ELBA’S Community Forum – future planning and adapting to need
Covid-19 continues to have a massive effect on us all. Even as the lockdown starts to ease, the future is incredibly uncertain and hugely stressful. There are immense pressures for community organisations to deal with in order to keep services running for beneficiaries and remain financially viable. Recent research by Pro Bono Economics found that around 50% of charities fear they will go under, 60% of charities have had to reduce activity in a significant way, and over 70% expect increased demand for services. Small local charities who are the most exposed to the Covid-19 crisis are unable to furlough staff due to the need to continue vital services. Disparities have also been highlighted in the risk and outcomes from Covid-19 for BAME communities.
Here at ELBA, we have the advantage of communicating directly with our community partners to find out how they are affected, how they are feeling, and their future plans. We held our first CSR & Community Forum meeting on the 1st of April just as lockdown started, which focused on the immediate impacts of Covid-19 on the community and organisations. We wanted to take this conversation further, connecting with both our community partners and our member companies to continue this discussion. Members have been keen to find out more about the community need, and are doing a lot to support whilst also facing a variety of pressures and challenges themselves.
On Wednesday 17th June we held our second forum, focused on ‘Post Covid-19 Priorities & Planning’. We were joined by ten east London community partners and five company CSR representatives and had a valuable discussion. There were a mix of emotions in the group, split between hopeful and optimistic, in conjunction with feeling confused and unsettled. The key themes that emerged from the conversation included uncertainty about the future and the challenges of planning in the current climate. While many community organisations have become agile and have adapted their services, there are still challenges around how to best deliver their programmes and digitalise their services to keep meeting the needs of beneficiaries. Community partners also shared their concerns and uncertainty around the current and future funding climate, and how they need to adapt in order to create a new normal. Another key topic of discussion was the challenge of digital accessibility, as many beneficiaries lack access to suitable equipment to engage in services being delivered online. The group discussed how companies and employee volunteers can help with these challenges, with CSR representatives sharing valuable input about the range of skills that volunteers can offer.
As a result of this insight from community partners and companies, ELBA will be exploring new volunteer opportunities and events that meet current needs. Employee volunteers can offer much-needed support around business planning and business remodelling, as well as scenario planning to assess medium and long term risks. Volunteers can also offer insight into how organisations can become more agile, both internally and in the delivery of services. We will also be looking at connecting businesses and community organisations through workshops based around resilience and improving mental health during these challenging times. We will also be looking at the challenges posed by digital accessibility and how we can offer support to those not connected to equipment.
Collaboration was a central theme throughout the conversation, and the importance of working together was clear. The community forum allows us to facilitate these conversations which are vital for the progression of our community partners. It also allows us to understand and engage with the needs of the community and have an appropriate response to further the initiatives we have taken and undertake new tasks.