The reaction to the economic impact of the Covid-19 response in the charities sector has been largely as you’d expect from a shock of such magnitude, with some parallels to the grieving process. As a funder, we’ve tried to be that friend who can provide help without burdening those struggling through an unimaginably difficult time. We’ve probably erred on the side of “call us if you need anything”, but then our strategy, which is to fund others to do work and then use the results to effect systemic change, requires us to be generalists rather than experts.
When the lockdown happened, as a team who routinely works from home one or two days a week, our Forces in Mind Trust staff of 10 was well prepared. But it has struck me how having everyone working from home at once, combined with the same for everyone else we interact with, has led to communicating taking up most of the day. Which leaves little time for actually doing stuff, and less for thinking, and barely any for dog walking.
This shouldn’t really have come as a surprise – the second half of my RAF career spanning 35 years was spent not flying, but commanding, often from a bunker or a tent. Some days were simply a constant procession of meetings, virtual or otherwise, and only at 10pm did you get around to reading that report, making that longer-term plan, or writing that decisive instruction.
And I know it’s stretching the analogy, but at FiMT we probably suffer a little from ‘survivor’s guilt’. Being a Lottery-endowed spend out Trust, who doesn’t fund raise, the impact of Covid-19 on our staff has been limited – extended working from home and a possible earlier-than-planned closure if our stock market investments don’t recover.
Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, we have been in touch with all our grant holders. A few are unaffected. Some have asked for time extensions for their projects, which is a no brainer. Some will need more funding to deliver against their original programme, and by working closely with my Trustees, we’re able to agree that in short order. For some projects which were nearing their end, we have brought forward final payments to help with cash flow; and for those launches we had planned, we’re applying a mixture of delay, and launch in a different way, such as a webinar.
More interesting are the projects that want to adapt.
- Our Clore Emerging Leaders Programme for Armed Forces charities, about to start its third iteration, is re-purposing its grant to develop and pilot a different type of programme, ideally to achieve the same results. This new approach should enhance leadership development across all of Clore’s (and other’s) activities.
- In Scotland, our trial of on-line mentoring with TimeBank for veterans experiencing difficulties has been extended to replace traditional face-to-face services, at very modest additional cost.
- We’ve had a relationship with the Directory of Social Change for over seven years and they’ve delivered some of our most influential work through the ArmedForceCharities Their knowledge of the inner working of our sector is unparalleled, and fiercely independent. When Cobseo, the Confederation of Service Charities, needed information on the financial impact of Covid-19, we were able quickly to produce insightful and accurate data and analysis.
- Our Research Centre at Anglia Ruskin University hasn’t been idle after the disappointment of postponing its annual conference, and has been collaborating on developing an archive of veterans’ stories which will be invaluable in resetting public perceptions of what wider contribution the Armed Forces Community makes to society.
I would argue though that the biggest contribution we can make to the country is to stand back from the immediate and look ahead – around the corner, up the stairs and out through the window.
Our mission, to enable successful and sustainable transition from military to civilian life hasn’t changed. Neither has our strategy. But the environment within which we will be operating most certainly has.
The charities sector; local authorities; the public; all will look very different. Needs will change, and so will the means with which they are met. Will the Armed Forces Covenant survive in its current form? Who would argue that a soldier with two years’ national service in the 1950s is more deserving than an intensive care nurse, veteran of Covid-19?
To reach this destination will be a journey that probably has some way to go down before beginning its rise up – with plenty of dips in between. Coming out of lockdown and losing some of that national unity, and then the gradual removal of emergency powers within the Coronavirus Bill, which has provided protection for tenants, employers and employees, will quite possibly be more challenging than anything we’ve faced so far.
Our contribution is to look for important and impactful work. We are continuing to award grants where we believe this to be the case, and will shortly announce the latest batch, some of which were made before the extent of the pandemic was known. We are not about to give up the capability to make systemic changes by spending our limited funds on current and direct service delivery. Others are better placed to do this, and they in turn lack the capability to conduct the futures work that we can.
But we’re not ignoring the here and now, and as a permanent member of its Executive Committee, we’re at the heart of Cobseo’s work. We’ve augmented its communications capability to assist the whole membership, ensured that its Headquarters is well informed as it lobbies for better Government support, and are looking out through the Covid-19 fog to see what the landscape looks like beyond – and to help prepare the sector for it.
Looking ahead, working collaboratively, supporting others. Persuading, convening. Cajoling. This is what we’re good at, and this is how we’re going to help the Armed Forces Community through Covid-19.
Forces in Mind Trust response to Covid-19 – update 1