Wiltshire Community Foundation’s report into its response to the pandemic has praised the work of charities who helped keep the county safe, but sounds a word of warning about the financial future of the voluntary sector.
The report, published this week, charts how it distributed more than £1.1 million from its Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund launched last March, days before the country went into the first lockdown. The community foundation made 265 grants to 199 different groups over 12 months, with more than 154,000 people benefitting.
But joint Chief Executives Vicky Hickey and Fiona Oliver warn that a year of lost fundraising and revenue as well as extra expense has taken its toll on many groups.
“Wiltshire Community Foundation, along with many of our colleagues in the sector, has sent a public message to the government highlighting that charities urgently need an Emergency Support Fund so they can provide the vital services that are desperately needed at community level,” they write in the report. “The sector as a whole faces a £10 billion gap between the amount of income it expects to have and the demand on services.”
The report says Wiltshire Citizens Advice has seen an 84 per cent rise in people claiming Universal Credit and a 600 per cent rise in workers asking for redundancy advice. It said counselling charity Ipsum has seen a 50 per cent rise in clients.
They said the economic effects on people who have spent months on furlough or who have lost their jobs will mean voluntary groups are needed more than ever. But a study into the county’s voluntary sector, in partnership with Wessex Community Action and Community First, found 62 per cent of charities in the county have seen their income fall.
The Covid Impact Report charts the community foundation’s response since it worked with the National Emergencies Trust to launch the fund. Fiona Oliver said the foundation had three objectives, to help groups respond to the immediate crisis, assist them in adapting to social isolation rules and to ensure they were around for the long term in the face of plummeting incomes.
She said staff streamlined its grants application and assessment process so that the money pouring in from individual donors, trusts and businesses could be turned round quickly. The first grants to Covid response groups emerging in communities went out within days of the launch.
“We acknowledged that the speed of distributing that money to the charities and groups delivering emergency services for vulnerable people was crucial,” she said. “Grant decisions were made overnight by a group of trustees and we introduced daily payment runs to ensure grants got to where they were needed as soon as possible.”
The report also tells the stories of some of the groups who received funds. Louise Balaam of the Youth Adventure Trust, which supported young people on the margins of education, said, “The grant has helped us because we were really aware that, for our young people, their safety nets have just completely gone. There is nobody in school keeping an eye on them, mental health services have a huge waiting list and social services aren’t able to go into the homes in the same way that they were.”
Ruth Knagg, Fundraising Manager of counselling service We Hear You, said, “The grant from Wiltshire Community Foundation has been amazing because it has meant we can continue our service and in fact we have been able to add crisis telephone support for the people we feel are really at risk because of the impact of Covid.”
Fiona Oliver, Joint CEO at Wiltshire Community Foundation, added, “We hope the report will give people a sense of the enormity of the effort made by thousands of volunteers in Wiltshire to protect the county, particularly those who were already in poverty or disadvantaged and were the hardest hit.
“We also hope it will be a timely reminder that our Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund will continue throughout 2021 and as a foundation we have committed to investing £10 million in our local communities by 2025.”
To read the report in full visit: wiltshirecf.org.uk/about/covid-response. To donate to the fund or find out how to apply for a grant, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk.
Pictured above: The team from Alzheimer’s Support, which works across north and west Wiltshire and Salisbury. It was one of the hundreds of groups helped to cope with the fallout from the pandemic by the £1.1 million Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund.