Not for Profit
Charities brace themselves to repair social damage
As the front-line fight against the impact of Covid-19 rightly hogged our screens, many became increasingly fearful of what has been taking place off camera.
Red lights went on about our mental health, the well-being of our most vulnerable - and, at the darker end, about domestic violence, abuse, the welfare of our children and how families could put food on the table.
Key charities which tackle these issues for us in Gloucestershire first had to work hard to re-gear and reshape themselves as a result of the pandemic, knowing their next task was preparing for what might be in the room when access is granted post-lockdown.
As big as the task ahead is they also live with that other big question - the one facing businesses and individuals a-plenty currently - where will the money come from.
Emma Griffiths is chief executive officer at Gloucestershire Counselling Service, a charity staffed by 60 part-time counsellors and which pre-pandemic was already helping more than 220 people each week.
“When you speak to the charities in the county who deal with issues like domestic violence – like the Nelson Trust, Grasac (Gloucestershire Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre), Teens in Crisis, everyone says it has gone eerily quiet - until now. Slowly registrations are beginning to pick up,” said Ms Griffiths, also a trustee of the VCS Alliance, a board including Cordell Ray of Cheltenham CCP and GFirst LEP’s chief executive officer, David Owen and Tracie Clarke, CEO Young Gloucestershire and Infobuzz
"In the case of domestic violence – there are lots of people currently stuck at home with their abusers.
"Violence can sometimes stop when the abused and abuser are confined together – because the violence is used as control when the abuser doesn’t know where the other person is.
“But, when the lock-down is over, we don't know what the results will be of those toxic environments.
"I was on a call last week when someone was talking about the families who had kids about to be taken off them because they had already had their homes assessed as not fit for children to live in, but when lockdown happened the courts shut. No one knows what is going on in those homes.
“No one is doing any Ofsteds or inspections or site inspections which opens the door to institutional abuse.
“School has been open to those children deemed to be in a vulnerable group, but nationally only a small per cent has been attending.”
She acknowledged that massive efforts had taken place or were on-going in all sectors, reflecting the increased need. Most social distancing and the impact of the virus has kept services' hands tied.
Operations like Feed Cheltenham, Feed Gloucester, The Long Table, along with local authorities, colleges and businesses have all been working together to great effect.
Many in the charity and volunteering sector believe businesses could hold a vital component for future success. And no, that does not mean cash.
But the sector is understandably wary of approaching, conscious businesses have their own mountains to climb post lockdown.
“There are entrepreneurs who have developed incredible business who suddenly have had to deal with not much hope or support and probably never been challenged like this before.
"We should all be worried about the impact of that because these are precisely the sort of people our economy needs to recover,” said Ms Griffiths.
And these talents and others within companies and our own new-found community spirit is what charities now hope could help reach a major asset little tapped - our individual skills.
Matt Lennard, of the VCS Alliance (pictured below), the independent voice for the county’s voluntary sector (more than 2,000 charities), said it was the skills within businesses which could transform the sector to tackle the huge issues society will need to unpick.
“It is not collaboration I’m interested in developing – 'let's all get together and dredge a canal or pick up litter and then go home'. They are good, but they are team-building exercises," he said, careful to praise anyone who has offered their time and energy to a charity, but wanting to encourage businesses to see the organisation he represents as having similar needs to their own.
“I am interested in taking some of those skills businesses have and putting them into charity organisations so they can develop them further and benefit the charity at the same time. Or they could give their times as a mentor. Either way everyone wins.
“And ‘yes’, still give us your money too – if you have it – but give us your skills. We can develop a virtuous circle.”
Such a change of culture could have an enormous impact, he suggests.
I mention a well-known firm of accountants that does the books of one of the county’s charities for nothing. Something Mr Lennard described as “brilliant”.
“But let’s take that further. There are 2,553 charities in Gloucestershire. The vast majority of those are turnover more than £10,000, so they have to submit company accounts. That costs £400 each.
“If that same firms of accountants offered to discount that fee on each one of those accounts the difference they could make is enormous. It would be hundreds of thousands of pounds extra in the pockets of the county’s charities immediately.”
TheRaikesJournal did the sums – the figure is more than £1 million.
“The challenge for our sector is to get the message across to businesses,” said Mr Lennard.
“Yes, charities need money, but they are always crying out for professional services, for IT, advice on how to work from home, HR advice, PR advice.
“As a sector I think we have been incredibly agile in the last few months, and I know businesses have had to be as well, but we cannot seem to get many interested in mentoring support.
“We have been going through the local enterprise partnership to try to connect us to businesses. We know there are a lot out there.
“I know some businesses think if they get in touch charities are only going to be after their money, but it is their skills and staff which can be invaluable. If we can just get that across, that is where the real treasure lies.”
It is the profile of charities too and the imagination of those who fundraise and those who give so generously to think differently that will count.
Treading the line carefully, we talk about the incredible efforts of Captain Tom Moore as he inspired by walking 100 lengths of his garden for NHS Charities Together.
An undeniably incredible effort, but - and in no way meaning to undermine his achievements - his efforts benefited a major charity supporting a state-funded organisation whose PR machine knew a good opportunity when it saw it. And what a success and incredibly inspiring and dignified effort it was.
Many in the charity and volunteer sector are battling locally for even a fraction of a fraction of the funding the campaign created behind Captain Moore managed. Many of them are on the front-line for our communities here in Gloucestershire and now readying themselves in earnest.
“Local authorities have been working tirelessly through this, and they will have even less money at the end of it which means even less for some of the vital support needed in the county.
“It relies on the good work of many charities to help tackle exclusion, domestic violence, child welfare issues, and the likelihood the challenges will get greater and not less,” said Mr Lennard.
GCS is offering a free on-line course on June 27 from 10.30am to 11.30am for anyone seeking to develop their listening skills or start training to become a counsellor. To find out more email: Training.Bookings@gloscounselling.org.uk.