The morning that the government instructed all non key workers to work from home my phone rang. It was 10am and it was Karen from a project we fund in Sunderland. Speaking at speed she told me that they were delivering 100 food parcels that day and that they were phoning round all the young people they work with, to let them know that they still have someone to talk to and a (virtual) place to go to for support. “Everyone’s shutting down” she said, “but making sure young people still have trusted relationships they can access and that families - who suddenly have kids at home they need to feed - have food in their cupboards, are needs that don’t just go away. We will keep going” she said. “We need to do more, not less”.
We have all heard the briefings. The country has responded with generosity. 75,000 signing up as NHS volunteers in the space of a few days, three times the target amount; mutual aid groups springing up in wards across the country convened by local councillors and people who are concerned for their neighbours. There is a deep desire to help and this social action is receiving press coverage and public attention. Amid the rising concern and sobering headlines, this is brilliant news.
Community action and local initiatives to ensure that social and material needs can be met have a long and strong history in our towns and cities. In our (almost) five years of operating we have supported over 200 organisations who do exactly this. Yet, at the point where they are arguably more needed than ever many of these organisations are under threat. Reflecting their economic context, income streams have disappeared over night, supply chains are interrupted, staff teams are depleted, the (often older) volunteer base are having to self-isolate and need has soared. Our local charities need support: speedy, targeted, considered support. At the Virgin Money Foundation this is what we have done, offering flexibility to current grant holders, contributing £100,000 to the Community Foundation Tyne, Wear and Northumberland’s Recovery and Response Fund, developing a Community Resilience Fund to support previous grantees with additional funding and designing a programme of support that we can get out of the door quickly and effectively in Glasgow. Our hope is that this endeavour is replicated by statutory and charitable funders all across the world, safeguarding amazing local charities who know their community and are vital to the COVID-19 response.
Local charities are the listening ear of our community, the providers of emergency food, the preventers of social isolation, a place of belonging for teenagers, the landlords for those in housing crisis, the springboard to new jobs, the hosts of creative circles, recovery groups, arts venues and children’s centres, the support for survivors of abuse. They enrich all of our lives and they make our neighbourhoods more resilient. We need to protect them from the economic consequences of the pandemic so that they can play their part in our communities during and beyond this time.
Virgin Money Foundation