The findings of this far-reaching research into the impact of Covid-19 on the Third Sector are stark. There’s no question the pandemic has been a painful and hugely challenging experience for voluntary organisations across Scotland. But we’ve also seen charities at their very best – swiftly adapting to unprecedented change and doing whatever it takes to support communities in need – and the research indicates that, amidst the hardship, Covid-19 has highlighted important opportunities for learning that must be captured and shared.
When this awful pandemic struck back in March, many organisations doing crucial work within communities were simply forced to shut up shop. Some funding streams began to quickly dissipate too. When faced with such a quandary, Scotland’s Third Sector didn’t wait around and nurse its wounds. Instead, it diversified – and fast. We saw organisations step up to the challenge and develop innovative solutions at a grassroots level.
In this report we hear from charities that, in normal times, offer face-to-face counselling and therapy services, but have instead focused their attention in recent months on delivering basic food parcels to families in desperate need of them. This is the kind of quick-thinking and adaptability that has made the Third Sector such a critical force throughout the pandemic. The sector’s efforts should not only be recognised, but lauded – and its ability to respond to extraordinary crises like Covid-19 should not go underestimated or ignored in the future. Disappointingly, the research suggests that most organisations feel their above-and-beyond work this year has not been sufficiently valued. That’s something that needs to change – and a greater understanding of the Third Sector’s capabilities is one of 16 vital recommendations made in this report.
Another recommendation is that the constructive relationship fostered between the Third Sector and statutory sector during the pandemic continues to strengthen and evolve. The Third Sector eagerly stepped in when local authorities became overstretched, and the collaborative working between the two sectors has been one of the great positives to come out of this crisis. Post-Covid, the Third Sector still very much requires a seat at the table, and clarity and support from the public sector will be more important than ever for charities as they start to rebuild.
For all its tremendous efforts, the Third Sector is undoubtedly facing an uncertain future. Charities are anxious that smaller organisations are going to be driven out by their larger counterparts; corporate support is going to dwindle; and, fundamentally, an increasing demand on the services of the voluntary sector will coincide with a continued reduction in funding. These are all valid concerns, and ones that we must overcome in order to move forward and cultivate a thriving Third Sector.
I hope the lessons learned from this report will help us go some way to achieving that.
Baroness Ford, STV Children’s Appeal Chair.