Published On: 8 October 2021

Black and minority ethnic voluntary and community organisations have been mobilising to support their communities during the coronavirus crisis. Many of them are doing this against a background of declining funding, rising demand, and challenging commissioning arrangements. Race Equality Foundation spoke to several of our long-term sister organisations to find out how they are adapting and continuing to provide vital services amid a global pandemic.

The common issue across all interviews was the pressure on staff and volunteers to continue to meet the needs of the communities they serve. Organisations have had to quickly adapt or cut back their services in response to coronavirus, while managing increasing staff absence due to self-isolation and family caring commitments. Many services are concerned about the ongoing impact on their service users. At the same time, they are worried about their own sustainability both during and after the crisis. On top of this are concerns about the long-term effects of the crisis on black and minority ethnic communities and their health.

The long-running African Caribbean Mental Health Service (ACMHS) in Manchester have a team of volunteer counsellors and trainee counsellors, but have had to close the door on face to face contact, and now to contact over the phone. Worryingly, they are also no longer able to provide food to clients that was donated by Tesco due to panic buying. Staff are working from home and all groups have ceased, but music therapy is being streamed online. ACMHS are now taking referrals via email and then passing on to practitioners who then contact clients. They are pressing ahead with a service funded by the local CCG to run the IAPT and CBT programmes for north, south and central Manchester.

The equally long established SubCo is an Asian elders organisation in East London. They closed face to face contact two weeks ago and renegotiated alternative services which the local authority has agreed. They are currently using staff and volunteers, but three staff are currently self-isolating and they are having to use the group of volunteers earlier than expected. SubCo are:

  • Making early morning welfare calls on daily basis including weekends to service users and families.
  • Providing a delivery meal service everyday lunch time
  • Providing a weekly shopping service of essential items (including incontinence pads additional to local authority allowance)
  • Providing preventative services to around 200 families (especially mental health)

As noted in our earlier blog, people with sickle cell disease are at particular risk and have been advised to adhere to government advice to ‘shield’ themselves for a minimum period of 12 weeks,  therefore we spoke to the Sickle Cell Society.  They have had to stop face to face contact and staff are working from home. The Society operates nationally and runs several community based projects and a free helpline, which has seen requests for advice and information double in recent weeks, putting an unprecedented demand on this service. People with sickle cell and their families are understandably concerned about the possible impact of COVID-19 and have been contacting the Society seeking clarification on government guidance
and advice on how to cope practically and emotionally. The Sickle Cell Society has urgently reorganised its services to meet this increased need, however, it is also seeking urgent additional resources to support the sickle cell community during this time.

Other organisations we spoke to emphasised their efforts to continue to provide an individual and personal service while maintaining isolation and social distancing. This included a day care centre who are working with the local authority to ensure their clients continue to have access to medication, meals, care and support.

Another organisation reported difficulties in running contracts and getting paid for them. They are limiting face to face work for volunteers – some have children and now that schools are closed, getting them to work is proving difficult because of childcare. They have a volunteer programme to get young black men into work but not clear how this can take place, or what will happen.

A mental health organisation has also had to close face to face services and move to home working. They only have a small number of volunteers and some are already in isolation. The local health service is also asking them to help out, but many staff are in isolation.

Another mental health organisation which is dependent on community fundraising is very concerned for their future, as their volunteer fundraisers cannot plan the events they need to bring the funds in they need.

What black and minority ethnic-led voluntary and community organisations need in the short term and medium term is support and understanding from commissioners and funders to adapt their services to present circumstances. They also need to be listened to and their concerns taken seriously regarding the knock-on impacts on their service users. This includes considering the impact of short-term and emergency measures on black and minority ethnic communities, and mitigating those impacts. Maintaining and, if possible, improving trust between health services and black and minority ethnic communities should be a crucial part of the
broader response to coronavirus.

Beyond the current crisis, they will need ongoing support from commissioners, funders, and the community to survive – as many were already in a fragile state and coronavirus is placing a huge strain on what are already limited resources. There also needs to be recognition that the health inequalities present in black and minority ethnic communities has placed them at greater risk from coronavirus, and that there needs to be long-term commitment to closing those inequalities.