12th Oct 2020
The Community Foundation has been at the forefront of the philanthropic response to the Covid-19 pandemic in North East England, bringing in over £2 million in funds for Coronavirus response and recovery work.
‘We knew early on that we had to step up, and that specialist funds and rapid grant-making were essential,’ says Rob Williamson, the Foundation’s CEO. ‘We launched our own Coronavirus fund in March 2020, putting in £200,000 from our unrestricted pot, with a call for new and existing donors and partners to join us.’ Major contributions came from Newcastle Building Society, Sir James Knott Trust and Virgin Money Foundation. Meanwhile, public donations rolled in via the fund’s online giving page. At the same time, plans were being put in place for a UK-wide appeal headed by the new National Emergencies Trust (NET). From April, the Community Foundation began receiving funds from NET’s appeal to distribute in its area.
Churches Together South Tyneside received one of the first grants, for its Happy at Home project. Margaret Stephenson-Gray, the project co-ordinator says: ‘When we saw that lockdown was coming, we knew we needed to adapt our support for older people. We quickly pulled staff from other projects and had them contact all our volunteer befrienders to ask them to continue the befriending service but over the phone instead of in person. We’ve been able to support over 300 people daily as a result. We distributed food parcels, Easter eggs and even flowers. When we heard our users were getting bored, we collected all the games, jigsaws and other activities we use at our weekly community hubs and added them to the food parcels we sent out.”
By September 2020, the Community Foundation had awarded over £1.2 million in grants to 154 organisations. Community Help and Neighbourly Care Sunderland (CHANCE) received £6,500 to support its coronavirus work. Set up in 1993 by a group of volunteers to provide training and education to women across the city’s Hendon Ward, CHANCE has since developed to serve the whole community and taken on its own building. Julie Maven, Centre Manager and one of the founding volunteers explains: ‘We’re not just a centre for people in need. Often, we’re the only contact our elderly residents have. When lockdown started and the elderly were advised to shield, it meant that many of them were unable to provide for themselves – they were just stuck in doors.’ So, CHANCE sprang into action, cooking and delivering healthy and nutritious meals for elderly and vulnerable people five days a week, free of charge, and supporting families across who were impacted financially as a result of Coronavirus.
As the Government began easing lockdown, the Community Foundation’s focus turned to how it could best help charities and community groups recover from the impact on their finances and renew their work. ‘From the beginning, we saw our job as funding the immediate response to the pandemic, and longer-term recovery for organisations whose work would be affected,’ Rob Williamson says. ‘As NET monies came in to provide relief for the most vulnerable during lockdown, we saw that our funds raised locally could be the backbone of our recovery and renewal work.’
Determining how best to deploy these and other funds in a rapidly changing context has been a challenge. The Foundation’s team is working with local authorities, sector support bodies and other funders to identify priority places and people to target. ‘It’s vital with limited funds that we use them to make the most difference,’ Williamson explains. ‘We need also to ensure we complement what other organisations regionally and nationally are doing.’ With the pandemic’s impact likely to affect the region’s most disadvantaged communities hardest, the Foundation’s philanthropic response will continue for some time to come.