Susan Smith on what six months of lockdown has meant for the voluntary sector and what the next six months might bring
It’s more than six months since lockdown was announced and the halcyon summer days when Covid had all but been eradicated are long gone. The next few months are going to be tough – and we may not even have Christmas with our families to look forward to.
This month we’ve published what we’ve learnt so far through Never More Needed. We’ve looked back on the last six months and tried to paint a picture of what’s been happening in the voluntary sector. It’s inspiring and it's very clear that without the voluntary sector, our experience of lockdown would have been far worse.
However, it’s also a sobering picture, and I wonder whether the half of charities who said they may run out of cash within six months will be up to the challenge of this pandemic stretching over another six months or longer.
Meanwhile, the emotional, financial and physical impacts of lockdown are really starting to take their toll on us all – I’ve rearranged my life a bit over the last few weeks to try to fit in some self-care and improve my work-life balance. It’s tough to find time to relax when you’re living through lockdown with a two year-old. Once again, I’ve signed up for Paths for All’s Step Count Challenge and as long as the nursery stays open I’m hoping to improve on my woeful spring performance.
So, while charity income has dwindled over the last six months, demand isn’t going away. Rising inequalities means more and more people are turning to foodbanks, and over the next few months as the real economic fallout becomes clear, there’s likely to be all sorts of demands for advice and financial support. Increased lockdown restrictions means wellbeing services like virtual counselling and befriending will be even more important.
On the flip side, with six months experience under its belt, the Scottish voluntary sector is well equipped to face the challenge. Just this week Age Scotland called for a national action plan to get older people through periods of circuit breaker lockdowns. It suggests statutory and voluntary services that worked well earlier in the year should be switched on and off as need be and rolled out to areas that didn’t perform as well. This kind of astute thinking is essential to protect us from the harsh reality of a Covid winter that risks seeing the usual excess winter deaths amongst older people multiply.
Organisations like Age Scotland aren’t a luxury, they are an essential part of a functioning society. Everyone needs to understand that charities and community groups are never more needed, and ensuring they survive the harsh 2020 winter means ensuring more of us do.
It was heartening to see so many people take part in virtual Kiltwalks in and the London Marathon in September, and great that so many members of the public recognise that the causes they are supporting are never more needed. But the reality is Scots who are at the luckier end of coronavirus – safely working away in our comfortable well-heated homes – need to step up and do more for those at the sharper end. The way to do that is by supporting charities and community groups.
And, now is not the time for charities to shy away from asking for that help. SCVO’s Never More Needed webpage has lots of resources to help you tell your story, and more will be added over the next few weeks and months. Check out the facts we’ve included in what we’ve learnt so far, add some of your information and use it to remind supporters amongst the public, business, funders and government why you are never more needed this winter.
To end on a personal note, I’ve just bought a new down-filled winter coat and snow boots, so if it comes to alfresco Christmas 2020, I’m ready.
Susan Smith is SCVO's editor of news services