#NeverMoreNeeded: Somerset Voluntary and Community Sector rises to challenge during pandemic

During national Small Charities Week, a new report highlights the vital community support provided by the local voluntary sector in Somerset.

The Somerset VCSE State of the Sector report for 2020 is the second report of this nature commissioned through the Somerset VCSE Strategic Forum and builds on the work of the 2016 State of the Sector report.

In March, we sent the survey to charities, community groups and social enterprises across the County. The findings have informed this second in-depth review of the state of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in Somerset.

What was not anticipated at the time of this project being undertaken was the impact of COVID-19 on communities globally. This has brought new challenges to the sector as well as opportunities, and two smaller follow-up surveys were conducted mid-March 2020 and April-June 2020 to help better understand the impact locally. The results of all three studies have been included in this latest report, produced by Spark Somerset.

Some key findings:

  • There are 2760 registered charities in Somerset and 100s more informal community groups
  • 87% of the ‘workforce’ are volunteers*
  • Key challenges organisations currently facing include loss of funding/income; loss of face-to-face/group working; adapting to digital working; retaining and training workforce; shielding customers/clients, future uncertainty and developing new services for COVID-19 circumstances
  • Of the groups that responded, 10,334 volunteers contribute 19,463 work hours in an average week.

Katherine Nolan, CEO of Spark Somerset said:

“As before, our sector continues to provide valuable services, activities and volunteering opportunities across the county and is characterised by the optimism, enthusiasm and dedication of its workforce. But it is also under pressure – balancing reducing resources with growing needs for their services – and now in more challenging circumstances than ever.
“We’d like to extend a huge thank you to the whole sector at this time – organisations large and small, registered charities and informal groups. The fantastic support that these organisations provide has never been needed more.”

Over the coming weeks, we will be sharing themed highlights of the report.

You can download the full report here.

Spark Somerset launches website to find volunteers and support community groups during the COVID-19 pandemic

Communities are full of generous people. At times like these, it’s more important than ever that we come together to look after our loved ones, neighbours and communities.

Spark Somerset is working with community groups to coordinate offers of support and match volunteers to activities in their communities via their new website www.corona-helpers.co.uk.

Over the past two weeks, communities have come together to form a huge number of informal groups who are providing a lifeline to vulnerable residents. People who want to get involved can visit www.corona-helpers.co.uk to find their local group and sign up to help with tasks such as grocery shopping, collecting prescriptions, dog walking or telephone support.

The Spark Somerset team are also providing invaluable support to the groups themselves – including practical advice on safeguarding, DBS, managing volunteers and funding.

Katherine Nolan, CEO of Spark Somerset said: “Our team have been working with voluntary and community groups for many years, but the community response to the current situation has been truly overwhelming. We already have more than 700 volunteers registered and are working closely with more than 70 local groups.

“We have been looking at how we can provide practical support for the groups remotely and have set up a Facebook group for group coordinators and are running regular webinars. We also provide a DBS checking service for volunteers. Heartfelt thanks go to the thousands of people across Somerset who are pulling together to support their neighbours through a really difficult time. It really is amazing.”

James Rimmer, Chief Executive, Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We are very proud to support the fantastic work of Spark Somerset in supporting our most vulnerable people.

“Spark Somerset have extensive experience in supporting groups and volunteers. They provide expertise and advice around safeguarding, training and co-ordination all of which are key to helping keep everyone as safe as possible. We would encourage anyone who wants to help their local community to sign up via their website either as an individual or as a group. Visit https://www.corona-helpers.co.uk.”

Corona Helpers is managed by Spark Somerset, who have run the Volunteer Service in Somerset for many years. The initiative is supported by Somerset County Council, Public Health, Somerset CCG, Yeovil District Hospital and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust.

Groups can contact the team via the online chat facility on the Spark Somerset website: www.sparksomerset or by calling 01460 202970. The latest updates on Covid 19 for voluntary and community groups can be found on the Spark website: https://www.sparksomerset.org.uk/covid-19

If you would like to help out in your community, visit www.corona-helpers.co.uk and click on ‘Help Out’ then ‘Offer Help’.

If you need help, visit www.corona-helpers.co.uk and click on ‘Help Out’ then ‘Request Help’

COVID-19 FAQs from the Charity Commission

Understandably, charities are concerned about what to do during the COVID-19 outbreak, so the Charity Commission has set out it’s response to the most commonly asked questions.

It has assured charities that its approach to regulation during this uncertain period will be as flexible and pragmatic as possible in the public interest, whilst helping trustees to be aware of, and think about the wider or longer impact of their decisions on their charity.

You can view the FAQs here.

The Charity Commission will update this page with responses to further questions on an ongoing basis.

VCSE Climate Change Forum

We recently hosted a special forum which focused on climate change and its effects on community health and wellbeing.

Delegates attending the event at Magdalen Farm, near Chard, heard fascinating presentations from Jake Burnyeat (Burnham and Weston CIC), Jon Doyle (Somerset County Council), Pip Tucker (Somerset Public Health), Mickey Green (Somerset Waste Partnership) and Steve Mewes (Somerset Wildlife Trust). You can download the presentations here.

Attendees also took part in group discussions on how climate change is effecting the communities they support, and how, as organisations, we can help to mitigate the impacts. You can download the notes from the discussion groups here.

The event was kindly sponsored by Burnham and Weston Energy CIC. There was overwhelming support for making it an annual occurrence.