Communities Can Conference 2021: a successful day of sparking conversations and recognising collaborations with communities across the UK
Celebrating the dedication of the voluntary and charitable sector
The past 12 months have caused uncertainty within communities worldwide, but one thing that has remained a constant is the commitment of community organisations, charities, and funders to find innovative ways to continually offer support to the communities they serve.
Communities Can was set up to share experiences from the last year, from a range of organisations across the country. The aims of the conference were to help share learning from the COVID-19 crisis and to do this at scale, whilst providing a platform for organisations to connect – albeit virtually. We heard from 38 different speakers, including Baroness Barran, Minister for Civil Society, who delivered a reflective and inspiring keynote speech. She spoke of her appreciation for the services that continued to support vulnerable groups throughout the pandemic and acknowledged the poignant anniversary for the nation as Government continues its vaccine rollout scheme.
Ahead of the event, Baroness Barran, Minister for Civil Society, tweeted: “After an extraordinary year, I just wanted to thank the many charities and social enterprises who have done so much to respond to the needs of their communities. And the millions of volunteers who have quietly just helped, and helped and helped again.”
We were treated to diverse panels discussing a range of topics, sparking so much conversation that #CommunitiesCan trended UK-wide on Twitter. Out of the 1,240 people who registered their interest, over 720 people attended and shared more than 1,200 messages with each other. The capacity this online platform provided people to connect was apparent in the spontaneous conversations that ensued as the day evolved.
Amelia and Shannon, from our Young People in the Lead advisory panel, reflect on their session
“Along with Serena, Kim, Kimberley and Jemimah, we had the amazing opportunity to explore the passions and priorities of our generation - including mental health, employment and the environment - and how the pandemic has amplified these challenges faced by young people today.
“Despite these challenges, our panel discussed the overwhelming positivity felt amongst young people, and our enthusiasm to play a key part in building a successful future post-COVID-19.
“Our panel discussed how youth empowerment will be a fundamental part in driving change and how this will create a positive impact across all communities. Our session concluded with exploring how organisations can listen, empower and involve young people today, and as we enter the ‘new normal’.”
Maggie Jones, Vice Chair of our England Committee, on the unequal impact of COVID-19 on communities
“Our panel had an insightful conversation on the devastating affects the pandemic has had on some communities more than others. We discussed key issues from youth unemployment to how shielding, older people and those with disabilities and health conditions have experienced isolation like never before.
“We spoke about how the past year has spotlighted the issues that black, Asian and ethnic minority communities face every day, and the health inequalities they have experienced during the pandemic.
“Looking at the charitable sector, we know it’s not as diverse and representative as it could be. Our key takeaways were the importance of ensuring the communities facing challenges are involved in creating the solutions and listening to communities about what they need is key.”
Nick Gardner, Head of Climate Action, summarises discussions on rebuilding our planet
“Five speakers took us on a tour of the UK to showcase how communities are responding to the environmental crisis. We discussed the importance of engaging everyone in the climate discussion, particularly those who have been furthest from it to date. We identified how closely related environmental issues are with other social challenges, and how simply spending time outdoors can encourage pro-environmental behaviours.
“Delegates were encouraged to ‘dream big’, work in collaboration and take holistic approaches, including the importance of training and re-skilling, and of not side-lining the important issue of environment-related mental health.
“Before the session, only 15% of attendees thought they were ‘very aware’ of what communities can do to tackle the climate crisis, skyrocketing to almost 50% after hearing about the speakers’ inspirational projects. One audience member said: ‘It’s lovely to hear what is being done, rather than endless talking and doing nothing’.”
Danielle Walker-Palmour, one of our Board members, chairing the session on ‘how funders can help to build a better future for communities?’
“Key funders contributing to a range of community organisations across sectors came together to discuss what we’ve learned during the pandemic. We celebrated that funders had stepped up in response to COVID-19, with 88% of delegates sharing this view. It was recognised that funders had adapted quickly to provide emergency funding, but it was evident from attendees’ comments that grants for longer-term core costs are still heavily needed.
“Inequalities within funding were discussed, where the Phoenix Fund was praised after being launched by the Fund and Global Fund for Children during the COVID-19 crisis, with the sole aim of supporting black, Asian and ethnic minority communities in England.
“However, it was highlighted that many communities who experience inequalities found the pandemic presented new challenges to sometimes less developed sector infrastructure to support their efforts - a lot still could be done by funders to address the needs of these community groups regarding grant-making.”
How will communities rebuild post COVID-19?
Baroness Barran also joined our panel of experts to discuss the upcoming challenges faced by communities and ways the sector can provide bespoke support to different groups post-pandemic.
We explored the notion of difference as well as commonalities in communities. Discussions centred around the importance of recognising geographical nuance within localities and amongst networks in communities – with thought about how best to engage with a wide range of people who make up the communities we live in. . Ndidi Okezie, CEO of UK Youth, summarised this in the context of engagement with young people: ‘We have to work to translate how young people think and communicate. We shouldn’t expect them to fit into our process. We need to engage with young people on a more equal footing.’
Ultimately, we established that the sector should try new approaches and we shouldn’t feel pressured to go back to how we worked pre-pandemic.”
A long-lasting impact
These were just some of the positive comments received from delegates after a jam-packed day of meaningful conversations:
“It’s been amazing to interact with people from all over - so reassuring to see others feel the same.”
“Thank you to all those involved in delivering such a useful and thought-provoking event.”
“What an interesting and informative day. Thanks to all involved.”
Thanks to the engaging and insightful speakers, the hardworking team behind the scenes and the valuable input from attendees, the day was a great success, even if we did have a few technical difficulties -the general consensus was that it wouldn’t be a virtual conference without some!
Read more about the conference on our Communities Can webpage.