COVID-19 week 3, week beginning 13th April. John Hitchin was on leave last week so Alice Thornton, Head of Learning takes on week notes.

Place-based funding in a covid-19 context

This week I have been working on two projects that are both, in different ways, about how funders can support communities better by thinking about their funding through the lens of place. As evaluators for Power to Change’s Empowering Places programme, we are helping them to capture how community organisations have responded to the crisis, what this tells us about what ‘resilience’ really means for organisations in times of acute stress, and how funders can support it in the longer term. We’ll share our findings report on that soon.

We’re also working on our first paper as learning partner for the Local Motion initiative (a collaboration of six major trusts and foundations), which is grappling with questions about how funders can respond to crisis more effectively, together. That applies to both the covid-19 crisis, but also the underlying economic crisis that many places were facing even before covid-19 hit.

Experimenting with work patterns

The much-needed Easter break gave me an opportunity to step back from the intensity of work and have a rethink about my working patterns. After all of the upheaval of the previous few weeks, I decided to experiment with working two-hour ‘shifts’, starting earlier than usual and finishing later, with a longer break for lunch and the inevitable post-lunch slump. It was a big success, and for the first few days I had a much more productive week than I normally would. I’m hoping to keep it up in the coming weeks and pay more attention to my brain’s need for rest and variety than I normally could in a ‘9-5’ working culture (even accounting for Renaisi’s flexibility).

Furloughing and work

On Thursday we found out that my partner is going to be furloughed from her job. Our government’s ability to offer a financial support package is a blessing and we are lucky to have it, but income is not the only important – or even necessarily the most important – aspect of employment, as my colleagues in Renaisi’s Services team will tell you. Other benefits of work include routine, connectedness with other people, a sense of purpose, a sense of personal worth. The furloughing scheme cannot compensate for those lost benefits – they have to be sought elsewhere, which can be a challenge under lockdown. Like many others in a similar situation, there is a black cloud of anxiety looming over us, that once the government’s financial support comes to an end redundancy will follow.

A life without boundaries

On Friday mornings we have a team call to talk about what has changed in the previous week, how we have adapted, and what we have learnt. It feels like the best of team working: sharing ideas, helping each other out and providing much-needed motivation and enthusiasm. My day went downhill from there, as I tried to get an IT problem fixed which had been caused by an ‘upgrade’ to our system. After five phone calls, two lost internet connections, one large argument with my partner over who was using up the internet bandwith, several terse emails and a large dollop of seething frustration the only solution was to turn the upgrade off.

The day encapsulated my experience of the worst aspects of enforced working from home: time adrift without much sense of meaningful purpose, in which very little was achieved, but neither was it restful; blurred boundaries between home and work, work stress and relationship stress, and an unpleasant reminder of our ultimate lack of control. Whatever we found challenging about work before this crisis, whatever our personal peeves and quirks, they have been exacerbated and enlarged by this experience.

On the bright side, perhaps that is an opportunity to explore what they are and to come out of this knowing a bit more about ourselves than we did before.

Small charity reserves

I’m a Trustee of the delightful Stepney City Farm, a small local charity and community business in the heart of London’s East End. As you can imagine, at our Trustee meeting this week there were several gritty issues to get through. As a charity which earns a high proportion of our income from trading activities, we have been badly hit by the economic implications of the covid-19 crisis. After the immediate emergency response we are now starting to talk about the long term. It is essential that we don’t dip too far into our reserves this year, because we may well need them if the economy takes a big downturn, as it is expected to. We need a new business model for the world as it emerges after the crisis, which will undoubtedly be different to the one we had been successfully operating in for the past few years. One positive outcome has been the overwhelming support we’ve received from our local community, who have been generously donating to our crowdfunder to help keep core operations going and buy us time to work out the longer term plan.

The words of one supporter could be applied to any much-loved small local charity: “The farm is an important part of the local community and deserves our support. I hope this fundraiser succeeds so that future generations can enjoy it.”

Alice-Thornton