New report finds small charities showed up and stuck around to support people throughout the Covid 19 pandemic when others couldn’t

Smaller charities played a key role in supporting people and communities throughout the pandemic in a way that public services and mutual aid could not, a new report has found. Commissioned by Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, the research highlights that smaller charities responded effectively for people and communities experiencing disadvantage because they are distinctive in who they serve, how they carry out their work, and the role they play in their communities. 


The Value of Small in a Big Crisis report found that small and local charities – defined as those with an income of between £10,000 and £1m - have demonstrated tremendous energy, flexibility, and professionalism in responding to COVID-19.  


Based on interviews with charities and the public sector in four areas across England and Wales, the researchers found that smaller charities addressed four main areas of need - access to food, isolation and loneliness, information, and mental health/wellbeing - in ways that were tailored to different groups and communities experiencing complex social issues, such as homelessness or mental ill health, and economic disadvantage.  


Small charities “showed up and stuck” around, using their position of trust within communities to support people throughout the crisis when they were needed most. This contrasts with parts of the public sector, which were slower to react early on, and informal support and mutual aid, which dissipated over time.  

As a public sector stakeholder in Wrexham stated: “As opposed to a public body or larger organisation, I do feel that a smaller organisation, third sector particularly so, can be quite responsive…they may be on the ground, more local level and can identify more quickly to a changing need.” 


Locally rooted small charities found multiple ways to maintain human contact using the trusted relationships they already had to disseminate help and information. This was particularly critical for disadvantaged neighbourhoods, communities of faith or ethnicity, people experiencing poor mental health and people seeking asylum as their needs were less well served by mainstream provision and to whom official public health messages were not getting through, even though they were more likely to be adversely affected by impacts of COVID-19. 


One charity involved in the research was Golden Opportunity Skills and Development (GOS&D), a small Black, Asian, and minority ethnic-led charity which work with disadvantaged children and young people in West London.  


Sharmake Diriye, Programme Lead at GOS&D, said of the vital support they provided: “At the start of the pandemic, we mobilised to tackle misinformation about the virus that was partially driven by public health messages that weren’t reaching our community. Many were also going without food while others could not access medication.”  


He added: “Without our services, the lives of some of our community members would have been at risk. Over 100 users and their families would have found themselves sleeping rough and, on the streets, if GOS&D had not intervened. We also used our longstanding relationships with the local council and NHS services to ensure that those with mental ill health were referred to relevant services.”  


The research found that the work of smaller charities has created real value for the individuals they helped and for public services. These charities stopped lives from getting worse and prevented more people from contracting COVID-19, ultimately reducing demand on the health system at very minimal additional cost to the public purse.  In the face of a severe recession, by continuing to employ local people, utilising local supply chains, and accessing pots of funding that could not have been brought into local areas by other types of providers, small charities have also added value to local economies.  


The research captures the incredible resilience of many small charities, demonstrating “absorptive capacity” by ‘soaking-up’ the unprecedented impact of the crisis on their work, operations and the individuals and communities they support; and then showing tremendous “adaptive capacity” by responding rapidly and flexibly through adjustments and innovations on an ongoing basis.  


Paul Streets, Chief Executive of Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, said: “Small charities’ knowledge of local communities is unparalleled, and has allowed them to provide effective services to those who’ve needed them the most during this most challenging of times.”  


He added: “If Government really wants to help people through Covid and beyond it should invest more in small frontline charities - who are already on the ground in their communities and achieve fantastic results - and less in big top-down private contracts. We call on Government, councils, and other funders to act on the report’s recommendations to ensure small charities can be there to help the country and communities recover and rebuild.”


Chris Dayson, Principal Research Fellow in the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research, said: “We’ve always known the value of small charities, but in conducting our research we found that they were truly going above and beyond to help communities adapt and respond to reach people that others can’t and stay engaged where others won’t.”  


He added: “As our report shows, small and local charities provide a distinct value to individuals, public services, economies and communities. Decision makers need to recognise this value and support small charities to survive and thrive." 


