The work of the Resource Centre and our member groups in 2021-22
- Three pandemic pathways
- The ‘new normal’—community activity in a post-Covid world
- Resource Centre—responding and reflecting
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a lasting and profound impact on the work of grassroots groups in all areas and communities of Brighton & Hove. Resource Centre member groups are all rooted in communities which face systemic barriers and whose access to resources is limited. Their experiences during the pandemic have been very diverse—this report draws out some common strands and reflects on ways in which the uneven impact on groups indicates the need for careful, differentiated support from funders and infrastructure organisations.
Three pandemic pathways
While every group responded in a unique way, we have observed three broad pathways followed by community groups during the last two years:
1. Rapid change
Some groups rapidly expanded or altered their activities to include emergency and additional support for their members and beneficiaries. Not all of these groups previously had a focus on food, but food support became a central concern for many of them during this period. These groups are now facing challenging decisions about whether and how to scale back or continue their ‘emergency’ activities in a situation of continuing community hardship.
Examples of groups who followed this pathway include: Craven Vale Community Association, Salaam Football Club, Oromo Community, Syrian Community, East Brighton Food Co-op, Vision for a Better Future, the Bevy, BG (Bulgarian) Society.
2. New directions
Some groups were set up during the pandemic—again, often focusing on emergency needs. These groups are now facing the challenges of reassessing their aims, adapting to a slower and more exacting funding environment, and supporting their volunteers on a long-term basis.
Examples of groups who followed this pathway include: Moulsecoomb Community Market, Phoenix Food Shop, Coldean Food Bank.
3. Pause and regroup
Other groups were unable to continue their activities during the pandemic, so were forced to pause, often for much longer than they originally anticipated. For people in these communities, the challenge is now to re-establish connections and find ways of working that fit with the altered needs and expectations of residents, funders and service providers.
Some groups who followed this pathway include: On Your Way Job Club, Sudanese Women and Children’s Group, Sudan Club, Bates Estate Residents’ Association, Clarendon & Ellen Residents’ Association.
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The ‘new normal’—community activity in a post-Covid world
Despite the diversity of groups’ experiences during the periods of lockdown and restrictions, overall the pandemic has highlighted the importance of community groups in marginalised communities.
Many of the issues groups are now dealing with are familiar ones—how to secure funding, keep volunteers involved, make good decisions and reach everyone in the community.
We have identified three ongoing challenges that funders and infrastructure organisations may need to keep sight of whilst supporting groups in this continuing period of transition.
Economic shockwaves persist
Since the withdrawal of the government furlough scheme and the £20 per week Universal Credit uplift, communities hit hardest by the economic impact of the pandemic have continued to struggle. Rapid increases in the cost of essentials like fuel and food—on top of a large and increasing household debt burden—are putting extreme pressure on many households, already reliant on charitable support.
Community groups made an essential contribution to meeting this need during the pandemic, making swift and efficient use of ‘crisis’ funding to deliver fresh food, hot meals and vouchers to their members.
As funders return to ‘normal’, it is worth being aware that these needs have not necessarily diminished.
Ensuring that community groups continue to exist in marginalised communities is a proven and powerful way to enable people to access vital support.
Using technology well
Many groups made good use of digital technologies to continue meeting during lockdowns, and this has become incorporated into new ways of working. Groups can access equipment at the Resource Centre for hybrid meetings and we have a Zoom account which is available for groups to use for their meetings.
However, the experience of holding meetings and events online has also clarified the limitations of these technologies. Many of the groups whose activities paused during the pandemic were those whose key organisers were unable to cross the digital divide, or whose activities were simply not transferrable online.
One lasting legacy of the pandemic has been an acceleration of the move towards ‘digital by default’ public services. Groups based in marginalised communities will continue to play a key role in supporting individuals for whom this development adds to their experience of exclusion. This is an additional task for volunteers, and a barrier to volunteering for some groups of people.
Technology is also not a simple answer to the age-old problem of how to run a group in an inclusive and democratic way. Groups and support organisations alike need to be aware of the danger that technological innovation could mask or even worsen underlying issues and inequalities. Regardless of the technology in use, the key question is how to ensure everyone feels equally welcome to participate in the group’s decision-making.
Accountability vs bureaucracy
As we emerge from an unprecedented situation, in which small community groups were trusted to allocate resources and make decisions swiftly, groups need support to develop policies and processes which enable them to work democratically without stifling their flexibility and creativity.
These processes will not necessarily be the same for every group, and it will take time for groups to find new ways of working which meet the specific needs of their members.
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Resource Centre—responding and reflecting
Throughout the last two years, the Resource Centre has been adapting to the changing circumstances and the diverse needs of our member and user groups.
As a small charity, we have experienced many of the same issues described here—having to rapidly alter ways of working, get to grips with new technologies, make decisions on the hoof and manage the impact of Covid on our personnel.
The needs of our member groups have guided our decision-making, leading us to:
- Invest in new equipment for outdoor events, and safety indoors
- Keep our print service running throughout, with improved capacity and services
- Provide intensive support to our member groups, helping them to negotiate with funders, raise money for crisis support, get their finances in order , update policies and procedures, and re-establish their activities
- Establish clear protocols and good ventilation in the Centre, enabling us to reopen safely
- Survive financially—despite a dramatic drop in income—while continuing to be a supportive and flexible employer
We are now—as many groups are—evaluating and reflecting on how to move forward. Our development week in November will give us a chance to consider the best way to balance our services and use our resources, time, experience and knowledge.
At the heart of this evaluation will be the needs of the myriad grassroots groups we support. It’s important that we are there for the groups who have adapted and moved forward as well as those who are still working out what they want to do and how they want to do it.
We also know there are many small groups out there, doing amazing things, who don’t know about our printing service, equipment hire or one-to-one support.
When we work with groups we listen to their experiences and learn about their communities. We use this knowledge to assess how we can best support member groups to develop the skills they need and make progress towards the aims they have identified.
By working in this responsive and flexible way, we are able to support groups who are following a wide range of pathways. Our relationships with our member groups are long-term and based on trust and mutual respect. Whilst we assess what changes we need to make post-pandemic, we are committed to making sure this doesn’t change.
Published May 2022
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