Kate Griffiths, British Red Cross Director for Wales, talks about the organisation’s Volunteering Wales Strategic project and its aim to improve emergency response coordination in Wales.
During the last two years, we have seen some excellent examples of where the voluntary sector in Wales has worked in partnership with the public and private sectors, as well as of collaboration among the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) to meet the needs of people and communities in an emergency.
At the height of the pandemic, we saw the very best of community spirit in Wales and across the UK. While people were in prolonged periods of lockdown, communities rallied with people supporting charities, community organisations, friends and neighbours, foodbanks and mutual aid groups.
LEARNING FROM RECENT EMERGENCY RESPONSES
At the British Red Cross, we have many years of experience responding to disasters – from large-scale major emergencies to personal crises. This is our core purpose. Yet the sheer scale of the COVID-19 response, its protracted nature, and the vast levels of unmet humanitarian need have been challenging for us all.
In Wales, Red Cross teams have been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic since the outbreak began, supporting those hardest hit by providing practical and emotional support through our dedicated COVID-19 support line, providing cash grants, food and other essential supplies to people in urgent need, and through supporting the Welsh Government’s volunteer prescription delivery scheme. Since support started at Welsh mass vaccination centres in January 2021, Red Cross volunteers supported more than 1 million vaccinations.
Responding to the coronavirus has been one of the most significant operations in our 150-year history and we know that we can achieve so much more when we work together collectively.
WHAT IS THE ‘VOLUNTEERING WALES STRATEGIC’ PROJECT?
Supported by members of the Wales Community Resilience Group, the British Red Cross has been awarded £32,000 through the Volunteering Wales Strategic Grant. This will help fund a project aimed at improved emergency response coordination in Wales by exploring partnerships within and between the voluntary, private and public sector.
This is a really exciting piece of research, taking forward one of the recommendations from the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee who published a report in early 2021 on the ‘Impact of COVID-19 on the voluntary sector‘ in Wales.
One of the recommendations of the report was around sharing of best practice from the response to both the pandemic and the flooding in 2020, assessing the extent to which the voluntary sector is integrated into formal and informal emergency planning structures and how partnerships can be strengthened between statutory bodies, non-statutory bodies, and citizens.
There was a recognition as part of that report, that the voluntary sector can be even more connected, while also having a much clearer role and clarity around responsibilities and the role that we can play in alignment with the public and private sectors.
As such, the report also recommended for the voluntary sector to be engaged in policy-making and service delivery in future recovery work. In turn, this would lead to greater partnership working beyond the recovery and include the voices of the voluntary sector as well as the people with whom they work.
WALES VOLUNTARY & COMMUNITY SECTOR CO-ORDINATION IN EMERGENCIES
The research project led by the British Red Cross in Wales, will explore the opportunities and lessons identified from recent experiences at community, local authority and national levels, including learning from the National Consortium for Societal Resilience and Voluntary & Community Sector Emergency Partnership (VCSEP) in England.
This initiative is pivotal in bringing together individuals and organisations who play a role in responding to emergencies in Wales, listening to them about what works and what doesn’t, what worked through the pandemic that we need to expand on, and the structures that can help or hinder a timely and co-ordinated emergency response. The project, which will run during the first half of this year, provides an opportunity to learn from everyone’s experience through consultation.
There are varying approaches to co-ordination across the UK and internationally, this research will draw upon experience and learning to inform and recommend a future framework for improved co-ordination of the sector across Wales.
The needs of people and their communities in an emergency are diverse and varied, and likely to range from immediate practical needs such as food or shelter, psycho-social support, information and advice.
The proposed framework will enable improved collaboration between voluntary sector, private sector and public sector bodies with statutory duties to response to an emergency. It will support a more co-ordinated and effective voluntary response to emergencies, with improved communication and clarity of roles, leading to improved support for people and communities in crisis.
If together we can learn from recent emergency responses across Wales and share best practice from the extraordinary collaboration we’ve seen during the pandemic, we will be well on the way to voluntary sector coordination that puts people and their communities at the very heart of emergency response.
We will be putting a call out for everybody’s input and involvement, look out for opportunities from March onwards on @redcrosswales and WCVA channels.