We look at some of the online support groups helping charity workers amid COVID-19 recovery
The year of COVID-19 has been the toughest many charity workers have ever had to face. It has taken a toll on finances, with many charities forced to make staff redundant or cut back on support they can offer to beneficiaries.
With offices closed, many have been working from home. This can add to charity workers’ sense of isolation and anxiety, without the comfort of face-to-face interaction with colleagues.
For those delivering frontline support across health and social care, the pandemic has been particularly tough emotionally. The strain on charity workers’ mental health has been extraordinary.
A survey released earlier this year by charity insurer Ecclesiastical found that almost half of charity workers see burnout as a significant threat to their emotional wellbeing.
“With charities trying to do more with less, as well as the challenges of working remotely through lockdown, keeping staff happy and healthy is seen as a key priority for charities as they continue to navigate the pandemic,” said the insurer.
Fortunately, support is being made available online through a wealth of support groups and digital networks, offering professional and personal assistance to help weather the strain, especially on the toughest days.
This private group has been set up by small Middlesbrough charity Butterfly Giving to share support in tackling the emotional stress of managing a voluntary sector organisation on a shoestring budget. At the time of writing, 2,600 small charity professionals and volunteers had signed up.
Another offering support is the Small International Development Charities Network, specifically for charities working in the international aid sector. This 1,700-strong group labels itself as a “forum for networking, sharing ideas, experiences, frustrations and laughs”.
More than 1,000 charity workers have joined a private Facebook group called Charity Women, which offers a space for women working in the sector to discuss issues around equality in the sector. All genders are welcome.
Meanwhile, the Chartered Institute of Fundraising has set up a 2,000 strong private group on Facebook for those working in community fundraising. This offers professional support but also an online space for members to discuss “personal experiences and even failures”. This well-established group was launched four years ago.
Among the fastest growing support groups to help charity workers emotionally has been the 7,300-strong COVID-19 Charity Preparedness Group. This was set up during the first COVID-19 lockdown and has been offering support and guidance to charity workers ever since.
Social enterprise Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) offers training and support to charity staff and volunteers, firmly focused on their mental health and wellbeing needs. It has a zero stigma approach to mental health and wants it to be actively discussed and supported.
Online training offers help to a variety of charity sectors, including those working with adults, young people, in education as well as involved with the armed forces.
This training also offers charity workers the chance to be a mental health first aider. This covers areas such as listening, offering reassurance, and responding to mental health concerns among staff. It also helps trainees recognise the warning signs of mental ill health.
In addition, the MHFA website has blogs and guidance aimed at further supporting the mental health of professionals.
Frontline charity professionals have faced enormous pressures over the last year, supporting bereaved families and those badly impacted by the COVID-19 virus.
To help, a group of mental health charities – including Shout, Samaritans, and Mind – have set up Our Frontline, an online support service aimed at frontline charity workers across health, care, emergency services and education amid the pandemic. This offers reassurance that help is at hand.
One-to-one support by phone and text is available, as well as resources around mental health and interaction on its social channels, including Facebook and LinkedIn.
Charity workers in Scotland are being offered free courses to support their emotional health needs. This is being provided by mental health charity the Scottish Association for Mental Health and backed with funding from Foundation Scotland.
Through the training, charity workers are offered virtual sessions, covering areas such as support for managers’ mental health, suicide prevention, ways to maintain wellbeing and build resilience.
Foundation Scotland programmes manager Helen Wray said that too often charity workers are among those who “feel like they can’t talk, or even have time to think about their own issues as they are so focussed on helping others”.
She added: “We need to ensure these individuals feel equipped, trained and able to cope with the increasing pressures they face.”
There is also scope for staff and leaders to set up their own groups. These can be large, like some of the existing Facebook groups, or they can be small groups, through a platform such as WhatsApp, offering a safe space for those in the voluntary sector to ensure they are being supported emotionally, as UK society recovers from the pandemic.