So, what did we all do in the pandemic 2020 – 2021? – The Cambridge City Community Response 

Back in Spring 2020 when Covid-19 first hit representatives from groups involved in delivering emergency support from each of the 14 City wards were invited to participate in the Ward Cluster Network (WCN) by the City Council. The network created a gateway for communication, collaboration, learning and support. It initially met weekly online, and these meetings were supplemented by emailed updates. 

As part of a wider community group recovery plan, CCVS were asked to interview members from each of the 14 City ward groups in the WCN, together with other contributing groups or individuals identified by the ward participants.  The intention was to capture the key lessons that could influence any future emergency response but also to build on the positives such as increased community spirit and partnerships to support communities moving forward into a recovery phase. CCVS undertook structured online interviews with 30 participants from 26 organisations. Most of the interviews took place in June 2021.  The initial report was drafted in July 2021 

This report has been a while coming as partners have grappled with new and ongoing issues. Whilst both CCVS and the City Council have learnt from this research we wanted to release it more widely as a contribution to the understanding of how the voluntary sector played a vital role in helping communities throughout the pandemic. There is a lot for us to learn, a lot to build on, and a lot that needs doing to make sure that communities and community groups are front and centre of how we move forward to make Cambridge a fairer and more pleasant place to live 

So, what did we find out back in 2021? 

  • A diversity of approach -The ward groups were a mix of spontaneous mutual aid style groups, new groups facilitated by local councillors to deliver emergency support and pre-existing groups collaborating with other community stakeholders, particularly faith groups. All the groups were supported by a City Council community officer and were given online guidance and £1000 to help them meet essential costs. 
  • What the groups did – All the ward groups offered to pick up and deliver shopping and prescriptions to people who were shielding or isolating. A number were also involved in running food hubs and other initiatives to support those who were socially isolated. 
  • A wave of volunteers – During the first lockdown most of the ward groups attracted more volunteers than they had tasks to allocate. Volunteering tapped into people’s desire to help their neighbours; people wanted to be part of something momentous. As the pandemic progressed numbers of active volunteers reduced and the needs of the people requesting help became more complex. More recently many people reengaged by offering to help at vaccination centres, but this activity has now mostly wound down. 

For most of the ward groups a combination of volunteer coordinators and paid community/faith group workers provided the necessary support and guidance for the sustained volunteering effort.  Red tape was minimised, and groups operated on mutual trust.  The sense from the ward volunteer coordinators was that many volunteers had not volunteered before, had time to give and were attracted by how easy it was to offer help and the hyperlocal, flexible, and informal opportunities on offer. The direct interactions with beneficiaries meant that volunteers got instant feedback and could readily see the value of what they were doing. 

  • Communication was key – Effective communication within the wards was crucial in both managing the requests for help and the volunteers but also in helping to disseminate key information to the local community.  Several of the wards were able to capitalise on pre-existing lists of data for people already in receipt of community newsletters or emails. 
  • Getting essential guidance in place – Initially there was a lack of focussed information particularly around data protection, pharmacy protocols, risk assessments, money handling and volunteer protocols. The groups also had trouble identifying other sources of help and support for people because of the lack of any up-to-date directory of services. 
  • Exposing inequalities to a wider audience – In most wards, volunteers identified issues around food and fuel poverty, disability, and mental ill-health. It became apparent to the ward groups very early on that whilst the crisis exacerbated these issues many were pre-existing.  There is also concern about how to address the stigma some people feel around seeking help.  Some minority ethnic communities faced disproportionate health risks from Covid with a high percentage in key worker roles facing even great risk.  Ethnic minority groups were also more likely to work in activities badly effected by lockdown and therefore struggled financially.  Cultural and language barriers added to people’s sense of social isolation and difficulties obtaining help and support.  Including difficulties obtaining culturally appropriate food from food banks and food hubs. 

What did we recommend back in 2021? 

Build on local authority investment in social capital  

  • Continue to invest in building partnerships and networks with the local voluntary sector. 
  • Continue to support the work of the food hubs for as long as they are required and support these organisations to source and provide culturally appropriate food for all clients. 
  • Create seed funding pots under local community control to get new ideas underway. 

