COVID has redefined how businesses and individuals see their role in the local community. We must ensure this continues, but how?
Grace Coffey is Head of Partnerships at Camden Giving, a local charity that helps the borough’s biggest businesses support a whole range of brilliant community projects. Coronavirus has seen a new landscape rapidly emerging for her and the many people she works with – for better, and for worse. “What we’ve learnt in the last few weeks is that global issues are always local issues,” she says. “We can’t reduce the health and happiness of humankind to a spreadsheet, we need to show up for people who are part of our communities. The crisis seems to have reminded us all of this. We hope the raised profile of local community kindness doesn’t just exist during lockdown, but that it informs society in the future.”
How has COVID affected your organisation?
“We’ve been very fortunate in that we could all switch to working from home and just carry on. We have a team meeting via Zoom each morning, catch up throughout the day on Slack, and there’s a weekly special meeting too, which one of the team – or our brilliant volunteers – runs on anything they like. We’ve played games, done yoga and even made mini furniture. We’re only a team of five, so making sure we keep in touch has been really important, as we all miss not being sat around a table sharing ideas in our usual home at Camden Collective. We continue to support small charities and volunteers to work virtually, too. One recent workshop on marketing tips was attended by people from 27 small charities.”
What’s your current offering?
“One of our main challenges has been maintaining high levels of fundraising throughout lockdown. Incredibly, we raised just short of £500,000 for the community as part of our COVID-19 emergency response, so now we are looking at how to continue this momentum. This includes fundraising to ensure our Youth Employment Programme can be repeated, as it’s a more costly piece of work and something we require businesses to support. We think this programme will be even more important, as work experience places are being cut in many businesses following COVID. We’ve recently seen a decline in the number of volunteers we’ve been able to coordinate, after an initial influx at the start of the pandemic now there’s a drop-off, as individuals themselves face continued furlough/redundancy.”
What have been your greatest concerns?
“Here in Camden alone, we estimate that small and medium-sized charities are £8 million worse off just from the first three months of the pandemic. Camden Giving is a small charity and we’ll see around £120k of income disappear over the next six months. We hope that businesses step up instead of stepping away, but as they themselves address their own budgets and cut costs, we know that same insecurity will be felt by many. We hope that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) budgets aren’t the first to be pulled, and that the togetherness formed by COVID ensures supporting your local community stays on business agendas.”
What’s made you feel optimistic?
“We’ve been incredibly lucky to have had the support of the kindest volunteers throughout lockdown, who decided to offer us their knowledge and support whilst on furlough leave. Our social media has been reinvented, panellists have been recruited, and fundraising asks have been made thanks to these volunteers. Another highlight is how quickly Camden’s charities acted during the crisis without strategies or three-year plans. We’ve done it because acting as a community is reassuring and feels great. The new networks being formed, through mutual aid groups and food delivery networks, will still exist in a year and will grow into the new CSR programmes. They may even replace the flashy charity partnerships that were the default for large companies previously.”
Who would you like to collaborate with?
“We hope that the power dynamics between business and charity will shift, and how we collaborate develops as a result. We’ve been so grateful to new partnerships we’ve formed during this period. Businesses we’ve never worked with previously reached out, as they knew they needed to be supporting the community they operate in, while many of our existing business connections continued to be resourceful and creative with fundraising, or sharing their skills. We hope new businesses – particularly those that may have done well over these past few months – see the value in investing in their community and get in touch with Camden Giving to learn about how we’re tackling inequality and poverty.”
The COVID-19 health crisis has burned our economic and cultural landscape much like a forest fire. But across a charred, razed environment, strong green shoots inevitably emerge.
CAMDENIST is a new collaborative local media platform, currently in beta mode and launching soon. Born from the smoldering ashes of this unprecedented era, it will provide fertile support for the regeneration of our communities, businesses and cultural spaces in the times ahead.
Worth following, too.