Despite the incredible response of smaller charities to the pandemic described in the report and the benefits and value this has brought, they face significant challenges due to COVID-19. They have seen an increase in the level and severity of need; reductions, unpredictability, and volatility in funding; and concerns about staff wellbeing and ‘burnout’. 


The report calls for national and local government to recognise the value of small charities so they can continue to support individuals and communities and help rebuilding by: 


  • Fostering a thriving and resilient population of smaller charities  
  • Providing long term, flexible, core funding for smaller charities 
  • Investing in social and community infrastructure 
  • Putting social value and the promotion of wellbeing at the centre of public commissioning and procurement.
  • Enhancing digital inclusion and service delivery.


For more information, please contact Charlie Ensor on or 07384535633.


Notes to editor: 

About the report  

The report was commissioned by Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales and conducted by an independent research team comprising of the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR) at Sheffield Hallam University, Institute for Community Research and Development (ICRD) at the University of Wolverhampton, Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR), and Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership (CVSL) at the Open University.  

The study focused on the initial period of ‘lockdown’ between March-June 2020, and the subsequent period of ‘opening-up’ (July-September 2020). 

The report follows research undertaken in 2018 across communities in Bassetlaw, Ealing, Salford, and Wrexham, supporting and expanding upon the group’s original findings to show the continued importance of small charities Overall, 39 people participated in the research, including 21 representatives of smaller charities and 18 stakeholders from the wider public and voluntary sectors in each area. 

About Lloyds Bank Foundation 

Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales partners with small and local charities who help people overcome complex social issues. Through funding for core costs, developmental support and influencing policy and practice, the Foundation helps charities make life-changing impact.  

During 2020, the Foundation awarded £24.8m to small and local charities helping people facing disadvantage. With the unprecedented circumstances of coronavirus such charities have been never more needed. The Foundation is an independent charitable trust funded by the profits of Lloyds Banking Group. 


About Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR) 

As a leading UK policy research centre, CRESR seeks to understand the impact of social and economic disadvantage on places and people and assess critically the policies and interventions targeted at these issues. Clients include government departments and agencies, local authorities, charities and foundations, international organisations, and the private sector. We offer research expertise covering a wide range of qualitative and quantitative methods, evaluation, policy advice and guidance, and consultancy. 


The Institute for Community Research and Development (ICRD) at the University of Wolverhampton 

The Institute for Community Research and Development (ICRD) works with and in our local communities to deliver effective community-based transformational projects, drives policy developments, and promote social mobility. Drawing on a history of collaborative research across our faculties of Social Science, and Health, Education, and Well-being, ICRD uses interdisciplinary expertise to affect positive change in local communities, increase knowledge, and shape local and national policy. ICRD undertakes pioneering community development studies that improve the life chance of individuals in the region and works with our partnership networks to champion for change. 


The Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership

The Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership (CVSL) is an Academic Centre of Excellence in the OU Business School, initially established with a generous philanthropic gift from Anthony Nutt. Over the last decade, the voluntary sector has been increasingly challenged by austerity measures and the shifting expectations of what support the voluntary sector can, could and should provide. Smaller organisations, which form the majority of the sector, have been particularly impacted by this increasingly unstable environment. Leaders and senior managers of organisations, whether paid or unpaid, are required to operate in a highly competitive, increasingly commercialised context. 


Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) 

As a team, we believe in the value of people and organisations working for social change. We see the difference they make every day – particularly those that are smaller and rooted in the heart of their communities. It is important for them (especially those that can’t afford research) to have access to insights and ideas that can help them make informed, confident decisions.  

Our independent research enables us to provide evidence, insights and learning that are both trusted and relevant. We are collaborative in all that we do, working closely with people at all levels, across sectors, to understand, investigate and grapple with the challenges and opportunities they face. 


Golden Opportunity Skills and Development (GOS&D) 

We are an Ealing-based charity focused on building a vibrant and equal society. Our services are designed to meet the needs of people from socially disadvantaged parts of our community and help them flourish. Our organisation was founded in 2003 by three friends from diverse and challenging backgrounds who shared a vision of better support for young people in Southall. Since then, we have delivered ground-breaking projects focused on providing the kinds of help that really makes a difference.


Menu image: Warm Hut, one of the charities who participated in the research

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