In the teeth of a crisis: how community groups in Cornwall have responded to Covid-19 and are facing future challenges
A summary of research carried out by Cornwall Community Foundation (CCF) to guide its future grant-making priorities. The findings also have a wider application in informing our understanding of how community groups have responded and see the future.
1. The Surveys
The research population consisted of current or previous recipients of CCF grants. Our grant policy focuses on smaller charities, caution should therefore be taken extrapolating to the wider voluntary and charity sector.
Two online surveys were sent between 20 May and 12 June 2020 to:
1. a sample of 87 current recipients of Cornwall Emergency Fund grants (Coronavirus related). 60 (69%) organizations completed the survey.
2. 419 community groups who had received a grant from CCF in the last three years but who had not applied for a Cornwall Emergency Fund grant. 127 (30%) organizations completed the survey.
The surveys were broadly similar in design and approach.
2. Survey 1: Cornwall Emergency Fund grant recipients
All areas of the county were represented. 33% provided services across the county.
The sample was evenly spread across all annual income bands.
Many of the organisations are offering a wide range of support services for their communities and beneficiaries, some actually expanding provision since the crisis started.
Providing foodbanks or meal delivery (39% of organizations) was the most common service but supporting mental health, young and older people’s wellbeing (33% of organizations) are almost as common as providing food and meals.
The organizations were driven by a commitment that they will serve their beneficiaries as best they can, come what may. They have been quickly adaptive and innovative.
The most common service adaptations are: transferring services to remote working – digital/online/telephone; changing from collected to delivered services; introducing new/additional services; ceasing group services.
The groups recognized they face very significant challenges over the next two years. Financial and funding concerns were the most commonly reported challenge. Increases in overall demand for their services were the next most common challenge, followed by concern that many of their original beneficiaries will be worried about meeting in community spaces and safety.
75% of this sample expected demand for their Coronavirus services to last 1 year or more. 28% state more than 2 years.
85% expect a Coronavirus related core cost shortfall in the next 6 months. The scale of the shortfall is evenly distributed, linked primarily to organization size.
63% expect a funding shortfall relating to non-Coronavirus costs over the next six months. The scale of the shortfall is slightly skewed towards amounts from £30,000 – £50,000
The challenge of plotting a path through the uncertainty is a key characteristic that comes across in the responses.
“It is very hard for any of us to predict the future right now.”
3. Survey 2: Recipients of other CCF grants in last three years
All areas of the county were represented. 14% provided services across the county.
61% of the sample were very small organisations with annual income of less than £10,000. 75% have 5 employees or less.
Young people’s health and well-being, community spaces, older people’s health and well-being, sports and exercise, befriending for elderly or isolated and mental health support are the services most frequently provided.
56% of the respondent organisations are not operating during the Coronavirus crisis.
The overwhelming reason for closure is that the services or facilities provided were considered impossible/difficult to operate and still meet lockdown, social distancing and/or government or council regulations.
For groups operating through the crisis, offering services remotely through digital/internet connectivity is referred to by more than 50% of respondents. Modifying existing services or usage or physical facilities to meet social distancing rules was also important. Some organisations introduced new services to meet new demands.
Almost all organizations expect to be operating normally within twelve months. 39% expect to be doing so in 6 months. Only one organisation expected to close.
Activities associated with getting back to running as before were seen as the top priorities over the next two years.
The main challenges over the next two years were, in order of frequency: lack of confidence and impetus for people to leave their homes and return to events or use services where there are other people; funding and fundraising; issues associated with social distancing.
62% of organizations expect a shortfall in funding over the next 12 months. 58% of respondents indicate their expected shortfall to be less than £5,000.
61% of the sample do not hold unrestricted reserves. For the 39% that do, the levels are evenly spread, with 32% holding more than 12 months’ running costs.
“We believe we are resilient enough to survive but the longer this goes on the more vulnerable we may become.”
What comes through clearly in the surveys is a group of people committed to providing services to support people and communities in Cornwall. Their response to the current situation varies widely from expansion to temporary suspension of operations. But even if groups are not operating at present, it is their overwhelming intention to get back on their feet.
It is also clear that many groups, particularly those in the white heat of current front-line delivery, see a different way of operating in the future with some of the new practices being embraced and persisting into the new normal. e.g. video conference meetings replacing face to face.
What the future looks like for the community groups varies considerably. For some, the future is a very new normal with things done differently. For others, the primary objective is to get back to operating as before.
There is also variation in how long groups expected Coronavirus related service delivery to last before normality is resumed. In general, the slightly larger groups currently delivering immediate response services, see their Coronavirus delivery lasting 12 – 24 months. Other groups expected normality to resume within 12 months.
Unsurprisingly a sense of uncertainty underpins the responses. Many groups were struggling to plan because there were too few known planning reference points at the time of the survey.
Financial concerns were the most frequently quoted factor driving uncertainty, relating to reduced income, increased costs or both. Whilst nearly all groups intend to carry on, there is an underlying recognition that financial circumstances may thwart that ambition for some.
Another challenge frequently identified was a lack of confidence and impetus for people to leave their homes and return to use services where there are other people present. Group activities have universally ceased and will be difficult to re-establish.
There is a real sense of intentional resilience behind the responses to these surveys. The groups are committed to carrying on supporting people and communities in Cornwall. They will do their level best to do that in whatever form works best for their situation, come what may.
5. Thank you
We are very grateful to the 187 community organizations who completed one of the surveys. Not only has it yielded useful information about present and future responses to the Covid-19 crisis generally, it has also provided valuable insights for CCF’s future grant-making.
The surveys convey the breadth and depth of what community organizations contribute to communities in Cornwall. CCF would like to offer a heartfelt thanks to all the groups and volunteers in Cornwall who selflessly give their time, energy and money to helping others.
Grants are currently available from the Cornwall Emergency Fund to support Covid-19 crisis response activities. We will shortly be expanding the Fund criteria to include a Build Back Better strand to support groups getting back on their feet. For information please click here.
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