I wrote this blog a few weeks ago and haven’t shared it, with the announcements over the weekend it feels fitting that it is shared, I will preface it with there is a whole new set of challenges facing us in coming weeks as we re-enter lockdown and will blog about this shortly.

Anyone else feeling that there is no end in sight to the current situation and wondering how long they can keep going chugging away with the battle? It keeps being described to me as the Covid-19 hangover, and do you know what it seems like the longest hangover ever, something tells me the party isn’t over yet and that’s why the hangover continues the question is how do we keep operating in this time?

Over the last six months I have personally seen some great achievement across all of my roles in the county so let’s start there:

*Neither YG or IB had to furlough it’s staff instead we were able to redirect the teams to Covid-19 response services and ensure we were meeting the needs of the community (I am eternally grateful to my trustees who were willing to take the risk when we didn’t know where the funding would come for from this in a unprecedented time, however we knew our priority was to support the immediate needs of our young people

*Gloucestershire Community Foundation (of which I am a trustee) has raised over £750,000 and given over £600,000 away! I remember making plans with the CEO in the early days and expressing wouldn’t it be good if we could raise £50,000. We far exceeded our expectations, the best part of this for me is we have given more money to small grass roots organisations than ever before, and we have supported more charities than we have ever done before. Something I am proud of as our grass roots organisations are what meets the needs of our community!

*I was awarded the High Sheriff Award for the work the team have done during Covid-19, those of you who know me well know I am not great at having the attention on me, and that anything I achieve is always as the result of a team effort. An award like this though gave motivation and recognition to the teams around me and this means the world.

*Together YG/IB have had a daily presence on the streets in the community in all six districts across Gloucestershire, Identifying young people at risk, providing opportunities for young people to engage in activities and building relationships. This has allowed us to understand the needs of young people and to respond appropriately 

*Our mental health offer has increased adding more counsellors and mental health youth workers across YG and IB than we have ever employed before

*We have been so grateful to funders who have dug deep and awarded funding quickly and efficiently that has allowed us to maintain all our existing services and add some new ones, there have been a lot of sleepless nights along the way ( more on this below)

*YG have been working on securing a new long term home for the charity for over four years now and when Covid-19 hit we feared this dream might never become a reality, but with the unwavering support of funders such as SJP, Summerfield trust, Garfield Weston and CHK as well as the funds we raised from the sale of a building last year we were able to complete on the old dock office and start the process of moving in!

*I have watched my teams grow, my senior management team (SMT) have stepped up developed new services, become fundraisers and tender/bid writers for the first time, taken to managing remote services, the middle managers have taken over the delivery of all our services to free senior managers to look for funding, they have been creative, passionate and driven to make sure the services for young people happen in a safe way, the delivery staff have met all the request made of them, taken on roles that aren’t their usual ones, spent hours on the street in all weathers and at the centre made sure the needs of our young people and families can be met within the challenges we are facing!

I am so proud and grateful to all the people around me who have made all of the above happen

It’s not easy though and when all the good stuff above is shared it can create jealousy, competition and rumours or frustration and this is probably the hardest part of my role when every day is a challenge. Every day is a challenge for most right now and I know so many CEOs, workers and volunteers across the sector who are putting in the hours, time and energy and doing their best to make sure that they can continue to provide support to their communities and I take my hat off to everyone! So here are some of the challenges we are facing, and just because we are a larger VCS organisation and now own our own building they are still pretty huge!

*A percentage of our staff are still working from home and our teams no longer get to come together learn together and share together!

*On average two staff a week are sent home until they receive negative Covid-19 tests

*Much of the funding we have secured ends in March, YG and IB face a cliff edge of large numbers of staff funding ending at this time, with a real risk of those services having to stop, when we don’t see the need getting any smaller

*The new building needs much work doing to make it compliant and all the capital funding applications have been halted due to Covid-19 and therefore we don’t have the funding

*Existing services that are normally the life blood for young people in the county are still not running as normal impacting both financially to the charity and more importantly on young people’s well being

*Competition in the sector, negativity and sharing of rumours is challenging and hurts, whether you’re a small, medium or large charity it is tough out there, YG/IB is facing the same challenges as everyone else and the teams are working hard to make sure we can respond to need, we are seeking to develop opportunities new partnerships and want to work together to achieve outcomes, we don’t have an unending pot of money, our SMT and CEO are having sleepless night and trying to work out how we secure our future just like everyone else and we are in addition to this supporting many other local charities through volunteering, trusteeships and much more that aren’t often seen, the negativity we sometimes receive is heart breaking when we are doing our best in difficult times

*The future is unknown, we are asking our team to operate and give their all to others at a time when they don’t know if they will have a job in six months’ time, we don’t know if there will be the funding for our organisations to keep delivering and we don’t know what the changing needs are going to be. The whole team have been working flat out for six months and are tired and there is no end in sight

Do you know what, the above isn’t about having a whinge it’s about the reality we are all living in, sharing that it’s challenging for all, that those who appear to be doing well and riding the wave underneath are also finding it tough, so when you look around you remember people are all doing their best in unprecedented times, each person is dealing with the challenges in the best way they know how!

I am so grateful to my trustees for trusting in me and allowing me to take managed risks at a time when they could have been risks averse, I am grateful to CEO’s, colleagues and friends who have answered my calls, drunk coffee (and the late night wine inspired what’s app conversations) and propped me up on the days that felt like we would never get there, I am grateful to funders who have committed to us, especially those who have trusted us to spend money on what we need at the time rather than being prescriptive, and to my family and friends who have been patient because I am always too tired to talk, meet or have fun with them!

I am blessed to have an amazing team around me who have dug deep and fought hard through the challenges over the last six months and I know will continue to do so, without them none of what we are achieving for the young people and families of a Gloucestershire would be possible! 

The final message of this blog is the last six months have been the hardest of my career and I suspect the next six months will be harder, let’s come together and be creative, let’s remember to build each other up and support, and let’s remember we are all human!