About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

From floods and heatwaves, to dangerous incidents and times of crisis, we see the power of citizens and neighbours to support each other. Whether formal or informal, volunteering initiatives play an important role in communities helping and supporting each other, before, during and after crisis and emergencies.

Well-coordinated community responses to emergencies can complement statutory responses, and potentially lead to better use of knowledge, resources, and create better outcomes for citizens and communities. We have previously back ideas such as GoodSAM or StreetDoctors, which demonstrate this potential.

Established multi-agency partners can increase the capacity or capability to embrace the numerous volunteer offers of help, this is demonstrated by platforms like The Standby Taskforce, and preparedness approaches such as the Flood Network. Organisations can act as a conduit between volunteers and a range of nationwide and local charities, bridging the gap between large national organisations and smaller organisations with local knowledge.

In September 2017, Nesta and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport launched the Connected Communities Innovation Fund. The ’Community Resilience in Emergencies’ priority area of the fund focuses on innovations that mobilise the time and talents of people to enable communities to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies. The fund supports organisations with between £75,000- £100,000 to both develop and test early stage ideas that demonstrate impact in this area.

Here the four ambitious innovations share their plans to grow their work to mobilise many more people, including people from across their communities, particularly those aged 50+, to use their time and talents to support people and places to thrive, alongside public services.

Meet the grantees:

  1. Voluntary Action North East Lincolnshire (VANEL)
  2. British Red Cross
  3. Volunteer Centre Camden
  4. North Yorkshire County Council

1. Voluntary Action North East Lincolnshire

VANEL’s Blue Lights Brigade (BLB) initiative will develop volunteering opportunities for retired emergency service personnel through tailor-made volunteering journeys. It will build on their work to date with general community volunteers, to focus on mobilising volunteers to build community resilience by helping prepare for and recover from emergencies.

This programme aims to reduce the pressure on emergency services so serving officers can focus on those in most need and BLB volunteers can provide backup support at the time of the incident and invest time preparing communities to be ready.


In addition, the Blue Lights Brigade (BLB) initiative aims to address a significant issue that is often overlooked - the need to support retiring blue lights service personnel to ensure they remain active community members and can both contribute to others’ safety and good health, as well as their own.

VANEL has been awarded £77,500 to mobilise the time and talents of 300 volunteers all aged 50+.

2. British Red Cross

British Red Cross will work across three London local councils (based in Waltham Forest, Barking & Dagenham and Redbridge) - and with community groups based in these areas - to focus on community-led emergency response strategies. Drawing on the learning from their wide experience of emergency response, British Red Cross will develop a new approach to engaging deeply in communities, to support them to mobilise, to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies.

Overall, this approach aims to develop a wholesale change in how individuals, communities, the British Red Cross and formal statutory services approach emergencies, recognising the value that each can offer, and creating better ways to work together and independently for more resilient communities.

British Red Cross has been awarded £74,978 to mobilise the time and talents of 345 volunteers, including 158 people aged 50+.

3. Camden Volunteer Centre

Camden Volunteer Centre’s CAMERA (Coordinating and Mobilising Emergency Response Activists) project is an emergency volunteer programme that will enable local people and businesses to be known and trusted to local authorities so that they can be activated to support and collaborate with the public service response in an emergency.

This project is based on experience and learning from the Grenfell Tower tragedy; working with volunteers who supported the evacuation of the tower blocks on the Chalcots Estate in Camden.

Volunteer Centre Camden has been awarded £86,925 to mobilise the time and talents of 510 volunteers, including 375 people aged 50+.

4. North Yorkshire County Council

North Yorkshire ​County Council will provide a collaborative, coordinated and directed multi-agency response to significant incidents in North Yorkshire, with volunteers and citizens at the heart of this response.

They will develop the ‘Enhance North Yorkshire’ network initiative, which ​aims to put in place arrangements to recruit, train and retain volunteers, enabling them to develop their skills and support public sector responders in the event of a significant incident or emergency.

Enhance North Yorkshire’s overall project aim is to bring together and coordinate individual volunteers and established groups within the voluntary and community sector, to support collaborative and focused emergency response and management.

North Yorkshire County Council has been awarded £100,000 to mobilise the time and talents of 360 volunteers, including 200 people aged 50+.