A new report published today by People’s Health Trust highlights the risk of a collapse in the workforce that has been brewing since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic when grassroots VCS organisations found themselves on the frontline providing direct support to their communities. Demand has continued to rise, primarily due to increased mental health needs, financial insecurity, and other pandemic-related impacts including “extreme social isolation”.
The report, which is based on data gathered from grassroots VCS organisations between April 2020 and February 2022, reveals heightened concern about the level of mental health support which VCS organisations are now having to offer, with organisations identifying this as their biggest challenge ahead (97% in April 2021 and 90% in November 2021).
The vital work being carried out by these groups has largely gone unnoticed, and the rise in demand and pressure on organisations and their staff, leaves organisations vulnerable to reductions and closure. One grassroots VCS leader described ‘compassion fatigue’ and in February 2022, 82% of survey respondents were worried about staff burnout in the coming six months.
Despite the increase in people turning to grassroots VCS organisations for support with their mental health, survey responses revealed that many workers had little or no mental health training.
None of us were prepared to Covid-19. We were dealing with high demand from people contemplating suicide, experiencing panic attacks and generally feeling trapped. We were on the phone or zoom or facetime all the time. It was constant. It was tough. We had each other but there was nobody to help us.
Toby Gorniak OBE
Creative Director, Street Factory
Toby Gorniak OBE , Creative Director of Street Factory in Plymouth described his experiences of running a small organisation during the pandemic:
“None of us were prepared to Covid-19. We were dealing with high demand from people contemplating suicide, experiencing panic attacks and generally feeling trapped. The workload was really high and it was very difficult for us. At the beginning of the pandemic there were just two of us delivering all the work. We literally worked seven days a week. We were on the phone or zoom or facetime all the time. It was constant. It was tough. We had each other but there was nobody to help us.”
Marcia Ash, co-facilitator and psychotherapist at Pride in Mind , a social and support which works in Newcastle upon Tyne, Gateshead and Sunderland had similar experiences and said:
“When the Covid-19 pandemic hit I took on a lot more work than I usually do within the organisation. It’s been even harder for our group because participants’ usual meet up places have closed, a lot of the LGBTQ+ scene is based around socialising and people have had nowhere to go. All of this is a lot of added pressure on voluntary workers. People that work in this sector are passionate about it and want to help but we need resources, training, and support to be able to do so.”
Reflecting on the findings of the research, People’s Health Trust CEO, John Hume, said:
“The risk to the mental health of the voluntary sector workers poses a huge problem for communities and statutory services. Grassroots organisations are doing amazing work which has been largely been overlooked throughout the pandemic but it will soon become clear how much they do if we let this crisis worsen and their services cannot continue.
Staff and volunteers have supported people in their final moments, have been the only friend to isolated people during the lockdown, have provided emergency financial aid and food parcels, and have listened day in day out to the grief and despair felt by people over the past two years.”
People’s Health Trust is calling for urgent intervention to prevent the breakdown of frontline community support services. The Trust is recommending the development of a co-ordinated strategy to support grassroots VCS workers as a matter of urgency to ensure community groups can continue providing essential support to their communities.