Small charities helped the UK survive the pandemic, and now they have a vital role to play in the recovery.

Lloyds Banking Group
03 September 2021
5 min read

When the pandemic hit, and the UK went into lockdown for the first time it became clear very quickly that a nation-wide humanitarian response was needed to protect and support vulnerable people across the country.

At the heart of these efforts were small charities, embedded in local communities everywhere. Now, as we recover from the damage caused by the pandemic, and the significant ongoing challenges it has created, these charities continue to play a vital role.

As a business, we support these invaluable organisations through our four independent, charitable Foundations - covering England & Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Channel Islands.

Each of our Foundations partners with hundreds of small charities in their area, providing them with the support they need to keep helping people overcome social challenges such as mental health issues, domestic abuse, and homelessness.

Over the past two years, we’ve donated over £50 million to help the Foundations plan and navigate through the pandemic. As well as providing funding, our Foundations combine local knowledge and expertise to help charities to become more effective and financially sustainable.

Our colleagues also offer practical support to the Foundations and their charities. This takes many forms – virtual volunteering, mentoring programmes and sharing digital resources through the Lloyds Bank Academy and Bank of Scotland Academy.



The initial response

As the coronavirus crisis unfolded, we saw some of the most effective responses coming from smaller charities who were already working closely with local communities.

These charities are distinctive in their position because of how well they know the people they are serving, how flexibly they have been able to adapt their working models, and because of their contribution to local public services.

This makes them best placed to respond to a crisis of this magnitude in ways that really matter to people.

Paul Streets OBE, Chief Executive of the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, explains why their role was so key: “From day one small charities stepped up to help people, they provided food and daily essentials, enabled people to get online by providing equipment and access, supported people’s mental health and wellbeing, and worked to overcome isolation and loneliness.

“They continually shared information in an easy-to-understand format and translated to different languages so everyone could follow national guidance and remain safe. 

“They showed up, tailoring their response to the needs of individual people and were a lifeline within their communities throughout the pandemic in ways that other, more informal support systems and public sector organisations, simply couldn’t."

Paul Streets OBE, Lloyds Bank Foundation, England & Wales

“Through their existing trusting relationships, they supported communities that were most impacted by the pandemic and that weren’t being supported by mainstream provision. This included disadvantaged neighbourhoods, Black, Asian and minority-ethnic communities, faith groups, people seeking asylum and people experiencing poor mental health.”

One place where the pandemic presented a very particular challenge was the Channel Islands, as many people needed to travel to the mainland for medical treatment and care.

Jo Le Poidevin, Executive Director of the Lloyds Bank Foundation for Channel Islands, explained: “As with the UK, many islanders have found their appointments postponed, disrupted, or made lonelier and more stressful with restricted access to hospitals and care settings.

“With additional travel rules requiring extended periods of self-isolation, prior to their treatment as well as self-isolation arriving back in the islands, local charities saw an increase in the need for on-island practical and emotional support.

“In response to coronavirus, many charities here adapted to new ways of working and new partnerships and collaborations quickly emerged. For example, in Jersey, the three main food banks came together to form a single, centralised food bank distributing the basics of food, toiletries, cleaning products, electricity cards and mobile phone credit.

“In Guernsey, a new initiative #StayConnected was launched, with cross-sector support from charities, corporates, individual members of the public and funders. It provided access to tablets, WIFI devices and digital support for older and vulnerable or shielding islanders who were home alone or in care homes to keep in touch with family, friends, and groups.”

And this adaptability was seen right across the UK. Jillian Baillie, Chief Executive of the Bank of Scotland Foundation, said: “The energy and determination of charity staff and volunteers was inspiring as they responded flexibly, innovatively, and sensitively to the crisis.

“Charities everywhere in Scotland rapidly redesigned their support programmes to help tackle a range of issues including social isolation, financial hardship, food poverty, worsened mental health and redundancy.”

As the scale of the challenge facing charities became apparent, our Foundations also needed to react quickly to give them the support they needed to keep going.



Jillian Baillie continued: “To distribute funding to charities as quickly as possible, we changed our Reach programme to rolling monthly instead of quarterly, with awards made every six weeks. This helped charities adapt their services immediately, from moving support groups to online, to distributing food parcels to the vulnerable and those most in need. We also launched our multi-year Invest large grants programme, providing grants of up to £200k to charities over 3-5 years, giving them security during uncertain times.

“We also quickly established a Contingency Fund in April 2020 for our current grantees, to help with the increasing financial challenges they were facing due to the pandemic. Within two months, 153 charities were supported with almost £700k of additional funding to help them continue their services.”

This rapid uplift in demand for funding was experienced by all four of the Foundations. Brenda McMullan, Executive Director of the Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland, said: “In March 2020 alone we saw a five-fold increase in applications to the Foundation for funding, and we were one of a few funders that mobilised quickly to provide these emergency funds.

“We awarded 234 coronavirus grants, with funding of £893,225, supporting close to 200,000 people across Northern Ireland. We provided funding towards food parcels, wellbeing packs, laptops for those isolated at home as well as core support for charities to be able to deliver. In addition to supporting the influx of new applications, we continued to help our current grant holders, as many needed to cease operations or change the direction.

“The community and voluntary sector in Northern Ireland was nothing short of exceptional when helping communities during the first coronavirus wave. While most of us stayed at home, charities quickly adapted their policies and supported our most vulnerable. While our NHS staff were saving lives in health settings, our charities were saving lives on the doorstep by providing food and friendship.”


Support with the ongoing challenge

As the UK and the Channel Islands emerge from the pandemic, the damaging effects and the challenges it created continue to be felt by charities serving communities everywhere.

