Digital can help charities meet an increase in demand for their services amid the second lockdown
Since the first lockdown earlier this year, COVID-19 has changed the way charities deliver services to beneficiaries across the UK.
From March, charities had to swiftly pivot operations online using video conferencing, apps, webchats and helplines to remotely support at-risk groups while adhering to social distancing guidelines
Now much of the UK is set for a second national lockdown, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing that strict measures will be in place in England to ramp up social distancing. This follows a regional tiered approach for Scotland and a two-week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown in Wales, which started in October.
Lockdown restrictions are set to put a strain on charity services, due to the added risk of economic hardship as businesses close their doors.
Combating social isolation, loneliness and mental health issues are other heightened challenges charities face.
Here we will outline the new restrictions that come into force in England from this week and how they will impact on charities. In addition, we will identify some key tools and resources to help charities support their vulnerable beneficiaries.
Until last week, a three-tier system of local restrictions was in place, with those areas at the highest level of alert requiring the highest levels of digital support.
At the highest alert level, socialising outdoors was restricted, pubs and bars had to close and schools and universities could stay open. Weddings and funerals were also restricted. The risk of loneliness and threat of poverty was already high for communities living in this tier of alerts, such as those in Liverpool, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire.
Under the new lockdown, people must stay at home except for medical reasons, childcare, education and work, if home working is not an option. Non-essential retail, pubs and restaurants must close. Shopping should be as infrequent as possible. Indoor socialising is curtailed unless in your household or support bubble. This heightens the threat of isolation and mental health issues in particular.
There are a number of exemptions to the restrictions, including those relating to charity operations, mental health services and mutual aid support groups. You can find more information on the restrictions here.
Mental health support is a key area where digital can help.
A report published this month by technology firm, BfB Labs found that only four out of ten specialist mental health support services for young people in the UK have adopted new digital mental health support since the onset of COVID-19.
A separate report, published by the Access Group, indicates that many charities are struggling to ramp up their digital service delivery. It’s 2020/21 State of Digital Maturity in the Not for Profit Sector report surveyed charity managers on their digital capabilities. Around half (55%) said their digital improvements have been behind the scenes rather than in frontlines support for beneficiaries.
However, Digital Strategist Ian Patterson is confident that struggling charities will improve. Commenting in the report, he says: “Some might say that COVID-19 was a powerful catalyst that sharpened attentions and gave not for profits the permission, impetus, and investment to deliver against digital expectations.
“In reading the survey findings it’s clear to me that we are way past grassroots, having now reached a new plateau of digital maturity within this sector, a stage where technology is no longer a barrier, and approval at senior level is no longer holding us back.”
Among the charities already experiencing the benefits of digital mental health support amid the pandemic are Samaritans, Shout, Mind and Hospice UK, which are offering online resources through their Our Frontline service to help NHS and emergency services staff with their emotional wellbeing during the crisis.
Commenting on the second lockdown, Mind Chief Executive Paul Farmer said: “We are facing the greatest test of our mental health this year.”
He added: “This time round we need to pay particular attention to people with serious mental health problems at risk of imminent crisis, as well as the wider challenges of the pandemic on the general public’s mental health.
Other action being taken to support charities deliver digital support includes the National Emergencies Trust’s £12m fund to target at-risk groups. Mainly, this is being used by the voluntary sector to ramp up online and helpline support.
Among those to receive money is Barnardo’s, which has received £1.5m to develop helpline and webchat services for Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) children and their families.
“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,” says Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan.
Fundraising can also be combined with service delivery digitally to support communities. One such area is in in-memory giving around funerals, where the opportunity for mourners to make donations in person is restricted due to social distancing measures. Instead, charities can do more to help supporters to understand the guidelines, while at the same time help supporters to donate to good causes, says Jonathan Davies, trustee of online in-memory giving platform MuchLoved.
“With the ongoing impact of COVID-19, we believe there is a particular need and opportunity for charities at this time to reach out to their supporters to provide information and assistance with bereavement, both at the time of the funeral and in supporting them afterwards.”