An extraordinary year: The Resource Centre in 2020-21

Holding steady through the crisis

Our major achievement during the year was to survive while also providing vital and highly valued support to groups in the city, and to end the year in a reasonably stable position. That we were able to do so was thanks not only to the hard work of our staff and trustees but also to the flexibility of our regular funders. A very generous grant from the Lottery Coronavirus Fund was crucial in providing financial stability during the year and allowing us to build for a longer term future.

Clearly this has been an exceptional year in almost every way. Most significantly many local groups have faced massive and unprecedented challenges when supporting their communities. They have had to adapt quickly to new demands and new ways of working.

The Resource Centre in turn faced heavy demand from users, and needed to adapt to dealing with new requests. In particular groups needed

  • Advice on how to carry out activities remotely: this ranged from the basic ‘how do I get onto Zoom’ to the more complicated questions of ‘how do I run a successful AGM in the current situation’.
  • Advice on the changing legal and safety situation: is it possible to make the common room in our block of flats safe for events? Can our group meet outside?
  • Help with negotiating with funders and external bodies: what does it mean for our grant if we can’t carry out the agreed work? But want to do something else useful instead?
  • Printed materials: during the year we printed tens of thousands of documents, including leaflets for Covid support groups, community newsletters and recipe books for food banks

We worked hard to meet these requests and to do so in a context where

  • Our building was closed and our equipment hire service and self-help print service were unable to operate. This reduced both the service available to groups and our income.
  • The loss of income meant we were forced to furlough staff throughout the year, reducing the time available for work.
  • There was still a heavy demand for printed materials
  • We were having to put time into making our workspace safe for staff and adapting to staff working remotely
  • We were often unable to meet people face-to-face meaning all support work was remote
  • The overall situation changed regularly so some time went into preparing for re-opening that was then snatched away
  • Our own medium term financial situation was uncertain, given the closure of the building

Given all of this we are proud of what we achieved during the year. Inevitably though the work was less planned and structured than normal. We were often firefighting and meeting demands from groups at short notice.

We prioritised doing what was clearly necessary over meeting funding outcomes which had been overtaken by events. At the same time we attempted to keep funders updated as to the work we were doing, and feedback from them indicated they were happy for us to redirect funds to where they were required. We are extremely grateful for their flexibility.

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Overview of our work this year

During this very difficult year we still managed to support 208 different groups on a total of 851 occasions. Around 75% of the groups were from Brighton and Hove as were 92% of uses.

This support breaks down as

Uses of the print service  590
Artwork and layout support  175
Advice on demand  133
Advice and training (prebooked)  257
Examination of accounts  39

It is worth noting that throughout the year, in addition to these specific services, our front desk was open four days a week to answer telephone and email enquiries. This was a vital contact point for groups, especially in the chaotic days of the first lockdown and meant we were able to support groups to adapt their activities to the new and changing circumstances.

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Printing and design support

“Thank you SO much for continuing to provide amazing resources and services for people, even with everything going on. That’s amazing.”
Kidzone

A major part of our print service in normal times is do it yourself: groups come to the centre to print their own material with staff on hand to support as necessary. This gives groups control over the print process, spreads skills and helps keep prices low. It also gives us the opportunity to talk to groups, find out about their work and offer other relevant advice.

Unfortunately, since March 2020 groups have been unable to come inside the Centre for safety reasons. Despite this we knew it was important to continue the print service to enable groups to spread the word about support available, keep their members informed and connected, publicise and organise their activities. This was particularly important for groups with members who would be less likely to be able to access information online, such as those living on low incomes, older people and people with English as a second or additional language.

“A big shout out to Brighton Resource Centre, who turned around 2000+ pages of printing for Scrub patterns and making instruction in one day. Need printing done? They are an amazing community resource.”
Brighton Scrub Hub

The service was heavily used throughout the year with 104 different groups producing around 150,000 different documents. As well as newsletters, posters and flyers, we helped groups to produce sewing patterns for scrubs, recipes to go in emergency food bags, thank you gifts for NHS workers, maps for hot meal distribution rounds, food hygiene training materials, information about new social supermarkets, and activity packs for children

This service is unique and offers much more than access to good quality print. Our flexible extra support means we can help one group to formulate their message, or design a newsletter for another, while for others it’s a matter of proofreading and giving design tips. We also produce artwork for member groups who are unable to do this themselves and did this on 175 occasions in this year.

We were particularly proud of the work we did early in the first lockdown to produce urgent information newsletters for 12 different neighbourhoods. This work was carried out in collaboration with Housing Services and in April 2020 alone we printed over 70,000 newsletters.

With the exception of the collaborative work with Housing Services all of our print service work was carried out by staff funded by our Third Sector Commissioning (TSC) funding.

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Advice and training

“Dani from the Resource Centre was very knowledgeable about my query and able to provide me with the necessary information quickly, clearly and concisely. Her on-going support is going to really help our society move forward in a manner which is legally and professionally acceptable to both our members and other organisations we work with. I never feel alone running my society, knowing I have the backup support from the resource centre. I cannot thank the resource centre and their staff enough.”
Sussex Indian Punjabi Society

A major part of our work is to provide advice, information and training. We specialise in offering these to small grassroots groups and especially those from marginalised communities. We normally deliver this work in two ways

  1. Through our ‘advice on demand’ service which aims to give short but effective support immediately on a drop-in basis
  2. Through support sessions: more structured and longer pieces of work designed to provide more extensive support.

