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  4. Remaking, Rearranging, Reaffirming: The role of voluntary sector Local Infrastructure Organisations during the Covid-19 pandemic in England

Remaking, Rearranging, Reaffirming: The role of voluntary sector Local Infrastructure Organisations during the Covid-19 pandemic in England

Introduction

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic The Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership (CVSL) has continued to have conversations with people working and volunteering in a variety of different contexts within the voluntary sector. 

In particular, we have focussed on Local Infrastructure Organisations (LIOs) and the work they have done during this time. LIOs exist to ensure that local voluntary sector organisations get the support, advice, and representation they need to both better support communities and to work better with other organisations, such as those in the public sector. Our interviews with individuals from six LIOs have given us some interesting insights into the ongoing successes and challenges of delivering such a role.

This blog post is the first in an occasional series exploring the findings from these conversations. It will give a brief overview of the key findings, what this might mean for the LIO more generally, and signpost to future blogs that will explore the findings in more detail.

Key findings

The interviews allowed us to explore a wide range of different topics with our participants and to get their perspective on what life has been like within LIOs. Much of what we discussed involved debates and considerations that were difficult and had to be navigated in an ongoing way. In addition, many of the decisions made and working practices changed over time as the pandemic progressed. We hope to return to our interviewees to see how this develops in the future.

We summarised our findings in relation to three aspects: Remaking, Rearranging, and Reaffirming.

  • Remaking – doing different things. We saw this in how LIOs adapted their offer or repurposed their funding (in conversation with funders) to deliver new work.
  • Rearranging – doing things differently. LIOs adapted previous work to deliver in different ways – online, socially distanced, alternative approaches, etc.
  • Reaffirming – continuing previous practices. Often this was about delivering things that worked before Covid and were still needed or needed more than ever.

Each organisation contained different variations on these three aspects, often depending on what their offer was before Covid. For example, in relation to support for loneliness (during the pandemic this was often because of isolation but was also an issue pre-Covid), for organisations that had previously offered telephone befriending this was reaffirmed, for those who had offered face-to-face visits, this was rearranged to phone/online, for those who previously did not offer this service it was a remaking.

The wider role of LIOs

The wider role of LIOs seemed to come into sharper focus during this period, in terms of what the expectations of the role were, particularly in relation to the public sector. It was focussed on three main areas:

  1. Providing/delivering food and medicine
  2. Attempting to alleviate loneliness and deliver befriending type services
  3. Volunteer coordination and support

In addition, two other areas of work were crucial to the role although perhaps not as ‘visible’ in official responses and requests:

  1. Support and coordination for community groups – such as ‘mutual aid’ – and others that may have stepped up to deliver services (as in (1) and (2) above)
  2. Supporting public sector workers and organisations – avoiding duplication, providing data, giving the sector (and community group) perspective at strategic meetings and events, etc.

Debates in the voluntary sector have long questioned the influence of the public sector on ways of working. The Covid pandemic appears to have magnified this influence. Whether it endures as we continue to emerge from the period of initial crisis in response to Covid-19, and whether LIOs return to work that is influenced and directed in other ways, remains to be seen.

This blog is written by Dr Daniel Haslam.

Look out for future blog posts covering:

  • > Getting and sharing information
  • > Closing or staying open
  • > Funding
  • > Increasing demand and staff/volunteer burden
  • > Working ‘in the middle’
  • > Volunteer coordination
  • > Change and the pace of change
  • > And more on changing ways of working!

27th August 2021

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