Charities in Greater Manchester may have no choice but to close down essential services again amid the regional lockdown, according to a local sector leader.
Alex Whinnom, the chief executive of Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation (GMCVO), told Civil Society News that local charities had begun a “cautious reopening” when the national lockdown started to lift in June, but were now likely to scale back their work once more in response to new restrictions.
The regional lockdown, which reintroduced tighter social distancing rules last week at just three hours’ notice, affects four million people in Greater Manchester, east Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire. It was introduced after local spikes in coronavirus cases.
Whinnom said: “Over the last few weeks or so, there has been a bit of cautious reopening of face-to-face services, like mental health support, so that people are actually in the same physical space as somebody rather than trying to do it all by telephone, which is what people were doing before.
“I imagine that that will all just have to stop again. In terms of direct impact on our sector, that is where it is falling and where concerns are being expressed.”
He added that, before the regional lockdown, local charities “were starting to breathe a sigh of relief and think, thank God we can start edging back to a bit of normality”.
Government support 'only just coming through'
Whinnom also said that charities in Greater Manchester are facing a financial shortfall of nearly £20m due to the pandemic.
He explained that the government money allocated to large charities “doesn’t touch many of our organisations”, and that grants distributed via the National Lottery Community Fund had “only just started coming through in the last two or three weeks”.
£20m black hole
In a letter sent to the chancellor in May, civil society representatives from Greater Manchester said: “We estimate that our small and medium organisations (average income £147,000 per year) will lose £19.5m over the period of the crisis, whilst trying to respond to massively increasing need.
“Reserves are low: in 2017 we found 29% had less than one month’s reserves, and 46% had less than three months, and reserves are being used up fast.
“Some organisations have already closed down and, unless something is done, many more will follow.”
Opening and closing
Third Sector Leaders Kirklees, which also works with charities operating under the new restrictions, agreed that the uncertainty may lead to some voluntary organisations closing down.
A spokesperson told Civil Society News: “Unfortunately, this new ‘local lockdown’ has just brought back the feeling of uncertainty.”
They added: “Mutual aid groups are now wondering whether they’ve closed too soon, and organisations that were starting to plan for the future – our members have asked us to put on a workshop on adapting their business plans to the ‘new normal’ – are now once again wondering what they can and can’t do, and if it’s worth restarting services just for them to be closed again.
“And because of this, it’s making it more and more likely that there are organisations that won’t survive.”
The spokesperson said: “The pervading feeling is one of confusion. And it still feels like we’re waiting for clarification on what we can and can’t do, and when the restrictions are likely to reviewed and/or lifted.”
Ged Devlin, a programmes manager at the community business funder Power to Change, said: “The guidance is so vague, it is hard to know who’s had to change plans. The local community foundation, Forever Manchester, is still giving out small amounts to help organisations looking to reopen.”