Charities in 2021

A girl plays with a practitioner. The practitioner holds a cloth and engages with the laughing girl.

The Listening Project gives fresh insight into the triumphs and troubles of charities in 2021

This year Norfolk Community Foundation has worked with over 400 voluntary organisations, charities and social enterprises (VCSEs) to help Norfolk shine brighter. Through the long-lasting relationships we have forged with these groups, we have been offered their unique insights into the challenges they have faced and the emerging issues they are dealing with. This has helped build a comprehensive picture of a community’s needs and how best to support them. Through the Listening Project, we reached out to organisations working on the frontlines about the highs and lows of the past 18 months.

The organisations that we spoke to emphasised the pride they felt in assisting the most vulnerable people in their communities during the early days of the pandemic. Small organisations really proved themselves on the national stage. Working tirelessly until the job was done, their rapid early actions had a huge impact at a local level. Many small groups found confidence in their new position; they were trusted by and worked more closely with local authorities and nationwide channels of support.

When the pandemic drastically altered the lives of Norfolk citizens virtually overnight, VCSE organisations were there to provide for the suddenly expanded base of people in need. This winter, with the withdrawal of the Universal Credit top-up, increase in energy prices and the end of the furlough scheme, demand on VCSEs has increased again. Organisations have gone above and beyond to meet these increases, performing spectacularly in the face of extreme adversity; they are stretched, but coping well. Many organisations have benefitted from widely available grants given by national organisations as well as from the Norfolk Community Foundation, alleviating many of the immediate difficulties faced by VCSEs. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the pandemic hasn’t thrown up its fair share of challenges.

Carla and Heidi speak with Graeme outside the church where the food pantry is absed.
Groups like the Food Pantry Feltwell were born from the pandemic but have been able to establish themselves successfully for longer term benefit
Two women sit facing eachother across a room, a clear covid screen dividing them
Eating Matters got help changing premises from Norfolk ProHelp, who took away some administrative burden allowing frontline services to be prioritised

VCSEs reported that although funding helped match increased demand, it couldn’t always address the workforce shortages seen across the sector. The combination of the pandemic’s rapid onset with emergency funding forced organisations to plan, act and behave in a sort-term manner – at the detriment of their potential long-term development. Organisations that had the passion and opportunity to invest and grow under the influx of support during the pandemic were limited by a lack of skilled staff and volunteers, who had to prioritise frontline services over less urgent but still important planning and capacity building.

Although the pandemic now poses a less direct risk to the nation’s health, its impacts are still being felt across the VCSE sector. Organisations need to continue to be trusted to deliver their everyday frontline services, but also need the time and resources to develop. This means that being able to deliver core services along with being able to dedicate staff time to fundraising, planning and capacity building is absolutely essential going forwards. Along with acknowledging the benefit of multi-year funding for VCSEs, trusts and foundations will need to become more comfortable with trusting charities with unrestricted funding to meet core expenses, giving them greater flexibility to allocate funds as they see fit.