A visit from Helen Killingley, Director of Operations at the National Emergencies Trust, to run a workshop with us here earlier in March, reminded us of times when a national call to action took a spectacular turn. 

Our memories of delivering Covid-19 funds (and for those of us with longer memories in the community foundation, the Foot & Mouth crisis) are strangely mixed. They were extraordinarily difficult times for our community, but there was a real sense of purpose and achievement in how everyone responded.

We awarded more than £1.5m in grants of the Trust’s £100 million Coronavirus Appeal, which supported more than 416,000 people, or 307 projects across the county. 

The workshop prompted us to consider how we might respond to a crisis that again changed the very function of how communities operate and survive. It’s a measure of how we feel we coped with the last, that all the team felt they could answer that call to action. Excitement, even.

Open, collaborative, responsive

During Covid-19, we changed how we worked. Our grant-making needed to be swift and easy to access while remaining fit for purpose. It meant that online platforms were essential for the team to keep in communication with each other remotely. In fact, we’ve never returned to a paper-based or indeed a full-time office-based operation; our embracing of Teams as an open, collaborative digital workspace has continued. 

More recently in the North East, we had localised emergencies where storms cut the connections between people and services. Again, we stepped in to support and fund services that help people survive such crises. We were confident (maybe complacent) that we could do so again and had built relationships with the local resilience teams that helped.

But Helen’s workshop brought us down to earth and reminded us that while our emergency responses were effective at the time, being prepared for the next– whenever that may arrive – was essential. A clear response plan is key as we could be called on as a Community Foundation within hours of an incident arising.   

Preparing for the future

Consolidating our ideas from the workshop, along with the experience of grant-making in crises, we’ve been putting together an ‘off the shelf’ emergency response kit for that next time, using our digital platform idea to create our ‘emergency response’. It sits neatly in our online resource channel – it should be noted that the resource channel is very well used already as it covers everything from good grant-making guides to sausage butty orders for the team on office Thursdays.

Our ‘how to’ guide of grant-making in and for emergencies involves:

Scheduling

  • Who in the Team will lead on what, where and why,
  • When to contact external agencies,
  • Protocols for setting up a funding programme, grant panel, and the financial distribution of grant payments quickly, safely, and effectively.

Communications

  • Social media log-in details – remember how important social media became during various crises, but we realised that not all of us had the log-in details if our Comms person was unavailable,
  • Non-digital comms approach – online media is great, but we recognised we have a high level of people ‘offline’ who can not be left behind,
  • Press and media contacts on-hand to get the message out quickly,
  • A signposting section to guide applicants to other areas of support.

Partnerships

  • Sharing resources and communications with public sector and infrastructure organisations to make sure that the support we provide is as seamless as it can be for people in crisis,
  • Contacting communities – deploying our knowledge of key organisations and people to make those essential connections,
  • Preparing the decision makers to be ready to press the button.

There’s more to add. The idea is that the resource grows with us as we learn from our experience and that it connects partners to shift resources when and where they’re needed. 

We’re working towards ensuring we’re visible as an emergency service during crises. So, eventually—hopefully—when a local emergency hits and the shout goes out, “Who are you gonna call?” The answer will be “County Durham Community Foundation.”