COVID-19 has given rise to a range of challenges for communities across the country – challenges that Big Local areas have been responding to with the help of local knowledge and existing support networks. Here, Lisa-Marie Giquel from our research team takes a closer look at how three Big Local areas have been offering extra financial support to meet local need.
During lockdown, Big Local areas have worked hard (and fast) to help support their community with accessing food, staying connected digitally and alleviating loneliness – to name a few. But as the financial impact of the pandemic unfolds and more people face reduced incomes, lost jobs and increased financial uncertainty, they have also stepped forward to offer financial assistance to residents.
One of the ways in which areas have done this is by creating their own “hardship funds” using Big Local funding and aimed at supporting local residents facing financial struggles due to the pandemic. I contacted residents from Leecliffe (Leeming and Aycliffe) in Borehamwood, Somers Town Big Local in London, and S018 Big Local to find out how they got their hardship funds up and running.
In order to quickly respond to the growing need for financial support, Somers Town adapted the budget for their existing community chest and set aside £25,000 for a new COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund for residents experiencing increased costs and reduced incomes. They also went into partnership with a local partner to set up a COVID-19 Community Fund specifically for community organisations and groups, allocating £10,000 from their community chest budget for this. Residents complete an application form to say why they need it, what they will use it for and who it will benefit, which is then reviewed.
They created a flyer promoting the fund, which they shared on social media, through their mailing lists and distributed across local community organisations. To help ensure the application process is as accessible as possible, residents have the option to write, audio record or video their application for support.
Leecliffe identified gaps in support for volunteers and residents through their relationship with the local council, and created two new funding pots, administered through their local CVS (Council for Voluntary Service). The Leecliffe Hardship Fund offers up to £100 for individuals, couples or families to cover essentials such as food, prescriptions and small household items. Any items needed are then bought and delivered to people directly.
The second fund, also administered by the CVS, is specifically to support local volunteers and covers the cost of expenses, such as travel so they can continue to support the local community at such an important time. Both funds are promoted through the Big Local and CVS networks.
Through their relationship with the Southampton Advice and Representation Centre (SARC), SO18 realised some residents accessing the service might need extra support. As a result, they set up a Helping Hand Emergency Fund with SARC.
The fund covers shopping vouchers for their local supermarket (£25 for a family and £10-15 for an individual), as well as funding for pre-paid utility and mobile phone top-ups. There isn’t an application form to complete; Big Local trusts SARC to identify who needs the support based on their knowledge and expertise. For the food vouchers, SARC contact Big Local when they identify someone in need of a voucher- Big Local then purchase and distribute this to them.
What has the response been?
Take up for the different funds has been mixed. Leecliffe found they weren’t getting as many applications to their fund as expected, so have been working with their CVS to promote it locally to residents. S018 have received a “steady trickle” of interested in theirs. Somers Town, by contrast, have received far more applications than they were expecting and are currently working to support as many residents as they can.
What can other Big Local areas learn from their experience?
Melek, Kim and Donna have offered the following advice for areas who might be interested in setting up their own hardship fund:
It’s easier and faster to work from an existing Big Local system or set up, whereas starting something from scratch will require more work and input from volunteers or workers (e.g. application creating and setting up any application processes)
It’s good to set aside a small amount of funding first- this can be increased later if you need
Have people ready to make decisions about applications and to discuss them
Be prepared for a lot of applicants
Keep it simple!
Review how it’s working and make changes in response to what you’re learning.
If your Big Local area is interested in setting up its own hardship fund and would like some advice, you can talk to your Big Local rep, take a look at our funding FAQs on Plans and finding flexibility during COVID-19 or post a message on Workplace to ask how other areas have done it.
Read more about how Big Local areas have been responding to COVID-19.