Steve Butterworth and Rita Chadha: For communities to survive, we must prioritise support for hyper-local causes

Charities have innovated to address the Covid-19 crisis – now the UK’s community infrastructure must be sustained and strengthened

More than 136,000 small charities and community causes across the UK have been saving lives since the start of the pandemic – yet still they are undervalued. 

With the UK facing soaring levels of poverty, hunger and mental health problems, as well as current emergency charity funding from the government coming to an end, local causes must receive swift support if our communities are to survive. 

Small charities and local causes have proved their ability to adapt and innovate, showing incredible resilience despite a dramatic loss of income and increased demand for services. 

Now we must learn urgent lessons from the first phase of the pandemic, or people supported by these essential organisations risk falling through the cracks. 

Food banks, domestic abuse charities, elderly care groups and other local causes are all facing increased demand for services. Extreme poverty in the UK is predicted to double by Christmas, alongside a 61 per cent rise in food bank use.

To ensure that small charities and hyper-local causes can continue to provide their critical services, we need policymakers, businesses and individuals alike to focus on three key things:

Speed

Government funding for charities has been far too slow to reach most organisations working at street level, with only 36 per cent successfully applying for and receiving government funding in September. 

With two in five smaller charities expecting donations to be about 25 per cent lower than usual this Christmas, it is even more critical to get urgent support to small charities and local causes. Government and businesses must ensure that small charities can access immediate micro-grants. 

Analysis in June predicted a £6.4bn loss of income over the six months to December 2020 for the UK’s charities. If local causes are to survive, they need support right now.

Size

We know that government and businesses are strained – this isn’t about finding vast new sums of funding for charities. It is about getting small but significant amounts, from as little as a few hundred pounds, to community causes immediately.

Small amounts of money made instantly available will help local causes give lifeline support to people. Businesses in the Neighbourly network have already responded to this need, demonstrating the power of small but swift funding.

Together with corporate partners including Aldi, Danone, Coca-Cola European Partners and Giffgaff, Neighbourly launched its community fund in March.

It has channelled more than £1.2m worth of £400 micro-grants to more than 3,000 local causes across the UK and Ireland, which support more than one million people a week. 

As Jo Critch, manager of a women’s charity in Yarmouth, told us: “It may not seem like much money, but micro-grants have been vital in enabling us to respond quickly to our increased demand.”

Neighbourly has now launched the Neighbourly Foundation, which uses the same principles as the Community Fund, but with a permanent structure that responds to local need. 

Scale

To achieve the scale of support needed for communities across the UK, we need another collective effort, with government, businesses and individuals alike pulling together. 

This second lockdown – with the added pressure of winter – will be even more challenging for everyone, but we’re all in this together. We must double down on providing more support for local causes and small charities. 

We can’t afford to lose the sense of joint endeavour and community spirit that was so prominent during earlier parts of this year.

Together we must ensure that community causes have the resources they need: from emergency grants and volunteer time to increased donations of food and other items.

We have already seen the power of existing community infrastructure this year. 

Neighbourly’s network of more than 15,000 community causes and small charities has responded to a 106 per cent increase in demand for their services during the first lockdown, with 73 per cent of them having to remodel. 

Charities have shown a remarkable ability to adapt and innovate to address the Covid-19 crisis despite extremely limited resources. Now the UK’s community infrastructure must be sustained and strengthened.

Local causes are fundamental to the survival of our most vulnerable communities – we can’t get through this winter without them.

Steve Butterworth is chief executive of Neighbourly and Rita Chadha is chief executive of the Small Charities Coalition

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