Build on cross-ward cooperation 

  • Establish a ward group digital forum where groups can share and develop ideas. 
  • Run occasional network meetings around key topics of interest to maintain connections. 

Create a repository of useful guidance for the future 

  • A toolbox of the detailed guidance, protocols, and policies for use in any future emergency. 

Improving signposting to existing services 

  • There is a need to investigate ways to support effective signposting that is sustainable. 

Support for local communications 

  • Develop a community newsletter for each ward.  Some support and funding will be needed to help initiate these new communications.  

Improve the volunteering offer 

  • Develop opportunities that meet volunteer needs. 
  • Create up to date, responsive online brokerage that allows those looking to volunteer a quick and efficient way to find and apply for local opportunities.   
  • Continue to offer support for those who face obstacles in engaging with volunteering. 

Improved engagement with business 

  • Create digital resources including an online brokerage aimed at business to support their understanding of the needs of the sector. For more recommendations around connecting VCS and business, see CCVS report (2019) 

Focus on improving digital inclusion  

  • Issues around digital inequality have highlighted the need for ongoing action to give everyone access to equal access to information, support and opportunity. 

Recognise what has been achieved  

  • Consider creating a broader recognition of what has been experienced and achieved. The purpose of any recognition event would be to demonstrate the continued value placed on neighbourhood support 

Click here to read the full report

Congratulations to Camcycle who have announced accreditation as a Living Wage Employer.

By Lorna Gough. April 2022

Camcycle say:

We believe that our staff, including our interns, deserve a fair day’s pay for their efforts and want to support them to live and work locally in the community that they serve. We’d encourage other local businesses to do the same: the process is straightforward with helpful resources and a responsive team at the Living Wage Foundation should you need assistance.”

Did you know that CCVS is able to support your organisation through the accreditation process, and Cambridge City Council will fund the first year of the accreditation fee?

To find out more about what the Living Wage is, how to become accredited, and what that would mean for your organisation, read our previous blog.

Camcycle staff team with the Living Wage accreditation plaque.

The Charities Act 2022

A picture of the houses of parliament with the River Thames in front
Berit from Redhill/Surrey, UK, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Act received royal assent in February of this year. The Act is generally pretty mundane with no areas of real controversy. It is designed to bring in some of the recommendations from the 2017 Law Commission report into charity law  that will make things simpler for charities.

Thanks to the Law Commission for highlighting the following documents

The Charities Act, including Explanatory Notes, are available here.

A marked-up copy of the Charities Act 2011, showing the changes that are made by the Charities Act 2022) a “Keeling Schedule”) is available here (revised version as of 24 February 2022.

The changes brought about by the Act will not take practical effect immediately. We now have to wait for the Charity Commission to set out how it is going to implement the changes, they have published a blog about the process on their website. The upshot being that actual changes will only happen as the commission is able to implement them.

What is in the Act?

The charity commission highlight 5 key changes

  • charities and trustees will be able to amend their governing documents or Royal Charters more easily – remaining subject to the Commission and the Privy Council’s approval in certain circumstances
  • charities will have access to a much wider pool of professional advisors on land disposal, and to more straightforward rules on what advice they must receive, which could save them time and money when selling land
  • charities will have more flexibility to make use of a ‘permanent endowment’ – this is money or property originally meant to be held by a charity forever. This includes a change which will allow trustees to borrow a sum of up to 25% of the value of their permanent endowment funds, without the Commission’s approval
  • trustees will be able to be paid for goods provided to a charity in certain circumstances, even if not expressly stated in the charity’s governing document (currently trustees can only be paid for supply of services). From pencils to paint, this will allow charities the flexibility to access goods from trustees when it is in the best interests of the charity (e.g. if cheaper), without needing Commission permission
  • charities will be able to take advantage of simpler and more proportionate rules on failed appeals. For example, if a charity appeal raises too little money, the charity will be able to spend donations below £120 on similar charitable purposes without needing to contact individual donors for permission

The rules about changing governing docs or purposes are mainly about bringing CIO’s and charitable companies in line with each other. This could make it more tricky for non CIO’s but it will mean simply updating purposes without making significant changes will no longer be regulated.

