Our response to the Coronavirus crisis: an update
Our last Covid-19 update was back in April. As the UK starts the tentative process of
opening up after the restrictions of the last four months, we have taken some time to reflect
on our activity and role as a Trust: what we have learnt, and what has changed during this
The Oglesby Charitable Trust made an early statement of solidarity with the organisations
we support by signing the funders’ pledge. We contacted grant-holders and where relevant,
reviewed reporting requirements and reconfigured project plans.
We then made available up to £500,000 in crisis funding for existing and recent grant
recipients, our goal being to ensure that as many came through this crisis in as healthy a
shape as possible. Aware that they would be needed now more than ever, we wanted to
ensure they would be in a position to meet those needs. We wanted to make decisions
quickly, although we were aware that unfortunately this approach would exclude others.
What we did next
We have continued to talk to our grant-holders about how they are responding to the crisis
and continue to be impressed by their creativity, adaptability and resourcefulness. We have
paid crisis responses grants of around £150,000 to date, and more than £400,000 of
previously awarded grants have been de-restricted and repurposed. It is highly likely that
further Covid-19 response funding will be needed over the coming months, so the funds
made available now will be ring-fenced for the same purpose as we pass from one financial
year into the next.
As the pandemic escalated locally, it became clear that we needed to do more, and to work
outside our usual scope. We therefore made a small number of grants to organisations new
to us, but whose reach exceeded ours and therefore who could deliver an additional layer of
impact. We also established new relationships with three organisations working from
different perspectives on domestic abuse, with a view to growing this as a new workstream
over time. Finally, keen to ensure that ‘funds work hard’, we supported a crowdfunding
campaign at The Octagon, Bolton; this has been highly successful, both in exceeding its
financial targets and in indicating success factors, and has encouraged us to think more
broadly about future matched funding models that build on the sector’s community capital.
We are keen to learn from the current circumstances and from sector organisations’
experience. We will return to this at intervals, but our initial reflections include the following:
1. The current crisis has reinforced the need for: funding (and funders) to be agile; core
funding; long term funding commitment. Funds that were committed prior to the crisis
should be dispersed as planned wherever possible;
2. The voluntary and community sector is proven to be incredibly adaptable,
collaborative and resilient, and we should not lose new approaches and possibilities
as and when crisis-response working practices recede.
We have always considered that as a Trust we can, and should, provide more than ‘just money’.
The pandemic has focused our attention on the wellbeing of the
voluntary and community sector itself, and this in turn has galvanised our thinking
about how to support sector colleagues today, and help to strengthen the sector for the future.
An example of our response to this is making a resilience training
programme available to a charity’s own workforce;
3. The ‘unprecedented’ nature of this chapter has in some ways been levelling: faced
with adversity, partnerships and common goals have been easier to identify and
communication more open – between funders as well as with and between delivery
organisations. This feels like a positive development that should be preserved;
4. The health crisis does discriminate, and the voluntary and community sector is
not immune. Back in May, the Ubele Initiative reported that as many as nine out of 10
BAME-led organisations faced closure within three months due to Coronavirus –
devastating not just for the sector but for all of the communities they represent. Here
in Manchester, Young Manchester reported that 49% of youth organisations were at
risk of closure, and there is recent evidence of a 9% decline in giving to youth
organisations. As a Trust, we need to be proactive about reaching those
organisations and communities that are disproportionately affected, and pay attention
to the way that power structures and inequalities in economic and social capital can
limit people’s ability to reorganise and adapt;
5. Crises are inextricably connected; at the same time as the health crisis, we have
encountered an upsurge in awareness of the racial inequality and systemic injustice
that pervades all sections of our community. Both of these are undeniably
exacerbated by the global climate crisis. I believe that as a Trust we have a role to
play, both in supporting attempts to reduce the impact of all of these factors as well
as in ensuring we do not unwittingly contribute to the problem.
In response, at the OCT we are taking action to improve diversity and inclusion in our
working practices. This means asking questions of ourselves as a small organisation
(e.g. how do we control for bias in decision-making?), of grant-holders (e.g. how are
they representative of the people most central to their purpose?) and the broader
sector (e.g. have we understood well enough the needs and strengths of our
community and the issues we’re passionate about?) Over the coming months we will
be introducing new processes to help us do this.
We are also reviewing our role and performance on environmental sustainability.
‘Environment’ has long been an area of special interest to us; we are now looking at
ways in which we can enhance our role and impact – as above, tackling each area of
The health crisis has generated positive developments amongst the challenges – Charities
Aid Foundation research has found that organisations have been surprised at their own
adaptability, workforces have demonstrated resilience, volunteers have turned out to help.
Whilst many charities will suffer terribly due to the rapid decline in cash fundraising, for
others the crisis has galvanised pre-existing plans to move online and they see this as an
opportunity to bring in changes sooner and more quickly.
As a Trust we have responded with changes to processes, to what our expectations are, and
to our perspectives on what is important. Several conversations that would previously been
about ‘project outcomes’ have become passionately about ensuring that first and foremost,
there is a voluntary and community sector to come back to. During the coming months it will
be needed more than ever, and it is crucial that we as funders, philanthropists, donors of all
kinds continue to give, and to engage with the sector, with imagination, awareness and