‘Rapid and selfless’ response to pandemic across charity sector

Jane Ide, Chief Executive of NAVCA, has been reflecting on the response from across the voluntary and community sector and, more specifically, the rapid and selfless reaction from local infrastructure organisations across England, many of them NAVCA members.

She writes:

We knew when the pandemic hit, our members would be right at the heart of the response. And the work they have done has been phenomenal.

Local infrastructure organisations are embedded in the communities they serve. Whether they are known as Community Action, a Council for Voluntary Service, Voluntary Action or some other title, the work they do makes a massive impact. 

NAVCA members were quick to adapt their operations from day one of the pandemic to co-ordinate all manner of support services, from food deliveries and prescription collections to befriending and dog walking. Alongside direct support to people in need, they have worked tirelessly to connect small charities, community organisations, faith groups, businesses, the NHS, local authorities, mutual aid groups and volunteers in ways that work for their community. 

Across the country NAVCA members connected with over a quarter of a million volunteers. We know that the efforts of the voluntary and community sector saved lives.

Having the ear of Ministers and civil servants has been crucial during the pandemic. From the start, we moved rapidly to raise our members’ views and concerns, and to make sure that those in government were aware of the scale and impact of the local response which was being delivered by the voluntary and community sector. From the start of lockdown we were in direct contact with ministers and senior officials in the relevant departments, as well as engaging closely with members of the Shadow Cabinet.

Mike Adamson form the British Red Cross and I co-chair the VCS Emergencies Partnership, and we understand the potential for the sector to respond at pace when a crisis strikes. The Emergencies Partnership developed as a result of learning after the Grenfell fire and the Manchester arena bombing. It’s shown its value and agility in emergency response in situations such as the threatened collapse of the Whaley Bridge dam and the fire at student accommodation in Bolton. Responding to the pandemic has been a true test of the Emergencies Partnership and also for countless community-based voluntary organisations and charities. 

The Emergencies Partnership has formed a strong relationship with the Government and this will be crucial in the ongoing response and longer term recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

We’ve demonstrated the relevance, flexibility and willingness of the voluntary and community sector to work alongside statutory agencies, as well as the strength of relationships civil society organisations have in communities which might be harder for the Government to reach. 

The Government has recognised this by investing nearly £5m in the work of the Emergencies Partnership, our partners and the networks we cover, to strengthen the voluntary and community sector’s response to coronavirus and future emergencies. This funding is part of the £750m package of support the Government has provided for the charity and voluntary sector, which has seen fundraising income plummet as a result of lockdown and ongoing financial pressures. 

Over £1m from the DCMS award will go to local infrastructure organisations. The funding that will be distributed directly to local infrastructure organisations as a contribution to their work within the Emergencies Partnership is a welcome acknowledgement of the unique role these organisations play in their local areas. Their insight into the needs of local communities is unparalleled, and their ability to network across geographical areas makes them ideally placed to respond to those needs.

Having a thriving voluntary sector in a community makes a big difference in terms of resilience. Without our numerous charity and voluntary organisations, and millions of volunteers, across the country, it would have been almost impossible to identify need and organise effective local support in response to the pandemic, especially as the whole country was facing such a challenge at the same time. And we know that these groups will continue to make a real contribution to their local communities as we move into recovery, the volatility of local lockdowns or, if necessary, tackle a second wave of coronavirus.

This is why NAVCA is backing the #NeverMoreNeeded campaign, which calls for more government support for the sector. Charity and voluntary organisations have responded to the urgent needs of people across the country, quickly, effectively and without question. Putting everything in to helping their communities, they have put their organisational survival on the line. But with little chance to fundraise, a loss of income from trading and providing services, and – most of all – much greater demand, many charities are now in real danger of having to close completely. NAVCA sees the next few months as a make-or-break time. 

We’re continuing to make the case to the Government that investing in the voluntary and community sector makes sense, economically as well as ethically. We need resilient, thriving, healthy communities and a fundamental element is a strong supported voluntary sector. 

If coronavirus has made one thing very clear, it’s that our charities and voluntary organisations really are never more needed than now.

Jane Ide, Chief Executive of NAVCA

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