1. How have the work and activities of respondent organisations changed during the pandemic?
The responses to this research suggested that the pandemic had prompted large changes to the operations of respondent organisations, in both their internal management, and their external services and functions.
Some organisations were already set up to work remotely, but the coronavirus pandemic, and associated lockdown restrictions, led to almost all respondent organisations moving quickly to work in this way for meetings, planning sessions, and training.
The usual work of many of these organisations involves face-to-face interaction, in community centres or other physical locations, all of which became broadly impossible during the period of lockdown restrictions. Many organisations reported having adapted, to provide their existing services in new online formats (e.g. web-based counselling), or had introduced new services in response to emerging needs (e.g. new befriending or food delivery services).
"[This situation] showed we can work in a more agile way (from home, opportunity for webinars and connecting with our members in different ways). Technology can make our offer more inclusive e.g. rural partners we work with. But there is a challenge with this regarding Local Authority technology, rural broadband connectivity issues, other digital exclusion for particular groups of people or communities."
Community safety organisation
Alongside challenges to the provision of existing services, the coronavirus pandemic presented increased demands on respondent organisations in new ways. The provision of food was a commonly raised new function for organisations who weren't involved in this previously, as well as offering volunteering opportunities for those who had been furloughed. In some cases, this resulted in changing models of work. In one example, community food larders and cafes had stopped, and the service has changed entirely to a delivery system, supported by new coalitions of organisations.
Some organisations shared information about how they had undertaken a radical approach to restructuring their operations to respond to emerging needs of both existing and new client groups. There are examples of large-scale redesigns of organisational functions, towards versions which are more centrally designed to enable remote and digital-based delivery in the future.
"We have worked more closely with some other charity and community groups, as well as with commercial organisations, to make sure that the people we support have food. We have also had to quickly adapt to digital ways of delivering some of our services, like our outreach housing support, counselling and mentoring services. This has proven to be a barrier for many but one which we have worked hard to overcome, and we have received funding to purchase smartphones, mobile dongles and data top ups for those in need."
Youth homelessness charity
The research highlighted a range of benefits and challenges faced by organisations as they adapted to new circumstances.
Around half of participants mentioned that they have established improved partnership working. Other benefits that were mentioned included the development of new services, working with improved efficiency, a greater sense of collective endeavour and adapting to benefit from a greater use of technology.
"Voluntary organisations have in many cases worked with funders and public bodies to put in services at extremely short notice with a vastly reduced level of bureaucracy - we would like to learn lessons from how this was possible for the future."
"[A digitalised platform] has allowed the organisation to consult with women from rural and island communities on a frequent basis. We have also seen benefits whereby women who may not have been able to attend physical events in the past due to other responsibilities such as work or caring have been able to contribute more frequently as a result of online communications."
There were also challenges. Participants mentioned the increased resources that are required to adapt effectively, as well as the lack of 'like for like' service provision when compared to the functions that they were fulfilling previously. The exclusions and limitations that are inherently associated with digital literacy and access to technology, the ongoing financial and funding uncertainties, and the stigma that is associated with seeking support during the pandemic where people may not have the same opportunities to maintain their privacy within household settings (e.g. the young people who receive support from LGBT+ services), were also highlighted as difficulties faced by organisations.
"We are all (service users and service providers) doing our best to survive. We are not thriving! I have not reported on the financial implications of the current pandemic as we are a health service provider and therefore I do not have hard evidence of this, however, that does not mean all is well. It is difficult to find the positives in this situation, other than we are all committed to doing our best in a difficult situation."
"The main difficulty for us is how to survive beyond coronavirus. Most of the funding available is for charities responding to the crisis in the short term or who are in severe financial difficulties. There appears to be nothing for charities taking a strategic view about how they can continue to support their beneficiaries."
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