Christine Carlin and a voluntary sector Christmas Carol
It’s Christmas Eve 2020. The clock strikes midnight: three Spirits will visit us tonight. So, Third Sector, what will they tell us about how we fared in this extraordinary year? How are we doing? And what of our future?
The Ghost of Covid Past appears – taking us back, not as usual to our childhood, but to the evening of 23 March 2020. There we are - 27 million of us (still 3 million fewer than tuned in for the 1986 Den and Angie EastEnders Special) watching the PM and FM tell us to stay at home. Lockdown.
What does the Spirit show us Third Sector? What did we do? We did what we do best – we sprang into action fixing the downstream problems. We innovated, we organised ourselves to protect individuals, families and communities. Our incredible workforce of staff and volunteers worked tirelessly, with other charities, with individuals, with private companies and with the public sector. Red tape did not stop us in our mission and we were funded, often at speed! Trusted to use monies well. We looked after the young, the old, the hungry, the disabled, the lonely, the isolated and those who were afraid. We did it with kindness, with compassion – and most of all, we did it swiftly. We adapted too, engaging in 21st century ways. Yes, third sector, we can look back with pride – we did well!
But time to move on - The Ghost of Covid Present is already here. Spirit, I see. There we are – still supporting those who need us in ways we never imagined possible. Still working from our kitchens, bedrooms or under the stairs. Experts now at Zoom, Skype, Teams, having created innovative new contacts. On the horizon, a glimmer of hope this pandemic will end. But wait - what will become of us? We work downstream don’t we?
Well Third Sector - here is the scariest vision of all - The Ghost of Covid Yet To Come. Not just the year ahead but the years beyond, as the waves of unemployment, poverty, health inequalities and a mental health tsunami start to hit. At Home-Start, we have written specifically about our fears for the next generation, the thousands of babies born in lockdown, each of whom may feel the impact for a lifetime.*
But Spirit, why are you showing me the Third Sector last in the queue again? Fighting for a seat at decision tables, struggling for crumbs of funding yet facing increases in demand? How can that be after all we have done?
Spirit, tell me, is this a vision of what will be or what might be? What if our work with individuals of all ages, with families and within communities becomes part of a real systems change? What if the Third Sector is valued as part of upstream solutions, with a seat at the table and funding to match? Here to stop the endless cycles of poor physical and mental health, of poverty, of generations lost, by tackling the chains of isolation and loneliness, addictions, poor housing, attainment gaps - long before their grasp is too strong to escape?
Tell me Spirit, Together, can we change the future?
Christine Carlin is director Scotland for Home-StartUK.