Message from Pam Webb, CEO Voluntary Action Swindon
As we all work together in these unusual times to support the residents of Swindon, I’m delighted to introduce two new faces to VAS and at the same time to thank and bid a fond farewell and wish all the very best to Andrea Barrett who leaves us next Thursday to take up a new post with a Mental Health charity in Newbury closer to where she lives.
Joining us on 2nd June as Inclusion and Collaboration Development Manager, is Jol Rose . Jol moves from his current role of development officer at Wiltshire Council where he has been providing support to the small business/social enterprise sector. Prior to this Jol’s career has included working in service provision in the NHS, the voluntary sector and being self employed. Jol has also volunteered for Oxfam and currently volunteers for the Swindon City of Sanctuary charity, organising the weekly drop in café supporting refugees and asylum seekers to meet each other and other communities. Jol is really looking forward to using his range of skills in an area he is passionate about and will be leading our equality work and supporting collaboration across the sector.
Joining us on the 8th June, to replace Andrea as Funding and Governance Development Manager is Carol Willis. Carol has spent the two years as Portfolio Manager for Healthwatch Swindon and Healthwatch B&NES, where her role has involved ensuring a public voice to local partners and stakeholders to influence the commissioning of health and social care including chairing the Engagement Safeguarding Board. Previously she has worked in Adult and Community Education, Swindon Colleges and Swindon Borough Council. Having written successful funding bids herself and engaged with many a Board, Carol is looking forward to combining her range of skills with her passion for the voluntary sector. We’ve also moved this to a full time role in anticipation of the funding and government needs of the sector going forward into the post COVID recovery phase.
I’m delighted to welcome Jol and Carol to strengthen the capacity and knowledge at VAS at a time when our support to the Swindon Voluntary Sector as well as our work to ensure that Swindon remains a welcoming and inclusive town has never been more critical #NEVERMORENEEDED.
The whole team at VAS looks forward to working with you all to ensure that, together, we can provide the best possible support to those that need it most in our local community as we work through and beyond the current COVID-19 Pandemic.
If you have ever visited TWIGS Community Gardens on the Cheney Manor Estate in Swindon, you will have experienced the inspiration, peace and tranquillity that has benefitted thousands of people over the past 21 years.
TWIGS offers opportunities for people experiencing mental health issues, to regain confidence and self- esteem through learning new skills and participating in gardening and other therapeutic activities – and they are not giving up now!!!
Social distancing requirements prevent the 60 plus, current service users, from attending TWIGS to participate in a wide variety of gardening and craft activities. A skeleton staff team have been doing what they can to maintain the gardens and the contents of the polytunnels, caring for and feeding the chickens (and collecting the eggs!) and maintaining the fish pond and its residents.
“We had been sharing our thoughts on how we could maintain contact with, and support the people currently registered with the project. Supportive telephone calls were a starting point”, said Alan Holland who has been Manager of TWIGS for the past 21 years. “Then we thought of all the plants our service users and volunteers had been growing and nurturing in the polytunnels, to be used both at TWIGS gardens and to sell to the hundreds of visitors who attend our open days and special events, and the idea of putting together gardening packs emerged”.
Having contacted all the service users/people currently registered with the project, the staff and volunteers at TWIGS put together over 40 gardening packs containing plants, seeds , compost , pots , sweet peas and willow to climb them up. These kits have then been delivered to the homes of all the people expressing interest in the idea.
“Everyone we have delivered to has really appreciated their packs which we hope will continue to give pleasure and satisfaction over the coming weeks/months and help maintain a supportive link with the project” continued Alan.
“Our concern for people with mental health issues is at the forefront of all our work and, together with our colleagues at The Olive Tree Café and the Pinecones Café – all part of the same, local charity , The Recovery Tree Charity , and working towards the same end – we are determined to ensure that we do whatever we can under the present circumstances, and that our services will continue to be available, whenever we are free to offer them once again. We look forward hopefully to the day we can all garden together again in the beautiful gardens on Cheney Manor”.
Are you motivated to improve health and social care? Do you have a track record of developing and support volunteers?
Healthwatch Swindon, hosted at The Care Forum, is recruiting for Volunteer Support Officer.
The post is 26 hours per week, £22911 – £26317 pro rata (NJC 15-22)
Fixed term until end March 2021
The closing date for applications is 12 noon, Thursday 7 May 2020. Interviews will be held on Thursday 14 May using video calling.
All applicants are reminded that applications are most likely to be successful if they are written clearly to align with the numbered points in the job description.
Main tasks include:
Develop a team of volunteers with a variety of strengths, knowledge and skills to grow and lead the Healthwatch project
Support the volunteers to contribute to programmes or pieces of work which deliver against the Healthwatch Swindon contract specification
Extend and diversify the reach of volunteer recruitment, and work to motivate and retain recruited volunteers
The Care Forum is a strongly committed to equal opportunities and welcome applications from all members of the community. The Care Form does NOT accept CVs. This post is subject to enhanced DBS and right to work checks.
