Lifting the lockdown: The challenges our members face and how we are helping

For our latest covid-19 guidance for charities, please visit our coronavirus pages on NCVO Knowhow.

We’ve been asking our members what challenges resuming their activities over the next few months will bring.

As part of this we asked members about:

  • what practical issues they expect to deal with as a result of lockdown restrictions being eased
  • how restarting their services might be affected if social distancing measures remain in place
  • how their fundraising or trading activities might be affected if social distancing measures remain in place
  • how an easing of the lockdown restrictions will help their organisation.

In just the course of a weekend, we received over 300 responses – highlighting the level of concern that charities are feeling about getting this right. Understandably they are keen to resume their activities, but they want to do that in a safe and responsible way, not only for their staff and volunteers but also for the people they support.

Below are some of the key issues we’ve heard about from members, though this is by no means an exhaustive list. Everyone’s work context brings its own challenges. We’re reflecting these concerns to the government as they continue to develop guidance about easing the restrictions that are in place.

Returning to work poses major practical challenges

The safety of staff, volunteers and service users is paramount for all organisations, especially those providing support to potentially vulnerable people, or services that are experiencing an increased demand.

The government guidance is understandably generic, and as always the devil is in the detail. For example:

  • what about working with people who live in shared housing?
  • what about people living with shielded individuals?

Will organisations have to set rotas for their staff and volunteers?

Some practical support to help you:

The changes to our ways of working and the longer-term effects of social distancing have considerable income implications

Many charities have built up their income generation by renting out their space for things like shared office use, room hire or events. But they are unsure about when people will be allowed (or want) to come back to offices. The demand for meeting space is also likely to be slow to pick up, as many could be reluctant to travel and be involved in any type of gathering for some time.

Others provide services that up until the crisis were delivered face to face, while now there may be a need to move online – again at a cost.

Some practical support to help you:

Many organisations are concerned about legal responsibilities

For example, there is a worry about being open to litigation by someone claiming to have contracted the virus whilst on the charity’s premises (either as a worker or volunteer, or as a service user). The government guidance is also unclear about what the responsibilities are of landlords who let offices, so further details about this issue needs to be published as soon as possible.

Some practical support to help you:

Most services still won’t be possible to deliver if social distancing remains

A huge number of charities reported back that the two-meter social distancing rule will make it simply impossible for them to deliver the majority of their services. Many said they were delivering contracts where the service relies on face to face meetings and events and were unsure if or how these could or would be modified.

From the lack of sufficient space to ensure the required distance is maintained, to the fact that many charities in normal circumstances provide their support to individuals who are now ‘high risk’, charities are facing many challenges while trying to resume their services.

Many are also mindful that – even if social distancing is relaxed – there will be a lot of nervousness about leaving the house, using public transport, and entering public spaces.

They are also concerned about an increasing divide with the people they want to support: lack of access to the internet, and the absence of real human interaction, is having a particularly detrimental effect on people who were already isolated.

Some practical support to help you:

Income and trading activity will be affected for the long term, and remain lower than normal

Many charities told us they are working on the assumption that it won’t be possible to hold any fundraising events or large-scale fundraising until at least the end of the year. Much of their trading also won’t be possible to resume, at least not straight away, because it involves the type of interaction that social distancing will make difficult.

There is also concern about the medium to long term impact that covid-19 will have on the economy, and what this will mean for charities. For example, it is possible that there will be a drop in donations from the public following a rise in unemployment; there will be more competition for grant funding from foundations. Corporate sponsorship and private sector funding will also be squeezed as business struggles to recover.

Some practical support to help you:

Charities want to see the lockdown eased for the benefit of their staff, volunteers and the people they support

Despite the obvious impact the lockdown is having on their activities and income, what was clear from the responses is that charities are primarily concerned about the health and wellbeing of their staff, volunteers and service users.

Being able to provide a better service and improve client outcomes, providing a safe place for people to come together, being able to reach those who couldn’t access services remotely are the priority for charities once the lockdown is lifted.

Some practical support to help you:

What we are doing to help

The clear message we heard from our members is that no charity wants the lockdown to last for longer than it needs to, but it’s also of the utmost importance that the measures stay in place until it’s possible to resume their activities safely and responsibly, with clear guidance from government about the steps they need to take.

The government has established a number of task forces to produce more detailed guidance, but we understand that you need many of your questions answering now. To help answer your questions, we are:

  • working with our Trusted Suppliers and other partner organisations to deliver a series of webinars on key issues. In June, we have webinars on board leadership, accessing funding and financial management, how to make good decisions in tough times, how to build organisational resilience and more. To book go to NCVO’s training platform
  • making past webinars accessible on NCVO Knowhow. Watch previous webinar recordings, download the slides and read updated guidance on topics such as assessing health and safety risks and safeguarding your volunteers
  • regularly updating our coronavirus section on NCVO Knowhow signposting you to the latest help and guidance
  • providing information about upcoming practical support in our regular covid-19 mailings. Sign up to our email subscription list.


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Elizabeth was head of policy and public services at NCVO until 2020.

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