For anyone seeking help escaping drugs or alcohol, charities are a lifeline. But coronavirus has turned this network of support upside down. In this case study, Oliver Standing from Collective Voice talks to funders about what philanthropists can do to help.
The treatment and recovery fields face some fundamental dilemmas. How do we support people’s recovery whilst maintaining social distancing? What do we do when isolation is a trigger for someone’s drug use? How best can we ensure a continuity of care when nothing is running like normal?
The good news is that everyone in this dedicated, intelligent sector is finding ways to innovate, and keep caring for the people who rely on us. But behind the frontline, underlying questions remain.
The treatment sector has always comprised a mishmash of providers, such as the NHS, community and religious groups, charities, and initiatives set up by people who are themselves in recovery. Such a mixed field naturally has a variety of funding routes. Over the past decades however, the vast majority of treatment funding has come from the state (previously via NHS primary care trusts and now through public health spending from local government). Alongside this, an increasing number of services raise some of their own income through fundraising and social enterprise.
The result is a complex, lean and finely-balanced system that has always managed to cope with fluctuations in funding. The worry now is that the sheer scale of the coronavirus crisis, and the unique social restrictions it brings, will upset that balance.
Our concern is shared by the Lankelly Chase Foundation, who fund projects helping people with multiple and complex needs including substance misuse. As the crisis develops, they’ve been reassuring charities, amending their processes, and helping the sector to mitigate against the impacts of the pandemic.
We wish to be as helpful as possible over the coming weeks and months’ so that civil society groups can focus on the vital work of supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. We understand that there will be times when staff and volunteers will not be available, when beneficiaries may need services to be provided in different ways, or when systems need to be flexible to ensure that needs are met.
To help the sector adapt to its new environment, Lankelly Chase have changed how they do things, such as rescheduling agreed deadlines to more realistic timeframes with their grantees and being equally understanding about people’s ability to report upon outcomes.
We know that people may need to use the funding we provide to help cover sickness, purchase equipment, or deliver services differently. As such, we’re being reasonable should an organisation need to move money between budget headings to ensure its work can continue. The key thing is that we’re here if people want to talk about the situation they’re facing, and we’re here to help.
Looking beyond the pandemic, questions remain about how we move on. The Lewis Family Trust have been exploring how they can use their response to rebalance power dynamics and put lived experience first.
We need to think about how we can learn from this. About how we prepare for such problems, but also about how we operate as funders. We’ve gone into our reserves and made an extra million pounds available for grass roots organisations that need extra help and support. One of the focuses of this extra funding is on supporting BAME communities, as it is clear they are being adversely affected.
That’s something which is very important to us, and it goes to the heart of what we do. We hold a lot of power as funders and acknowledging that dynamic is vital. If you want to do your job as a funder and have the most impact you can with your capital, you must be recognising and assessing power, racism and white privilege - and your relationship with it.
Having an emergency fund is not enough. Signing pledges is not enough. We must take this opportunity as funders to really access how we manage relationships as a whole. We must be flexible. We must trust and believe in those on the ground with lived experience. Our job is to support, not direct.
Ben Hughes, Head of Wellbeing and Public Health at Essex County Council, agrees that we need to look carefully to the future. But he also strikes a note of caution and the importance of looking at the system as a whole.
The treatment sector delivers vast swathes of public services, much more than many people realise, and a lot of its work already relates to things we’re seeing with this epidemic. The need to tackle social isolation, for example. Helping people with insecure work and housing. The care and support of vulnerable people. This isn’t a sector which sits apart from the NHS after all. It’s something which complements it and supports it.
So as we begin recovery planning for the pandemic, I would ask that people consider the bigger picture. While there is certainly an opportunity to do things differently, a blank slate isn’t necessarily needed and I would ask funders not to always chase after the next big thing. Instead, they should look at the best practice and excellent work which already exists within the treatment sector, learn from it, and help to develop it.
How funders can help
1. Start talking
Reassure the charities you fund that you are there to support them. Start a conversation about the immediate needs of their beneficiaries as soon as possible, and what must be done to keep them safe.
2. Adapt your processes where necessary
Think about how charities may be struggling to meet deadlines, or to report on agreed outcomes in the normal ways. Consider reviewing the terms of your current funding or commissioning agreements, extending timescales where necessary. Consider what support you can give to help the reporting process along, and think about at what is realistic and achievable in the current climate. Flex the system to keep people safe and well.
3. If possible, look at offering additional financial support
Many organisations will be under new and unforeseen pressures and will be facing additional costs (for instance the purchase of PPE, or the extension of people’s working hours as they cover for sick colleagues). Consider providing extra and immediate funding, to help with these problems.
4. Look at the long term
Coronavirus will have far-reaching consequences for the treatment and recovery sector. Now is a good time to think about what that impact may be. Work with the charities you support to identify challenges and solutions, and find a way for high quality services to keep going through the toughest of times. When the great tide of Coronavirus goes out it’s going to leave a new landscape of partly decimated services and vulnerable people who need our help.
Do you have a case study to share? Get in touch at info@thinkNPC.org. For more of our work on advising philanthropists on how to keep charities serving through coronavirus, visit thinkNPC.org/coronavirus.
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