Coming together in a time of crisis
CEO, National Emergencies Trust
There have been two frontlines in this crisis.
The first is the fight against the virus itself in hospitals up and down the country.
The second, initially less obvious, but increasingly more so, is the communities struggling to cope with the widespread economic and social fallout of this pandemic.
Those who were disadvantaged before find themselves more disadvantaged than ever. Countless others, who never expected to struggle, are now facing significant challenges.
It’s because of this second frontline that NET launched its Appeal 114 days ago.
While incredible NHS staff and the wider medical community have supported those in hospitals, those in communities have found support from a different kind of carer: the selfless volunteers from grassroots charities and community groups who have provided a lifeline to so many. The frail. The lonely. The hungry. And of course, the bereaved.
In the midst of hardship and tragedy, these grassroots groups have given hope to individuals and inspired communities to come together in remarkable ways.
For instance, groups like Monkstown Boxing Club in Belfast. Prior to the outbreak they worked with young people to deliver a range of programmes to improve the lives of those at risk and hard to reach.
As lockdown was imposed, their services pivoted – transforming the boxing ring into a soup kitchen, providing food to those struggling economically or due to isolation. Their aim to bring a divided community together continued albeit via never before needed services.
Funds from the Coronavirus Appeal have enabled more than 8000 other groups like Monkstown Boxing Club to make a meaningful difference to those in need.
This is why it was so important for NET to start to get funds out as quickly as possible. In fact, the first £2.5m went to Community Foundations within just seven days.
This speed was essential. It meant that groups applying for grants were receiving vital Appeal funding within just days of having their application approved.
This was the experience of Aishah Help in Tower Hamlets. Within a week of completing their application, they were able to use funds to deliver urgent food packages and essentials to vulnerable local people.
They were also quickly able to provide a helpline offering access to social work support, qualified doctors, health care workers and even nutritionists to the most isolated and marginalised in the local community.
And this pace continues. Today, of the £82m that has been raised, more than £50m has been distributed to support incredible grassroots efforts UK-wide.
At times it has certainly felt frenetic to be part of the NET team. We’ve expanded from a team of two people to a team of more than a hundred people, at one point; largely volunteers.
At our busiest, our Allocation Committee was meeting every day, seven days a week. They could see how critical it was to ensure that funds got out; and got out to those being hardest hit.
And of course, understanding of the hardest hit has been changing through this crisis, which has meant NET has had to be agile to alter its course. This is especially true of the disproportionate impact of the pandemic of those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.
Back in May, as new data on this impact came to light, we started to introduce new measures to lend extra support to these hard-hit communities. In partnership with Comic Relief, we have allocated dedicated funding for BAME-led charities.
And through UKCF, we’re also investing in infrastructure to reach more BAME-led organisations. This step is critical for the longer term because it starts to address historic under-investment, and in so doing, enables a stronger fairer response to the next emergency.
So 114 days and what’s next? We’re still hard at work raising funds and getting them to where they’re needed, but we’re also in a period of reflection too: assessing how effectively needs have been met, and where they still need to be met.
It’s a time to reach out to learn from others and get their perspective; and to share our learning. Importantly, it’s also an opportunity to acknowledge the incredible role that the voluntary and community sector has played in helping to bring us all together at a time of crisis.
When we launched the National Emergencies Trust last November, our Royal Patron, His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge, said that the nation is at its best during a time of national crisis.
I didn’t expect to put his theory to the test so quickly. But it turns out, he was absolutely right.