Historically charitable work provided for the poor and the needy before social welfare existed and many were associated with religious organisations. The third sector today is a different animal with the voluntary sector working alongside statutory services; influencing governments to make changes to the law; and working with academia and the private sector to tackle a host of society’s ills. They continue to provide a lifeline for many on the margins of society.
Now in the thick of the Coronavirus pandemic, charities are more needed than ever, providing vital signposting and support and to those who were already facing desperate poverty, ill-health, or loneliness.
On my doorstep colleagues at Derbyshire Voluntary Action (DVA) have reacted quickly by working with Community Chesterfield and others to create a Covid 19 Support Directory to help map the myriad services available across the public and charitable realm during the pandemic. The directory – like many others which have been produced at breakneck speed by the voluntary sector and others – shows how active charities and community groups are in the current circumstances.
And with incidents of abuse in the home soaring during lockdown, with at least 16 deaths in the UK due to domestic violence*, the value of the Elm Foundation, which supports people in North Derbyshire affected by domestic abuse, has been brought into sharp relief. The charity has pulled out all the stops to launch its new telephone helpline and text service, funded by Derbyshire County Council, on April 1st, despite staff going off sick with coronavirus. In parallel, the charity has had to deal with an increased number of referrals for refuge support, working closely with the Council and other domestic abuse charities to find safe accommodation for those in desperate need. It is also working closely with the Police and Social Services to monitor and support those at risk.
CVSs too have demonstrated the vital role they play advising and supporting voluntary groups, especially during this challenging period. Credit is due to High Peak CVS, who has continued to provide support to their 300+ membership whilst simultaneously launching their new social prescribing project at the outset of the coronavirus outbreak. With the consent of the funders, Derby and Derbyshire Clinical Commissioning Group, and in partnership with the Primary Care Network of GPs, the team of two quickly modified their plan of providing face to face delivery to instead back up the primary care provision across the High Peak. In the last few weeks, they have contacted hundreds of potentially vulnerable people that have been identified either through the local GP or have been referred through the Derbyshire County Council Community Response Unit (CRU) requesting support. This has varied from issues such as delays with benefits through to problems with anxiety due to the lockdown. The social prescribers have been diligently working through the list, providing a listening ear, and putting people in touch with other services and volunteers who can provide further help.
As well as being agile and rallying the troops (aka volunteers) to do what needs to be done, charities are also doing what they do best: collaborating and being innovative to meet their beneficiaries’ needs. One such example is Versus Arthritis, which has designed a condition specific chatbot for people with arthritis affected by coronavirus.
Charities are also repurposing their staff and resources to support those on the NHS frontline, for example wildlife rangers from Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust delivering PPE to health organisations across their local area.
Given this monumental effort by the third sector, it is no surprise that the paltry relief package pledged by the government for charities has been met with disdain. The stalwarts at NVCO and ACEVO are doing a brilliant job fighting the corner for the sector, notably through their Every Day Counts campaign, and I would urge any charity to let NCVO know how Coronavirus is affecting their organisation to help them in this regard.
As charities forge on plugging gaps in service provision and working in partnership to meet unprecedented social need despite their loss of income (due to charity shop closures, cancellation of events and funding streams hanging in the balance) and having to furlough staff, it will be more important than ever for them to monitor the vital contribution they make during the pandemic. Keeping track of new models of delivery, partnerships, digital innovations, as well as recording case studies evidencing how they are alleviating the pressure on statutory services, will serve them well in the inevitable discussions that will follow about charities’ social and economic value, the essential role of civil society and justifying public funding to help them survive as the country embarks on its long road to recovery.
Photo credit: by Akshar Dave on Unsplash