How one charity shifted more services online while experiencing a surge in demand and a drop in income.
The COVID-19 outbreak is putting huge extra pressure on charities tackling domestic violence, because of the surge in frequency and severity of incidents under enforced lockdown, alongside an often-acute drop in resources. SafeLives is seeing exactly this: higher demand for its support and expertise at the same time as losing 35–40 per cent of its income because of coronavirus.
The charity has had to shift its support for professionals helping those experiencing domestic abuse from face to face to online, deploying a range of existing tech platforms including Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, Teams, JoinMe and My Community to help it deliver. The charity was already using digital to drive efficiency and transformation and a digital lead had been developing tech safety and support advice. COVID-19 has forced the team to accelerate those new ways of working.
The organisation has almost entirely pivoted to immediate work on COVID-19, with staff who can’t take part in that effort furloughed to ensure financial sustainability. All remaining staff are working from home.
SafeLives uses these existing technology platforms for contact with its internal team, external partners and other stakeholders. Its use of My Community is one of the key online services it provides — the SafeLives Community uses it as a platform and it has 2,000 members on there. Alongside this, the charity has upped its COVID-19 online content, with dedicated web pages and podcasts (see below).
Impact during COVID-19
“The tech is extremely helpful,” says SafeLives chief executive Suzanne Jacob. “There isn’t a huge amount we can’t do, though as ever we are reliant on other people’s tech and availability. The main thing we can’t do is deliver training; a little of that can be done online but primarily it’s a face-to-face function to maintain quality and social value. Plus our usual learners are fully deployed on crisis response, so many wouldn’t be available anyway.
“There is some lack of confidence amongst team members, but actually most of the tech we use is pretty instinctive and our workforce is used to it as many work remotely in a normal day.”
Advice to others
“Be imaginative,” says Jacobs, when asked her advice to others. “Think how your work can be delivered on a ‘same but different’ basis.”
She says that mass contact has been relatively easy. Members of the SafeLives Community are using the platform more actively to seek advice from SafeLives and each other.
Building new relationships has been harder.
“We would like to be engaging closely with mental health charities at the moment, but it’s hard to build the bridges to do that,” says Jacob.
- Use what’s readily available, free and easy for people of all digital abilities. Don’t invent something new — this is not the time for ‘let’s have an app!’
- If there are team members who are more or less confident, see if it’s possible to buddy up to share expertise and practical tips.
- Adopting digital is about more than just switching to Skype or Zoom meetings. It means new ways of thinking about, planning and delivering work, daily, weekly and longer term, so other changes might happen or be needed as a result. This should not be done in isolation of bigger organisational thinking.
SafeLives podcast — Safe At Home: Survivor perspective. Jo Silver speaks to domestic abuse survivor Rachel Williams, about what people will be experiencing right now, and what help there might be to stay safe.
SafeLives podcast — Safe at Home: Police perspective: Jo Silver speaks to DCC Louisa Rolfe of West Midlands Police about how the police are responding to domestic abuse in the current situation.
SafeLives on YouTube: ‘find out about the work we do’
SafeLives — details
Charity type: Research, practice expertise, advocacy, training/consultancy — second tier
Sector: Domestic abuse
Annual income: £4.7m
Full-time equivalent staff: 74
Suite 2a, Whitefriars
Bristol BS1 2NT
0117 403 3220
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