The National Emergency Trust is handing charities vital funding to ramp up their digital service delivery for at risk groups
Charities are increasingly turning to digital solutions to support communities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Social distancing restrictions and lockdown rules have necessitated this shift, as face-to-face support becomes increasingly difficult to offer.
Charities have explored a number of tech-based solutions, including artificial intelligence powered chatbots, video counselling, webchats, social media messenger functions, as well as helpline support.
This increase in digital innovation in service delivery is particularly important for at-risk communities, who are being hit hard by loneliness, anxiety and other mental health issues. The elderly, disabled people, those with experience of care, LGBTQ+ individuals, frontline NHS workers and vulnerable young people, have all been identified as being at particular risk.
This need to innovate in charity support has not been lost on funders, who are increasingly keen to fund voluntary sector initiatives that deploy digital effectively to help those most in need.
One of the most noteable cash injections for service delivery improvements is a £12m ‘at risk groups’ fund set up in the summer by the National Emergencies Trust. This sees the Trust set up partnerships of charities working with specific communities to target funding where it is most needed.
Here we detail some of the charities to benefit from the NET’s at risk funding.
The first wave of funding saw £2m in funding distributed by two partnerships. This includes funding to support people living with disabilities, who may be disproportionately affected by the pandemic. This initiative has been led by Disability Action NI in partnership with Disability Wales, Inclusion Scotland and Inclusion London.
The partnership says that part of the money is being used by charities to improve online links with disabled people, who may be at an increased risk of digital exclusion. Some groups have been using the money to offer support through handing out tablets to improve internet access for people.
The other partnership to benefit from this first wave of funding is the LGBT+ Consortium, an umbrella body for groups including Switchboard LGBT+, MindOut, Galop, The Intercom Trust and LGBT Foundation. A key use of the funding has been to improve helpline support to meet increased demand.
LGBT+Consortium chair Paul Roberts highlighted the importance of the funding.
“Evidence shows that LGBT+ people want support from organisations that understand their lived experiences, so we are delighted to be supported by the NET and ensure funds can be directed so support remains available to as many diverse LGBT+ people as possible.”
Barnardos have also received funding to provide online and helpline support for Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) children amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
This was announced in September and will offer help to children on a range of issues from bereavement support and mental health problems.
“Our new helpline for children and families is the first of its kind, offering a UK-wide support service to help these families tackle a unique and complex range of issues.”
“This funding will also enable us to launch a telephone and online counselling service for vulnerable children and young people in all communities who are affected by COVID-19 and in need of support in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”
- Javed Khan – Chief Executive, Barnardo’s
The Heads Together coalition, which includes the mental health charity Mind, is another beneficiary of NET’s at-risk funding. This includes ramping up Mind’s information and signposting service, Infoline, Beefing up web support for those with mental health issues, is another priority
“We are facing huge demand for our advice and information about staying well and looking after your mental health, and the money we directly receive will be invested in our Infoline, a vital service for adults struggling with their mental health.”
- Paul Farmer – Chief Executive, Mind
The Refugee Council, and its partners the Scottish Refugee Council, Welsh Refugee Council and Bryson Care in Northern Ireland, have been awarded £1.5m by the NET’s at risk fund to improve support for refugees and people seeking asylum.
A key use of this has been to combat digital isolation among refugee, to ensure they can access support. Crisis support, to tackle issues such as homelessness, destitution and mental health support is also a focus.
The funding has also been used to fund a national Freephone helpline to support refugees, particularly those experiencing hardship and mental ill health due to the COVID-19 out break.
“We are delighted to receive this very substantial and timely National Emergencies Trust grant award. It will enable us to reach out and provide a vital lifeline to many marginalised refugees and people seeking asylum whose vulnerability has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,”
- Maurice Wren - Chief Executive, Refugee Council
Among other charity partnerships to benefit from NET’s at risk funding include Age UK, to support the elderly through advice line, website and friendship services. Another is Shelter, which including funding for an online advice service around housing rights in Northern Ireland.