Delivering circles of support and accountability to protect communities from sexual harm and sexual reoffending


Surviving as a small charity in the pandemic

Covid –the pandemic that has turned our worlds upside down and killed millions of people. It would be easy to believe that nothing else has happened over the past year, in particular with small charities like CSW. How could the likes of us survive when bigger and more established businesses have not? Indeed, is the work of a small charity vital or, at best, important during these appalling times?

A recent paper from the Lloyds Bank Foundation The Value of Small in a Big Crisis: the distinctive contribution, value and experiences of smaller charities in England and Wales during the COVID 19 pandemic concluded that small charities have demonstrated tremendous energy, flexibility and professionalism in this pandemic. They have demonstrated incredible resilience by ‘soaking-up’ the unprecedented impact of the crisis on their work and through adaptive capacity by making incremental adjustments and innovations on an ongoing basis.

CSW is an excellent example of this as we have adapted our provision in response to the ever-changing circumstances imposed by Covid and our volunteers have been pivotal to this. We know that social isolation is a key factor in the risk of reoffending; Covid has imposed a degree of social isolation to the whole of the population and its effects are exacerbated in the lives of our CMs. Therefore, our challenge has been to look at Covid secure ways to continue meaningful contact. We always knew that we needed to maintain our person centred relationships, the basis of the CoSa model, but how to do that during lockdowns and tier restrictions? We were also mindful of our commitments to our funders and the imperative to involve them in our planning and decision-making.

The safety of our CMs, our volunteers and our staff are paramount so risk assessments were undertaken on all these groups to enable us to gauge the ability and willingness of people to continue to work face to face during the pandemic, taking into account their possible need to shield and their health needs.

We then had to calculate the financial implications of the Covid restrictions on our charity and decisions on furloughing some staff were made. Underpinning all these factors was the imperative to maintain contact with all our core members, whether face to face or virtually and we have succeeded in this throughout the pandemic. We have employed innovative ways to so do, balancing the needs of our CMs and our volunteers with the requirement to deliver our services in a covid secure environment. This has been a challenge but we have risen to it and we believe that we were road mapping months before the government thought of it!

Mindful of government guidelines and regulations, we have continued to run circles via telephone, zoom and face to face. Sometimes we have combined virtual with face to face where, for example, one circle volunteer is shielding and unable to attend in person. We have risk assessed every venue that we use for face to face meetings, ensuring there is adequate space for the “2 metre rule”, coordinators going to venues armed with tape measures and marker tape! Youth circles have been a particular challenge as they involve a huge amount of activity-based meetings. Our volunteers have come up with innovative and fun ways of engaging our young core members, from playing covid secure board games to socially distanced cycle rides.

Our training has also moved on- line – something that, at first, we found daunting and in some ways regrettable. However, we embraced it with the enthusiasm typical of our volunteers and staff and we now acknowledge that there are some positives- no need to travel, no need to get up quite so early and fewer restrictions on numbers. We also offer a monthly volunteers’ event to enable everyone to keep in touch and to provide a forum for additional training, learning and discussion.

Another provision that clearly demonstrates the flexibility and adaptability of our charity is the befriending service, which is being purchased by the NPS to provide telephone contact to Probation service users who are assessed as vulnerable. Having an experienced, well-trained group of volunteers ready and able to provide this service, we were awarded the contract in January and were able to begin the work within days.

We cannot wait to resume “business as usual” but we are proud of our achievements over the past 12 months. We thank our brilliant volunteers and our understanding funders who have enabled us to continue to protect our communities in the south west. To paraphrase the Lloyds Bank Foundation’s words, Circles South West is more than the sum of its parts.

Our Funders