Our response to the coronavirus crisis
In recent weeks we've seen society take enormous steps to look after one another in this time of crisis. For many of us at SOS-UK, we've been reaching out to neighbours, checking in on older or more vulnerable relatives and friends, and volunteering with our local Covid-19 Mutual Aid groups.
As an organisation, we are fortunate some of our delivery can be done remotely. Thank you to all our partner organisations for working with us to adapt to new ways of working so quickly. From our respective homes, we've delivered Green Impact audits on Zoom, SDG curriculum mapping sessions on Skype for Business, and kept up momentum onboarding new student volunteers to the Teach the Future campaign.
It's at times like these that organisations really show their true values and we have been proud to see many of our partner organisations stepping up to do the right thing:
- Unite Students, the UK's largest provider of purpose-built student accommodation - with whom we've run a bespoke version of Green Impact for the past six years - has taken action that has put student wellbeing at the heart of their business. A few weeks ago, they announced their decision to refund students' rent for the remainder of the academic year if they do not wish to stay in the property and provide free accommodation to students who are now unexpectedly stuck in the UK for the coming months. Whilst some of their Positive Impact audits have been postponed, they are looking at ways to repurpose their Positive Impact model to engage staff and students to support with key themes at the current time including wellbeing, sustainability, and health.
- Students� Union elected officers have been working tirelessly to continue to represent their students in the face of uncertainty around assessment and concern about rent and tuition fees. Many have made the challenging decision to furlough staff, but at Keele Students' Union their commitment to sustainability continues. Their 2019/20 Green Impact Students' Union submission is being led by the one member of staff who has not been furloughed.
- University of Chester, with whom we run Green Impact and Responsible Futures, swiftly moved all training and audits online. Tamara Hunt, Sustainability Officer, planned an ESD webinar for colleagues which also proved a welcome opportunity to connect with colleagues from across the university during these challenging times. She remarked that 'SOS-UK have been one of the quickest organisations to respond to the current situation and adapt programmes accordingly'.
- The Green Impact for Health programme which hundreds of GP practices across the UK take part in has continued to see huge numbers of registrations over recent weeks, despite those individuals working in the most challenging frontline circumstances. We have the utmost respect for these staff and have been astounded that they have continued to engage in the programme.
- Manchester Metropolitan University and The Union at MMU have found the online Responsible Futures audit to be in such high demand from students looking for the opportunity to contribute to something positive that they've already had over 30 applications for the 10 spaces available for their audit in May.
This is something we've been hearing again and again from staff and students in recent weeks: at this time, more than ever, it's important to connect with people virtually, contribute to something positive, and continue to feel a part of your network.
Some students have shared with us that by continuing to volunteer virtually, they've sustained a feeling of connection to their college or university despite having returned to their home town or having had to leave the country. A lovely example of this is from our My World My Home project.
This has not been easy, though, and we, like many charities, have concerns about how this will impact our fiscal position in the year ahead. About 50% of our income is through direct programme sales with universities, colleges, and students' unions and so unless there is sufficient government support to ensure the stability of the further and higher education sector, we, too, will bear the impact. Likewise, the NHS trusts, local authorities, and other off-campus organisations we work with are also experiencing unprecedented changes to their operations. Many of the people we work most closely with have already been furloughed. Some of our team have opted to go on furlough and we are working together as a team to support colleagues who are juggling caring commitments with work. Our aim is to respond to this in a compassionate and empathetic manner and, for those on furlough, we are topping up salaries to 100% to ensure none of our exceptional team face any undue financial hardship.
Whilst we may not know what the coming academic year will hold, we can see that this current crisis demonstrates to us that people can come together, support one another, and make individual and collective sacrifices for the common good. Government and businesses, too, can cooperate and act urgently when there is the political will to do so. We have seen again, tragically, that the injustices in society mean that Black, Asian, and minority ethnic people including migrants and refugees, disabled people, and those in poverty and precarious work are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Indeed, these serve as crucial reminders that other crises already existed and cannot be forgotten as we go onto face the climate crisis and ecological emergency. All require urgent, bold, collective, and just responses.