Charity resilience during lockdown

No. 16 in a series of articles reporting on the responses of Caritas member organisations to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Charity services have been delivered to the most vulnerable people despite lockdown, staffing challenges and economic uncertainty, according to directors of charities in Caritas Social Action Network who met last week.

Although Covid-19 impacted many income streams, Catholic Children’s Society (Westminster) continued to support vulnerable families. “Our main fundraising appeal in schools takes place during Lent and school closures meant that fundraising events and collections were not possible,” said Chief Executive Dr Rosemary Keenan, and “parish closures also impacted our voluntary income.”

Dr Keenan was thankful that individual supporters and funders ensured funds were there to support the charity’s work, as “demand for our services has never been greater and we have seen a huge increase in the number of children experiencing mental health issues as well as financial hardship.” Thousands of families have been struggling with issues of anxiety, depression and isolation.

Crisis grants over recent months have supported almost 600 children, parents and carers facing severe poverty and hardship resulting from the lockdown, health problems and loss of work. The Catholic Children’s Society (Westminster) quickly trained their therapists, through a new certificated course, with the skills to counsel children and families online. It has provided specialist bereavement training for over 80 school staff, enabling them to run support groups for pupils who have experienced a significant loss in their lives.

The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS UK) reported a very positive response in giving from supporters. This was vital since emergency response work replaced suspended face-to-face services. Grants for direct responses to the pandemic have allowed JRS UK to continue providing support over the phone, financial hardship grants, and emergency food and toiletry deliveries.

“I am hugely grateful to our supporters and donors,” said Sarah Teather, Director of JRS UK. The funding helped JRS radically reorient services, but she has warned about the long-term. “As we move into the ‘new reality’, our refugee friends will suffer from the unpredictability of changing public health guidance and precarious housing situations,” she reflected, “and like many other charities, we currently face a significant financial shortfall for next year.” 

The Cardinal Hume Centre and the people they serve also fear having to “face an uncertain future,” Chief Executive George O’Neill said. “We have been touched by the backing we have received from many individuals in recent weeks, it has helped to ensure we have been able to maintain the bulk of the support we provide.”

In the first three months of the lockdown, the Centre helped nearly 400 people with advice, well over 200 with access to emergency food and remain a home for 36 young people. However, increasingly, the Centre is being asked to help clients who have recently lost work or are trying to navigate their rights when made redundant. 

“Safeguards for those who rent or were unable to work during the height of the lockdown look likely to end,” he reported, “and we’re worried that more young people and families will face unemployment and homelessness, and the need for help will increase.” Emergency funding has been available, including some from the Government, but the Centre is worried about the long term. “We have to persuade people to support our work not just now, but in the months and years ahead, to give us the confidence to focus on what we do best, when it is needed most,” said Mr O’Neill; “we will do our best to be ready to help meet these challenges in financially difficult times.”

Paul Bott, Chief Executive of St John Of God Hospitaller Services, reported on “meeting greater need in an increasingly difficult funding environment. Long-term financial viability is key if you want to be supporting people tomorrow as well as today.” He felt tough decisions need to be made, noting that recession “is likely to reduce the amount of money in fundraisers’ buckets”.

Nugent Care in Liverpool Archdiocese has formed a dedicated planning ahead team, drawing on Catholic Social Teaching and the best of the guidance in the commercial sector.

The SVP (England and Wales) has worked throughout lockdown to support people who have been unwell or isolating themselves, including people prevented from earning an income. This was despite many experienced volunteers and leaders being prevented by Covid-19 on age or health grounds from taking their normal active roles.

This post is adapted from an article by Ellen Teague, first published in ‘The Tablet’ in association with CSAN.