Supporting those who support others
Among the first tasks of Gerard Darby, HUC’s new Head of Grants & Community, was to oversee the distribution of our wellbeing grants.
I recently joined Hammersmith United Charities as Head of Grants & Community. Many years ago, I taught ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) in Hammersmith, but the borough has changed quite significantly since then. However, I feel it hasn’t lost its exciting vibe and wonderful diversity.
The last couple of years have been very challenging for us all and particularly for those working or volunteering in community and voluntary groups.
Although it is now a cliché to say it, these have been unprecedented times – a global pandemic did not feature in any organisations’ risk register.
Despite the pandemic coming with little warning and upsetting the pattern of our lives so significantly, Hammersmith’s voluntary sector responded to it with immense ingenuity, resilience and compassion.
Almost overnight, some groups switched the delivery of their services from in person to digital to avoid a break in their service; others extended their services or created new ones to meet the needs of the borough’s most vulnerable residents. To do this, many had to ask their staff and volunteers to work additional hours, often in the evenings and at weekends. At the same time, like us all, they also had to contend with their own anxieties and difficulties which the pandemic brought, such as family members losing their jobs or contracting Covid and children needing home schooling.
Several groups told me that the physical and emotional demands of the last couple of years have understandably taken their toll on those working in their organisation. In response to this, and the extraordinary efforts made by voluntary groups in the borough, we offered our existing smaller grantees the opportunity to apply for wellbeing grants.
These were small grants of up to £500. We did not stipulate what the grants should be used for except the broad purpose of supporting the wellbeing of staff, volunteers and trustees / management committee members.
Quite a number, such as Hammersmith and Fulham Foodbank, and the Lumi Foundation, a charity which aims to make yoga accessible to all, are using their wellbeing grants to provide celebratory events to acknowledge the efforts of their volunteer teams.
Cristina Nikolov, Lumi Foundation’s Chief Impact Officer, says: “As a very small organisation, we do not have the resources to celebrate the great work our teachers do in the community. Moreover, the impact of Covid-19 and various lockdowns have meant that we have chosen to use our funds to offer free yoga classes online for the community we serve, greatly reducing our budget for other activity. This grant will enable us to celebrate our teachers and create a renewed sense of connection within our organisation. A rare opportunity to enjoy some fun as a team!”
Some groups, such as the Community Interest Company For Brian, are looking to the future and bringing together their staff, volunteers and directors to think about what aspects of their new ways of working they might look to sustain post-pandemic. Clare Morris, Director, explains: “The grant has given us the first opportunity to bring our team together face-to-face since lockdown. Half are full time carers who have felt the impact of Covid-19 disproportionately. We are in the process of planning an away day, and looking forward to being able to take stock and elaborate plans for 2022 and beyond. Although virtual meetings are practical, zoom is no substitute for the support and creativity that arises from meeting in person – for some of the team it will be the first time.”
At Hammersmith United Charities, we recognise the importance of both acknowledging and supporting those who support some of the most vulnerable in our local community. We hope that our wellbeing grants go some way to demonstrating this.
I have been so impressed with the creativity and commitment of Hammersmith’s community groups. I am really looking forward to meeting you all over the coming months.
Go to the grant-making pages of our website to find out about our other grants. Next deadline for applications for our grants to community organisations is midday on Friday 29th April.