How can we focus on sustainability when we are trying to survive?
In early March we were busy following our business plan; rolling out a new membership service and scoping exciting new initiatives to develop and launch later in the year. The key goal – making our charity, Action Hampshire, sustainable. As Head of Enterprise, that’s exactly what my role is about. We have been going for nearly 70 years, supporting the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector to deliver great services to local people and communities; speaking up for the changes they would like to see and shape the future of where they live and work. In early March, let’s still call it the ‘Pre-Covid’ phase, we saw the effects of Covid-19 advancing.
However, like many people, I had not grasped the extent to which it would affect us all.
The ‘Crisis Covid’ phase hit as soon as we were going into lockdown in the week of 16th March. Big decisions needed to be taken. As part of the senior leadership team the first 2-3 weeks focused on making the right decisions in many different areas. Our core mission has always been to respond to the needs of the sector. We have done this by providing relevant information across all platforms and channels so organisations can focus on front line delivery work. We are also collecting evidence about how the sector is coping and feeding this to local and national government. In addition, we developed an internal organizational Covid-19 strategy, our valued staff got to grips with remote working with some being furloughed while others have reduced hours or pay; we re-forecast the short to medium financial resilience of the organization. Times were challenging in Pre-Covid but now they are even more so.
It was welcome to see that on 8th April, the Chancellor came up with a £750m funding package to help charities providing essential services on the front line, following weeks of intense pressure from the sector. However, it is far lower than the £4.3 billion that charities are predicting in lost income over the 12 week period from March. Our charity is not on the front line as it performs a second line function therefore this initial grant will not help Action Hampshire. We do have some reserves, battered by the stock market volatility but some nonetheless. Whilst not launching new services to the market at the moment, we are innovating, adapting and pivoting those that we can to fit the new virtual world and ensure continuity for our participants and beneficiaries. Social enterprise and community business training is being delivered online with all other training following suit. We are connecting (and supporting our students, participants and community businesses) via virtual coffee meetings, and as in Pre-Covid, Facebook, Basecamp forums and good old fashioned telephone calls!
The ‘Recovery Covid’ phase is becoming as much of a focus as the ‘Crisis Covid’ phase.
Charities will have a key role to play in the post-Covid recovery, when social need will have grown. Huge challenges exist right now but as we look to this next phase there are very tough times ahead for so many organisations and enterprises. Getting to a sustainable place will take longer. However, out of this crisis, new opportunities will present. We want to be ready with new models of delivery and pull all the positives from the last month with us. To name but a few – being adaptable and agile, pulling together with meaningful connection both as a staff team and across the sector, operating in the digitally transformed space, continuing to dig deep and importantly, be kind. With these in place, together with strong leadership and putting our creativity, experience and skills in the mix to respond rapidly to the opportunities, we will rise to the challenge of Recovery Covid.