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Research and development COVID-19

“Unrestricted funding allowed us to do what we thought was right”

31 January 2022
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3 min read

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, we set up an emergency fund to support essential community services with equitable funding. We hear from these organisations how the funding helped them support the health of local residents.

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Impact on Urban Health

Across the UK, the pandemic widened health inequalities immeasurably, particularly for people living in cities. It also brought into sharp focus the social and economic factors that influence our health – healthy food, safe homes and good and stable work. In cities like London, people living in crowded housing, forced to use public transport and unable to work from home were more exposed to the virus.

There was a significant knock-on effect on community services like food banks, mental health services and domestic abuse support groups.

Whilst the demand for the services these organisations provide rapidly increased, their donations fell and they were finding it increasingly difficult to access funding quickly enough to cope with the scale of the emergency. There was an unprecedented strain on services’ resources at the time when people needed them most.

The community organisations most affected were those run by and supporting Black, Asian and other minoritised ethnicities, who were already underfunded and had the least amount of money in reserve. Stopping or reducing the services they provide would have had a devastating effect on residents who rely on them, often those who are not historically reached by health services.

Children playing with leaves
Teenage boy playing on an activity course

How did the pandemic affect community services?

Equitable funding to improve health

We created the COVID emergency fund in September 2020 to respond to the strain on local organisations. The £2.6 million fund was designed to enable community organisations to continue to provide essential health services across Lambeth and Southwark.

By listening to community representatives we knew many essential services needed support to survive. Ubele’s research found that above all organisations needed flexibility from funders so grants could be redirected from work that was no longer possible to other areas that had become essential.

Making funding easier to access

The fund was designed to be as flexible and effective as possible. It was unique approach to funding because:

  • We approached organisations: By talking to communities in Lambeth and Southwark, we identified organisations that needed support in order to continue to provide essential health services.
  • We didn’t use application forms: We knew organisations might not have capacity to spend time on application processes or fill out lots of paperwork. So to save time and remove barriers to essential funding, we based applications on conversations and did most of the paperwork ourselves.
  • We didn’t ask for lengthy updates: Instead of asking for long evaluation reports, our portfolio managers scheduled short calls with recipients of emergency funding over the phone. These conversations helped to build relationships and give us better knowledge of what was happening in communities.

This flexible approach meant organisations could quickly address the needs of their service users, manage resources during the pandemic and didn’t have to exist in a state of constant crisis.

As we emerge from the pandemic, unrestricted funding can be a mechanism to help communities level up inequalities and improve people’s health.

Sistah working during the pandemic
Woman on phone at night
Hear from the people who received funding through the COVID-19 emergency fund
Farid Kelekun

Want to know more about our COVID-19 emergency fund?

If you're a funder interested in our experience of unrestricted funding, or an organisation that could benefit from our COVID emergency fund, please get in touch with our Portfolio Manager, Farid.

Contact Farid Kelekun