We are living through concerning times. Our news is dominated by coronavirus, with tips on how to wash your hands, scenes of empty supermarket shelves and stories of those in self-isolation.
The Voluntary Community Sector Emergencies Partnership is working together to understand how we can best support the most vulnerable people in our society. We want communities to feel connected and prepared.
The Emergencies Partnership is about collaboration across the sector, with a shared aim of improving coordination and empowering communities in an emergency.
We have steadily been building connections between our members and beyond to strengthen preparedness and resilience in relation to future emergencies, in partnership with the statutory sector.
In response to the threat coronavirus poses, partners such as the British Red Cross, Navca, the St John Ambulance, Victim Support, the Salvation Army and Muslim Aid are engaging with government and stepping up our planning for response activity across the UK.
The onset of coronavirus, with its far-reaching national and global character, is the kind of emergency for which the Emergencies Partnership was formed.
It was set up based on learnings from the summer of major domestic tragedies in 2017 (the Grenfell Tower fire and a series of terror attacks).
It brings together local and national expertise from the sector, linked directly with government and local authorities, to help people better prepare for, respond to and recover from crises.
The Emergencies Partnership is only a year old but has already coordinated a voluntary sector response to domestic incidents including the Whaley Bridge dam evacuations, the University of Bolton student accommodation fire and numerous incidents of flooding during the recent storms.
Bringing together national and local organisations enables us to deliver a more human-centred approach to emergencies.
Our members work in communities across the country every day, supporting people during local emergencies and crises, such as flooding, evacuations and house fires.
Through the Emergencies Partnership, they give a platform to the voices of those most at risk and identify issues affecting people who might otherwise be “hidden”, such as homeless people or those in the asylum system.
When it comes to coronavirus, the Emergencies Partnership has identified that, alongside existing support for the NHS, there could be a role for the voluntary sector in providing additional services to vulnerable people who are self-isolating, such as delivering essential supplies like food and medicine or providing emotional support over the phone.
Those organisations within the Emergencies Partnership with a community focus, such as Navca and Business in the Community, are now linking into their members at a local level. They are identifying the impact on small businesses and gathering intelligence about what is already being done locally and where there might be unmet need.
As a group we are sharing information and exploring capabilities to ensure we can support people across the country through collaboration, reaching out even further to organisations including the Richmond Group of health charities and the Scout movement.
Volunteers are likely to be crucial to an escalated response to the coronavirus.
The government has explained one of the key parts of its emergency legislation to tackle the outbreak will be to allow volunteers to be given additional employment safeguards, so they can volunteer without risking their day jobs. We are factoring this into our planning and currently discussing the most effective volunteering roles to support those most at risk.
We also need to understand how coronavirus might affect our own business continuity in the sector.
During this time, we will need to manage carefully the expectations of the people we serve, and those who support us, as we re-focus on this immediate situation.
Which is why, as well as anything the sector does formally, we will need communities up and down the country to play their part and look out for one another too.
We’re in this together. We all benefit from building more resilient communities that leave no one behind.
Coronavirus will affect the most vulnerable people in our society more, so we need to ensure our sector is as ready as it possibly can be to support them.
Mike Adamson is chief executive of the British Red Cross and Jane Ide is chief executive of the local infrastructure body Navca