Catalysing Innovation – we’re all innovators now

For the past three years, VONNE has received funding to encourage and support innovation in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) among the VCSE community. Recently, that funding was renewed, so with a new programme in development, VONNE's Membership and Communications Support Officer, and Innovation Coordinator, Laura Elliot has taken some time to reflect on what we’ve learned so far, to help us plan the next phase. We’d also like your help shaping what comes next, but more of that later.

What we’ve learned

Throughout the programme, one of our big challenges has been overcoming confusion about what innovation is. There are lots of definitions out there, but we know it’s a word that confuses our networks and puts people off before we’ve started.

Put simply, for us, innovation is about looking at how we can do things differently, which when you think about it, is something we’ve all been doing for the past year.

Through the ups and downs of a global pandemic, our sector has faced unprecedented change. Who among us hasn't had to do things differently, whether that's adapting to working from home, figuring out how to stay connected with service users, or using new methods of communication or digital tools?

While the pace of change has brought challenges, a year in, it’s clear that some new ways of working are here to stay. We know from participants in the last phase of the programme that many took the opportunity to look at how they could do things differently. From relatively small changes like moving to virtual meetings, to full scale service re-design, the programme helped organisations innovate not simply to cope, but to make improvements.

Another takeaway has been the levels of collaboration within and beyond our sector, something our sector surveys also picked up. Peer learning and shared experiences have helped us all adapt as circumstances changed, and we’ll be harnessing both for what comes next.

Next steps

The new phase of our programme will focus on some key themes, with the aim of supporting our networks to innovate. We’ll be exploring:

How you can help

We’ve got lots of plans, but we’d love to hear from you. Within our priority areas, what would you like to see? Send your suggestions to me at


VONNE is part-funded by ERDF as part of the Catalysing Innovation in North East Clusters 2021-2023 project, delivered by the Innovation SuperNetwork.

Innovation SuperNetwork includes the Catalysing Innovation in North East Clusters 2021-2023 project, which is receiving up to £1.28m of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information, visit

The Northern Powerhouse is a key aspect of this government’s approach to addressing the productivity gap in the North and ensuring a stronger, more sustainable economy for all parts of the UK. Alongside over €1.5 billion of European Regional Development Fund support for businesses and communities across the North, the government has awarded £3.4 billion in three rounds of Growth Deals across the Northern Powerhouse.