WCVA Chief Executive, Ruth Marks, reflects on voluntary organisations’ response to the coronavirus pandemic in Wales.
Working in the voluntary sector is a privilege and never more so than at the moment during the current reality that is Covid19 in April 2020.
From the moment we made the decision to close our offices and for the four weeks since I have seen some of the best commitments and actions as well as some of the biggest challenges in many years – maybe ever.
The huge ground swell of volunteers who have given their time close to home to help neighbours and people in the local community.
The substantial numbers of charities who have dialled up their efforts in response to the call to mobilise. The organisations who have repurposed their work to see how they can support the different needs for social contact, food and medicines delivery, activities for the children of key workers (and many more brilliant examples).
The commitment to stay connected via more platforms than a central railway station and to learn about them via trial and error (especially that pesky mute button that has me regularly sharing great thoughts that only I can hear).
We have enabled a plethora of discussions that have not only shared experiences to support people and charities to mobilise across Wales, but also sparked ideas and innovations that could serve us well when we move into the stabilisation and recovery phases.
The commitment to engage with each other and with partners across all parts of public service and business in order to effectively mobilise the amazing formal volunteer resource and to support the even more amazing informal community activity.
In response; the commitment of decision makers, who we regularly seek to influence have opened their doors to consider how best to work together, recognising the reach and flexibility of the sector.
‘The likelihood is that charities will close because of this crisis’ @wcvaruth appeared on @ITVWales over Easter talking about the impact of #COVID19 on the voluntary sector – watch below. pic.twitter.com/s0sRL4qVFA
— WCVA | CGGC (@WCVACymru) April 14, 2020
So there are some good things to reflect on, but as always there is a flip side. The reality that not all charities or voluntary groups will survive the economic challenges created by stopping sponsored runs in their tracks, preventing cakes from being bought in bake sales and not allowing any of us to mooch around, donate to, or buy from charity shops.
I’ve seen increased collaboration between organisations keen to play to their strengths in partnership with others. I have also seen elements of competition where charities have been able to move fast and promote their idea or service to people who are keen for a new solution to a new problem.
Certainly the fundamental challenges and divides in society have been brought into sharp relief. In relation to food poverty- who could afford to bulk buy or stockpile a few weeks ago? Everyone lives in different circumstances, but what is lockdown like for refugees and asylum seekers who share accommodation and facilities like washing machines and have no outdoor space close by for children to play in? Incidents of loneliness and isolation faced by some older people might have been reduced by friendly gestures of post cards posted through letter boxes. Yet we also fear an increase in scams that can seriously harm people in vulnerable circumstances.
Part way through April 2020, four weeks into a different way of working and no specific end in sight, one thing is for sure – we need to build on our commitment to connect with each other, enabling each of us to effectively engage and influence in whatever recovery looks like.
Charities and the people who volunteer to take action on the ground, give their time as trustees to steer and guide that activity and the staff (where there are any), have all ‘stepped up’. If we can build on the best of the experience to date and learn from the recent past I am optimistic that we will be an even greater force for good in the future. An independent and committed sector, that is able to support grassroots local activity, give advice and guidance and to take formal responsibility for specific services, either alone or in partnership with statutory services and business. And I hope to have conquered that pesky mute button too.