In a crisis like this, the places where we live become more important than ever. Most immediately, coordinating protection and support for the most vulnerable is the critical challenge for local charities, their funders, local public bodies, and a growing army of mutual aid volunteers. In the medium term, we will need to make sure that these bodies—our local social infrastructure—can survive and continue supporting local people during the economic downturn that is likely to follow.
None of this is easy or straightforward, especially when there is already a huge surge in demand for services. The current crisis is a real threat to the survival of many charities. Some rely on trading and local fundraising activities for their income. Others depend on local government or trust funding which could be delayed or even halted.
Although the government has signalled a support package for charities, it’s been slow to materialise. If charities aren’t supported in the medium term, we may well see many of them close. These closures may not fall evenly across the country. NPC’s Where are England’s Charities? analysis showed how there is already an uneven dispersal of charities across the country, with deprived places having far less charities than more wealthy areas. So, it is entirely possible that the current crisis could further embed these disparities and leave some communities with even less social support at this critical time.
How is the sector responding?
We’re already seeing incredible efforts from charities and funders in places across the UK. At an individual level, self-organising groups such as Mutual Aid and Nextdoor are becoming a lifeline, enabling people to help their vulnerable neighbours. Other smaller groups have come together to launch their own localised efforts, such as telephone befriending services. This groundswell of citizen action can also be seen in the overwhelming response to the government’s call for NHS volunteers.
The funder community is also responding, with flexible local funds like the London Community Response Fund and the Steve Morgan Foundation’s Emergency Hardship Fund appearing. And of course there is the National Emergencies Trust, which will be using local community foundations to distribute funding.
What more can funders do?
As the situation continues to evolve, we don’t yet know exactly what local charities and groups will need over the coming months. But four areas we think funders should think about are:
- Targeting support in places with fewer charities and less social infrastructure: It is likely to be much harder for charities to mobilise and support local people in areas where there are fewer charities. Funders should consider supporting charities delivering key services in those areas.
- Helping to facilitate better coordination of activity: Even in areas where there is a strong charity sector, there are challenges which affect coordination. Some charities may have local coordinators in place to help join up efforts, but local system coordinators are a luxury resource and in many places are the exception rather than the rule. We also don’t know the extent to which self-organising groups are working with charities to coordinate their efforts. Funders should consider how they can support coordination infrastructure, to ensure local support is delivered efficiently and effectively. Funders with more established place-based programmes will be in a particularly strong position to do this.
- Supporting forgotten issues: In the medium term, new considerations will arise which differ from what was needed in the immediate response. It’s clear that there will be an influx of need. Some issues, such as domestic violence, are likely to worsen significantly. Funders must not abandon other local support services that may not yet serve an immediate need but will be a vital support service when places start suffering from an economic downturn.
- Maintaining the groundswell of local action: Funders will need to think about how they harness the bottom-up groundswell that has emerged out of the Covid-19 crisis. Funders should help channel the increase in volunteering and offers of help towards new areas of need, beyond the immediate emergency.
All of these points will need to build upon the general principles of good place-based working, which NPC published in its framework for funders last year. This includes making time to build new relationships in places, listening to the particular needs of local communities, and building on existing charities and community groups rather than creating or drafting in new ones.
At NPC, we are focussed on how to support funders to respond to the current crisis. You can read our latest advice in our new guide for philanthropists. We want this to be a shared resource, so we’re asking for feedback and input from funders and charities alike. We’re also convening our Pledge on Place group of charities, funders and community groups, to help share intelligence on how they are responding to growing need in different places.
Because by working together and responding to local need, we can help ensure that funders can support local charities and community groups to continue to provide vital support and much-needed cohesion now, and over the coming months and years.
Nicola Pritchard works as a Senior Consultant in NPC’s research and consulting team