Collaboration, the wall and a ton of brie

Hollie McKee and Muireann Montague review November’s In Conversation event for members

Critical collaboration

In our first ever members’ In Conversation event with Karl Wilding, we discussed covid-19 as a catalyst for change for national and local collaboration.

We were joined by Jehangir Malik of the British Red Cross, who directs the influential VCS Emergency Partnership, a national collaboration within the sector, borne from the terrorist and disaster events of 2017. He recalled, ‘I saw awful responses from national organisations to Grenfell, and this has informed how we have worked. Now, these organisations have done a complete 180.’

Key to this, Jehangir suggests, is the united effort of national voluntary organisations to maintain a front-door connection to government. He resolved, ‘We want to keep pushing for the importance of volunteering and a two-way communication between government and sector.’

Age UK Sutton’s Nicola Upton agreed that in this year of crisis, local government had ‘rediscovered’ the sector. ‘Local relationships are in the spotlight now,’ Nicola said, and although her organisation was able to quickly build on established relationships, she argued, ‘we sometimes suffer from our own inability to talk about the sophistication and complexity of what we can deliver on.’

Despite this, 2020 has brought many local organisations live insight into how strategy manifests itself in times of crisis. These ever-changing circumstances are eroding barriers, and perhaps this refined collaboration has the potential to change everything for national and local partnership. Nicola said, ‘As a small, local charity, we have a unique position: real, lived experience on the ground but now also at the strategy table.’

The covid wall

Karl reflected on the ‘six-month-wall’ now long passed, where inevitably our spirits dwindle and relentless responding takes its toll. Jehangir added that he had never experienced an ‘emergency’ for such a long period of time. His primary concern is fatigue and the toll on mental health and wellbeing – particularly for frontline staff.

Standing on the wall and looking to the future, Jehangir identified three more concerns: stamina, visibility and resources. With the demand on services ever increasing he suggested, ‘we need to design a system that paces us.’

Optimism overruled this daunting task and participants acknowledged a new cross-sector ecosystem: layers of national and local level collaboration, centred around beneficiary needs and redefining the actors in emergency responding.

…and a ton of brie

The beating heart of the voluntary sector remains the inherent goodness of citizens who show up – often in unexpected ways. Many shared stories of new friendships with the public and small businesses, and the ripple effect that followed. For Nicola’s local organisation, this appeared in unexpected donations of beef joints and a (not literal) ‘ton of brie!’

RSPB’s Rob George cautioned that this ‘new normal’ will be continually changing. He said, ‘as supply changes there will be new harms. We need to think carefully about what we want to advocate.’

Eight months of crisis and counting, Jehangir recognised, ‘The human spirit, through this new way of connectivity has given me a huge amount of confidence.’  Nicola concluded that the drama and crisis of this year have visibly demonstrated how critical our sector is to our society.

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Hollie is the Senior Membership Officer at NCVO and leads on supporting the membership journey of our 14,000 members. Her priority is listening to members and connecting them with the networks and practical resources they need. She has a background in PR and membership, working with both grassroots and large charities throughout the country.

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