With our building closed none of this could be done face to face. We knew though that there would be significant demand for this support as groups struggled with the changing needs of their members. We therefore moved quickly to provide advice on demand by telephone and email and to carry out sessions remotely. Both aspects of the service were heavily used throughout the year.

The advice on demand service was used by 94 different groups on a total of 134 occasions.

We also carried out over 250 structured support sessions with 44 different groups. The support offered covered 38 different topics, with the most frequent enquiries concerning fundraising, budgeting, charitable status, reporting to funders, book-keeping, writing a constitution and choosing a legal structure, and bank accounts

As part of the above we supported 22 groups with fundraising applications, budgeting and book-keeping. The total grant income raised following our support is, so far, £115,840. Groups are still awaiting the result of some applications so we hope to increase this amount.

Our advice and training work is funded by a mix of funding streams: the work is attributed to a funder depending on the nature of the group supported. In this year all of our work with tenants’ groups was funded by Housing Services and work with childcare settings by Early Years and Childcare. Some funding from the Chalk Cliff Trust was carried into this year and supported work with groups of disabled people.

A portion of our work with BME groups was funded through a grant from Sussex Community Foundation. In this year the remainder of our advice work was funded from our TSC grant.

Information

Access to up-to-date information has been particularly important in the last year and, as well as our usual updating, we have prioritised making sure that our website always shows the current regulations and best practice for groups. In total 2,053 individuals in Brighton and Hove viewed the information pages on our website.

Digital and social media communication have been more important than ever in the last year. By June we produced two information sheets – ‘Organising online activities and events’ and ‘Video and telephone meeting tools’ – to help groups effectively use these tools.

We kept our information on funding sources up to date in a rapidly changing situation, and added an additional page on specific sources for Covid emergency funding. We continue to adapt and add new information resources as things change.

All of our information work was funded from our TSC funding.
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Community accounting

“The Resource Centre was efficient and helpful. Their help with our accounts means we can use our precious funds to benefit the families we are trying to support.”
Hangleton & Knoll Parent Carer Group

Supporting groups with their financial management is an important part of our usual work. We help our priority groups to set up accounts systems, we train treasurers and we provide an independent examination of group accounts. These examinations allow groups to demonstrate to their members and to funders that money has been properly accounted for.

Demand for this service was lower than usual this year, as many groups simply went into hibernation. Nevertheless we carried out 39 examinations.

Funding for this work came from several streams. Examinations for tenant groups were funded by Housing Services, those for childcare settings from the council’s Early Years Childcare Service and the remainder from our TSC funding.

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Tenant consultation support

In addition to the above services we also do specific work, funded by Housing Services, to support tenant consultation in the city. The Resource Centre provides secretarial support to the resident meetings that take place in each area prior to the Area Panels. These are part of the formal consultation structure with the Council and feed into Housing Committee meetings.

The Resource Centre’s role is to take minutes, send out papers and notification of the meeting, and support the Resident Chairperson. The aim is to assist residents in putting forward their concerns and issues clearly and effectively.

During the year we supported 22 Resident Only Meetings, one city wide tenant meeting and one meeting of the Sheltered Housing Action Group.
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Investing for the future

While the priority this year was to support groups in meeting the immediate crisis we were also able to build our services to enable us to meet the future needs of groups. In particular we overhauled our print service by adding two new printers and a new guillotine. This will enable groups to produce:

  • Posters up to A0 size
  • Vinyl and roller banners
  • Professional-looking flyers, posters and newsletters, with high-quality, edge-to-edge printing

In addition, we added several new items to our stock of equipment for hire, bearing in mind that, while the situation with the pandemic remains uncertain, groups will be wanting to organise events as soon as this is safely possible. We have therefore purchased and made available:

  • Two new marquees, to make outdoor events easier
  • Six card readers, so that groups can take card payments at their events
  • A Meeting Owl (combined camera, speaker and microphone), to enable hybrid in-person and online meetings
  • A roller banner stand with interchangeable banner facility, and flexible freestanding signs which groups can use to provide safety or other information for visitors at their events

In preparation for reopening our building to public access, we invested in new ventilation fans and air purifiers, and carried out other improvements to the building, with the aim of minimising the risk of infection for both staff and users.

The worker time to plan this work, plus the capital expenditure itself, were both funded from the Lottery Coronavirus Fund.

As well as these major development we spent some time identifying the likely support needs of groups as things return to normal. Over and above our usual advice work we would like to be able to provide

  • Hands-on book-keeping support to get records into good shape after a year in which usual accounting practices have been difficult to maintain
  • Bookable computer access (in a private, well ventilated office), so that groups can enter up accounts or do administrative tasks that are more difficult at home, with Covid-safe support from Resource Centre staff on request
  • Intensive support with planning safe activities and events
  • Support with relaunching groups, including an offer to facilitate hybrid or Zoom meetings

We are currently seeking funding to provide this support.
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Published: June 2021