I'm going to try to spend a little time every week writing a weekly blog sharing what I've seen, learned, what we've done and what we still need to do.
There are moments when it doesn’t feel real. And then there are moments where it feels all too real. And it hits you again, the sheer scale of what is happening. When I first started getting involved in conversations about covid19 only a matter of days ago, I couldn’t visualise where it would take us. I probably still can’t. Every day there is something new, something else to take into account but never, never in doubt that we should keep trying.
That is something I have seen in everyone I have spoken to or connected with or, increasingly, been in a conference call with. Despite the fast pace of change, the complexity, the uncertainty, everyone is trying their damndest to help. And everyone is still working out what that is and how to do it. We have to trust ourselves and each other to do our best.
At a time like this I also become very aware of the role Macc can play – just like our sister organisations in 10GM and all across the country and local partners like Young Manchester. As always there’s a moment where literally and mentally you take a deep breath ...but there isn’t time to sit around, you have to get moving. Again, all you can do is your best and trust in yourself and the people around you.
So it has taken me a while to be able to be able to put into words what it is I think we’re aiming for – and although these are my own words, they come from the many conversations and emails and tweets and WhatsApp messages and published statements and whatever other ways other people’s words have got into my head. Here’s what I came up with
- That nobody in Manchester is left without someone checking in with them regularly to ensure they have what they need. That nobody is left behind.
- That the charities, community groups, voluntary organisations and social enterprises sector play their best role in supporting local people and – just as important – are able to resume their work after the crisis ends.
- That the efforts of our charities, public bodies, the private sector and the people of Manchester combine to bring all our communities through the crisis.
I checked it out with colleagues at Macc and it seemed to go OK. Right, that’ll do. I’m not going to try to fiddle with words any more. Like I said, time to get moving. Here’s what we're doing:
- Communications – making sure there is good, clear accessible information available to any group who needs it, in a variety of formats and languages. And keeping it up to date. We’re not there yet. If there’s anything you need which we haven’t got, please tell us. It’s also important that we keep talking to each other, connecting and collaborating. That’s obviously important practically but we also need to support each other through this. Although words like “remote”, “distancing” and “isolation” are now part of everyone’s daily lives, we need to be more connected than ever. One thing you’ll see next week is that we’re starting some online group discussions to help bring people together.
- Planning and Adapting – supporting groups and organisations to get through this period of rapid change quickly, responsibly and safely: to be able to keep doing as much as they can. We’ve done this ourselves. We had a plan to develop our digital capacity over this year so we could reach more people. Like so many others we have had to do that in the space of a few days! We have resources in a new covid19 section on our website to help you think through how you can do this. We’ve stopped our usual capacity building service to focus on this. It’s more important right now. Over the coming weeks we’ll also be providing support around developing bids and identifying funding opportunities.
- Understanding the impact – if we’re going to make a difference, ensure nobody is left behind and support groups to do their best, we need to be listening to what is happening in all kinds of groups, all kinds of communities and on a wide range of issues including older people, rough sleepers, families in poverty – and on the issues for charities in keeping going when fundraising activities aren’t possible, when trading is drying up, when the other services they connect to are changing rapidly too. We not only have to address the risks of covid19, we have to address the consequences of what we need to do to keep everyone safe and well. We’ve already gathered a lot of information and have contributed to some local and national work to assess the impact. We will publish an update on this soon and keep adding to it – and information about how you can feed into this.
- Volunteering – of course at a time like this one of the wonderful things is that people come forward with offers of help. Because of the need not to spread the virus, we need to be clever and creative about how all this is organised. I’ve heard the expression “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” which is true but it’s also a relay race – no one person can cover the full distance here. We have to organise a collective effort. So we have suspended our usual volunteer centre operations to focus on individuals who want to help, support from businesses and organisations, making use of people’s time and capacity – in particular from staff who aren’t able to do their regular job but have skills which could usefully be shared. We’re also working to support the many neighbourhood networks which people have set up to help out in communities. Take a look at our special volunteering page to find out how to contribute and how to register the support you need.
- Influencing and Campaigning – Macc is representing the sector on the city’s covid19 Steering Group which is overseeing Manchester’s response to the crisis. This means we can flag up issues quickly and work with partners – particularly the Council and the local NHS – to address them. We are feeding into national campaigns to get Government support for the charity sector. We also want to have a wider influence – capturing stories of what’s happening, challenging the myths (and outright racism) which are growing up around covid19 and showing the impact of the combined efforts of all these groups and individuals.
- Building collaboration – as always, a key part of our role is to connect, connect, connect. We are prioritising ways to put in place a mass effort to ensure a support network which covers the city where everyone has someone checking in with them and that practical basic needs like food reach the people who need support. Macc’s role isn’t to organise and manage this from the centre – our job is to help make it happen by working with partners, removing barriers, advocating for the needs of the sector, linking it all together.
The entire team at Macc is now working on the covid19 situation. We have closed our office but we are still open for business. We have put all our plans for the year on hold and looked at all our projects and reinvented / repurposed them to focus solely on responding to the crisis for the foreseeable future. Our Board of Trustees agreed this what we need to do right now. We are lucky to have funders who recognise this and agree. We won’t get everything right, we will make mistakes and miss things but I promise you, we will do everything we can and we will do our best. Just like you’re doing.
We all want to say that we can see the incredible effort which is going on around the city right now. The dedication of many people in our sector who are working hard to give hope and help to people who need them more than ever. We can see that, just as it is for us, for every single person working in communities in Manchester this is a cruel situation where the things you would normally want to do to help are the very things you need not to do. There are days when that feels like too much to cope with. We have agreed that it is important to be kind to each other as we all have to cope with a great deal of change, anxiety about family and friends, the future, the strangeness of keeping your distance. We want to encourage everyone to do that – look after yourself and each other.
Above all, we will get through this by working together. If we do that, we can create the biggest act of organised kindness in Manchester’s history.
With love from all of us at Macc