefitting our communities.

The report emphasises the importance of micro and small organisations embedded across neighbourhoods in Oldham. Many VCFSE groups are local anchor organisations, with a focus on place and strong roots and ties to the community. These links and knowledge were invaluable in communicating with and supporting local communities throughout the pandemic, though these groups are also the most fragile, often relying on individuals or a small number of supporters to stay afloat.

Even before the pandemic, we continued to see a large number of groups across Oldham focused around health and wellbeing. These groups form a key link in our social prescribing work through the Oldham Cares Thriving Communities programme. Alongside these findings, it’s instructive that 47% of groups surveyed were formed in the last decade. This demonstrates how smaller groups are setting up to fill gaps in community support.

The network of groups we work with was vital throughout the pandemic, from the early days of the first lockdown through test and trace and into the vaccination programme. VCFSE groups showed their flexibility and openness to change by staying open during the pandemic, being quick to adapt to new services and ways of working, and few used the option to furlough so they could continue to meet the needs of local people.

The sector also demonstrated its ability to lead during a crisis, particularly in the community work that it is best placed to deliver. Local anchor organisations in Oldham showed their value through the COVID community champions work, forming a key part of community engagement in the mass vaccination roll out. Investment and support in these organisations is shown to pay off in the knowledge and trust they share with the communities they work in.

Alongside changing ways of working, organisations had more pressure on their services. This came from increased demand and different asks as new service users came into contact with the sector. We saw this when Action Together lent some support to Oldham Foodbank, and it’s backed up by some of the focus group findings. While the survey shows the sector in Oldham was responsive and adaptable, often out of necessity, it’s unsustainable for the sector to continue to adapt without further support and investment.

It’s also important to recognise the incredible voluntary response to the pandemic. At Action Together we’ve registered a record number of volunteers in the last year, while also seeing a new profile of volunteer coming forward, often as a result of the furlough scheme. Action Together has also given extensive support to the new mutual aid groups that sprung up across the borough. This points to a public eagerness to be involved in community action, and we adapted our volunteer process and roles to make it easier and quicker for people to get involved in the emergency response.

The pandemic exacerbated a number of long-standing challenges for the sector, with funding continuing to be the main area where support is most needed. In the report you’ll see a low number of local organisations accessed reserves – this is due to them not having reserves to call on. 45% of groups reported decreased earnings last year, and we know the groups Action Together work with have had to stop their usual fundraising activities or close venues, hitting their ability to raise money. Action Together’s funding support is consistently the most requested from local groups, and while we’ve helped more groups access funding than ever before, it’s still a fraction of what is needed.

Funding was also a key issues raised in focus group research. The Black Lives Matter movement brought issues of inequality in the black community into sharp focus, and this report includes findings from a focus group around BLM. The group highlighted how COVID exacerbated existing issues of inequality, particularly around funding, and how the time has come for actions to match rhetoric.

There are green shoots of recovery as we aim to build back better. Partnership working continues to develop, with key connections being made through the pandemic. The report includes some interesting findings about Community Partnership models. Groups have learnt new skills in digital working, and at Action Together we’ve been able to reach more people through an enhanced digital offer. Mutual aid points to a new profile of group and way of working. We need to harness and build on the work of social enterprises and cooperatives, that contribute to community wealth, provide pathways to work for the most excluded, and provide a means for local people to access and share buildings and other assets. And the significance of the paid and unpaid workforce of the VCSE sector should not be overlooked – we need to drive forward large-scale organisational development to ensure the sector can transform and adapt its offer for the benefit of a changing country.

Thank you to all the charities, voluntary groups, organisations, and staff who helped produce this report. At Action Together we’re passionate about people power and amplifying the voices of people that often go unheard - this will be essential if collectively we are to realise the recommendations of the recent GM Equalities Commission report, and work together to help our communities build back better.