We sat down with Kate Rogata, Director, Supporting Older People to discuss how they have adapted their services during Covid-19 and key learnings the sector should take forward into recovery.
What were your main challenges during Covid-19?
None of the activities which our charity had undertaken successfully for many years were feasible during the pandemic. So, we had to completely reconfigure our services in about a week! We were also extremely concerned about funding. We are a very small organisation with three part-time staff and a turnover of approx £70k but we knew that we would face increased competition from other charities and that our normal fundraising programme would not be possible.
How has the way that you deliver services changed as a result of this?
Before the pandemic we were providing face to face befriending for 157 older people, living alone in Harrogate and Knaresborough in North Yorkshire. We supported 105 volunteers to do this. We also ran monthly group activities - Tea and Talk (40 people), outings (up to 13 people), singing (15-20 people) , Dining Out Club (approx 15 people) and a weekly music and movement group (20 people).
Now, we have 200+ volunteers providing telephone befriending to 260 older people. Over 100 additional people offered to volunteer during the pandemic. We also realised that for many people putting food on the table was a real problem, either because they were shielding or couldn't afford it. We partnered with our local Asda to provide 15 essential food parcels and vouchers and with a Harrogate resident who began cooking fresh meals, which he froze, for his daughters who are doctors. He has now cooked 10,000 meals which we distribute to anyone struggling to shop or afford food. They are incredibly nutritious and an absolute treat. I was able to get funding from grants, DEFRA and NYCC and a local company for this service, which is currently funded until June.
We are now thinking about how we can start group activities safely again - it will be baby steps! We have found zoom invaluable when the team could not meet face to face, and now have a larger office with room to socially distance, when allowed. We decided it was money worth spending.
How have you been able to maximise the impact of your services?
Via social media, local press and media, linking with other local organisations and grassroots groups, regular newsletters to volunteers and local people who might benefit from our services, diversifying our funding sources - we have been incredibly fortunate to have maintained our funding levels.
Have you worked closely with other charities or organisations and, if so, how?
Yes we are part of local networks of food providers and we already had an NYCC prevention and wellbeing contract with other local charities. These links have strengthened. I am part of the County and district Senior Leaders' groups so we zoom regularly to share information and resources and cross refer. The food network endeavours to make sure that we fill gaps in provision and spread resources equitably
What advice would you give to small and medium charities struggling to adapt to this evolving situation?
Talk to the people you support about what they want and need. Involve your board - ours has been fabulously supportive. Talk to your funders and commissioners- if you're good they want to help you succeed. Develop community links and build your media and social media profile. We have been lucky enough to have a social media expert join our board and she has made an enormous difference.
What are the key learnings from this year that you will take forward post Covid-19?
Look after each other - it's so important to support colleagues and volunteers, especially when they can't meet. Without each other we'd be nothing. Listen to the people you support and get them help when needed. Follow their lead in terms of what you offer.
By the time you've written a policy the moment might have passed! Paperwork can follow doing what people need! If you've a good idea, talk to funders.