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A Marathon not a Sprint

30 Mar 2020 - 09:25 by Mike Wild

Was that only a week?

The first thing to I need to say here is a huge thank you to my amazing colleagues at Macc for their work over recent days. They have been incredible. Last Friday as I was leaving the office, I walked around making a little video and talking about everything which had been achieved that week. I couldn’t get through it without my voice breaking. But I wanted to capture that moment when everyone had gone home to be safe but to carry on. I thought at the time that I couldn’t remember having felt prouder of Macc and everyone in it. In the space of a few days they pulled together a whole new programme of work, created and delivered while transforming the organisation to remote working, supporting people who are ringing up asking for help and supporting each other with our own fears and anxieties about this strange new world we’re suddenly in.

Of course we’re by no means the only organisation to have done this. All through the last few weeks I’ve heard from amazing folk in other charities and voluntary organisations who are working flat out to help. They are rewiring their entire organisations to be able to do what is needed right now, to keep people safe and well. Although we’re physically distancing, being socially connected has never mattered more. Rightly, the NHS is getting a lot of attention as our NHS staff are at the frontline of dealing with the impact of Covid19 (and doing so despite not having enough proper protective equipment or the availability of tests – amazing and appalling at the same time). It’s also important to remember that the wider system includes social care staff in Local Authorities, care homes, agencies which provide support at home and of course thousands (and I’m not exaggerating here) of charities and community groups.

This is why I am still at a loss to understand the Government’s apparent reluctance to put meaningful support together for the charity sector. It seems so obvious: the need for what the sector can do is huge and growing, the role of charities in keeping people safe and preventing them from needing public services right now is greater than ever – but income from fundraising and trading have basically stopped. The irony of this is that organisations which have worked hard to become financially independent (as every funder and commissioner is always telling us to) are the ones most at risk and, locally, they are so important. Charities aren’t stopping, they’re repurposing the hell out of everything.

So while it’s great that the National Emergencies Trust has raised almost £11million so far when you put that alongside the estimated £4BILLION the sector is likely to lose over the next 12 weeks, it’s clear that the system will fall apart without proper intervention by Government. I am hearing ‘something is coming’ noises but concerned that the amount of time it is taking indicates that there is little understanding of the scale of the problem. I would urge and everyone, please support the Every Day Counts campaign. Imagine what will happen to communities and the knock-on effect on our hard-pressed public services if we start to lose hospices, shelters for the homeless, mental health support and much more. For a great, passionate statement of the situation read this blog from Caron Bradshaw at Charity Finance Group

Some things we’ve done

  • Launched our Covid19 Community Volunteer programme - The headline has to be the fantastic response to our call for volunteers – over 900 people have signed up already.
  • Created a space for local charities and community groups to tell us what they need
  • Added to our resources with news about funding, safe practice and much more 
  • Working with partners such as Health Development Co-ordinators to gather information about what’s going on in neighbourhoods, what the needs are, what’s in place and what isn’t and how to connect it all together. We are effectively building in a matter of days a city wide information system. More on this soon.
  • Launched the Migrant Destitution Fund which is accepting donations which will be distributed to people who have no recourse to public funds. If you’d like to donate, here’s how
  • Macc team working from home running events online, answering calls from people who are looking for support or offering to help, from charities who want to find out what’s happening or to get support around responding to the crisis (HR advice is a big concern right now so if any legal types are reading this and would like to offer some pro bono support…)

Some things I’ve learned this week

  • There is a massive collective effort. Each of us is just one cell in this collective brain trying to figure it out and get everything done. Without any one of us it wouldn’t be as smart, with just one of us it wouldn’t work at all.
  • It’s very easy for time to be eaten up when working from home in a crisis. Whole days have gone by moving from one conference call to the next without time to change mental gears let alone tell anyone else what has just been discussed or agreed. I didn’t get to speak to most of my own team right when they were going through this first week.
  • We all need time out and time to smile. I’m still learning how to do that. I kept saying I’ll go on a break…which ended up checking Twitter or WhatsApp rather than doing phone calls, Zoom meetings and emails. (Thanks to Kat Pursall for coining the phrase “Zoomed out”)
  • Every day is ending with a Government announcement at the moment. Think about that – an announcement comes out at 5pm and we have to respond by next morning. It means we’re constantly playing catchup which is a stressful position to be in. I get why this is but I feel sure it could be done better.
  • I am amazed that Parliament is still allowed to meet by cramming everyone into the House of Commons. Show some bloody leadership and find a way to do it differently!

Stuff still to sort

  • Some groups of people are still too invisible in all of this. I am astonished at the very basic mistake that Government has not put more effort into getting information out in languages other than English. There is also virtually no communications aimed at giving guidance and reassurance to disabled people.
  • Food distribution. There is – and has been for a long time now - a fantastic community network supporting food distribution. But it is being overwhelmed and under-supplied at a time when we need it most. Fortunately, there are good people working on this locally across the Council and the VCSE sector.
  • NHS Volunteering. It’s wonderful to see so many thousands of people sign up. All that’s needed now is some ideas of how that’s going to be organised because I frankly don’t understand how we are supposed to connect to it. We’ll find a way.
  • Crisis funding for charities. We’re working with partners to get more funds out there in addition to the funds available locally like those from Forever Manchester and We Love Manchester.

So if you’re feeling that this is still an anxious time where not everything is clear, all I can say is that’s OK. Everything is still coming together but it is making a difference. Everything I see around me at the moment is being done on the basis of “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”. It will get better, more connected and improve. Last week I said, it was not just a marathon, it’s a relay marathon. I’d add to that now: it’s a relay marathon where the course keeps changing. 

We will find our way through all this by working together.

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