It's been a year of disappointments, but Susan Smith urges Scotland's voluntary sector to take comfort in a job well done
Never has a year come to a close with so much relief – not in my lifetime anyway. As many of us take a desperately needed break over Christmas and New Year, we are firmly closing the door on 2020 and looking 2021 squarely in the face and demanding better.
But, if you can bear it, it’s worth taking a wee glance back over your shoulder to see on how far you’ve come this year. It’s a long way.
The humungous effort at the very start to ensure everyone had food and someone to check in on them was one of the most impressive things the voluntary and community sector has ever done. The explosion in digital services and empowerment has also been amazing – what would have taken years took weeks.
We knew before Covid that access to digital was a human rights issue but this year great strides were made towards ensuring the majority of Scots actually have the devices, facilities and skills they need to realise that right – and that’s been largely a voluntary sector effort to get computers and tablets and internet connections to people who have never had them before.
There is so much for people in the Scottish voluntary sector to be proud of – you have achieved beyond your wildest dreams in 2020.
Think back to spring and summer, when the opportunity to spend more time outdoors reinvigorated our appreciation of nature. The home working revolution has provided fair work opportunities for disabled Scots, working parents and carers that seemed impossible this time last year. The two have combined to create a halcyon vision of work-life balance that for so many of you seems to include time for puppy training.
So, why you do you feel demoralised?
When I returned to work after a year off in April 2020, everyone was working at an incredible pace – long days, weekends, early mornings – because we were in the midst of a crisis and that’s what you do in a crisis when your job is to look after people. I was also desperate to contribute something useful to the cause.
Few of us really thought lockdown was going to last 12 weeks nevermind 12 months. We had no idea the sprint was turning into a marathon.
2020 has been a year of disappointments – extended lockdowns, abandoned summer holidays, second waves, cancelled Christmas not to mention the continuous safety worries and daily tally of lives lost. Constantly shifting sands has made it impossible to plan more than a few weeks ahead in either work or home life.
Many Scots will be looking forward to Covid being over by spring as the vaccine is rolled out to health and care workers and the people they are looking after. But you know different - the need for community and voluntary sector support has not let up all year.
OSCR this week revealed 70% of you believe Covid has had a negative impact on your beneficiaries – loneliness, isolation, anxiety and financial worries topped the list of issues people are facing.
The NSPCC painted a picture of what this really means just a few days later when it said there's been a 50% increase in referrals to Police Scotland and social services this year. That didn’t stop when children went back to school, either, because the support families rely on when they are in crisis, much of it face-to-face community and voluntary sector support, is still not there in the way they desperately need it to be.
It's reassuring that these stories are being covered by the media and the public is recognising that charities are Never More Needed. Giving Tuesday saw a 42% increase in donations on 2019, and the number of charities telling OSCR they may not survive has halved since May.
Talking to people in the Scottish voluntary sector over the last few weeks, it seems that many of you recognise there are opportunities in 2021 but haven't the energy to think about how to grab them. You know that even if the war is over by spring, the battle to rehabilitate the war wounded is just beginning.
This time of year is always tough, which is why we Scots make such a big deal of the New Year. Maybe it’s a good thing that the normal Christmas party season and Hogmanay knees ups aren’t happening though as what many of us really need is rest and recuperation – an opportunity to curl up on the sofa, cuddle that new puppy, turn the tele on and forget about what’s outside for a few days.
But remember, you have achieved something remarkable in 2020 and you got through it. Hopefully 2021 will bring friends, colleagues, loved ones – and maybe even a summer holiday – to help you achieve even more.
Susan Smith is campaigns manager for the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. Find out more about Never More Needed