West Yorkshire and Harrogate charities critical in COVID-19 response - so what does the future hold?

Posted on: 7 July 2020

VCS_resilience_report_cover.jpgWest Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership has published their report this week titled ‘Third Sector Resilience: Before and during COVID-19’.

Working closely with voluntary and community organisations (VCS) across Bradford district and Craven; Calderdale, Harrogate, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield, the report sets out the impact of COVID-19 on the sector, volunteering and the communities they support.

A life line to many of the 2.7million people living across the area; community groups, charities and voluntary organisations have been delivering vital services for years, including the renewed focus in recent months to those in need of vital help, including the 111,000 people who are shielding.

Building on the long term work of the VCS across communities, the report highlights that for many charities and community organisations their future is now uncertain. Financially they are under pressure and digital capacity remains a barrier to many for their work.

Over 300 VCS organisations employing over 7,000 members of staff and thousands of volunteers, responded to the WY&H survey. Of these organisations 55% do not expect to be financially sustainable beyond the end of 2020, unless something changes.

Many of the organisations who took part in the survey also cited digital exclusion as a challenge in their work, impacting on their ability to work with some of the most at risk communities who become isolated when services go on line.

Positives highlighted in the report  include the fast tracking and flexibility of service commissioning and delivery between health, local authorities and the VCS, meaning services can respond quickly and everyone works together to make things happen at greater pace.

WY&H HCP has supported the sector during this pandemic. For example, it has enabled its priority programmes of work to align funding for VCS provider collaboration, for example the new Grief and Loss Support Service and ‘Keeping people with a learning disability or autism connected to vital support during COVID-19’.  A further £503,000 health inequality funds has been made available to voluntary and community organisations to help tackle the impact on people’s health affected by COVID-19, including towards supporting Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities (BAME). From over 80 applications, thirteen groups will receive this funding with further support being identified by WY&H HCP to help those not successful in this round, move forward. Work continues with the National Lottery to see how we can ensure the nationally allocated funds reach as many front line organisations as possible.

Rob Webster, CEO Lead for WY&H HCP said: ‘Our voluntary community partners and charities are playing a crucial role in supporting those who are most in need, building on the strength and relationships they already have with local communities and neighbourhoods. We need to do all we can to support them and to address the future of the sector. Targeted funds, a new series of support via webinars to share learning and good practice and working together have helped so far. More needs to be done and we will be exploring this further at our webinar this week with international experts like Heather Nelson, Cormac Russell, Kim Leadbeater and Professor Donna Hall. This can be watched live online at www.wyhpartnership.co.uk’.

Progress is being made and as one organisation said: ‘We have seen partnerships develop that seemed impossible before, we have seen a real neighbourly and community response which has been missing for many years and I have seen real integration amongst some diverse groups that would ordinarily have remained distant.’

Recognising the role of volunteering, Hilary Thompson, Chair of Third Sector Leaders Kirklees and Senior Responsible Officer for WY&H HCP, Harnessing the Power of Communities said: ‘Volunteers have been amazing, dedicated, caring and enthusiastic. There has been unbelievable community spirit - the process number of people offering local help and volunteering has been astounding. We couldn’t do what we are doing without them – we need the support to continue. Organisations have adapted their services to support people in so many innovative ways – it has taken remarkable energy and all been done with great heart’.  

The report puts forward five important recommendations – including long term, joined up investment in the VCS and in volunteering; investment in training and developing people and organisations, and better connecting commissioning and service delivery across all the partners involved in health and care in West Yorkshire and Harrogate. WY&H HCP recognises the vital contribution made by the VCS sector and is determined to do what they can for future sustainability and the recommendations will be discussed at the next WY&H HCP Leadership Executive meeting in August.

Full report: Third Sector Resilience: Before and during COVID-19

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