Charities – Will they survive?

It is easy to turn up your nose when you hear someone mention the dreaded word ‘Coronavirus’. Thoughts of disdain clouding your mind. But for many charities and other aid organisations busting their resources to help those most vulnerable and in need during these times, this is not to be taken lightly.

During this period, many charities have struggled to keep themselves afloat. They are frequently excluded from press coverage of businesses who have been struggling, but they too have dealt with similar hardships. Funding cuts, jobs losses and not having the high street to rely on as a source of income meant they have been more than ever reliant on generous donations.

In mid-2020, a poll concludes that the number of people giving to charity is the lowest it has been in a decade. This could be for many reasons expected from the over-turned state of society, but this action has a knock-on effect.

Charities hold a special function in society as they offer aid and support to those who would otherwise not be able to afford them. Charities are not only needing to meet the increased demand for their services but are also being threatened by the possibility of having to shut their doors.

In an article by the Guardian, Rachel Millar, senior policy officer at Safer Places – a domestic abuse charity helping people in Essex and Hertfordshire, said: “We’ve experienced a devastating loss of funds at a time when we’ve also had a lot of extra costs.”

Statistics show in 2020/21 approximately 2.5 million people used a food bank in the United Kingdom, over 600 thousand more than the previous year. The effects of the pandemic have been particularly hard on the UK’s less fortunate.  

Throughout my research, I have contacted many charities that deal with mental health support, homelessness, domestic abuse, employment, and housing instability. Unfortunately, many of my requests were met with regret.

One of the charities I had contacted was The Haven project.

The Haven Project is a locally based charity in North-East Essex that looks at providing support and treatment to people with personality disorders or a complex trauma diagnosis. However, they replied to my email with deep remorse. Saying:

“We are quite overworked at the moment fighting for our survival.”

This response only further portrayed that while many of us are fortunately able to stay comfortably in our homes, organisations such as The Haven Project and many more were fighting to keep their doors open to continuously provide help to the people who desperately needed it. 

Domestic Violence & the Mental Repercussions

The COVID-19 lockdown has required many of us to stay locked up in our houses, forced to spend unlimited time with family members. For some, this could be a much-needed break from a busy work schedule. However, this is not the same for all households.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has reported an exponential increase in domestic abuse cases. Domestic abuse incidents tend to be hard to quantify as is it not classed as a specific criminal offence, apart from controlling or coercive behaviour. Domestic-related abuse will be recorded under the respective criminal offence, for example, assault with injury. Consequently, police are required to flag the case as being domestic abuse-related for it to be recorded as such.

In the UK, the police have recorded 259,324 offences (excluding fraud) flagged as being domestic abuse-related in the first four months of the March lockdown. The Mental Health Foundation expects there to be many more incidents as domestic violence is a largely hidden crime, predominantly happening in the home and thus frequently goes unreported. The Mental Health Foundation also found that victims of domestic abuse commonly experience depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

With the reported increase in numbers, domestic abuse charities and refuge facilities are unable to keep up with the demand and the pressure to place those affected in safer housing.

Next Chapter, a Colchester-based domestic abuse refuge facility has seen higher demand in their services and since the lifting of lockdown, has been reliant on generous donations to help support the women and children in their care.

The charity works with referral agencies to place women in safer locations and works with a network of other similar facilities to provide the best care for women and children who have been victims of domestic abuse around the country.

They have two facilities, a family site that holds up to 12 families and a recovery house, usually helping victims with substance or alcohol addiction.

In an interview with Lorna Preece, the charity’s accommodation manager, she said: “We are beginning to work with mental health [facilities] about creating clear pathways. Referral agencies don’t tell us how severe the mental health is until the person arrives.”  

Knowing the mental state of the women and children that come to Next Chapter and other charities would allow the carers a better chance to prepare and help them when they arrive. The charity predominately helps residents with housing, benefits and legal advice. Many of the workers are not mental health qualified but offers mental health support and counselling through a wellbeing coach at the facility.