Care Home Volunteers Befriending Now Being Delivered by Post
Despite the majority of Care Homes now being closed to visitors, Care Home Volunteers’ (CHV) amazing befrienders are still managing to keep in touch with residents by writing cards and postcards, bringing much cheer, news and continued contact.
CHV volunteers usually spend one-to-one time visiting the most socially isolated residents in local care homes, offering companionship, chatting, sharing interests and making a difference to their day. In some cases the resident may have no other visitors.
Dawn regularly volunteers at a local care home. “I usually visit several residents but as I can’t at the moment, I thought that I would send them a CHV greeting card to brighten their day instead’.
Norman Edwards, Chair of Care Home Volunteers, said, “Staff in care homes are doing an amazing job of continuing to provide a fantastic service to those in their care. With staff now under increasing pressure, knowing that the residents have this contact has meant a great deal.”
One local care home manager reflected that, “This lovely gesture has really lifted the spirits of our residents and staff, many of whom are very isolated by the current situation. It’s really heartening to know that others are thinking about us, even though they are probably isolated and missing contact with loved ones of their own. It’s so lovely to see communities coming together again to support each other in these very difficult times.”
Jeni Burchell, Volunteer Coordinator for Swindon, says, “As soon as we heard that care homes were likely to have to close their doors to visitors we started to think about other ways CHV volunteers could stay in touch with the people that they normally visit, so we had some special greetings cards printed for them to send. Writing is such a lovely gesture, as the residents who receive the cards know that someone cares and is thinking about them plus they feel more connected to the outside world. Also, volunteers have really missed the contact they have with the residents they visit and are really enjoying keeping in touch in this way. For some of our volunteers this has become a family affair, we have even had volunteers’ children send in pictures, which in no small way brings cheer to the residents.”
Effective Governance During Periods of Unprecedented Change
Trustees remain fully accountable for the charity they govern, its staff, volunteers and beneficiaries through a time of crisis. At a time when the executive team need to be free to focus on operational matters, support from the board matters more than ever.
GatenbySanderson has pulled together a seven-point checklist of the key issues trustees should consider to ensure they offer the best support to their organisation.
Seven issues for trustees to consider
With many people wanting to reach out and help others, charities must ensure they safeguard their beneficiaries, volunteers and staff. This non-negotiable is especially relevant for those directly helping communities or vulnerable members of society who are self-isolating. Check your safeguarding policy and procedures are up to date and remind all staff and volunteers of their responsibilities.
2. Safety and welfare of staff
All staff but particularly those serving on the front line in community care, residential, health and education settings. Trustees should be reassured during the acute phase of this pandemic that everything possible is in place to ensure staff and those they serve are physically safe. This will most likely include changes to patterns of staff deployment to ensure continuation of service. In addition to physical safety, mental health will be an important consideration during this time.
3. Review your Business Continuity Plan
Identify potential risks that Coronavirus might present, complete with a response to manage them. Assign authority to staff or individual trustees to make tactical decisions quickly and clarify who will step in to take decisions should the Chair fall ill.
It’s a cruel irony, that at a time when the NHS needs to keep as many people out of hospitals as possible, charities that offer non-critical care are seeing their income streams slashed by up to 48%. The government has said that charities will get support to help pay staff, but while welcome, this help will only go so far to keep services open.
Trustees should consider what immediate action needs to be taken to manage finances, considering that cash flow is likely to be shorter and contingency costs higher. Check the government’s latest advice on the use of reserves and restricted funds to help a charity get through a crisis.
Review whether the organisation needs to speak to funders about the impact of cancelling, delaying project activities or even in re-purposing funds.
5. Refocus efforts and activities in line with your charitable purpose
Identify which of your essential operations and services are most in demand and prioritise these. Could you partner with other organisations to continue to deliver services or offer new forms of support?
Organisations and individuals have a limited capacity, needs are fast changing and the risk of staff absence due to self-isolation or sickness is high. It’s as important to decided what you won’t be doing while the UK is in the acute phase.
The Board of trustees should be a calming influence during a crisis. More than ever employees, volunteers and beneficiaries will look to the board for reassurance. Most people feel overloaded with information right now and need short, clear, and concise updates. Don’t forget to communicate your thanks to all stakeholders for their ongoing support and hard work.
Remember that your fellow trustees themselves may be managing a busy day job alongside their Board commitments, as well as their own health and family concerns. It will be important to balance the need for swift and effective crisis management and communication with the understanding that trustees may be supporting more than one organisation to respond to COVID-19.
7. Keep the mechanics of governance turning
Right now, some filing and auditing duties may feel lower priority, but this phase will pass, and in time regulators will request documentation. Try to keep on top of these requirements albeit with a lighter touch. The Charity SORP has issued updated guidance about what and how to report accounts and finances.
While physical meetings are forbidden, if your charity is required to hold an AGM at a specific time, or to reach what might be an unachievable quorum, notify the Charity Commission in advance.
