Charity head Tina Costello writes about community needs in a crisis.
2020 has been a rollercoaster and, like everyone else, Heart of England Community Foundation has had to adapt to ensure it continues to support community needs across the West Midlands. Community Foundations are built to respond to a crisis, and we wanted to be the best-placed charity in the region to do that.
Whilst staff adapted to home working, we quickly pulled together a grants programme and public campaign to address the resulting – and emerging – problems COVID-19 posed to the community. The Foundation has only run a handful of public appeals, but our Coronavirus Resilience Appeal brought in £408,000; a combination of the general public, existing and new donors who wanted to give their support. Alongside this, money from the National Emergencies Trust enabled us to award over £1.3 million in COVID-19 relief.
We wanted to stay ahead of the curve and whilst we could never have predicted the impact of the pandemic, we knew one thing: grassroots organisations would have to change the way they deliver their services. From this, the Doing Things Differently Fund was born. We have now awarded over £1m to groups enabling them to diversify and change the way they operate to continue to support their communities over the next six to 12 months.
Furthermore, we had previously suspended all our funds to regroup and focus on the bigger picture. Since then we have been working closely with our fantastic donors, including the likes of Wesleyan Assurance and Coventry Building Society, to broaden our criteria and aims to ensure our grants are aligned with community’s needs.
We have been working hard to map the future, which has been no easy feat! To do this, we needed to find out how grassroots organisations in the West Midlands had been affected by the pandemic and how we can best serve them as a result. Over 100 groups from across the West Midlands, varying in sizes and structure, have given us invaluable information that we can analyse to ensure we maximise the results of the Foundation’s recovery response.
We, along with national funders, need to be flexible in our approach to grant making, we need to truly respond to the emerging needs of our West Midlands communities helping our vibrant sector to recover and survive.
We know that the effects of the pandemic will be felt by the Third Sector for a while to come and that our own existing and potential donors will have to think even more carefully about how they deliver their CSR and social investments. However, we hope that our quick pivoting, turning response into action, has provided them with more brilliant reasons to work with the Foundation. Moving forward, we’re continuing to look at how we diversify our income to keep pace with our communities.
Although this is by far the worst crisis any of us have ever known, we are a Foundation that remains positive for the future. Working with our Board of Trustees we are now shaping and developing our three-year strategic plan and although we accept the landscape may look a little different, the level of humility and generosity we’ve seen in our region gives us optimism for both our future and the hundreds of small voluntary organisations we support.
The writer is chief executive of the Heart of England Community Foundation.