A month in the life of a local charity during the coronavirus crisis
PUBLISHED: 12:12 04 May 2020
Charities in Yorkshire have had to galvanise their efforts and energies to support the most vulnerable in their communities in the midst of lockdown. Jan Garrill, chief executive of Two Ridings Community Foundation, records a remarkable month
I like March: the first day of spring is usually on or around my birthday, clocks go forward, spring bulbs appear and there is a general sense of everyone re-emerging from their winter hibernation.
Our March started normally with an International Women’s Day Lunch on March 11 at the Archbishops of York’s home, Bishopthorpe Palace. We raised £1,700 for Two Ridings Community Foundation’s Women and Girls Fund. We didn’t do any handshakes or kisses but other than that it felt like business as usual.
One of our regular Seeing is Believing visits to donors and supporters to visit local projects to see our grants in action. All four of the groups provide vital support to people in need at the best of times and little did we appreciate then how it was going to change, almost literally overnight.
I heard back from one of them, Supporting Older People in Harrogate, a few days later to let me know that instead of their regular luncheon clubs and trips out for older people they had transformed themselves into a telephone befriending service, in large part due to some funding we had given them in 2019 to pilot such a scheme. They have more than 70 new volunteers working with the Harrogate Round Table and have matched them with the nearly 300 existing and new clients who need support. While they respond magnificently to the challenges, at the same time they are losing income from fundraising - but are unable to furlough paid staff because demand is going through the roof.
By now it was obvious we needed to mobilise our response and we launched our fund to support local charities to respond to the coronavirus crisis, alongside a national appeal via the National Emergencies Trust. The next day we moved to remote working as a team, rolled up our sleeves and got the message out to all existing funded groups that we were there for them - and raised more than £400,000 from existing donors and fund holders. The relief from groups that they could respond to the situation was overwhelming.
I had my first video conferencing meeting and was horrified to see that without make up and my hair ‘done’ I looked like John Major! I have since worked out how to turn off the self-view option. (I was due to get my hair cut that weekend but like many other self-employed people, Sue, my long standing hairdresser, had to down tools).
This was also the day Boris Johnson announced the closure of public places like pubs, restaurants and cinemas. We had planned to go out with friends to celebrate my birthday, so to support the young couple who had only taken on the pub a few months ago, we ordered a takeaway meal.
Between us Ian and I have five grown-up children, two grandchildren and one elderly parent so ordinarily a weekend with a birthday and Mother’s Day would have meant a lot of family get–togethers. It was a wrench not being able to spend time with any of them. All are safe and sound thank goodness.
To try and keep fit I went out on my bike and blew the cobwebs away. Cycling through villages like Crayke, Coxwold and Husthwaite I could take time to appreciate the landscape and birdlife and get a bit of perspective back. Like many people I am sure, I am waking up in the middle of the night worrying; for me about loved ones, about the long-term financial viability of the charity and dealing with the challenges of getting donations in and grants out to help groups.
Local charitable groups are desperately thinking about how they could respond to the emerging social isolation; especially groups that give elderly and vulnerable people some support. Groups like Moorlands Centre in Old Goole, who deliver meals at home and local community shops that rely on volunteers, many over 70, to keep the shop going.
We were able to make grants to Moorlands and Clapham Shop and seven others. This was down to the generosity shown by many of our donors. I think these donors feel like ‘it’s the least we can do’ to support the ingenuity, resourcefulness and sheer bloody-mindedness of people and charities who are not allowing this virus to get in the way of what they are here for – helping people in need. I was also very proud of my daughter who turned 22 that day. She works for an insurance company in York but also volunteers as a special police officer for British Transport Police. She is continuing to do regular shifts for the police and has put up her hand to do more if needed.
A day of contrasts, I was involved in UK-wide conversations about the National Emergencies Trust response and the need to make the case for charities with national government. At 8pm I stood on our drive in Huby clapping for the NHS. Both filled me with emotion. Pride at the fact that Two Ridings Community Foundation was the chosen local delivery partner for monies raised from the National Emergencies Trust Appeal for North and East Yorkshire and pride in our NHS and their amazing workforce. It was lovely to see neighbours for the first time for a while, even if from across the road.
We received notification that the National Emergencies Trust had raised more than £12.5m and we were getting our first allocation of money. This together with the generous donations we have received means we have more than £700,000 in funds to help local groups deal with the impact of coronavirus. Whilst this is a huge amount of money, I know it won’t cover all the needs out there and some really challenging times lie ahead in making sure Two Ridings distributes these funds carefully. We will need to have one eye on meeting needs right now, but another on making sure key local charities can keep the lights on so that when we return to normal they have the wherewithal to be able to revert back to their normal face to face activities.
I think all this got to me on Friday night so I had a rather sleepless night. As a result I didn’t feel like going out on my bike. Ian, however, wouldn’t take no for an answer so I went and did my 20k circuit around Huby. I am so glad I did. Just being outside, doing some exercise was so satisfying. It did clear my head.
A big day for me; my first official shift opening our local community shop, Barkers of Huby. Mainly staffed by volunteers as a well-stocked source of food and other essentials, it is a lifeline right now. I know the management committee scour local cash and carry outlets daily for essentials like bread, pasta, flour and the ubiquitous toilet rolls. I normally volunteer at Christmas when we have lot of meat orders to distribute, but as so many of their normal volunteers are over 70, I thought I should chip in. It gives me a break from video conference calls and, within the limits of 2m, some human interaction that isn’t my husband.
I have to make sure we are putting out useful messages on social media platforms. Like many charities these routes to communicate are really important. If they are well thought through and focused they can raise the profile of even the smallest organisation.
March ends like a lion. We launched our Confident Futures network via a virtual meeting with more than 35 local charity leaders. We decided to go ahead with the long-planned launch as now more than ever there needs to be places where people can connect.
By the end of the day we had more than 50 people signed up. We also got all the applications processed and sent out to the grants panel for their virtual meeting on April 1. In the space of just over two weeks we have received 65 applications for our Coronavirus Community Fund and we wanted to get as many as possible prepared so groups can get the awards by the end of the week. We did it and distributed £65,000 to 25 groups from Skipton to Scarborough and Hull to Harrogate and all points in-between. As we normally do this amount in one month I am enormously proud of the team’s efforts but know there is a lot more to do.
The appeal stands at £1.5 million and the broup have have distributed 100 grants in 4 weeks.
To donate to the emergency fund see tworidingscf.org.uk