Leadership from Digital Fund grantees in unprecedented change
Phoebe Tickell, Digital Portfolio Officer at The National Lottery Community Fund discusses how moving into the digital sphere has helped charities and community organisations to act and adapt quickly to the challenges of COVID-19 & the lockdown.
In a week where everything changed. And with our sector, along with the rest of the economy, under tremendous pressure, we wanted to use this week’s Weeknotes to showcase a few examples of our grantees’ leadership, resilience and vision in the midst of the immense challenges posed by COVID-19 to our entire society.
Some grantees in our cohort have been well-placed to quickly adapt to home-working and moving their services and operations online. Remarkably, some have even started to use their digital capacity to develop new approaches to support vulnerable people and communities — placing themselves at the forefront of the organic, grassroots responses we’re seeing across the UK.
Adapting to challenges rapidly
GoodGym has rapidly adapted to various challenges vulnerable people and communities now face, harnessing their digital expertise and capacity and using the energy of its membership and volunteer base to create bespoke solutions. In less than a week, it has pivoted its online platform — which was previously focused on connecting runners in person to deliver community “missions” face-to-face — to streamline hyperlocal networks of community support and mutual aid.
“Missions will now focus on safe food delivery to isolated people who are most in need during the coronavirus outbreak and supporting hospital discharge teams,” said Ivo Gormley (pictured above), CEO at GoodGym, “community missions will focus on supporting the organisations that provide essential support to services, including the health and care systems and food banks.”
“The Digital Fund has allowed us to have our tech team in place to be able to make this work — without it we wouldn’t have been able to adapt our platform to cope with the virus. We’re looking forward to starting this work on Monday.”
Ben Collins from Relate told us: “We took the decision to stop face-to-face counselling on Monday evening. Since then we’ve been working to scale that back and scale up delivery via webcam and telephone.”
Rather than causing issues with some staff who may not be familiar with the new platforms and the increased use of tech, there was a significant culture shift within the organisation.
“The response from the workforce has been amazing — from a great deal of scepticism about this “digital” thing — the catch all phrase for anything not face to face, people have embraced the new training and guidance pulled together in a matter of days and have started to deliver in the new mediums. Both practitioners and clients have given good feedback.”
Using tech to anticipate
Many of our grantees have reported that this last week accelerated the adoption of digital tools and new ways of working on a massive scale. For many of the grantholders of the Digital Fund, this has built on months of laying foundations and in some cases, total re-design of their organisations.
Open Food Network (OFN) has been able to use tech to both anticipate, and adapt to, the challenges posed by COVID-19. OFN is an online distribution system looking to revolutionise the way food distribution happens, and put power back in the hands of local farmers.
“Embracing digital has enabled us to be ahead of the curve in this situation,” said Lynne Davis, CEO at OFN, “We had a global check in last Tuesday. International partners were urging us to mobilise and understand the scale of what’s going on.”
Staff at OFN then used the weekend (14–15 March) to prepare webinars in order to co-ordinate and engage with their communities during the crisis. They’re also able to tap into their global network to evaluate models that partners are using in countries where COVID-19 is more advanced, in anticipation of further challenges in the UK. Lynne told us that OFN had experienced a surge in demand 50% higher than their most popular week over Christmas last year.
Embracing tech and being part of digital eco-systems ensured that Open Food Network has been able to adapt quickly — and to prepare for future challenges in the short and medium term.
“We were able to respond so quickly because so much was already online — we were well networked. One of the great things about the digital cohort is that we already felt flexibility to act.”
Being in it together
Digital Fund grantees have been sharing tips, stories and peer to peer support on our grantholder, Slack. On Wednesday we opened a new channel called “COVID-19-support” and the response from grantholders stepping in to help each other and share useful resources in this time has been phenomenal.
Many of the grantholders we spoke with this week talked about how much having a community of other organisations in a similar boat was providing them with a sense of “being in it together” and a community they can talk to. We will be speaking with more of our grantees next week who have also been navigating this complex, uncertain time and the leadership involved in that.
Thank you to my colleague Rich Dawson from our Strategic Communications team with whom I co-wrote this article.
We’re bringing together what we're learning from our grantholders about their response to the coronavirus pandemic. Visit our COVID-19 Insights page for the latest information.