Finally, in this brave new world of virtual Board meetings do check the Charity Commission’s rules (CC48) for remote meetings to ensure you remain compliant.
Corona virus job retention scheme – What we know and understand so far
Where home working is not possible, employers can lay off employees subject to the Furlough Scheme announced on 20 March 2020
The aim is to get the scheme up and running before the end of April
Employers will be able to apply for a grant to cover the Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment pension contributions on paying the lower of 80% of regular salary or £2,500 per month
For individuals on zero hours contracts or flexible contracts the 80% is based on the higher of (i) the earnings in the same pay period in the previous year; or (ii) the average earnings in the previous 12 months (or less, if they’ve worked for less). We are unsure how the 80% will be calculated but would expect it to be based on their basic pay
Employees taken on after 1 March 2020 are excluded from the scheme
Businesses can re-employ people who have been made redundant since 1st March, and then furlough them
To qualify for the payment, an employee must be furloughed for a minimum of three weeks. They can then come off furlough. This means that employers cannot rotate staff weekly between furlough and non-furlough
Furloughed employees can do volunteering or training, providing it does not generate any money for their employer and they are not providing a service to their employer.
How it works
The government has published a short overview for employers and a separate overview for employees, and we are expecting more information imminently
Whilst detailed guidance is needed, the position appears to be as follows:
The scheme is available to all UK employers
It requires “Furloughing” designated employees who would otherwise have been laid off or made redundant
Furloughed staff are those workers who are kept on the payroll instead of being dismissed as redundant, or being placed on unpaid leave
HMRC will reimburse 80% of Furlough’s workers wage costs, capped at £2,500 per month
It is unclear whether or not the figure is gross or net (the expectation is that it is gross) and it appears to include “all” employment costs”, which could include employer’s NI
It may therefore be that if an employer wants to pass on to its staff, only the amount of the wage subsidy, it will be less than £2,500 gross per month
There is nothing to stop employers choosing to pay at a higher rate than the reimbursed figures
Employers will have to agree with staff (in most cases) who will be furloughed and once that is done submit information to HMRC about those employees and their earning through a new online portal – which is yet to be set up
Whilst the employer is likely to be required to pay Employer’s National Insurance contributions for furloughed staff, whether or not contractual benefits would also apply to them will be a matter of negotiation between the employer and the employee
Vulnerable people forced to self-isolate due to the coronavirus pandemic will be offered a helping hand, thanks to a new voluntary initiative in Swindon.
Swindon Borough Council has teamed up with Voluntary Action Swindon and the Volunteer Centre Swindon to help pair volunteers with those who have no one to help them during the current public health emergency.
Members of the community who want to help those who are self-isolating, who do not have their own support networks, can now log their offers of support with Voluntary Action Swindon, who will work with the Council to pair them up with those most in need. This could involve speaking to someone over the phone to offer some companionship or collecting shopping for those who are staying at home.
Pam Webb, CEO of Voluntary Action Swindon, said: “If you are someone who is self- isolating or in need of non-medical assistance as a result of coronavirus, we would recommend in the first instance that you reach out to family members, neighbours and friends that you know personally. But we are very aware that there will be people in our local community for whom this is not possible.
“These are the people we hope to help through our ‘Compassionate Swindon’ initiative. We also want to try and help the many charities and care services continue to thrive who are also experiencing staff and volunteer shortages due to current containment protocols.
“As usual in difficult times the community spirit shines through and all three of the organisations in this partnership have been contacted by people wanting to volunteer. We want to make sure that this fantastic community spirit is harnessed in the best way to keep both volunteers and those being helped safe.”
People who wish to support others should visit www.vas-swindon.org to complete a simple online form indicating how they are willing to help. The team at the Council’s Live Well hub will be helping to match all volunteers with those in need.
Councillor David Renard, Leader of Swindon Borough Council, said: “The Live Well Hub in Swindon works all year round handling referrals and giving people access to opportunities and services which can help improve their health and wellbeing.
“We are therefore very well placed to step up our current service in these difficult times to help people in our local community who are feeling more vulnerable. We are delighted to be working in partnership with Voluntary Action Swindon and the Volunteer Centre Swindon to harness the goodwill of the people of Swindon to provide help where it is needed.
“Anyone in the Swindon community needing some non-medical help can call the Council’s team on 01793 465513 or email email@example.com so they can be put in touch with residents willing to help.”
Sarah Troughton, HM Lord- Lieutenant of Wiltshire, said: “I am very pleased to back this initiative from Swindon Borough Council and Voluntary Action Swindon. It is a sensible and practical way of helping each other at this tricky time in different ways. We are only at the start of the three or four-month period of isolation and patience and goodwill is going to be required as much as anything. The Swindon community will be trailblazers.”
Sue Dunmore, CEO of the Volunteer Centre Swindon states: “The Volunteer Centre Swindon works hard to match people interested in volunteering with suitable opportunities and to ensure volunteering best practice is applied. We are delighted to be part of this partnership.”