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The Chief's Blog - April 2020

Wed 15 Apr 2020

It has been the most testing, bizarre, emotional, challenging, tiring month, but I have also never been more proud to be part of our local voluntary and community sector.

In a matter of weeks, we have seen our members dramatically reorganise themselves to respond to the pandemic, undertaking new and challenging tasks, recruiting more volunteers, spending their own reserves, forging new relationships, supporting the vulnerable and marginalised, to stay at home, to protect the NHS, and Social Care, and ultimately to save lives.

We want to say a huge thank you to every organisation, every staff member, every volunteer, every trustee, who in whatever way they have been able, has supported this call to action, in our communities across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent. The work goes on, but I for one feel far more assured that we can weather this storm, with the ingenuity and commitment of all of you. In particular I want to personally thank the VCSE lead organisations in every district that have been working with ourselves, the county council, district councils and NHS partners, to ensure we have clear and accessible routes to divert less urgent demand away from critical statutory services where possible. I also want to thank all the foodbanks and similar organisations who are stopping that demand from arising in the first place – you are wonderful.

I spoke to the Guardian newspaper on Good Friday and they were truly astounded by the goodwill that communities have shown across the country. From the amazing new mutual aid groups, helping neighbours on their patch, to the ¾ million NHS responders, of which you may be one. In Staffordshire we have seen 1,500 new volunteers come forward to Support Staffordshire, at its peak a 4000% increase on our usual expectations; and that’s around ¼ million new volunteers across our CVS/volunteer centre colleagues in England. We have referred on over 2/3 of them already, but please get in touch if you want more!

We have also been working with partners to get funding up and running and accessed, in particular friends at the Community Foundation. If you need any support with applications or wider work around sustaining yourselves at this time, please pick up the phone to us. If you don’t know who to speak to call us on 0300 777 1207.

I want to conclude this month, with a brief word about the national government response to charities, and I must point out that this is always used as a convenient short hand to mean – support for our beneficiaries, who are many of the most vulnerable in our communities. To start I was dismayed at the effort and time it took to make the case, over 3 weeks before anything was announced. The funding (£750k) was of course most welcome, especially for hospices who are as much at the front line, as NHS and social care colleagues. But it’s simply not enough. The delay and the small scale of the response says something deeply concerning about central government /charity sector relations – we are clearly not well understood, not sufficiently valued and too readily dismissed. This is a troubling state of affairs when we know that every charity that goes under will be twice as hard to restart and many fold more expensive to be replaced with statutory services. Yet central government simply must not believe this.

My colleague at CFG, Caron Bradshaw wrote a fantastic piece late last week, in which she says: ‘Charity isn’t gentle. It’s messy and hard and difficult and painful…[The Chancellor said] he couldn’t guarantee he could save every job. I agree. But that isn’t the point - it never has been. It’s not about charity jobs. It’s about the people we serve. It’s not about preserving the institution of charity so it can carry on after this crisis has passed. It’s about ensuring that the marginalised, the vulnerable, the bits of society that are unseen and unsupported by all but charities, do not carry the greatest burden.’

And so, we at Support Staffordshire will continue to press behind the scenes as well as publicly, with local MPs and through our national bodies, to ensure that funds are distributed fairly, that the immediate crisis response (necessary as it is) does not totally crowd out the longer term response. The virus hasn’t taken away all the other issues; domestic violence, child poverty, homelessness, disabilities, mental health, employability and much more, and many will be exacerbated by it.

We need your help in this, to paint a fair and accurate and compelling case – please respond to the Staffordshire Covid-19 State of the Sector Survey.  It would be helpful if you could complete the survey by 30th April


Garry Jones, Chief Executive, Support Staffordshire