Warning over charities’ finances as community foundation prepares to continue support in 2021

By Jamie Hill - 22 December 2020

Charity
  • Gorse Hill Baptist Church volunteers Julie Harris, left, and Debs Burbidge packing Bags of Hope. Their work is being funded by the Wiltshire Community Foundation

    Gorse Hill Baptist Church volunteers Julie Harris, left, and Debs Burbidge packing Bags of Hope. Their work is being funded by the Wiltshire Community Foundation

Charities who lost out of thousands of pounds of fundraising thank to Covid are facing a tough 2021, warns the head of the UK’s community foundations.

Rise Trust youth workers Danielle Blake, right, and Tash Burton out meeting youngsters in Calne. The group was given a Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund grant to adapt its work

Rosemary Macdonald, who left Wiltshire Community Foundation to become chief executive of the UK body earlier this year, is warning that some grassroots voluntary groups might not survive without financial help.

“What we are hearing loud and clear from our network of community foundations is that local charities across the UK are teetering on a funding cliff edge. Without urgent intervention before the end of the financial year, we can expect many thousands of local charities to be pushed over the precipice,” said Mrs Macdonald, who lives near Westbury.

She praised the work of community foundations like Wiltshire’s who launched response funds to help groups cope with the immediate fallout from the pandemic and are now helping them build for the longer term.

“Without the contributions of staff members, volunteers and donors, hundreds of thousands of people would have been left without access to hospice care, food distribution, mental health support, legal advice and much more. In this time of unprecedented hardship for many, emergency funding has made a huge difference to people’s lives,” she said.

In Wiltshire the Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund has so far raised almost £1.2 million and has distributed nearly £1 million. It was launched in March in response to the need for urgent help as charities and voluntary groups found themselves adapting their services online, helping with distribution of food and looking for ways to stay in touch with isolated users, at the same time as losing thousands of pounds in fundraising.

“It was a perfect storm,” said Fiona Oliver, who along with Vicky Hickey became joint chief executive in March. “Groups were being asked to help more people than ever before at a faster rate, just as they were losing volunteers or were being faced with having to furlough staff.

“Others, like Wiltshire Sight or mental health charities whose work depended on face-to-face contact, were forced to adapt how they operated just to stay in touch with the vulnerable people who were being left isolated, afraid and at risk.”

The community foundation’s small team found itself working flat out to process the applications, streamlining a process that normally takes weeks into days while maintaining its rigorous assessment procedures.

“We knew we needed to get the money out quickly because the need was so immediate. Foodbanks were running out of supplies because donations, in the main, had plummeted,” said Mrs Oliver. “Groups like Ipsum the mental health charity, The Samaritans, Swindon Women’s Aid and Relate

needed new equipment and extra staff costs to take their services online and over the phone with their staff and counsellors working remotely.

“The Youth Adventure Trust, Trowbridge Future, Young Melksham and the Wiltshire and Swindon Scrapstores were among dozens of groups supporting isolated young people at home, helping parents who were struggling with home education and keeping teenagers off the streets.

“Our grants team did and are doing a brilliant job not just to process and review scores of applications and get grants approved by our independent panels, but also to advise and support groups making the applications, often for the first time.”

The fund quickly grew thanks to the generosity of people across the county and support from the National Emergencies Trust and companies such as the Oakfield Development in Swindon, Zurich, Wessex Water and Thames Water and Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson. An initial target of £50,000 was met and surpassed in the first week.

To date more than 180,000 people have benefitted from the more than 200 grants to groups across Swindon and Wiltshire. Mrs Oliver said: “We are incredibly thankful and humbled by the support from the people of Wiltshire and the trusts and businesses that have supported us. People have responded to this crisis far more generously than we ever thought possible and we know what huge hearts the people of this county have.

“We are well aware there is a huge challenge as we head into 2021 and are still uncertain about what the early months of the year will bring. But we know that both the charities and voluntary groups and those that support them have amazing resilience and that gives us tremendous hope.”

To donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund or to find out how to apply for a grant, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk.

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