‘I Was Blown Away’: Portsmouth’s Response to Covid-19

How has the pandemic affected the local voluntary sector? In the second of a three part series, Covid-19 Community Reporter Paris Ali-Pilling interviews Aurora New Dawn’s CEO, Shonagh Dillon. In part two, Shonagh talks about the financial impact to Aurora, the local community raising money and the big challenges that face Aurora as lockdown lifted. Read part one here. 

Paris: What financial impact has the pandemic had on your organisation?

Shonagh: At the moment, nothing catastrophic at all. In fact, we were very well supported by our funders, who were incredibly flexible with the way the grants were managed and extra support that they’ve given us. However, what I’m very concerned about is the next couple of years. Everything went Covid-related; everything had to be spent within six months, so it had to be spent by October the 31st.

We got everything funded that we needed, which was the helpline and a few extra bits that we’ve requested around supporting clients to flee and particularly women with no recourse [to public funds] and legal costs. I would be the lying if I said I wasn’t worried about the impact on the economy, we know we’re in a recession now. Brexit seems to have been forgotten about, we were worried about that before Covid.

Will there be will there be cuts in funding? Yes. There’s no doubt about it. How we roll with that is entirely up to us. I don’t like to talk about it in terms of how it impacts on the organisation. Any impact on us has an impact on victims and survivors and that’s the central priority. Let’s focus on what that means to victims and survivors because any cut in funding is a cut to a service or a provision that prevents [the] homicide of women, so that’s what we need to keep our eyes on. I think we need to never detract from the central point, and it’s really important for us not to forget the client.

I saw on social media that the local community ran a number of fundraisers for Aurora. But has the pandemic changed your funding through either government grants or fundraising? Seeing how the community came together for Aurora, has that made you start to think from a funding point of view ‘Oh, we could actually start doing more raising awareness within the community’?

The amount of people that fundraised for us, I was blown away. We put a few posters out on Twitter and Facebook. We’ve paid once for a Facebook boosted post for the helpline poster. That was the beginning of the summer holidays because I know it’s a really quiet period. Star & Crescent picked it up. And then it just went nuts.

What it’s taught me is that, we’ve never been wallflowers at Aurora, so we are quite loud about what we’re doing, and I think [we] forget that actually pays off. What I recognised was that some people knew who we were already and maybe hadn’t come and had a look at us. And then we’ve got a load more supporters just from doing the simple stuff. Which is ‘this is what we’re doing during the pandemic, please share the poster’.

I was really conscious not to ask for money, because people are on their knees, and I’m not about to start asking [local] people for money. What was lovely was people – off their own backs – just wanted to do fundraisers, and it paid off. We’ve had, during Covid, about £15,000 worth of donations and fundraising and that’s just from the local community. That’s what local communities can do. One of the things that I’m really conscious to do as an organisation, I always want to amplify those people and thank them, because thank you goes a really long way. I don’t care if you’ve raised a fiver or you’ve raised £5000, you put some effort into that, [it’s] important to me that those people get acknowledged.

It is hidden violence. It is a hidden topic. It’s not glamorous, nobody wants to talk about it, I get that, and people don’t usually want to deal with the murky waters of life that we do. Why would you want to, [it] is quite a niche topic.

When you get support from your local community, like the choir, the girl that did a DJ set for us of hard house, that’s so cool. I was sharing it all and, then a man did a quiz fundraiser for his birthday, a little girl did a video and we had the 87-year-old and 90-year-old women walkers and [I’m] just like, good for you.

I think the other thing about fundraisers like that has taught me is that actually, it’s important not to spend too much time focusing just on where the next grant is coming from, or networking with funders, which is an important part. It’s actually really important to go to your local community and speak to them. Not because it’s about raising money, about raising awareness. The poster (see above) was shared within the first week over 3000 times, it just went crazy.

What is the biggest challenge you’re facing as an organisation now that lockdown is lifted?

Referrals, which is going to get really busy everywhere. We know it will, particularly when the schools go back. It’s about to go through the roof as far as I’m concerned. The long-term impact of the amount that people have dealt with in lockdown, particularly those that have lived in domestic abuse situations.

Children and young people that have been sexually abused throughout the whole of lockdown will be going back to school too. We are anticipating an influx of referrals across the board really. That’s the challenge and [the other] challenge is always funding; it’s never not funding.

We just have to keep going and keep doing exactly as we have been doing, but make sure that we’ve got eyes on everything strategically: one eye in the future, one eye in the present, and just make sure that [we are] trying really hard to mitigate against any kind of risks.


S&C has been awarded funding from the European Journalism Centre Covid-19 Support Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on diverse communities and sectors in Portsmouth:

  • voluntary sector, including charities, community groups and social enterprises
  • small businesses and self-employed people
  • BAME communities
  • people with disabilities

We have also been awarded funding from the Public Interest News Foundation Emergency Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on migrants, and asylum seekers and refugees.

If you are interested in sharing your experiences in any of these areas, get in touch with us over on Facebook and Twitter, or email us at submissions@starandcrescent.org.uk

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