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18 February 2021

Small charities ‘showed up and stuck around’ to support people through the pandemic

Smaller charities played a key role in supporting people and communities throughout the pandemic in a way that public services and mutual aid could not, a new report has found

Press contact: Jo Beattie | j.beattie@shu.ac.uk

Man handing elderly woman package

Commissioned by Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, the research highlights that smaller charities responded effectively for people and communities experiencing disadvantage because they are distinctive in who they serve, how they carry out their work, and the role they play in their communities.

The Value of Small in a Big Crisis report found that small and local charities – defined as those with an income of between £10,000 and £1m - have demonstrated tremendous energy, flexibility and professionalism and were there for the people that needed them most – such as those experiencing homelessness and domestic abuse and mental ill health.

Conducted by an independent team led by academics in the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR) at Sheffield Hallam University the research was based on interviews with charities and the public sector in four areas across England and Wales.

The researchers found that smaller charities addressed four main areas of need - access to food, isolation and loneliness, information and mental health/wellbeing - in ways that were tailored to different groups and communities experiencing complex social issues and economic disadvantage.

'Distinct value that no other group can offer'

Small charities showed up and stuck around to support people throughout the crisis when they were needed most. They ensured help and information reached groups and communities through having a critical relationship of trust, particularly with disadvantaged neighbourhoods, communities of faith or ethnicity, people experiencing poor mental health, and people seeking asylum.

This is particularly critical as these are communities whose needs tended to be less well served by mainstream provision and to whom public health messages were not getting through even though they were more likely to be adversely affected by COVID-19.

Chris Dayson, Principal Research Fellow in CRESR, said: “Our research shows that smaller charities demonstrated incredible resilience throughout the pandemic by ‘soaking up’ the unprecedented impact of the crisis on their work. Smaller charities have the potential help the economy and society ‘build back better’ following the pandemic, but their ability to transform communities around them is currently constrained by an unfavourable policy and funding environment. 

“As our report shows, small and local charities provide a distinct value that no other group can offer. Decision makers need to recognise this value so that they can thrive and continue to provide reliable services to those who need it the most."

The work of smaller charities has created real value for the individuals they helped and for public services, reducing demand on the health system at very minimal additional cost to the public purse. 

Unparalleled knowledge of communities

In the face of a severe recession, by continuing to employ local people, utilising local supply chains, and accessing pots of funding that could not have been brought into local areas by other types of providers, small charities have also added value to local economies.

Paul Streets, Chief Executive of Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, said: “Small charities’ knowledge of local communities is unparalleled, and has allowed them to provide sustained services to those who’ve needed them the most. As the country goes through one of the worst crises in living memory, small and local charities have played an invaluable role, preventing more people from contracting COVID-19, reducing the pressure on local NHS services, and helping communities in the face of a severe recession.”

He added: “If Government really wants to help people through Covid and beyond it should invest more in small frontline charities - who are already on the ground in their communities and can achieve fantastic results - and less in big top-down private contracts. We are urgently calling on Government and on funders to listen to the report’s recommendations and recognise that small charities will remain vital and help the country recover from the economic effects of the pandemic.”

Without changes to national and local policy and the funding environments for charities, the ability of charities to continue to deliver and adapt and to help individuals and communities will be harmed. The report calls for national and local government to recognise the value of small charities so they can continue to support individuals and communities and help rebuilding by:

  • Fostering a thriving and resilient population of smaller charities
  • providing long term, flexible, core funding for smaller charities
  • Investing in social and community infrastructure
  • putting social value and the promotion of wellbeing at the centre public commissioning and procurement.
  • Enhancing digital inclusion and service delivery.

The report was commissioned by Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales and conducted by an independent research team comprising of the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR) at Sheffield Hallam University, Institute for Community Research and Development (ICRD) at the University of Wolverhampton, Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR), and Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership (CVSL) at the Open University.



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