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Revealed – Almost 50% of Suffolk charities fear they won’t survive coronavirus

PUBLISHED: 07:30 21 May 2020 | UPDATED: 11:45 21 May 2020

ActivLives supports the vulnerable people in our community, keeping people active and connected, but all classes have been cancelled due to the pandemic.. Picture: ACTIVLIVES

ActivLives supports the vulnerable people in our community, keeping people active and connected, but all classes have been cancelled due to the pandemic.. Picture: ACTIVLIVES

Picture: ACTIVLIVES

Nearly half of Suffolk’s charities and voluntary organisations fear they may face closure in the next 12 months without extra help due to Covid-19, a new survey has revealed.

ActivLives volunteers at work in Belle Vue Park
Picture: ANDY HOWESActivLives volunteers at work in Belle Vue Park Picture: ANDY HOWES

A mix of 80 charities, community groups and social enterprises took part in the Covid-19 Impact Survey, which was carried out by Community Action Suffolk – with 47% of respondents declaring they would most likely face closure within one year if further help could not be found.

The survey results show that dozens of Suffolk’s charities, community buildings and voluntary sector organisations, are bracing themselves for huge financial shortfalls as a result of the virus.

Despite 54% having been able to access some kind of grant support, loan, or make use of the furlough scheme, the respondents reflected significant fears around income and funding sustainability.

‘We are their lifelines’

ActivLives is one of many Suffolk charities providing an essential service and a 'lifeline' to vulnerable people, but all classes have been cancelled due to the pandemic. Pictures: ACTIVLIVESActivLives is one of many Suffolk charities providing an essential service and a 'lifeline' to vulnerable people, but all classes have been cancelled due to the pandemic. Pictures: ACTIVLIVES

One of the charities which took part in the survey was ActivLives, who cater for all ages but focus primarily on keeping the older generation active and connected in Ipswich, especially those who are most vulnerable.

Julie Stokes, who is CEO of the charity which runs community gardens across the town, said her voluntary organisation lost a lot of income overnight.

“On Monday, March 23 we had to close everything immediately, so it was quite upsetting and really emotional,” explained Ms Stokes, who has been running the organisation for the last 13 years.

“It has had a big affect on us financially,” she said. “And if this carries on for the next six or 12 months, then we could be forced to close permanently, as we are already drawing on our reserves, and just like a business once they are gone, that’s it.”

Hundreds of vulnerable people in Suffolk rely on the support of charities like ActivLives  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNHundreds of vulnerable people in Suffolk rely on the support of charities like ActivLives Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Ms Stokes’ organisation employs 10 members of staff, some of whom have been furloughed as a result of the virus.

She relies on 60 volunteers and says that without them ActivLives would not be able to operate.

“Of course it is a worry,” said Ms Stokes. “We are a very face-to-face organisation and many of our users are in the vulnerable category, so when lockdown eases, if social distancing continues it will be impossible to continue our groups in person.

“For many of our users we are their lifeline, and we are more important now than ever before.”

Julie Stokes, who is CEO of ActivLives, says the coronavirus pandemic has been a real struggle financially, but the charity will keep doing what it can to support the vulnerable in Suffolk. Picture: ACTIVLIVESJulie Stokes, who is CEO of ActivLives, says the coronavirus pandemic has been a real struggle financially, but the charity will keep doing what it can to support the vulnerable in Suffolk. Picture: ACTIVLIVES

Will things go ‘back to normal’?

Ms Stokes said that many of the organisations services have moved online – offering its singing lessons for free on their website, along with exercise videos, an online plant shopping service and even hosting live zoom videos – which they hope to continue in the future for those who are housebound.

Now ActivLives is trying to consider how they will be able to reopen their groups in the future, but Ms Stokes believes “we won’t go back to normal” for some time.

She also raised concerns about retaining her workforce of 60 volunteers, understanding that many people may need to return to work as a result of the virus and will have less time on their hands when normal life resumes.

Christine Abraham is the CEO of Community Action Suffolk who launched the Covid-19 Impact Survey Photo: CASChristine Abraham is the CEO of Community Action Suffolk who launched the Covid-19 Impact Survey Photo: CAS

Suffolk charities are experiencing ‘fear and frustration’, warns expert

Chris Abraham, CEO of Community Action Suffolk, said: “Our latest survey findings are a clear reflection of the sense of fear and frustration which is being felt – not only by our more formal charities, but across the sector, including those who run our vital community buildings, village halls and rural groups.

“The drop-off in events and community engagement has hit many of these organisations very hard, and will continue to do so, at the very time that their services and resource are in more demand than ever. We simply do not know how long social distancing will continue for, but all the time it does, we can be sure the impact on the sector will be felt.”

She added: “These organisations are already preparing to adapt their services to continue assisting those in need post Covid-19 and may well need additional financial support to do so.”

ActivSingers at one of the groups in Ipswich before the lockdown was implemented. Picture: ACTIVLIVESActivSingers at one of the groups in Ipswich before the lockdown was implemented. Picture: ACTIVLIVES

However, Community Action Suffolk says a number of organisations and projects, which may not be seen as directly working on the frontline but play an essential role, will be a vital part of our community as we move forward in this ‘new normal’.

Ms Abraham added: “We will need those organisations to maintain community cohesion and to ensure neighbourly support in our most rural locations. We absolutely have to make sure that they are all able to survive.”

Charities see increase in demand – but all these things have a ‘financial cost’

Meanwhile, Debbie Watson is the founder of Suffolk-based not for profit organisation, Wednesday’s Child.

ActivLives has made CDs and song sheets for its users which don't have the internet during lockdown. Picture: ACTIVLIVESActivLives has made CDs and song sheets for its users which don't have the internet during lockdown. Picture: ACTIVLIVES

The enterprise, which helps those affected by eating disorders, launched last year and has become significantly busier since the lockdown was initiated in England.

Ms Watson said: “As an organisation with a focus on mental health support, it’s perhaps not surprising that we have seen an increase in requests for help and support from across Suffolk.

“It’s been something of a perfect storm for many impacted by eating disorders - with anxieties caused about food shopping, a reduction in face to face services from treatment teams, increased isolation or family pressures, and a removal of routines around school and work life.

“This has resulted in us delivering more hours of one to one support, creating more group sessions, generating more resources and guidance, and rapidly making infrastructure changes to enable continuity in a remote way.”

ActivLives hosts a number of events with the help of funding and donations, but is fearful of the impact of Covid-19  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNActivLives hosts a number of events with the help of funding and donations, but is fearful of the impact of Covid-19 Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

She added: “All these things have a financial cost, and at such an early phase in our journey, it will be critical we can continue to find funding or generous donations in order to keep going at the pace we would wish to.

“We’re needed more than ever - and this will likely live long after the virus rates subside, so all we can continue to do is to remain agile, look for opportunities as any business would do, and try to encourage generosity from within the Suffolk community.”

How you can help

• You can donate to the Suffolk Coronavirus Community Fund

• Or you can call the giving hotline on 01473 786911, or send a text donation to 70085. To give £5 quote 5SuffolkCrisis, £10 quote 10SuffolkCrisis or £20 quote 20SuffolkCrisis. Texts cost the donation you have made plus one standard rate message.

• Funding is available to help their local neighbourhood schemes, community groups and charities who are supporting people through this crisis. Visit the website.

• If you need urgent help, call Suffolk’s ‘Home, But Not Alone’ helpline on 0800 876 6926. It is open 9am to 5pm, every day.


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