Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb, Llywodraeth Leol a Chymunedau Y Bumed Senedd

Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee - Fifth Senedd


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Dawn Bowden
Delyth Jewell
Huw Irranca-Davies
John Griffiths Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Mark Isherwood

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Amanda Carr Cyfarfwyddwr, Cyngor Gwasanaeth Gwirfoddol Abertawe
Director, Swansea Council for Voluntary Service
Andrew Morgan Arweinydd, Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Leader, Welsh Local Government Association
Bethan Russell Williams Prif Swyddog, Mantell Gwynedd
Chief Officer, Mantell Gwynedd
Chris Johnes Prif Weithredwr, yr Ymddiriedolaeth Adeiladu Cymunedau
Chief Executive, Building Communities Trust
Daniel Hurford Pennaeth Polisïau (Gwella a Llywodraethu), Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Head of Policy (Improvement and Governance), Welsh Local Government Association
Hayley Thomas Cyfarwyddwr Gweithredol Cynllunio a Pherfformiad, Bwrdd Iechyd Lleol Addysgu Powys
Executive Director of Planning and Performance, Powys Teaching Local Health Board
Nesta Lloyd-Jones Cyfarwyddwr Cynorthwyol, Cydffederasiwn y GIG
Assistant Director, NHS Confederation
Patience Bentu Arweinydd Cenedlaethol Ymgysylltu â'r Gymuned, Race Council Cymru
National Community Engagement Lead, Race Council Cymru
Rocio Cifuentes Prif Weithredwr, Tîm Cymorth Ieuenctid a Lleiafrifoedd Ethnig Cymru
Chief Executive, Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team Wales

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Ben Harris Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Jonathan Baxter Ymchwilydd
Naomi Stocks Clerc
Yan Thomas Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 13:30.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 13:30. 

1. Cyflwyniadau, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau
1. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest

May I welcome everyone to this meeting of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee? In accordance with Standing Order 34.19, I have determined that the public are excluded from the committee's meeting today in order to protect public health. In accordance with Standing Order 34.21, notice of this decision was included in the agenda for this meeting published last Thursday. This meeting is, however, being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, with all participants joining via video-conference, and a record of the proceedings will be published as usual. 

Aside from the procedural adaptation relating to conducting proceedings remotely, all other Standing Order requirements for committees remain in place. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. I would remind all participants that microphones will be controlled centrally, so there's no need to turn them on or off individually, but you will be required to accept a prompt to unmute, which comes from the sound engineer, each time that you are called to speak. 

Are there are declarations of interest from committee members, please? No. One other matter from me before we move to item 2: if for any reason, technological or otherwise, I drop out of these proceedings, the committee has agreed that Dawn Bowden MS will temporarily chair while I try to rejoin. 

2. Ymchwiliad i COVID-19 a'i Effaith ar y Sector Gwirfoddol: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 4
2. Inquiry into COVID-19 and its Impact on the Voluntary Sector: Evidence Session 4

Item 2 and our inquiry into COVID-19 and its impact on the voluntary sector: we have an evidence session today with stakeholders. Nesta Lloyd-Jones, assistant director of the NHS Confederation is one of our witnesses; we have Hayley Thomas, executive director of planning and performance for the Powys Teaching Health Board; Councillor Andrew Morgan, leader of the Welsh Local Government Association; and Daniel Hurford, head of policy for the WLGA. So, welcome to you all and thanks for coming along to give evidence to committee this afternoon. I will, then, invite each of you to make a short opening statement, no longer than two and a half minutes, please, and perhaps we could do so in this order: first of all the NHS Confederation, then Powys Teaching Health Board and then the WLGA. So, firstly, then, Nesta. 

Thank you, Chair. The Welsh NHS Confederation is the membership body that represents all the organisations that make up the NHS in Wales—the seven health boards, three NHS trusts and Health Education and Improvement Wales. NHS leaders have always valued the significant contribution the voluntary sector makes to supporting the health and well-being of the population. The sector has the skills and the expertise to improve patient and service user experience and outcomes. The influence and reach of the voluntary sector organisations include supporting the delivery of health and care services, the prevention and well-being agenda and engaging with the NHS during consultations for new services or service change, to name just a few.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the role of the voluntary sector organisations in supporting people to stay safe, healthy and active has been further evidenced. The response to the pandemic has accelerated partnership working, bringing together service delivery in a much more integrated way. A number of new community groups across Wales have been set up and thousands of additional hours have been provided to support communities, especially the most vulnerable, from supporting people shielding or vulnerable groups with daily amenities like food shopping and picking up prescriptions, to increased digital services to support people to stay at home and maintain social relationships with friends and family. In many cases, the use of virtual methods of delivering services facilitated an even greater number of service users supported and across a greater geography.

While for many technology channels have been more convenient and flexible, virtual delivery does not fully meet the needs of all service users, such as those providing support for mental health or advocacy. There are ongoing and future opportunities, with the voluntary sector represented on regional partnership boards across Wales and a new focus on volunteering in the NHS due to the recently published health and social care workforce strategy.

