The last year has been devastating for so many reasons and few, if any, could fully comprehend how much our lives would be changed by Covid-19 or how businesses would change.
Beyond the worry for our charity and its volunteers and staff members, was the worry for our clients, many of whom rely on in-person support. We could not abandon our clients, so our concerns fell on how we could adapt our charity to the restrictions that were being placed on us.
What faced us was the conversion of a service that relied on legacy systems into one that operated remotely and could integrate more easily with partners.
Meeting the challenge
We were able to rapidly adapt, thanks largely to funders like Healthwatch BANES, the local council, the Medlock Trust, Mind, the National Lottery Community Fund, the Quartet Foundation, and our Top52 corporate supporters.
We moved our volunteers and staff members to remote working, moved our servers to the cloud, integrated our service with the Community Wellbeing Hub, and sent a leaflet through the door of every home in Bath & North East Somerset notifying residents of how they could continue to access our service.
These efforts enabled us to answer 30% more phone calls, reach stranded clients who lacked digital channels to services, and take part in a multi-organisational project that has shown what we can achieve when we work together on a common cause.
Together, we’ve moved clients with addictions, who were living in their cars, into housing, getting them onto benefits, and subsequently seeing them enter employment. We’ve helped terminally ill people to access benefits and helped their bereaved families to gain financial support all during lockdowns. Together with our partners, we’ve rescued thousands of people from across the region from desperate situations.
However, as circumstances changed, we needed to adapt again.
Getting through Winter
When the colder months arrived and we were still no closer to the end of the ordeal, our clients faced a truly formidable challenge. With many people being furloughed or losing their jobs, residents across the region were worried about how to afford their heating.
Thanks to the changes we’d made, like introducing an online enquiry facility and joining up with other health and social service providers, and with funding from the council and others, we were able to meet this new crisis. We did so by providing fuel top-ups so that some of the most vulnerable residents could get a financial boost towards their heating bills.
What’s coming next?
Unfortunately, this has all just been the lead-up to another storm.
- In January and February, we saw a 7% increase in clients with debt problems, compared to the same period last year.
- The partnerships we’ve created with the Community Wellbeing Hub and others have established new access points that need to be maintained, but which have caused a 77% increase in case handling activities.
- Our volunteers and staff need a moment to relax, as they having been toiling for a year, trying to make sure that every client gets the same high level of service that we’ve always provided.
Now, as we see that the light has been switched on at the end of the tunnel, we have to adapt once more. With client numbers increasing and expectations of maintaining the new channels for accessing support, like our online enquiry form and the Community Wellbeing Hub, we also have to start thinking about how we’re going to reopen our in-person service.
We’ve already begun this work. St John’s Foundation generously provided us with funding to establish a specialist debt advice team. To handle the increased administration, we’re hiring a casework support worker, and we’re training new volunteers. However, with every adaptation there comes a financial cost and with the economic impact of Covid-19, we’re on a razor’s edge as to whether we can ready ourselves in time to meet resident’s needs.