Anna Nicholl, WCVA’s Director of Strategy & Sector Development, talks on the challenges of the present and the importance of looking to the future.
COVID-19 and the response it has demanded across the globe is creating disruptions the likes of which we have never seen before. It has impacted –quickly and sometimes severely – on almost every aspect of our lives. For some groups or sectors, the impact may be catastrophic.
This crisis demands an emergency response, rightly focussing on the immediate protection of people’s lives and wellbeing.
We’ve seen an amazing response by people wanting to support each other voluntarily. That includes immediate neighbourly and community-led responses, taking pressure off the NHS and other services and saving lives. People are organising in different ways and we are hearing how young people are playing a central role in this response.
A plethora of online communities have been set up voluntarily. They’re making a difference in amazing ways – helping people keep fit, learn or, the best tonic of all, to have a good laugh together. Established charities like museums and theatres are throwing open their doors virtually. This supports people’s emotional and mental health and may lead to new ways of social prescribing.
At the same time, many charities have been thrown suddenly into financial crisis. Income streams have been shut off overnight. Traditional fundraising events and activities like marathons have been cancelled and shops are closed.
Many charities, big and small, face closure in a matter of months, or even weeks. NCVO has estimated the loss in income over 12 weeks for charities in the UK will be £4bn. A quarter of charities with incomes of less than a million have no reserves, according to The Centre for Social Justice. Wales is a nation of small charities which are likely to be less financially resilient.
Government is now providing welcome support. Welsh Government is investing £24m in funds to support immediate need and to help organisations stay afloat. UK government has also announced a £750m funding package with consequentials for Wales. Unfortunately, it will not be enough to plug the gap.
This matters because so many of us depend on their work. Charities facing financial ruin include those with immediate rocketing demand for services. Barnardos, Tenovus, Welsh Women’s Aid and Ty Gobaith, community centres, youth organisations, charities fighting for the rights of the most vulnerable, the Wildlife Trust and local museums are all under threat.
These voluntary organisations are not an optional add-on but are deeply embedded in the fabric of our society. There is a very real danger that they will not be there – either to support people and communities through this crisis or to rebuild afterwards.
Whilst it feels almost impossible, we want to keep an eye on that future because we are at a pivot point. As we move through this terrible crisis, will we take opportunities to shift behaviours in support of a kinder, fairer, more sustainable world? Or will inequalities and disempowerment be more entrenched?
The value-driven voices of voluntary organisations will be crucial to help us make the right choices for the Wales people want. That’s particularly the case because we know that whilst COVID-19 is impacting everyone, it will impact on the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest.
WCVA is working with many others to support the amazing voluntary response we’re seeing to the crisis, as well as helping organisations to keep their doors open for people and communities. We also want to work with others to keep an eye on shaping a better future together in the wake of the crisis. If you want to get involved, please get in touch via email or Twitter.