Hayley Alton, our Community Engagement Officer, writes about the impact that smaller providers have had in the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector during the coronavirus pandemic – and why this has led the Association of Mental Health Providers to deliver the Mental Health Sustainability Programme.
This year, World Mental Health Day will address the idea of Mental Health for All; ensuring greater investment and access in the sector.
It is pertinent then to elaborate on the Mental Health Sustainability Programme, which is looking to foster genuine connections between private sector organisations and small-medium VCSE providers that will encourage their sustainability.
The role of small-medium providers in the VCSE sector and their response to COVID-19
There are over 168,000 registered charities in the UK, with 87.6% having an income of less than £500,000 a year. Smaller providers occupy a unique space in the VCSE sector; they may work in a specialist area (with cultural groups or on specific diagnoses, for example) and therefore often have pockets of beneficiaries in socially disadvantaged groups.
In March, the World Health Organization acknowledged that the COVID-19 outbreak was “generating stress throughout the population.” So obvious then that the demand for mental health services has risen – and that those groups of individuals too often left behind in society were facing the same again – until the resilience and adaptability of smaller providers shone through.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, these small-medium providers managed to adapt to continue to support these individuals in their often-frontline-embedded work, doing so quickly and responsively to the needs of these individuals. Muslim Youth Helpline, for example, shared with us that they received a 313% increase in enquiries to their helpline during this time and they are now looking for support to increase their volunteer workforce and maintain their delivery quality through the Programme.
Given the focus areas in which they often find themselves operating, smaller organisations have a bigger impact on the communities of those who are finding themselves disproportionately affected by this pandemic. Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic communities are overrepresented across many of those categories that identify individuals as ‘vulnerable’ to COVID-19 by the Government.
The work of these kinds of organisations during this time, and beyond, goes a long way to ensuring that mental health support is available for all. Greater recognition of this and support to follow would establish greater viability (financially and culturally) of these organisations.
Collaboration from outside the VCSE sector then may be key in this next phase in ensuring demand can still be met, and to increase the availability of the services in these smaller organisations to ensure that mental health support is available more readily to these – and other – groups.
Why are we choosing to support small-medium sized providers through the Programme?
We discussed in a previous post how partnerships could work across the statutory and VCSE sector. But this programme acknowledges the work that specifically smaller organisations have done during a time where the demand for the NHS, health and social care services have been at their highest.
These organisations have endeavoured to mitigate the effects of this pandemic for those who are suffering the harshest health inequalities, whilst keeping their organisation and workforce viable and resilient. Therefore to support these organisations through this Programme means that we can go some way to increasing access and availability to services, and trial this new way of investing in the sector.
Smaller organisations are an intelligent bet right now due to their evidence base of support through the pandemic and the adaptability they and their workforce, have already shown. But they are often not eligible or are put off by cumbersome applications for funding, sometimes due to lack of either time, staff resource, or of well-disseminated information reaching these smaller organisations.
With this in mind, we have made our process as simple as possible. We want to match these organisations with volunteers who share the same values and can effectively support across a range of skills; skills that are being shared again and again with us as being of the highest value to staff/boards of these VCSE organisations, especially during this time of adaptation and recovery.
For more information on the Programme, please see here.
 From application form