Coronavirus – from Reaction to Action by Philippa Charles, Director

As the UK enters its seventh week of lockdown due to the coronavirus I, like all of us, find myself reflecting on how quickly everything has changed and what that means for the voluntary sector. Working for a grant-making foundation I am humbled every day by the amazing work that our nation’s charities do to support people and communities. Never has the idea that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ been more evident in practice - whilst vulnerable people are forced into greater isolation and need, the vital charities that support them are finding innovative ways to deliver their services; and all while battling their own challenges of financial instability, staff and volunteer shortages and crippling uncertainty.

As a funder, we aim to understand how our charity partners operate, what they do, who they work with, how they manage their finances and their key priorities.  So, it only feels right to take the time to share how we are working and to ‘lift the bonnet’ on what we are doing and how we are responding to the crisis. From the earliest phases of the pandemic, it was obvious that we would need to move at pace and I’m proud that our Trustees and team acted swiftly and decisively. With flexible technology available we were fortunate to have the ability to work effectively remotely, though the loss of camaraderie in the office has been hard for us all – we miss each other.

But whilst the Foundation team was adapting to home working (with some fighting sickness themselves) within days they had proactively contacted every charity with a pending application to see if they needed to change it in light of Covid-19.  We offered flexibility; adapted our processes and guidance; we reviewed (and in some instances re-reviewed) applications in line with charities’ needs.  We endeavoured to respond quickly to calls and emails from worried charities, giving reassurance that we are ‘open for business’ and that we were still accepting applications for unrestricted funding – including to new applicants and those we aren’t currently funding.

We were already used to video technology to support decision-making (having used it for our Weston Anniversary Fund in 2018) so this has been revitalized and we have been consistently impressed with the flexibility of our charity partners.  We have also reviewed our pipeline of major appeals for the coming year and have been overwhelmed by the generosity of charities with important strategic capital projects which have nevertheless agreed for their plans to be considered at a later date once those with greatest need have been considered.

Our Trustees too kicked into a higher gear, convening additional Trustee meetings (4 Board Meetings in the past 9 weeks!) to expedite decisions for charities supporting the most vulnerable and isolated. Our Trustees also made a £1 million pre-launch donation to the National Emergencies Trust (NET) to help kick-start the campaign in the knowledge that it would encourage others to give and would be deployed by the network of Community Foundations which understand the need in their local areas.  Since the lockdown our Trustees have made over £7.5 million in emergency grants and are now moving into a ‘resilience funding’ phase to consider cash flow support for those charities providing a wide range of direct support and advice across the country.

For over 60 years the Foundation has worked alongside charities to help them thrive.  As with any partnership, being there ‘in sickness and in health’ now takes on a whole new dimension but we are determined to do our best for those who need us more than ever.