Stack of laptops

What one small charity learnt through lockdown

By Natasha Banke 15 June 2021 4 minute read

For Small Charity Week 2021, we are exploring the adaptability and efficiency of small charities. This guest blog by Natasha Banke, CEO of Hull and East Yorkshire Children’s University, details how her small charity has stepped up to support the learning and well-being of children during the coronavirus crisis and what learning they themselves will take with them into the post-pandemic period.

Like many charities, when the pandemic hit in March 2020 we were left wondering what we could do, what positive impact could we possibly have when face to face working was no longer possible. In person service delivery has always been a large part of Hull and East Yorkshire Children’s University’s work with disadvantaged children and children growing up in care. However, much like the way we all adapted our family routines and fitness habits during the lockdowns, over the last 15 months many small charities have been able to take stock and build new services upon their pre-existing strengths.

As a small charity, we are trusted in our community, we are not bogged down by burdensome processes, and we can fundraise and deliver quickly. In our instance, this dynamism came to the fore when the schools partially closed and some families needed support in order to educate their children from home.

Providing packs and laptops

Through our relationships with the schools in our area, we were able to find out which children had limited resources at home and were in need of support. We provided these children with learning packs, 2,766 packs to date, which contained educational materials on literacy, numeracy, science and much more. Plus, we moved our one to one reading scheme for children in care online and held 1,053 reading sessions in total. These sessions are now back to being delivered in person.

We also thought about the impact that the pandemic would have on children’s mental health. Working with funders like the Humberside Police and Crime Commissioners Office and the Hull and East Riding CCG’s we put together wellbeing packs filled with mindfulness resources. For example, well-being journals and books that help the children with the emotions they may be going through. We were particularly concerned about the mental health of children in care during the lockdowns and of the negative impact that poor mental health in childhood can have later in life. 4,811 of these packs, put together by our volunteers in an out of action school hall, have so far been delivered to disadvantaged children.

Finally, to combat the digital divide in our area, we fundraised £100,000 in eight weeks and we took part in the BBC’s campaign to rehome unused laptops. After Christmas, online learning began to take place once again, but many families didn’t have the necessary devices for their children to be able to take part in online lessons. We were told by local schools that 870 laptops were needed in our area, so that disadvantaged children could join their peers in online classes, and, after turning my house into a laptop distribution centre, we were able to provide 817.

Working outside our comfort zone

But what did we learn ourselves? Despite our annual fundraising events being cancelled and struggling companies ending their corporate partnerships with us, we were able to continue supporting the children in our area. We reached out to existing funders to ask them to fund new projects or to allow us to repurpose grants and we sought out new funding opportunities. The pandemic involved us working outside of our comfort zone, away from the familiarity of face to face working, but we now have new ways of delivering services that we plan to take with us into the future.

Parents and schools have told us how our packs have made a huge difference to their children’s learning. As such, we now plan to provide children in need of support annually with wellbeing packs before they complete their end of primary school exams. We are in a transitional phase at the moment, with bookings for our upcoming outdoor art classes and farm trips filling up fast, but we are determined to maintain our new and innovative ways of helping our beneficiaries.

We are also now more resolute in our belief in the importance of core funding to small charities. Our annual unrestricted funding from the John Armitage Charitable Trust enabled us to adapt and innovate at a time of great uncertainty for us all. It was a huge reassurance to know that we could be flexible and respond to the changing needs that we were experiencing in our community. Plus, we now have new funders on board, and they are very interested in some of the ways in which we adapted our services, such as the development of our mental health resources for children. We hope that this funder flexibility will continue, alongside the availability of core funding for small charities such as ours.

Adaptable and efficient

Looking ahead, we foresee that demand for our services is going to be enormous over the coming years, and not just for our outdoor activities and trips. Tough times for some families sadly look set to keep coming. With the economy in a precarious position, many more children will suffer deprivation and more will also enter the care system. So right now, ourselves and other charities have to ramp our work and recruit the necessary staff and volunteers, in anticipation of the surge.

Small charities run on passion and a commitment to supporting the local community, this helped us work through this crisis during very challenging and everchanging circumstances. It will certainly continue to play a part as we face up to the fresh challenges that will come with the post pandemic period. However, you have to look after your own and your team’s well-being. This may also include undertaking some well-being training like I did recently, you and your small team can’t achieve your mission if you are burnt out. Training like this makes the charity and the leadership team stronger.

The pandemic has shown the value of small charities. We are adaptable and we are efficient. It has also shown how good practice can be developed under times of real strain. Trusted in our communities, we heard about local need and we worked quickly to fundraise and meet it. We now know what to do when in person services aren’t an option and we can now be confident that our innovations will be well received by those in need, in fact so well received that we can take them with us into the future.


Natasha Barley is CEO at Hull & EY Children’s University. Follow the charity on Twitter at @childrensuni, and on LinkedIn at Hull & East Yorkshire Children’s University.

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