We have no idea when the commission will release guidance and actually make the changes, but Russell Cooke the solicitors have written that they recommend charitable companies wanting to make major changes to purposes do it now before the changes are implemented.

There is a good summary of the Act from Stone King on their website

Please contact us if you have any questions enquiries@cambridgecvs.org.uk

Cambridge Older People’s Network 

By Chris Trevorrow. April 2022.

Networking for charities and services to improve the lives of older people in Cambridge 

So far 16 different organisations and services benefiting older residents in Cambridge have met online to share what they are doing, make useful contacts and collect valuable information. 

The aims of the network are: 

  • to come together to establish an informal network that meets regularly. 
  • find out what others are doing and to examine challenges together and share experiences.  
  • collaborate more effectively and avoid working in isolation  

Attendees have expressed interest in pursuing a number of initiatives including mapping services in the City for older people, sharing communications and creating an event in the Autumn aimed at promoting activities and services for older people in the community.   

The network is chaired by Cambridge United Community Trust following an initiative from U3AC and COPE with organisational support from CCVS.  The next meeting will be in June.  To join the network or find out more get in touch with Christine.

Finding a new role as a volunteer

By Amy, CCVS Volunteer. March 2022.

Hello! It’s Amy here again and I’m writing about how to find a new voluntary role. If you haven’t done voluntary work before, it might help you to know how to go about it and this article should give you some guidance.

Voluntary work is similar to a job (but you don’t get paid for it). It can be quite daunting doing something new, but there are ways of getting support as you take this step towards volunteering. I can say from my own experience that it will be worth it! 

If you need support, get in touch with Ellie from CCVS who will offer you an informal chat where you will be able to discuss what kind of roles you’re interested in and all the steps you will need to take. At the moment meetings are only online or over the phone. That can be challenging for some, and you might want somebody to help you with it, but it’s good to try to do this independently if you feel that you can. This will show what you can do for yourself. Doing things for the first time helps build your confidence and can prepare you for future work interviews. CCVS knows a lot about charities and volunteering, and they can really help. If you’re uncomfortable with a 1:1 chat, there is an online group option which you may prefer.

You can get in touch with ellie@cambridgecvs.org.uk for more details.

Another option would be to ask people that you know (friends or family) who are already volunteering or can help guide you towards the right opportunities, but bear in mind that sometimes what works for them might not work for you. For instance, you may disagree on what kind of volunteering would be good for you.

Doing research on the internet might help (but you’ll need to know what you’re looking for). If you know the name of some places or organisations that offer the kind of work you want to do, you could look them up on Google and look at their website. Sometimes websites are not up to date, but whatever barriers you face in looking for voluntary work, don’t give up!  If you use social media (like Facebook or Instagram), you could look for opportunities on there.

Do- it website is dedicated to help matching people and organisations locally, but it can be a little bit difficult to use. However always a good starting point to see what is out there.

Visiting the place where you’re interested in volunteering might give you more of an idea if it’s right for you, but you may need to ring first to make an appointment. You’ll be able to ask to speak to someone about volunteering, if they are recruiting (which means looking for) volunteers and finding out about the application process. Visiting beforehand gives you a chance to see if the place would suit you, is it too busy, too noisy, too big, or will it send you into a sensory overload.

Every organisation or group that recruit volunteers have different procedures. You may be required to send a CV, an application form or cover letter or both. Some places may want you to come in and have an induction meeting and spend a bit of time working at the place to see what it’s like. In some cases, you may be asked to come for a meeting and then wait to be contacted about whether, and when you can start your volunteering. You may be asked why you want to do the role and what it is that makes you a good volunteer to take on and what skills you have. There will be an opportunity to talk to them about the kind of support that would help you best.

Myself and CCVS can help with interview tips, we’ll dedicate a whole piece on that alone in future.

No matter how it goes, do celebrate your achievement: it is challenging to find a suitable role, and you should be very proud of yourself for having taken the challenge on!