Bridging between government and the voluntary sector

Schools testing

Stu’s blog highlights the massive scale of the request to support schools with testing, and the heart warming response from volunteers. But we’d like to pause a moment and add some more thoughts on the role of the Emergencies Partnership, mentioned briefly in the previous blog.

In late December the government made an initial announcement that teachers and pupils would have access to rapid testing at the start of the new school term in January. This prompted a slightly piecemeal approach across the education sector, drawing on the voluntary sector in a range of ways as schools and colleges approached it in their own ways. In some counties, voluntary organisations worked with schools and put together support packages. It wasn’t clear what the ask was, what schools needed to do or how the voluntary and community sector could help.

Although it didn’t kick in in January, it was clear that at some point, this was going to be needed. So, the National Volunteering Coordination Cell of the Emergencies Partnership — the team who typically deal with large volunteering asks — decided to get ahead of the curve and run a pilot to see how the charity sector could support the coming testing asks of schools. The pilot ran for 6 weeks, working with 16 schools and the Department for Education.

“The pilot was meticulously planned, culminating in a national offer to all schools and colleges in England. The offer was flexible enough to enable a quick adaption to change that the Government made when they changed purely from ATS driven testing plan for school children to a home testing plan.”

Department for Housing and Social Care

The role of the NVCC in this was two fold — to help the government understand how the sector could support, and to develop tools to help the sector provide the support if they were asked, and if they wanted to.

“The voluntary offer of support has made a real difference to the success of mass testing within schools and would be keen to explore future opportunities for collaboration. I’d just like to thank you for all your help and support over the past few weeks.”

Department for Education

Stu’s blog talks about the overall level of help volunteers provided. The Emergencies Partnership members received 144 requests for support and in total facilitated over 6,600 volunteering sessions (of those that responded when surveyed).

We provided some tools and documents to help charities int heir interactions with schools such as templates for agreements with schools and guidance on costing.

And what did we learn from this?

  1. The importance of balancing the large, national asks (from eg government) with local autonomy to provide the solution. We focused on empowering those on the ground as best we could, to decide what action they wanted to take, and to be supported in that. Continuing to work with government departments can only help build understanding of this perspective as well as giving them a focus for how to contact the voluntary sector efficiently.
  2. There’s still some distance to go on breaking down the perception that volunteers are free. Throughout the last year, the Emergencies Partnership has striven to standardise the idea that charities cannot provide volunteers at no cost to themselves. The time given is free yes, but the support and systems behind those volunteers have a cost.
  3. And we’re already working on improving our request for support form so that it can better capture the asks and needs in such a situation.

“We found [working with VCSEP] to be very professional and every aspect of the pilot and eventually the offer to the schools was considered. [We] Would recommend joint working on any relevant future opportunities.”

Department for Housing and Social Care

And what did the schools think of it?

“From all of us at Ipswich Academy, we want to say a big thank you to our community volunteers who have supported our pupils return to school by helping with the Covid-19 lateral flow testing.

“As you can imagine it’s been a huge undertaking to ensure everyone can return to school safely and their support has meant our staff have been able to focus on settling pupils back into the classroom, teaching and learning. We are extremely proud of our community and we couldn’t have done it without them”

Ipswich Academy

You can find out more about our NVCC or the schools testing on our website.

After the tragedies of 2017 (Grenfell in particular), the Emergencies Partnership formed to improve coordination and collaboration across the voluntary sector. From grass roots to national giants, and government, we work to better understand, and respond to unmet need, together.

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