Covid 19 has had a dramatic impact on Hope, just like everyone else. It has created financial and logistical challenges that continue to work through: if we see a return to possible greater lockdown restrictions, no-one knows how powerful these could be.
At the start of this crisis, we did not know if we would survive: our whole fundraising model, where the majority of funds came from local community fundraising, was wrecked by covid and we have had to cancel our entire year of events. At the same time we were unable to open our day centre in the same way, and are unlikely to be able to do so for the rest of the year, if not beyond. In terms of food poverty, demand escalated threefold, and we had to work really hard to gather food and funds to support that. For a period, that was the primary focus of Hope, and we rose to meet that challenge – work we are very proud of. With community and then later government support, we gathered the funds, the food, the volunteers and the alliances of other food banks to work together collectively for the good of our community.
Homelessness changed completely, with rough sleepers being housed in hotels and then onto supported tenancies. At a stroke, we had no access to our own clients. We could not see what services we could provide. Our whole business model – our charitable model – for that client group was thrown into doubt.
The impact was equally great on our catering and tools businesses: these simply could not operate – and the catering still cannot.
Throughout this period we worked incredibly hard as a senior management team, consulting with staff and volunteers, and with our board, as to what we needed to do; how we needed to restructure and create new services.
This is what we have now done: launched new, covid appropriate new services. They aren’t the same, sadly as before, and many people will miss the old day centre: I do, passionately. We are now providing food and support services six days a week to rough sleepers, renamed Hand-Up, and continue to offer food to homeless people in supported tenancies and council emergency housing. We are re-building our old casework services under a new banner, Learning 4 Living, refocused on skills, and still on barriers to employment like mental health and addiction.
We have been successful in applying for funds to re-build Hope, but this is not like for like refunding. It is targetted at specific services that funders want us to offer, related to skills, training, mental health and emergency food.
The impact of all this change is reflected in our staff and volunteers, which have had to adapt. Sadly, because we cannot offer food services of the same type, we have had to make some catering staff redundant, and we are sad about this. We took appropriate HR guidance and tried to retain as many people as we could, and we will re-employ people as funds allow, but quite simply we could not continue to keep people on our payroll who could not do the work they were employed to do for the foreseeable future.
Nonetheless, despite this, we are now recruiting people, and some will feel this looks odd, given we have made redundancies. We are not recruiting anyone back to catering yet, nor to the other like for like roles, and these new advertised posts reflect funding we did not know was coming when redundancies were made. Most are short term, rebuilding posts that will end next year, reflecting funder’s priorities that align with ours. We could not use these funds to save jobs that could no longer operate, like catering. We have had to make hard decisions, and personal sacrifices have been made by others who have continued in post that outsiders have not seen. It has been traumatic for everyone, and we have done our best to maintain, most importantly, services that help the most vulnerable, with whatever funding we could find to offer these. Non-one knows what is round the corner, but we believe we have done our utmost to keep Hope alive, in the most caring way for our staff, our volunteers and most of all the people of Northampton who are in need.