Lorna highlighted the relationship between substance abuse and mental health issues amongst suffers of domestic violence. A 2016 Crime Survey for England and Wales, stated that ‘adults aged between 16 and 59 who had taken illicit drugs in the last year’ were three times more likely to report ‘being a victim of partner abuse’ than those who had not done so.

These issues usually happen because of the trauma victims face. Many victims turn to substance abuse or alcoholism as a coping mechanism.  

A 32-year-old survivor of domestic violence, who does not want to be named, said: “When I was abused, I started taking large amounts of LSD in hope that I could block out what was happening to me.”

Should race play a part in the quality of mental health care you receive?

The call for more psychologists from non-white backgrounds.

Each year 25% of people in England will experience a mental health problem of some kind. However, while consultation regarding mental health issues has increased, treatment remains low. Reports from both England and Wales suggests 1 in 8 people receive treatment for their mental struggles.

Many factors play into how well you receive the treatment and as a result quality care. One of the factors which shape your mental health treatment experience is race. Getting help from a psychologist who understands the challenges, and sometimes grievances, of one’s racial identity will allow them to better assess the patient’s mental health accurately.

Of the 32.3 thousand psychologists in the UK, 9.6% identify under the category of BAME – Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (Office of National Statistics, 2018).

One 23-year-old woman, that wished to remain anonymous said: “With a white psychologist, they won’t understand my experience or my heritage as an Indian woman.”

Black or Black British people suffer higher levels of common mental health problems (such as anxiety and depression) but are the group unlikely to pursue treatment.

With this, the Black and minority ethnics in Psychiatry and Psychology (BiPP) Network has made deliberate efforts to highlight and campaign for the advancement of representation in the field. They aim to push for a more culturally and racially diverse workforce, from treating people at a clinic to educating the next generations.

The effects of having a psychologist of similar background to patients.

An extensive report done by the Race Equality Foundation in 2020 found that discrimination played a part as a factor when some people decided to seek out mental health treatment.

The Black, African and Asian Therapy Network (BAATN) hosts an online directory of therapists who have experience and knowledge working with people from BAME backgrounds to offer them the best support and alleviate their mental struggles. 

In an email correspondence, Sam at BAATN said: “Our primary focus and area of expertise is to support people from these heritages. However, we are open to other People of Colour who are also affected by prejudice due to the colour of their skin.

We actively seek partnerships with white majority therapy and training organisations that acknowledge racism, and the importance of undoing the impact of racism, as an essential part of being mentally healthy.”

In a 2014 published research journal, David T. Goode-Cross and Karen Ann Grim, explain that black therapists most often feel a distinct sense of solidarity with their Black clients, as evidenced by having a better understanding of the context of Black clients’ lives, creating easier and faster therapeutic connections with Black clients, and feeling especially committed to these clients’ well-being.

This is only further proved as Nathan, a 21-year-old, who recently started therapy for his depression said: “Talking to someone with the same racial background was comforting as I didn’t need to over-explain cultural norms.”

Solution: How online shopping can save charity shops hindered by the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Due to the UK and the wider world being out of action for more than a year, many industries and businesses have been hit by hardship. Some of the organisations frequently left out of discussions are charities. Many charities such Mind UK and the British Heart Foundation have charity shops to support the services they provide to citizens around the country.

With shop closures, charity shops have been dormant, and this has put an increased strain on charities that are heavily reliant on this income to support the people they help. To combat this issue, charity shops can open online versions of their physical stores as an alternative way to generate income.

According to Yelp.com’s Local Economic Impact Report. just under ten thousand businesses have had to permanently shut due to the pandemic. These organisations have suffered greatly in terms of keeping their customer base and staying afloat. The UK government had introduced many schemes to assist those in need of financial help. Eat Out to Help Out and the furlough scheme were amongst many, used to tackle the loss of income many non-essential businesses experienced. 

For businesses specifically, the Government introduced COVID-19 business support grants worth £12.3 billion. However, large-chain charity shops were heavily restricted when applying to a share of the money. In an article from Third Sector, the Charity Tax Group and the Charity Retail Association explains that the application process limited charities with retail chains when submitting applications to approximately 30 stores. The British Heart Foundation hosts the largest amount of charity shops with 724 being accounted for in 2017.

