As we are entering Lockdown for the third time, Cornwall VSF is sharing the results of a survey we carried out while Cornwall was in Tier 2 and Tier 3 during December 2020, in which 76 respondents gave us their analysis of the situations they are facing in their communities. Almost half (36) were faith organisations, primarily churches, a group whose contribution to both the pandemic response and civil society as a whole, has been nationally recognised.

Respondents represent all areas of the VCSE sector, with 54% offering Community Support, and 36% offering Healthcare and wellbeing services. 43% support children and young people, and 34% support older people. 37% of respondents of respondents cover the whole of Cornwall, with other respondents across the entire county plus the Scillies.

Impact of the pandemic on organisations

Almost all organisations have seen some level of drop in income (88%), while almost half have experienced an increase in outgoings (48%). There is a significant overlap between organisations experiencing increased outgoings and decreased income.

Demand has increased in some areas for 61% of respondents, and 70% report a drop in capacity, with likewise a significant overlap between these groups.

70% of organisations have confidence in their financial viability for at least 6 months but 10% say their future is uncertain, or are concerned they will not survive the next quarter. These organisations cover a wide cross section of services, and are spread throughout Cornwall.

Needs reported in the community

The most pressing needs reported in the community right now are around mental health and isolation, poverty (including food and fuel poverty), and digital exclusion, with the groups most at risk, being older people, and young families.

In the coming 6 months, respondents foresee a significant increase in all these areas, with physical health needs being added to the list. The most urgent needs are around isolation, poverty and mental health.

Meeting that need

The most commonly mentioned requirement among organisations, in order to meet that need, was funding (38%), specifically long-term funding, though crisis-funding has been useful so far. Staffing issues, whether more staff or volunteers, training for existing personnel, or new, specially trained staff, was also a requirement many gave (23%).  Greater statutory support, together with information and support around COVID-19 itself, in order to rebuild user trust, were mentioned.

Without this support, the consequences were, in general terms, a rise in need:  Mental health issues (17), poverty (10), health (9), young people (5), suicides, homelessness and isolation (4), Carers issues and domestic abuse (3), with an implication of rising demand on statutory services in all cases.

Following on from the need for funding itself, there is a clear need within the organisations for information about funding, as well as adapting service delivery, social impact advice, working in partnership and basic advice about running a charity.

The VCSE Sector in their own words

“Income for 21-22 is a real concern. There is too much short-term funding and not enough recognition of ongoing increased demand”

“Most of our volunteers are older, and cautious about being involved. Work with children and young people has decreased as a result. Increased demand on foodbank, with decreased volunteer help.”

“I am taking money from my pension to pay overheads of £1k a year and have applied for various grants but been unsuccessful”

“I do feel that jobs and unemployment will rise, food poverty will rise and mental health will rise. This will put pressure on front line services, which seem to be already under strain. Making sure the voluntary sector is supported and used for sign posting and referrals will help elevate some, as the number of projects available will mean there is capacity to support people.”

“It is hard to quantify the level of unmet need – we are helping everyone who is accessing our services, however we ‘don’t know what we don’t know’ and our instincts tell us that there are people out there who are waiting until our face to face services reopen meanwhile their situation increases in complexity and severity”

Areas of unmet need: “OAP poverty and loneliness, Fuel poverty in all ages, Unemployment, Child Poverty, Mental health issues, Challenges for those retired whose adult children are in need of support”

“Like many, we have been successful in emergency funding, but foresee financial issues in the next 2 years. We had a particular problem with paused funding bids. We had 75% increase in uptake during the first lockdown, and complex problems show no sign of decreasing.”

“Our pastoral role (visiting those in the community) is severely restricted, especially given the age of many of our congregation who would normally be involved in this activity. The most affected are the elderly, sick and bereaved, who are feeling particularly isolated at this time.”

“Many older people on their own. Isolation during the winter months is so much more depleting to peoples wellbeing. The hours of darkness seemingly to increase their feeling of isolation and maybe depression?”

“The same need as is reflected in any rural community at this time. Poverty has increased, employment is a problem, ability to pay mortgages and the rest is difficult for some.”

“Those who are unable or unwilling to use technical media find it hard or impossible to join in our activities. They tend to be elder members and those with communication difficulties.”

“Perhaps our biggest concern (in terms of unmet need) is that we cannot provide the opportunity of quiet and reflection for those in any kind of mental distress that a quiet country church can (and we know in the past has been able to) provide.” 

“It is imperative that the voluntary sector is seen as a front player for supporting people. With access to funding we can continue to work with statuary services who can refer.”

“Connectivity – reaching people and bring connectivity. It’s not the smart phone or tablet that cost, it’s the WIFI that is not sustainable for most who are on low wages or unemployed”

The outcome, if we cannot provide support is:

“A rise in homelessness, increased use of foodbanks, potential increase in relationship breakdown and domestic violence, rising levels of poverty with barriers to accessing welfare benefits and health related support.”

“A potential generation of lost young people”

“Huge impact on communities, economy and individuals that are catastrophic.”

“High unemployment, high food poverty, disengagement, high poverty, Isolation, Increase of homelessness and substance misuse and a rise in domestic violence – which we are already seeing.”