Across the NHS, organisations are working with the third sector to identify and progress initiatives developed during COVID-19 that enhance service users' outcomes and service delivery. The main challenges going forward include the long-term financial sustainability of many voluntary sector organisations, due to loss of income they have experienced as a result the pandemic. In addition, while COVID-19 has shown the great value that volunteering can have and provide, the pandemic has highlighted there are no uniform ways that volunteers can get in touch with health boards and trusts across Wales. There are many benefits for the NHS in having a well-resourced, strong, sustainable voluntary sector, and we hope the essential nature of the services and the value they bring will continue to be acknowledged. Diolch yn fawr, Chair. 


Diolch yn fawr. Diolch am y cyfle i gyfrannu i'r pwyllgor heddiw. 

Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the committee today.

Powys is a rural county and we have in place a vibrant and thriving third sector that offers a wide variety of roles and services, and prior to the pandemic, a flourishing volunteer base, with 34 per cent of the Powys population already volunteering in some capacity. The third sector response during the pandemic has been nothing short of inspirational. There have been 120 more community groups established and over 450 volunteers recruited, and the critical role of the partnerships, alongside the county voluntary council, Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations, has been essential to harnessing and organising the additional explosion of local community action and volunteering.

During the pandemic, we've expanded a number of services, for example the Powys community connectors service, and also established a community service emergency response team, and that was targeted towards supporting communities, especially those most vulnerable, those shielding or isolated at home, and it was a joint partnership between PAVO, other third sector organisations across the county, the health board and Powys County Council. These services became very key in terms of our initial response to the pandemic, and became the very first line of support, a number of our population found during the pandemic. And we found that our partnership working has accelerated and it's particularly brought us closer together in terms of service delivery across sectors in a much more targeted and integrated way.

We've offered support to the third sector to understand the various funding sources that are available, and that's been co-ordinated through PAVO but also overseen by a partnership panel and the social value forum, which were in place as part of the regional partnership board arrangements. We've importantly had to wrap around additional support to a number of the smaller groups and volunteering initiatives, because many of them didn't have a previous knowledge of bid making or an understanding of the funding resources available. And although we're very, very grateful for the short-term resources and bridging funding that's been put in place to support the sector, I think a longer term funding strategy will be increasingly important to support recovery and to ensure sustainability of the sector going forward.

We've found the sector's been an agile emergency responder. It can move at pace, it develops local solutions to local problems very quickly and has strengthened the communities' ability to manage during this period. It's also played a critical and important role in getting information across to the population about how to access services, particularly around health and care services, making sure that they're reinforcing that the NHS is still open for business, and helping us to support self-care and prevention initiatives. And this has been really important for us in Powys, because a number of our communities border with England and therefore there's quite a lot of information giving that's been required.

We've learnt a lot during the first phase of this pandemic and we're starting to frame our longer term recovery now within the county, particularly utilising mechanisms like the regional partnership board and the public services board. We think that the well-being of future generations Act and the five ways of working is a really helpful framework to support our long-term recovery planning. We particularly wanted to highlight the issue that we've been in a short-term horizon around the actions that we've been taking to date, but we're now looking to the long term, particularly around the third sector's role around how they stimulate and involve the citizens, which will be key to our response to the pandemic and to the recovery afterwards. On behalf of the health board and key partnerships across the county, we're very proud and very grateful to the third sector and all of the volunteers that have come forward to help us respond to this pandemic. Diolch yn fawr.


Thank you, Chair. Previous WLGA evidence to Senedd committees has highlighted the significant challenges faced by local authorities, also working collectively with critical services, including the third sector. I think the response of local authorities, public sector and third sector providers during the pandemic has been fundamental in the response for the community. During these extraordinary times, the voluntary sector and public services have developed links—I have to say, from the very start I think we've had strong links, but we have developed links going forward—knowing full well that there are some really challenging circumstances, and these are probably going to continue going forward as well. We've had some difficult and challenging times over the last number of months, and I'm sure that as we go forward, we will need to continue to develop new ways of working. That is something that's been ongoing for quite some time.

The crisis has shown, I think, the strength and resilience of communities—that is certainly something that has been a benefit. The number of people that have come forward and volunteered, offered to volunteer to local authorities and to the third sector has been significant; I believe it's in the region of 24,000 registered formally, but there'll be many, many thousands of others who have volunteered in their own ways in their own local communities. The WLGA with the community councils and the voluntary sector had a memorandum of understanding where they were working closely together as well, so we've had close engagement throughout, and we've had to, as I say, adapt to the ways we are doing things as the challenges we face change. Ongoing support for the third sector is going to be vital; we are seeing some further pressures in the community, and I know local authorities are now assessing in terms of what additional measures will need to be taken as the crisis in terms of the pandemic is certainly not over.

