When the Coronavirus emerged as a pandemic in March 2020, Cornwall VSF shelved ‘business as usual’, and spent time exclusively on supporting the voluntary sector’s response to the crisis. We established the VCSE Emergency Response Alliance (VERA), a strategic core body, and Community Response Hubs across Cornwall, the operational arms, to support the initial crisis response. We worked very firmly within our strategic principles of Voices, Influence, Collaboration, Actions, just focussed solely on the COVID-19 response, enabling the sector to support the people of Cornwall, to have their voices heard in the high level conversations, and be supported to ride out the crisis, emerging stronger afterwards.
Subsequently, after the first wave had died down, we began to look at rebuilding, and restoring the sector, and while we are still sharing useful information, the focus has switched. Relevant information around support offerings is still being provided, through the second wave and subsequently.
The Alliance model
We have been pioneering new approaches to collaboration, as an umbrella organisation for the VCSE sector in Cornwall, helping to mobilise efforts, facilitate collaboration, and coordinate the VCSE contribution to the Covid-19 emergency and recovery response. The VCSE has really welcomed this way of collaborative working through forging VCSE alliances, because organisations have been more able to help one another, and work more effectively with our public and private sector partners to meet the needs of the residents of Cornwall.
formerly known as VERA – the Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise Sector Emergency Response Alliance
VERA is a strategic alliance made up of CEOs representing the VCSE sector across Cornwall. These are individuals who have considerable strategic influence, and access to a bigger network to draw intelligence and resources from, during the COVID-19 emergency. Meeting initially four times a week, and dropping back as the crisis-management phase passed, the group currently meets fortnightly. Members discuss subjects pertinent to the crisis and recovery. Regular guest speakers are invited, to help further our thinking and action, including Kate Kennally (CEO of Cornwall Council), sharing early ideas around Cornwall’s recovery plan. For more about VERA, including all the organisations and ‘business systems’ represented, see the VERA page.
formerly known as Community Response Hubs
Cornwall VSF worked hard in the first few weeks of lockdown 1 to establish 19 Community Response Hubs, across the 19 Community Network Areas of Cornwall. These groups were chaired by VCSE representatives, and also included other stakeholders: Cornwall Council’s Community Link Officers, Public Health officers, parish and town council officers, and faith leaders. These hubs are operational in nature and their role is to identify any immediate unmet needs that they can look to address wherever they can, bringing with them their networks and resources, positive influence, and possible resource-sharing, as well as brokering further support. For a list of all the Community Response Hubs, and their VCSE representatives, see the CRHs page.
Subsequent to the initial crisis response, these groups are being transitioned into Local Alliances, where this is appropriate to their areas. Some are becoming part of existing groups in their area, and others are operating independently. Local Alliance Leaders are invited to a meeting together, monthly, to discuss important issues that they are facing, such as sustainable funding, and resources to tackle the most pressing needs they are seeing.
The members of VERA have begun establishing their own Thematic Alliances, with VCSE organisations that also operate in their ‘business system’ to share insights and build partnerships. These are getting off the ground one by one, as the Members are gathered together and their chairs are ready. We have a full list of the current Thematic Alliances, and it is hoped to establish them for each thematic area represented on the Strategic Alliance.
How can you get involved?
We believe we are stronger by working more collaboratively together. Organisations can belong to more than one alliance (local or thematic), and any VCSE organisation interested in being part of this new Alliance Network is invited to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org, and discuss which alliance they want to be part of.
We do require any Alliance members to both sign the Agreement and become a Member of Cornwall VSF (which is free), so we can better coordinate the alliances and provide our Members-only resources on the VSF website and other shared areas. Organisations are invited also to join here on our website.
We will keep you updated with the plans as these Alliances progress, and ensure that you have access to speak to the relevant one(s) for your area of operations (both geographical and thematic).
Assessing the state of the sector
Sector survey – May 2020
Cornwall VSF managed a survey in May 2020, with help from contacts in the sector and at Exeter University, to evaluate the social and economic impact that the current crisis has had on the voluntary sector. Many organisations are seeing an increase in demand, with a forecast surge still to come, while also experiencing a corresponding drop in income from fundraising, but we needed to establish a more precise picture, in order to help the sector recover. Many organisations took part in the survey, and shared it with their contacts – thank you for your contribution, if this was you!
We released the results of the survey in June – see our press statement, with links to the full survey.
Stress Test survey – December 2020
Following the survey in May, we felt it was important to ask some of the same questions again, later on, and also enquire about the need that organisations are currently seeing, both for their own organisations, and in the people they are supporting.
The survey is open until 4 January – please take part here.
Interim results were published on 16 December, and make interesting reading.
We have published a selection of stories, showcasing the awesome volunteers and organisations that are doing extraordinary things to support the people they work with, in these unusual times.
You can find out more about them here:
- Volunteers from Guide Dogs for the Blind keeping in touch with people with sight loss
- disAbility Cornwall, Hayle Rugby Club and Cornish Kitchen creating Hayle Community Kitchen
- An outdoor education instructor from Band of Brothers now delivering prescriptions
- Cornwall Scrubs: When volunteers and their sewing machines come together
Contact Claire on email@example.com if you have an inspiring story to share, and check back in later, as we will be publishing more stories in the weeks to come.