Some seven months have now passed since the Coronavirus first appeared, causing all our lives to change irrevocably. Often, we are all so busy adapting to our ‘new normal’ that we don’t always have the time to reflect on the great work going on around us. So, the Comms Team thought a Q & A with our Exec Team was in order to shine a light on the breadth of essential work that has continued to be delivered throughout this period.
How has life within St John’s changed since lockdown began?
In some ways, life hasn’t changed too much for us during lockdown and this is mostly on account of our brilliant colleagues who have worked tirelessly to support one another and our beneficiaries. Thanks to their strength and tenacity, we’ve been able to continue our work, albeit remotely, without any adverse impact on the services we deliver. So, while a lot of change has taken place behind the scenes, our ‘Team St John’ culture remains intact.
While delivery of our services has not been impacted, St John’s, as an organisation, has not been left untouched by the impact of Covid-19. Although we are very fortunate to have a strong economic foundation, we have still taken a big knock to our funding sources due to the impact of lockdown on our commercial estate, reducing the rent that we receive and the value of our properties.
We have also had to take a number of restrictive measures within our almshouses to protect our Independent Living Service and residents, which probably weren’t too popular but ensured their continued safety. Similarly, we had to halt all face to face community outreach activities and moved classes online – a first for us! With regard to the wider community, we also expanded the application criteria for our funding programme to benefit even more people.
While we seem, so far, to have been able to weather the Covid storm, we will certainly take a while to fully recover from the knock-on effects of lockdown.
How has the pandemic impacted the people of Bath and North East Somerset?
Within the working adult community, we are seeing the emergence of the ‘new vulnerable’ – people who, just four months ago, were fully employed and living a happy family life, but today, are facing redundancy and crushing debt. It is distressing to see, and we are doing everything we can to support those affected. For example, we recently teamed up with Wessex Water to fund two new roles at the Citizens Advice BaNES (CAB) , which will specifically help families manage their debt and access benefit support. This is the first time this service has been offered in BaNES, and the hope is that CAB will be able to catch people before they fall and prevent them from spiralling into a more desperate situation.
Children and young people have also suffered a great deal. Bath College shared the shocking fact that employment opportunities for young people are rapidly declining, with apprenticeships alone falling by around 60%. This downturn is expected to continue for at least two or three years. In addition, the school attainment gap is expected to have widened significantly as a result of school closures earlier in the year, and it is the vulnerable and disadvantaged children who have suffered the most.
Sadly, it seems the support we offer through our Foundation Fund, specifically the Crisis Programme, is needed now more than ever.
Why is partnership working key to overcoming the challenges created by lockdown?
The pandemic has touched every organisation in Bath and North East Somerset, including charitable/not for profit organisations who have lost vital funding streams and staff, either temporarily or for the long-term. Although we’re facing a great deal of uncertainty, this crisis has given us an opportunity to share learning, expertise and resource across all sectors. It’s going to be a learning curve, but everyone we have spoken to over the last few months is willing to get involved and help in any way they can. We’ve seen the evidence all around us of how possible it is to change our community for the better, simply by working together:
The Compassionate Community Hub, which is run by Virgin Care, BaNES 3S and BaNES Council, is a wonderfully inspiring example of collaborative working that has come about as a direct result of lockdown. The Hub came together in a matter of days and demonstrates just what can be achieved when organisations work in partnership.
St John’s is also part of the Economic Recovery and Renewal Partnership, an initiative that has brought together business, education and council leaders to support recovery from the pandemic and help shape a new economic vision for BaNES. The Partnership is already beginning to set out some really positive and exciting goals, including decreasing our region’s dependence on tourism; making BaNES more attractive to businesses; up-skilling young people; embedding environmental sustainability and, most importantly, removing the inequality that exists in our region.
What does this new future hold for St John’s?
Our overwhelming conclusion is that we must hold steady and remain true to our ambition, namely to build a community where every child from birth to 12 years is supported to grow into a healthy, happy and educated member of the community.
To ensure we can deliver targeted and focussed support through the programmes within our Foundation Fund, we are working closely with education and children’s services leaders from across Bath and North East Somerset. We recently held a meeting with 20 members of the local education community to better understand the challenges facing schools as a result of Covid-19. We heard how mental health support is increasingly in demand, along with more resource to support with basic reading, writing and numeracy, particularly for vulnerable children.
Although we are deeply concerned by the devastating and widespread impact the pandemic is having on our community, St John’s alone cannot be everything to everyone or attempt to fix every social issue in BaNES. Rather, we will seek to work in partnership with the many remarkable charities already active in our region, to build on what they are already doing, while continuing to offer our funding support to all who need it.