Helping communities pull together during Covid-19
The Resource Centre has continued to offer services to small community groups in Sussex throughout the last six months, despite severe disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Changes to our service and work practices
Since March 19th, the Centre has been closed to the public, but staff have continued to work, from home and on a rota basis at the Centre, to provide:
- A telephone and email enquiry service four mornings a week
- A doorstep collection print service
- Online information resources
- One-to-one support for our member groups, via telephone, email and online video conferencing
- Support for Brighton & Hove council tenant and resident meetings
Our equipment hire service has been closed throughout this time, and we have therefore lost the income we would normally have expected from hire of equipment for hundreds of summer events. As we move into autumn, it looks unlikely that groups will be able to organise their usual winter events. Although we are working hard to reopen the service in a way that is safe for our staff and users, we are expecting usage to be at a much reduced level, at least at first. Demand for our print service has also been reduced from the usual levels.
We therefore took the decision to place some staff (whose salaries were not funded by grants) on furlough, in order to conserve funds and secure the jobs of all our staff. Until the end of October, we are operating at reduced capacity, because most of our staff are on part-time furlough.
Printing at the Resource Centre is a different experience from using a commercial printing firm. Even though groups have not been able to do their own printing as usual during the last six months, they have continued to benefit from the close attention and expertise of our staff team, who are able to offer advice on design and layout, share information about local services and answer questions about all kinds of issues that face community groups. We have endeavoured to provide a speedy and flexible service, retaining our ethos of groups having full control over their own printing, despite the difficult circumstances.
Between April and September, we provided printing services for 77 groups. The material produced included:
- Publicity for neighbourhood based mutual aid groups
- Signage, training materials, safety manuals and recipe books for food projects
- Newsletters to reduce social isolation and share vital information with people who don’t have internet access
- Patterns and instruction materials for sewing projects making scrubs and masks
- Activity packs for children and older people feeling isolated at home
- Surveys for groups wanting to evaluate their work and plan their next steps
- Signage for community buildings and other groups resuming face-to-face services
- Publicity for arts and campaigning events
- Annual reports, minutes and consultation materials
We have provided one-to-one support, design & print and/or examinations of accounts for 92 different groups during this period.
This work included:
- Help to identify sources of funding and draft funding bids
- Hands-on support with using Zoom
- Support and advice with book-keeping and preparing end of year accounts
- Remote support with accessing and responding to emails
- Help with communicating with funders about changes to planned activity
- Advice on setting up new groups and effectively campaigning for neighbourhood improvements
- Drafting constitutions and policies
- Advice on charity registration and trustee conflict of interest
- Designing newsletters and publicity materials
Since April 2020, we have worked with groups to submit 25 funding applications. 11 of these were successful or partially successful, one was unsuccessful and the remaining 13 have not had a response yet. Altogether, the groups we have supported in this way have raised over £50,000 for their own emergency response work.
Sussex Syrian Community, for example, have raised £10,000 from the Sussex Crisis Fund, to support the basic needs of Syrian refugee families who are struggling to afford food and cover their bills due to the economic impact of the crisis.
As we learned alongside our user groups how to cope with the challenges of this unique situation, we have made sure to share information as widely as possible. Our popular summary pages on the most suitable funding sources for our user groups have been checked and updated much more frequently, to keep track of funders who have paused their programmes and others who are offering new crisis funding. We have also produced new information resources on videoconferencing technologies, tips for organising online events, and managing group finances in the emergency.
The information pages of our website have been viewed by 969 different people in Brighton & Hove between April and September.
Feedback from user groups
We get many positive comments from groups but we wanted to share this one in particular. It encapsulates everything we are trying to do with every group we work with.