In fact, many small and local charities continue to face a combination of challenges that would be insurmountable without the right financial backing. “As more and more people turned to charities for help with increasingly complex needs, charities also experienced greater uncertainty and fluxes in income" said Paul Streets.

“Last year saw a lot of short-term emergency funding which helped charities keep their doors open while other income streams were threatened. However, this has now led to widespread financial insecurity in many cases, as short-term funding cannot adequately solve the long-term problems the UK faces as a result of the pandemic.

“As well as impacting longer term strategic planning, this insecurity in funding is also directly affecting recruitment and retention of staff.

“With many charities needing to grow their staff teams to help more people as emergency funding comes to an end it is proving difficult for them to retain these members of staff or recruit new ones. There are also real concerns over the mental health of those teams that sustained such a prolonged response to the pandemic.”

“Charity leaders, staff and volunteers are still coming to terms with the trauma of the past 18 months – burn out in the Sector is a real challenge, especially for those who have been working on the frontline, helping out in very challenging circumstances for such a long time.”

Brenda McMullan, Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland

Brenda McMullan continues: “Coronavirus has also shone a light on the need for succession planning within small charities. It has brought to the fore the need for multi-year funding, for core support with flex to allow charities to adapt and move when they need to, and this was something that we strive to deliver.”

Jo Le Poidevin explained that, for some charities in the Channel Islands, staff shortages are a major continuing challenge: “Ongoing travel restrictions, coupled with a lack of affordable housing and high cost of living, have impeded the recruitment of additional staff from off island to deal with the increase in demand for services. These restrictions have also impacted the ability of charities’ existing staff to complete their off-island training.”

And it’s not just resourcing that has had a lasting impact on how small charities are able to deliver their services effectively. Jo Le Poidevin continued: “A challenge that we at the Foundation foresaw early on is the increase in waiting lists and times for services where the wait is greatly detrimental, such as mental health, domestic violence, childhood trauma, alcohol, drug and gambling addictions, or employability support.

“So, in December 2020, we launched the 35 Grant Programme to support charities in helping communities on the Islands recover from coronavirus. The programme offered unrestricted funding, giving flexibility to the charities to deploy the funds as they best see fit to help make a difference to lives of the people they support. It also provided a bank mentor to support charities in their recovery to help improve organisational resilience and sustainability.”

In Scotland too the Bank of Scotland Foundation has stepped up the ongoing support it offers to charities, both financially and in terms of strategic help. Jillian Baillie said: “We're offering funding for unrestricted core costs through our Change programme for the first time, giving charities greater flexibility over how they use their resources and allowing them to respond quickly to a changing environment and deploy resources accordingly.

“And the support we’re providing goes beyond funding. In May we hosted our first Online Event giving charities and third sector leaders the opportunity to share the excellent ways they have overcome challenges, adapted services, and built resilience throughout the pandemic.

“Charities learned from each other and there was real insight into the challenges that charities continue to face, especially the ongoing increase in demand for their services. The conversation was both reflective and forward thinking, looking back over the pandemic but also looking at ways the third sector can continue transforming services using digital tools to break down barriers and improve accessibility.

“Our Charity Mentoring programme offers Foundation funded charities the opportunity to be matched with a colleague mentor from Lloyds Banking Group. As we hear more about the fatigue and burn-out of charity Boards and management teams, our colleagues’ mentors are listening, providing support, direction, advice, and motivation – everything that helps build recovery and success.”

Helping communities recover

There is no question that small charities will play a lynchpin role in driving the recovery from coronavirus in communities across the length and breadth of Britain.

Brenda McMullan said: “As we emerge from the pandemic, and return to some sense of normality, the community and voluntary sector in Northern Ireland will be more important than ever in helping communities get back on their feet.

“There was already a mental health crisis in Northern Ireland before coronavirus, but this has been significantly worsened by the pandemic, with many people presenting with mental ill health for the first time.



“Our sector will be there to pick up the pieces, with an added recognition from government departments of their expertise, their ability to flex and their resilience.”

Paul Streets agreed that charities’ work will be invaluable to the recover: “Charities across England and Wales continue to be there for the people and communities that need them the most and they are playing a pivotal role. With better investment and support, small charities can achieve greater organisational resilience which will help them survive and thrive over the longer term so they can maintain their vital contribution to helping Britain recover.”

For Jo Le Poidevin, the pandemic has elevated the role that charities play in local communities in the Channel Islands, and also the funding support that donors are willing to give. “Virtually every islander has been aware of the vital work of the charitable sector in supporting those most socially excluded and vulnerable in our communities. The result has been an out-pouring of generosity from members of the public responding to funding appeals, and corporates and funders digging deeper and fast-tracking the distribution of funds.

“We hope, as funding bodies, to continue with the strong collaborations built during the emergency phase of the pandemic into the recovery phase. We want to make it easier for charities to navigate and access funding, and for funders to know that their support is reaching those people in greatest need and where it will make the greatest difference.”

Jillian Baillie underlined the long-term commitment of our Foundations in supporting charities in Scotland, saying: “We have a long journey ahead for all of us and funding, as well as strategic support, will be as crucial as ever for charities as the impact of the pandemic continues. Working in partnership with Lloyds Banking Group, we’re proud to play our part.”

Support where it is needed most

At Lloyds Banking Group, we are committed to supporting the UK’s recovery, and helping those in the greatest need is part of this.

It’s clear to see that small charities continue to be at the heart of the efforts to tackle some of the most challenging issues facing the UK as we emerge from the pandemic and, through our four charitable Foundations we will continue to be at their side, in every community they serve

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