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 2020-2024

The Tower Hamlets Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) Strategy 2020-2024 is a partnership strategy between the council, voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations in the borough and the council’s partners, in both the public and private sectors. Its focus is on achieving positive outcomes for the residents of the borough. This will include enabling the borough to recover from the COVID-19 Pandemic and move to a post-pandemic world.  The VCS Strategy has a vision of a diverse and thriving VCS, working alongside residents, the council and partner organisations to achieve better outcomes for residents

The strategy focuses on how the council and partner organisations will work together with the VCS to allow the VCS to thrive and prosper, and not be dependent on the statutory sector.

 The Strategy relates to the VCS in the widest sense, including:

  • registered charities
  • faith groups
  • unregistered and informal community groups, including mutual aid groups
  • social enterprises
  • tenants and residents’ associations
  • co-operatives
  • community interest companies, with charitable elements

The strategy acknowledges the importance of the VCS to Tower Hamlets, and the strength of the VCS in the borough, which have been particularly underlined by its crucial role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Strategy will see the VCS having a positive impact on the lives of local residents and being a celebrated asset of the borough. It sees the sector playing a key role in Tower Hamlets’ recovery from the pandemic, developing its own resources and skills to tackle inequalities in the community.

The Strategy has three key priorities:

  • Better partnership working within the VCS
  • A more resilient and sustainable VCS
  • Improved partnership arrangements across sectors

The Strategy was developed following consultation and work with local VCS organisations, led by Tower Hamlets Council for Voluntary Service, Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group and Tower Hamlets Homes.

The VCS Strategy was agreed by Cabinet on the 25th November 2020.

The Strategy sets out a framework for action and is being implemented via a delivery plan developed by strategy partners. The work will be overseen by Cooperate, the key VCS partnership body in the borough. A number of VCS Forums will report back to Cooperate.  They will also have a role, working with partners, in identifying actions and solutions to address the commitments in the strategy. 

The investment that the Council has made in the VCS in Tower Hamlets takes a range of forms – grants, commissioning, funding for projects to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and rent and business rate relief for example. Details of this are covered in the VCS Mid-Year Report which will be available to view shortly.

The current flagship funding programme for the VCS in Tower Hamlets is the Local Community Fund (LCF). The work and achievements of projects funded by LCF is highlighted in the Local Community Fund and Infrastructure Capacity Building Fund Annual Report – Oct19-Sep 20.

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 place 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.


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.