How has the pandemic affected the local voluntary sector? In a two part series, Covid-19 Community Reporter Paris Ali-Pilling interviews Allison Udy, Centre Manager for Milton Village Community Association. In part two, Allison talks about the challenging future for keeping the Centre open. Read part I here.
Paris: How has the pandemic in lockdown affected your staff, both their work and their wellbeing?
Allison: Fortunately, we got paid 100% salaries. It’s a strange one, isn’t it? I’m sure we’ve all had anxieties. It’s all been very strange and we’ve had to get used to it but it’s difficult. The most challenging thing I’ve found is how fast everything changes and evolves. We’re having to think on our feet just trying to keep up on making sense of new guidelines that keep being introduced, but sometimes there’s no clarity and it’s been very hard to keep up to date and on top of it. So that’s been very frustrating.
How are you dealing with constant changes to Government guidance as an organisation?
I did a lot of work to get risk assessments done as you have to do it for all the groups returning, visitors, office staff, off site activities (for the trips). There’s so much work to do. But I joined a forum with ACRE [Action with Communities in Rural England], who primarily work in rural community support, but they have extended into the cities.
This is Hampshire ACRE. We’re on what they call a ‘Basecamp’ forum, which many of the centres have joined. We spend a lot of time on the forum asking each other, ‘Do you think we can do this?’ but it’s great to have the support.
There’s so much to do just to reopen the Centre and keep it going. One of the biggest challenges was when we opened at the beginning of September and we had an open-door policy, so the centre would be open like it was pre COVID. We put up signs to wear masks, keep socially distanced and to sign in or scan the NHS track and trace system. However, the staff were only on site three hours a day, 4 days a week but the site was open for hirers 9am-10pm, 7 days a week and the coffee shop 10am-4pm, 6 days a week. So, I started to wonder how are we supposed to manage everyone: making sure they sign in and wear masks, especially when it became a legal requirement, if we’re not there most of the time?
I started talking to other centres and I think we were the only one who had an open-door policy. Every other centre had a closed-door policy, you have to buzz the intercom to gain access and their toilets aren’t open to the public. People are only going into the centres to attend groups or visit the coffee shop, if they have one on site. So, from Monday 5th October, [we changed] the rules. It feels awful to not be able to welcome people inside but that’s the only way we can manage and keep legal.
Most of our customers are older people who don’t have internet and smartphones, so I did think, do we have to have two check-in systems running? But it’s actually the law, we do have to have the scanning NHS check-in system in place. However, it is the easiest thing in the world to organise and we’ve got the signs up, but we’re having to run the paper sign-in as well. So by changing how we operate, we only have people on site to visit the office, go to the coffee shop, or go to a group so all three of those areas have control over and can ensure everybody signs in.
How confident do you feel about your organisation’s future through and after the pandemic? What is the biggest challenge you’re facing?
Revenue to pay the bills. Whether we can get a couple of trips up and running. There’s a couple of events/trips in December I’m not sure about. But we’ve got to try because we need to boost the income. We’ve deliberately put the membership out to everyone, and people have been great. In fact, we’ve been inundated, which is lovely, because that will help support the income. It’s looking for ways to boost income really, between now and March, as I don’t know [if] any further help will come from the council.
In regard to the trip that potentially will go forward, there’s going to have to be social distancing and wearing face masks, they don’t have a choice. How have your members reacted to that?
Very mixed. Half of them are very blasé and they’ll do whatever is needed to go on the trip. I’ve already said that if we get on the coach, they have to wear masks! But then there’s others who have pulled out of the trips; they’re very anxious about what’s going on. They’re not looking to do any trips until next year or even beyond. It’s a real split. So, we probably wouldn’t get the numbers we normally do but numbers will be restricted on the coaches anyway. It’s quite a battle.
Obviously, we know about the access to Government support for the pandemic. What about funding from trusts and other grant funders?
Nothing else at the moment. Because we pay rates on the building, or reduced rates, we could claim the grant from the Government under the hospitality/leisure sector. There was an almost automatic £10,000 or £25,000 (larger premises) grant. We did access that early on. To be honest, I thought ‘we’re going to be quid’s in here’ but that soon got used up.
Have you considered going for other outside funding bids?
I look every week, we get lists of funding available through ACRE [Action with Communities in Rural England] – they send weekly emails – and at the bottom there’s all the current funding available. I help towards the coffee shop as well on site, so I plough through to see if there’s any suitable funding we can apply for. I applied for one for the coffee shop but unfortunately we didn’t get that.
Most of them – which is always the way with funding – is for capital, or projects, there’s nothing just to help with revenue. And for most, you have got to be actually providing a COVID service as in delivering food. It’s quite difficult to get funding just to support your business and to give you some revenue but I keep looking.
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.