Turning on a Sixpence

You will no doubt be familiar with the iconic London taxi cab which is famous for its small turning circle to enable it to change direction in tight corners and which garnered the accolade of being able to ‘turn on a sixpence’. Covid-19 has initiated a similar reflexive response from hundreds of charities determined to help those in need, despite the difficulties they themselves face including financial uncertainty, staffing issues and social distancing restrictions.

As a broad ranging funder, we have the privilege of seeing a huge variety of responses to the pandemic across the sector and the myriad challenges this has presented; and while sadly we have seen a number of organisations having to close their doors for good, we are often impressed by the alacrity in which a growing number of organisations are being innovative in delivering their services in a different way.  We are supporting a huge number of local organisations that, whilst forced to shut their premises temporarily, have adapted swiftly to ensure that their local communities are helped in practical ways – picking up and delivering prescriptions to the medically vulnerable, telephoning the elderly to reduce isolation, online reading sessions to disadvantaged children and even web-based choir rehearsals for dementia sufferers. Even our Trustees are involved in such local volunteering which keeps us close to the action and up to date on the evolving need.

On a national level, rapid changes to delivery have been made by the likes of SmartWorks which has been delivering online interview coaching sessions and video consultations on interview dressing to help unemployed women into work, followed up by parcels in the post of high-quality, donated clothing for interviews.  SafeLives is developing and disseminating advice and guidance to over 2,000 frontline practitioners and other first responders tackling domestic abuse and violence. The Maudsley Charity with King’s College (a leader in research and service innovation for mental health) has developed a series of short animated films called ‘Families Under Pressure’ to help parents during lockdown, all based on sound clinical practice.

We’ve also seen great collaborations between charities, harnessing the digital expertise of some to ensure that the online reach of others can engage those who need them the most – The Mix is working with a number of organisations, including with OnSide’s network of Youth Zones and with MyBnk to create a young person’s guide to money during Covid-19.  Creative organisations have also adapted to their ‘stuck-at-home’ audiences to present work online – keeping connected with their supporter base and generating revenue. The Old Vic Theatre has launched a ticketed series of performances which will be available for 1,000+ households per night, replicating their 1,000 seat auditorium. Others, like Streetwise Opera and RADA, have been innovative in using technology to bring fun to their followers by running quizzes and online auctions to raise awareness and help fund their work.

The creation of the Foundation over 60 years ago was underpinned by an entrepreneurial spirit which is still the case today, with our income being derived from a diverse portfolio of businesses including food, hospitality, retail and manufacturing – so it’s been fantastic to see such energy and ‘don’t give up’ attitude from charities across the country. Entrepreneurial spirit is most certainly not exclusive to the commercial sector.

It’s clearly impossible to list all the inventive approaches being developed, but what is clear is that necessity really is ‘the mother of invention’ and that charities all across the country are being innovative and brave in their commitment to working where they are most needed – we admire that enormously.