Crises bring out the best in people
I am writing this blog during Volunteers’ Week and I am sure you will agree that we have been blown away by the support volunteers have been providing during the COVID-19 crisis. The real success story of volunteering is the grassroots response to the virus where communities, unhindered by government or charities, have been getting on and supporting vulnerable people with self-help support groups. Each fortnight in our e-bulletin we have been celebrating their success by providing examples of the COVID-19 volunteer support groups that have been supporting their community across the county. We also held a Zoom Assembly network meeting where volunteers from support groups in Bedlington, Morpeth and Ponteland talked about their roles in their communities which was most informative. Thanks to all the participants.
We hope that it will be possible to harness the good will and concern and the strong community spirit that has been engendered during this difficult period and keep it going. Latest research from Power to Change shows that an overwhelming 68% of UK adults don’t want to lose the renewed sense of community spirit and are pledging to do more in their local area when the crisis finally ends. A positive note during this time of crisis.
Assembly Network meetings using Zoom?
It is unlikely that we will be able to hold face to face Assembly network meetings for some time and, in these circumstances, it would be useful to get your views on holding meetings online. Also, if there are any particular topics you think would be useful to you, that could be covered in online meetings, then do let me know.
Adapting to new ways of working
In early May we held an online meeting of our Executive online. We did not have a formal agenda but felt it would be useful to catch up with our members, who are a mix of Chief Executives and officers of VCS organisations and active members in their communities, to get a feel about how their organisations and communities were managing during this crisis.
Removing the ability to meet face to face with beneficiaries also removes many of the methods organisations use to deliver services and they are all having to adapt to providing telephone and online support. This has its challenges and is by no means ideal. Members of the Executive Committee raised their concerns about ensuring staff were adequately supported when dealing with vulnerable people over the phone, which can be intense and tiring without taking into account the added impact COVID-19 might be having on beneficiaries.
The impact of the crisis on service provision and changes required in delivery also mean that it is difficult to look more than a day or two ahead or to plan very far in advance. This is caused by the uncertainty of not knowing when they will be able to get back to anything near normal and what will need to be in place to be able to do that. Concerns were also raised about needs in the community not being met because of the crisis, e.g. a fall in referrals, and whether this is storing up a big problem for the future.
Whilst recognising that a lot of money is being directed at providing short-term funding to COVID-19 projects, which is the right thing to do, concerns were raised about the longer term support needs of individuals and groups and whether enough thought is being given to the longer term. It is anticipated that grants will be reduced in future and more collaborations/mergers might possibly be on the cards.
I’m sure some of the issues raised here have also been on your minds. It is certainly a challenge for everyone, but we will all need to consider how we develop our strategies to be more resilient and more effective in future. We also need to continue to promote the sector, so it is better understood, more influential and more digitally savvy as we move forward – not a lot to ask!
Assembly Development Officer