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“Charities are the eyes, ears and conscience of society. They mobilise, they provide, they inspire, they advocate and they unite.”

(House of Lords Select Committee on Charities)

The strengthening of civil society has been central to our purpose as a Foundation and a focus of our grantmaking for decades. However, in the UK and in many other countries, its independence and freedom are increasingly under pressure.

In 2011, we established a Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector, which brought leaders from civil society together to systematically analyse the opportunities and pressures on civil society. The Panel concluded in its 2014 report that ‘a “new settlement” is required between the voluntary sector and key partners, particularly the state, but this needs to be underpinned by a shared understanding of the distinctive contribution of an independent voluntary sector’.

In 2016, the Foundation made an anchor grant with seven other funders to establish a two-year Independent Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society (Civil Society Futures), which will explore how English civil society can maintain its vital contribution to British society over the next 10 years.

The Inquiry is also generously core funded by Barrow Cadbury Trust, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK), City Bridge Trust, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Lankelly Chase, Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales and Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Additionally, NCVO has supported research by the Inquiry.