Without the additional income from their high street stores, many charities continued to suffer due to the increasing amount of financial pressure that their services demanded. Short of this income, waiting lists grew longer and many people had to find alternative ways of funding their services.

Mind UK, the mental health charity reported to have received £42.5 million in income from their charity shops between 2018/19. Since the closure of their network of shops since March 2020, this has been reduced.

The Solution?

Charity shops are an essential part of Britain’s local highstreets and one way they can survive the diminishing amount of local retail is by setting up an online store.

Switching to online shops, not only allows the charities to generate revenue from their sales, but it also allows them to reach a wider range of customers due to increased interconnectivity the internet provides. This does not restrict the charity of their local community but lets them have the whole country as their customer-base.

The online shop solution has been adopted by a few charities. Age UK took advantage of this and used it to continuously generate an income. Assistant manager at the Colchester Branch, Anne said: “As our shops were closed, we sent our more expensive and good quality items up to head office, which they then put on eBay.”

On their eBay account, they sell a range of items from luxury handbags to designer clothing and jewellery. Having the online shop also renders their products more accessible for customers to buy without having to come into the main shop in-person.

On a larger scale, many online retailers such as ASOS are still able to operate as they did not have a physical shop to begin with and relied solely on the postal service. Many courier services also adopted a contact-free delivery with their customers, and accessibility with their convenient returns policy.

Physical shop closures also impacted shopping as websites that are primarily used by people to sell unwanted items or small business owners to sell products, such as eBay and Depop have increased in popularity.  Data from Statista Research Department found out that Depop’s IOS app jumped from 990,755 monthly active users in the UK in March 2020 to 2,547,166 by July 2020. The growth decreases once shops opened at the end of the first national lockdown. These sites are predominantly used by small business owners who wanted to start a small business venture. Local charity shops can use these websites to their advantage by selling items from their store to generate some income.

It is expected for many businesses to have a website and there are a lot of hosting platforms, such as WIX, that offer easy support for shopping to take place on websites. This means that adding a shop function to an already existing website will be easier to do and creates a central location for all the charity’s needs.

There are a few limitations that comes with charity shops moving online. Many charity shops are operated by volunteers, this means that getting the items from the shops to be packaged and sent out to customers may take longer than some people are willing to wait for. This will also need to be moved to an easily accessible location for this to happen.

Setting up the initial shop website takes a long time, many charity shops have a lot of clothing, books and other items that are required to be photographed and put up online to be sold. This will be time consuming, and it does not consider what is needed to be done with the items when they are brought in.

Louise, manager at Sense charity shop in Colchester said: “Our branch didn’t part in converting to online. We found that it wasn’t worth the hassle.”

Once the website is up and running, a team is needed to process the orders, maintain the website, and do some advertising to market a customer base. This may seem a little more demanding on certain skills that retail staff may not be accustomed to.

Due to the physical shop being closed, members of the public that usually donate clothes in store will not be able to and stock will be limited to the amount that shops already have in their possession. Bigger charities tend to have more shops available, for example, Mind UK has 160 shops across England and Wales, whereas the British Heart Foundation has 600 shops. More shops mean there will be more stock to sort through.

However, an article by Retail Gazette outlines that some charity shops still accept donations during the lockdown. The sanitize and quarantine the items for 72 hours before encountering the donations. On the BHF website a ‘Ways to donate’ page has been set up to ensure locals are still able to donate to them.

Ways to donate infographic (via BHF website)

This kind of operation may not translate well as it seems to be a large-scale job. Regional charities will have to decide if they want each individual branch shop to have their own website or all the be available through one main website. Oxfam has managed to set up a successful online shop which they can sell the second-hand items obtained by them.

Despite the limitations, this is a good way for charities moving forward. As the high street has been on a steady decline for recent years, online shopping could be a way for them to keep up with the demand of virtual shopping and maintain an online customer base. This, in turn, will act as a preventative method in case a similar situation to the pandemic arises in the future.

It will also allow customers to support the charities by buying products from the comfort of their homes. In turn, this could give charities more money in the long run as the online shop could replace many street stores and reach a bigger client base.