How has the pandemic affected funding for local charities, and how is the Portsmouth community responding? Sarah Cheverton interviews Aurora New Dawn’s CEO, Shonagh Dillon, in the latest of a weekly series examining the social impact of the pandemic on the charity, their team and the victims and survivors they serve. Transcribing by Heather Freathy.
SC: In our last interview, you talked about the funding challenge facing Aurora and the sector nationally at the moment. Can you describe how the pandemic has affected your funding? Has Aurora been able to access funding from government and other sources and is that funding coming through now to the front line?
SD: We haven’t had any change to our normal service delivery, we are still delivering all the services and meeting all the funding requirements for everything we were doing prior to Covid-19.
In terms of how we are affected now: we are delivering a 24/7 helpline and reaching out to funders both locally and nationally about how to fund that resource. We already have some funding towards it, we’ve been successful in gaining small pockets of funding through organisations like the Hampshire and IOW Community Fund (HIOWCF), the National Emergency Trust and Vivid Housing, which has been fabulous. While those pots of funding are very gratefully received, we still need more to be able to sustain that level of service, and we are committed to fighting really hard to get that funding.
We have noticed that it is taking time for funding to trickle down to the front line. These things do take some time and we are dealing with such a difficult emergency. Usually funding can take months to get to frontline services and rightly so, because we have to go through checks and balances. However, this situation is unprecedented – a word everyone’s hearing a lot right now.
So, it’s a bit of a waiting game at the moment, but we are reaching out to as many possible funders, commissioners, and commissioning bodies as possible to make sure that we can deliver this vital service for victims and survivors during the pandemic.
Some local people have set up fundraisers for Aurora during the pandemic, can you tell us about those?
We have been blown away by the fundraisers that have been set up.
There’s the Cantando FVC Choir, which we talked about last week, and they’re aiming to record songs weekly now for their fundraiser (see video and link below). This week, it’s This Is Me and it’s just beautiful.
If you look at our Covid-19 Fundraiser page (see below), there’s Mike who’s growing his beard to raise money, and he hates beards! There’s Paul, who did a birthday quiz and raised funds for us, and there’s Sophia, who is doing a photography project and she’s raising money in a really unique way.
Then there’s all the people who donate, and that ranges from a fiver, to some people who send hundreds of pounds. I’m honestly blown away by it. I would say to anyone who’s donated, thank you from the bottom of my heart, and also to everybody who shares our donations page. This money directly supports victims and survivors in Portsmouth and Hampshire and we can’t thank you enough.
At the same time, it’s not all about donating. Don’t underestimate what sharing our fundraiser and our social media posts does for us as a team, either. It massively lifts our spirits and bolsters up the team, it gives us the energy to carry on. It sounds cheesy but, especially at the moment, people’s support really matters. We see you every day supporting us and it just gives us the energy to carry on. So thank you!
Last week, Aurora launched its own fundraising video that has an amazing back story of its own. Can you tell us about how that came about?
Well, again the kindness of people has blown us away.
So we got an email from a local film company where some of the staff were furloughed, and they asked if they could help out. They wanted to volunteer their time. We’d also had the choir a few days before that, so I thought it would be great to combine the two. I know nothing about film or video, but I just liked the idea!
Thankfully the film company, Robin Creative Media Ltd were just straight on it. They turned it around in a week, and the video was outstanding. They worked with the choir, they worked with us – and they were really patient with us! – and the end result is just a beautiful piece of work. All done for free, for victims and survivors. It’s another example of how kind people have been and how local communities come together. And I think this is the really positive spin to come out of this. People do care.
Domestic abuse is often called ‘hidden violence’ but it’s not so hidden right now. People care. They want victims and survivors to know that they’re there, that they are supportive and they will support organisations like us to support them.
Personally, I can’t watch the video without crying, I must have watched it over a 100 times now! It’s just blown us away.
Donate to Aurora New Dawn’s fundraiser here, or share on your social media to help spread the word. And spread the word about their new video, created by Robin Creative Media, Ltd, below.
And finally, what does a day in your working life look like now, as opposed to before the pandemic?
Manic, absolutely manic! So, I am a great believer in lists. Anyone who’s done advocacy or refuge work, or worked with people in crisis, a lot of the people you work with are at very high risk, so you can’t let anything drop off the side. And that’s where your list comes in.
At the moment, I start my list everyday, and I rarely get past the first few points. Everything gets done in the end, we are all working very hard to make sure of that. But it’s very, very fast-paced right now. We’re used to fast-paced working, but this is much more heightened than before the crisis.
Sometimes it’s hard to take time off, we’re all so invested in what we’re doing – it’s that old feminist saying that ‘the personal is political.’ This is more than just a job to our team. That’s why it’s so important to us to make sure we have really good levels of self care, from the top down.
That’s something that I’ve recognised myself. A good example of this happened to me last week, doing too many things at once. So I accidentally locked us out of Aurora’s Twitter account last week because I thought it would be good to put the year we were founded in. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realised that this told Twitter Aurora was nine years old, which is factually correct, but Twitter thought we were a 9 year old human, not a nine year old charity.
Now how that happened in real time: it was evening, I’d worked probably double the hours I would usually that week already, and I was on a call to one of our advocates about a case, and scanning our social media on my phone at the same time. I was also serving up a fish pie for my kids, and I just thought, ‘Oh, it will be nice to put Aurora’s birthday on our social media biog!’ in the middle of it all.
Just like that, our Twitter account was gone. I am not ashamed to say I cried, and that moment was a lesson.
I’m a 44 year old woman dishing up fish pie that my kids don’t even like, and crying over Twitter. I was definitely stressed! We were locked out of Twitter for 4 or 5 days and I was panicking that we weren’t visual to people. But some great people helped us out and we were back.
The massive lesson for me was to take some time off. My management team are awesome and gave me a good talking to. One of our favourite things to remind each other is that ‘this is a marathon not a sprint’. So one of the team took over as the on-call manager, and I took the weekend off. It’s now the following Wednesday and I’ve not broken anything yet, but ask me again on Friday…I’m only human after all.
The reality is that we are all working very, very hard. None of us are beyond stress. None of us are robots. And particularly right now, everyone needs lots of self-care. We have to be really mindful of that, we have a really strong team ethos to look after each other, we trust each other and we know that at points we will all have our moments.
The ultimate goal is to keep delivering services to victims and survivors. If we can keep doing that, I’ve done my job.