CALLS to recognise and continue the exemplary COVID-19 emergency response achieved by the voluntary and community sector (VCS) on the pandemic’s one year anniversary are gaining pace today.
From feeding families in need to delivering thousands of volunteers for vaccination roll outs, the VCS’ vital provision over the past year has been unprecedented. Yet, for many on the frontline, their capacity is stretched to the maximum as they support the country’s most vulnerable with the long-term impacts of the pandemic.
The VCS Emergencies Partnership (EP), which brings together organisations to improve coordination at national and local levels before, during and after emergencies, has today released new figures and research highlighting the crucial role of the VCS in supporting Britain’s most vulnerable in times of crisis and beyond.
Set up in response to the lack of coordination of voluntary and community services during the Grenfell tragedy and other domestic emergencies in 2017, the EP has connected over 200 local organisations with major national charities like British Red Cross and St John’s Ambulance to work together to deliver vital services to Britain’s most affected during COVID-19.
Speaking about the sector’s crucial role in the pandemic, Jehangir Malik, Programme Director at VCS Emergencies Partnership, said:
“Since the Grenfell tragedy, it was clear that we needed to unite the power of the voluntary and community sectors to utilise resources, reduce harm, and ultimately save lives in an emergency. This vision has come to life during the COVID-19 response. The coordinated efforts of individual volunteers, national and local organisations working tirelessly together to respond to the emerging needs over the pandemic have been heroic. But we must not stop here.
“We face a long COVID shadow, with the impact on Britain’s most vulnerable communities set to be wide-reaching. Yet many voluntary staff are on the verge of burnout and concerned for their futures, with emergency funds and resources depleted. We need to act now. We are calling on the government to ensure adequate support is put in place for those vital grassroots organisations who are lifelines to their communities and to preserve this successful model so that together we can keep driving systemic change and get the right support at the right time to those who need it most in the years to come.”
To further mark the COVID anniversary and highlight the acute need for ongoing collaboration across the VCS, the EP has also released early findings from new research into the impact of emergencies on Britain’s marginalised groups and how they can be better supported.
The research, which involved interviews with individuals at local specialist organisations in Bradford and Leeds, revealed a ‘trickle-down’ impact of COVID-19 on marginalised members of the community who already have existing complex needs. They reported that mental health issues, in particular, are increasing among more at-risk community members, as well as volunteers and staff, with the emotional toll of the crisis taking hold. They also shared that many COVID-19 grants are set to expire in the coming months, leaving voluntary organisations unsure as to how they will be able to meet their communities’ emerging needs.
Soo Nevison, CEO of Community Action Bradford & District, who has been involved in the EP at a local level, said:
“By being part of the Emergencies Partnership, we have been able to meet the needs of our communities, which would otherwise have gone unmet – whether that’s providing face coverings for our most vulnerable families to sourcing vital volunteers for an online befriending scheme. The opportunity to share good practice and connect with colleagues across the sector over the pandemic has, in turn, benefited communities from Cumbria to Cornwall. However, there remains much to do. The sector starts to face a funding crisis, and worry is growing about how we will continue our monumental efforts to keep our vulnerable and diverse communities safe beyond lockdown.”
To recognise the massive contribution from the voluntary and community sector in its COVID-19 response, the EP is holding a virtual event today. The webinar, which will be attended by Civil Society Minister, Baroness Barran MBE, and Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Steve Reed, will put a spotlight on the efforts and challenges of community groups since the start of the pandemic and share the EP’s recommendations to ensure marginalised communities are better supported in emergencies.
To find out more about the VCS Emergencies Partnership and their work over the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit: www.vcsep.org.uk.