Louise Mousseau, Portfolio Director, Guy's and St Thomas' Charity
Apr 23, 2020
In such shifting circumstances it can be difficult to keep track of responses to COVID-19 and get to grips with the most impactful and efficient ways to help those most affected. I want to share how we at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity are responding to this global pandemic as a funder, and how we see our role emerging week by week.
We're an urban health foundation, focused on changing systems of inequality both in our London boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark and more widely. COVID-19 has triggered a major reconfiguration of health services, food supplies, business, fiscal policy, human interaction, and this is not an exhaustive list. These changes are against an existing backdrop of widening inequality and the continued deterioration of health for those surviving on low incomes. Understanding all this change and its impact on health will be a key priority for us over the coming months and years. The insights we gather now will shape our programmes as they adapt to this changed world. Last week our CEO Kieron Boyle talked about how we are preparing to tackle the aftermath of the pandemic, as well as working on emergency response measures. Each of our Programme Directors will share their emerging thoughts on what this means for childhood obesity, those with multiple long-term conditions, and the health effects of air pollution, in a series of blogs over the coming weeks. We hope you will share your thoughts with us too.
In this blog, I want to talk about how we have initially responded to the pandemic to support our partners and the voluntary sector across our portfolio. I’ll share an example of our first wave of new projects and how we are trying to prepare for this new future; a future which contains such flux within it that we will need to be agile and quick to act so that we don’t miss key opportunities to improve health inequality long term.
Initially, our priority was to try to mitigate some of the immediate negative impacts of COVID-19 on our residents and the partners we fund that support them. We contacted every organisation in our portfolio to let them know they have our full support and start to vary grants and contracts in response. We also worked together to adapt project plans and outputs with partners. For example, our community researchers project with The Social Innovation Partnership (TSIP) sets out to create a more diverse and inclusive research practice by supporting local residents to become community researchers and lead their own interventions. This has been rapidly turned into a digital project, with online training and engagement tools set up in just weeks (you can read a really great pre-COVID blog about the impact of diverse peer research from one of our community researchers here).
Beyond our directly funded projects, we also worked with other funders in our boroughs, including London Funders. As part of their Emergency Response, we joined two funds - one in Southwark and one in Lambeth contributing a total of £500,000. We are collaborating in Southwark with United St Saviours, the Peter Minet Trust and Southwark Charities, with a crowdfunder through Spacehive raising further funds. In Lambeth, we have partnered with The Walcot Foundation, the Peter Minet Trust and Winn & Coales (Denso) Ltd.
Funds will be available to organisations and enterprises within the communities and accessible quickly for those offering emergency rapid response. We have also given a £1,000,000 grant to Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, to support frontline staff and patients at the hospital.
As emergency responses flow through existing networks, there is a risk that the structural inequalities in our society will lead to the unequal flow of emergency relief, exacerbating inequalities even further. We work in areas of London with some of the highest proportion of BAME residents and have already seen disproportionate death rates for ethnic minority groups across the country. To develop insights about how and why this might be happening, we need to hear the voices of people directly affected by this situation. We are developing another project with TSIP, who are specialists in community engagement, to understand people's lived experience of COVID-19 - a digital project that will informally collect stories, insights and ideas, checking in with a group of residents repeatedly over the next 12 weeks. We don't yet know what this project will lead to, but we anticipate exciting new micro-grants, collaborations with community members around how funding is spent, and other co-produced solutions where communities design the parameters of their own research and initiatives.
What is already very clear is that the relationship between the government, the individual and technology has rapidly shifted. COVID-19 has created new energies and movements and there is much for us to learn and understand. For example, the Mutual Aid groups that have sprung up in response to the pandemic and the mobilisation of local residents has fundamentally changed the social fabric of our boroughs. New models to support them have emerged with social media and digital playing a core role in their operations and outreach. We're partnering with The Social Change Agency, an organisation that specialises in building people-powered movements, to enable us to get grant funding directly to Mutual Aid groups via a platform called Open Collective. The Social Change Agency acts as a 'fiscal host' - enabling small, often grass-roots groups to receive funding from us directly via a transparent digital platform. As new movements grow we are looking not just to support them but to learn from them about what civic action might look like in this post-COVID world and the role technology will play in enabling it.
We are still testing and learning as we go, working closely with our partners to understand the most useful input we can offer as a foundation. Next week our Programme Director for childhood obesity will share our approach to increasing access to healthy food for families on low incomes, and those disproportionality impacted by school closures.
Portfolio Director: Louise Mousseau