Voluntary organisations


The council recognises the unique position of local voluntary and community sector organisations in supporting residents as well as providing services for them. There is a range of funding opportunities available to local groups.

Tower Hamlets Voluntary and Community Sector Strategy 2016-2019

The Tower Hamlets Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) Strategy 2016-2019 is a cross-cutting strategy that sets out how the council will work with the VCS from now on and in future.

Starting from the council’s commitment to respecting and supporting the sector, the strategy aims to establish a new council approach to working with the council for Voluntary Service (THCVS) and the wider VCS in meeting key council and Community Plan priorities. It provides a background of the VCS in the borough, addresses local and national factors informing our work with the sector and sets out key areas of work we will be undertaking between now and 2019.

The strategic objectives of the strategy include: 

  • promoting co-production and sustainability
  • maximising the value from resources
  • creating a step-change in volunteering
  • bringing together business and the sector.

The strategy was developed following extensive consultation and work with the council for Voluntary Service (THCVS), local charities, resident groups and community groups.

The Strategy and Action Plan were agreed by Cabinet on the 5 April 2016 and can be viewed at the links below.

A VCS Strategy Delivery Group currently meets on a quarterly basis to ensure progress is being made in delivering the actions within the VCS Strategy Action Plan. The VCS Strategy Delivery Group consists of the following members:

  • Corporate Director Resources, London Borough of Tower Hamlets
  • Head of Benefits and Grants Services, London Borough of Tower Hamlets 
  • Interim Chief Executive Officer, Tower Hamlets council for Voluntary Services
  • Chief Executive, Volunteer Centre Tower Hamlets
  • Chief Executive, East End Community Foundation
  • Director, Tower Hamlets Education Business Partnership
  • Works Managing Director, East London Business Alliance.

In addition to the above, council representatives from the Third Sector Team, Procurement, Corporate Strategy, economic growth, asset management, human resources and communications also attend the quarterly meetings, as and when the agenda requires.

Our Tower Hamlets Crowdfunding and the Tower Hamlets Innovation Fund

A key action within the council’s Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) Strategy (2016-19) is to identify potential external funding sources which can be used to expand and diversify the resource base of local VCS organisations.

With a reduction in public sector funding a method to diversify income has been to encourage organisations to crowdfund.

The council has recently entered into an agreement with the crowdfunding portal Spacehive to pilot support to local VCS organisations that wish to or are planning to use crowdfunding for projects.

In addition to this, the council is keen to encourage and support innovation in the sector and acknowledged that this would require some funding to enable the sector to pilot new initiatives and approaches to service delivery and support.

The creation of an Innovation Fund is expected to support the sector "test and learn" new ways of working, new initiatives and new delivery models that if successful could be scaled up and commissioned more formally.

As a result organisations that are crowdfunding through the Our Tower Hamlets page of the Spacehive portal will have an opportunity to pitch for up to £10,000 (or a maximum of 50 per cent of an organisations crowdfunding target) in match funding for their projects.

Further details of Our Tower Hamlets and the Innovation Fund can be found on the Space Hive Tower Hamlets and innovation fund pages or the innovation factsheet.

Community Benefit Rent Reduction

In order to ensure that we continue to support the VCS but at the same time also ensuring that we meet our Best Value requirements the council is offering through a consistent, transparent, and accountable process, some voluntary and community groups, a community benefit rent reduction of 80 per cent where they meet specified criteria.

This is further detailed in the Community Buildings report that was considered by Cabinet on the 1 November 2016.

Details of the Community Benefit Rent Reduction - including the process, expression of interest form, requirements for the PreVisable and Your Value assessments can be found below. For further information, please contact third.sector@towerhamlets.gov.uk

Charitable Business Rate Relief

Charitable organisations and registered community amateur sports clubs can apply for mandatory relief which may result in an 80 per cent reduction in the charge. Additional relief on the remaining bill can be awarded at the council's discretion subject to certain criteria being met.

Non-profit making organisations may be entitled to relief which is also at the discretion of the council. This discretionary power allows the council to grant relief for all or part of any business rate liability for property occupied by certain bodies not established or conducted for profit.

Awards will be made for a fixed period of 12 months or until the end of the current financial year (31 March) and may be extended for a further 12 month period (or the end of the current financial year) without the need for a review to take place. Applications for charitable business rates relief can only be made by completing the online form and providing all requested information and documentation.  You will be notified whether or not your application was successful and a Business Rates bill is issued to you.

Apply for charitable business rates relief


For further information please read the criteria and guidance that has been agreed by elected members and used by officers of the council to support the decision making process.

Council premises leased to Voluntary and Community Sector organisations

The council has a limited stock of buildings which it leases to Voluntary and Community Sector organisations. Most are buildings which have a planning designation D1, which means they cannot be used for commercial activity, and are described as community buildings.

Historically the council has had a number of different arrangements with organisations which was inconsistent and potentially unfair.

During 2016 and 2017 the council worked with the VCS to produce consistent arrangements which met the need for openness and transparency, the council’s requirement to charge an appropriate rent, ensured hidden subsidies would be phased out and, in recognition of the benefit of work carried out by organisations in the community from our buildings, a scheme to reduce the amount of rent VCS lessees might have to pay.

VCS Small Grants programme

The council wants to make sure that local people and community groups will continue to be able to get funding from the Council to support community initiatives – people getting together to get things done.

We want to make sure funds will be available to support grass roots activity in our communities that will help make life better in Tower Hamlets and achieve the changes which we set out in the borough’s Community Plan and our own Strategic Plan.

By establishing a single grants programme with different themes or activities to be funded, the council is trying to make sure local groups seeking funds will have a one stop shop to get to the funds best suited to their needs. 

The Small Grants programme will be administered for the council by the East End Community Foundation.   To find out more about how to apply, please visit the EECF website

Tower Hamlets Compact

The Compact is a way of working – it is a statement of values and principles which underpin the relationship between the Council and the VCS. There is a national Compact adopted by central government and most local authorities have their own compacts with the VCS in their area. Often, other public bodies sign up to their local compact. Here in Tower Hamlets, the Council and the voluntary and community sector agreed a revised Compact in March 2018.

More information can be found on the Compact with the Voluntary and Community Sector page. 


In this section you can find information on a range of licences relevant to some voluntary and community sector organisations, including second hand goods and street collection licences.

News from the Voluntary and Community Sector

To promote your organisation’s events and other information please contact the Third Sector Team on: Third.Sector@towerhamlets.gov.uk.

Some of the methods the council can use to promote events and other information include through emails, its website, social media and the Our East End newsletter.

Tower Hamlets council for Voluntary Services (THCVS)

THCVS is an independent membership organisation for voluntary, community faith and social enterprise organisations in Tower Hamlets. They provide:

Membership of THCVS is free and is open to organisations working in Tower Hamlets.  If you need help or information you can reach them directly on 020 8980 8427, email info@thcvs.org.uk or follow them on Twitter @THCVS.