“We were absolutely invisible”: The impact of Covid-19 on the mental health of grassroots voluntary and community sector workers

Report overview

This report focuses on the experiences of trusted and embedded grassroots voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations. At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Trust recognised that the significant responsibility for supporting communities would fall on the shoulders of these organisations. They found themselves on the frontline of the crisis, providing help to people in unprecedented times.

The report is based on four Great Britain-wide surveys with local grassroots VCS partners in April 2020 (baseline), August 2020, April 2021 and November 2021. An additional fifth phase of the survey built on accumulated knowledge and was completed in February 2022, with the support of Locality (England), Inspiring Scotland, and Building Communities Trust (Wales). It is also based on network meetings with our funded partners over the past two-years in meetings which allowed us to dive deeper into some issues people were experiencing and encountering around mental health. In November 2021 we worked with experts in mental health to facilitate two in-depth workshops exploring possible solutions to the issues presented.

The NHS were heralded as heroes during Covid, we were absolutely invisible. We never stopped during lockdown and there was no public acknowledgement or support. It’s soul destroying really.

Key findings

  • 97% of organisations identified mental health support as their biggest challenge ahead (97% in April 2021 and 90% in November 2021).
  • 82% of VCS project leaders were concerned about staff burnout in the next six-months.
  • 29% of grassroots and community VSC workers had received no formal mental health training at all.

Report recommendations

There is an urgent need for the development of a co-ordinated strategy to support grassroots VCS workers to address the needs of their communities and themselves. People’s Health Trust believe the responsibility for resourcing this strategy lays with both the statutory sector and non-statutory funders. Key elements of the strategy should include:

  • The provision of appropriate and accessible mental health services by the statutory sector and ensuring that grassroots VCS organisations are made aware of what is available and referral pathways.
  • Leadership support for grassroots VCS organisations. This should include training to recognise burnout, trauma and mental-ill health/anxiety amongst front-line staff at VCS level, alongside training in and provision or clinical supervision/other support systems such as well-facilitated peer support networks.
  • Mental health awareness, training and development amongst VCS workers. This should include raising awareness of mental ill-health, understanding how and when to refer (as well as pathways) and supporting the statutory sector with understanding some of the cultural sensitivities experienced.
  • Funders of grassroots VCS organisations to consider capacity building for all grantholders to enable leaders and workers to receive the support, training and knowledge needed to safeguard their mental health and help the communities they serve.

Date published: 23 June 2022

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