Can I just say that in the longer term, building on the sustainability of the third sector is something that's going to be key? Because one of the things we found is that while initially a number of third sector partners didn't have the capacity, we had an awful lot of people volunteering—new volunteers. As people have gone back to work, clearly, they can't do the same level of volunteering, and that does mean that the sustainability of the third sector going forward is a real area not just of concern, but it's an area we need to work on, I think, and help to support going forward. Thank you. 

Diolch yn fawr, Andrew. Thanks, everybody, for those opening presentations. Perhaps I might begin, then, with the first question, before I bring in other committee members. It's obviously really good to hear that there has been this much stronger partnership working, better integration and closer co-operation, which in all times we would think to be a very good thing, but perhaps particularly when we're faced with the sort of challenge that COVID-19 presents. So, I wondered if you could just say a little bit about how this was achieved. I think we've heard sometimes about bureaucracy being broken down, as it were—quicker, faster decision making and joint working. Obviously, when push comes to shove in a crisis, by its very nature it's necessary to cut across, perhaps, some of the normal processes. Could you say a little bit about just how that worked? Was this unnecessary bureaucracy, or is it something that is only best put aside at times of crisis? Who would like to offer an opening gambit on that, please? Hayley.

Hopefully you can hear me. I think we were very lucky within the county and in a number of other areas across Wales that are in similar situations in that we already had quite well-established and mature partnership working with the sector. In terms of the initial response, it was that focus on what we've already got in place, and utilising the existing organisations and relationships that we've got. We've had to reframe quite a bit around those priorities, and in particular, right at the start, co-ordination was considered essential to managing the crisis. So, in establishing the community emergency response team, it was about bringing together at the outset the third sector, the local authority and the health board, to look at what was available and how we wanted to reframe that to support our initial pandemic response. I would say that money, bureaucracy—all those elements—were secondary in everybody's minds. It wasn't where we started. We started in the place of, 'What do we need to achieve to meet the needs of the local population?' and we worked very seamlessly to arrange that. So, for example, in strengthening our community connector service at the start, it was about how we could get the coverage across all of our communities and to strengthen that, and then we dealt with all the other matters afterwards.

The other thing I would say is about how we can recognise that, in terms of the agility of the third sector, they already had very well existing community relationships in place. So, we recognise, particularly around getting messages across, supporting both public health messaging, but also supporting the most vulnerable and people shielding at home and the most isolated, that in connecting with the third and community sector we were far more likely to pick up where the greatest need was. We found that the biggest issue was about getting that co-ordination right at the start, and because of the arrangements we had in place through our—I know it sounds very formal—command and control response in the civil contingency space, it enabled us to immediately get into a space of organising what was required.


Hayley, could I just ask you in terms of Powys—? Obviously, Powys is a big area—it's a very rural area. Are there any headlines that you'd like the committee to be aware of in terms of the particular nature of Powys and its rurality that drove the response or required a particular response?

I think for me it's about local action. It is a very large, geographically dispersed county, very rural, and we had to work at a very hyperlocal level in terms of community connecting and the third sector. So, the key message for me was around making sure that we were really utilising those existing local arrangements—some of them are regional, but mostly local arrangements—to get messages across and to get that community action in place. I think also we're very lucky; we've got quite resilient communities. Because they're geographically quite rural, they get on and deal with issues. We've found particularly in these areas in the past—during winter, inclement weather, difficult snowy conditions—people have quite well established ways to organise themselves around our communities. So, a key message for me is that although it's important to have national and regional actions, it's about, in the case of crisis management, actually working at that very local, community level. It's really important. For us, we had larger communities like Newtown, Ystradgynlais, and then we had very small communities, which were focused around, mostly, community council areas—some of them based in villages and hamlets. So, yes, 'start local' is what I would say, when you're trying to harness community action.

Thanks very much for that, Hayley. Very interesting, thank you. Daniel, were you indicating? Daniel, we can't hear you at the moment. 

Can you hear me now?

Sorry—dodgy headphones. Apologies about that, Chair. I was just saying, similar to Hayley, that the experience of local government has been very similar. Obviously, there are a lot of formal partnership arrangements locally, whether it's on a community basis or a county basis or even a regional basis with the third sector and others—you've got RPBs, PSBs, joint liaison committees and so on. But inevitably the pace of change with the emergency required natural, organic engagement between communities, councillors, councils as well. So, the community intelligence between councillors and third sector organisations was critical in deploying the initial response around shielding and protecting the most vulnerable in communities, certainly.

So, whilst there are bureaucracies behind the scenes and some are more relevant than others, the modern technology has helped to deliver some of this engagement. I think you'll see in our evidence that a lot of new volunteers, as Councillor Morgan described, came through the national Volunteering Wales website, but also through several local apps that were developed by councils or third sector organisations, which were able to recruit and attract new volunteers but also try to match them up on a locality basis, and also with people with particular needs. So, some of the modern technology that was necessitated by the crisis actually eroded some of the traditional bureaucracy. 

As Councillor Morgan mentioned earlier, there is a history of good partnership working, and colleagues from health described it as well, and that laid the foundations for this response. There are effective relationships, people do know what resources and what social capital is available in communities, and councils know how best to mobilise that. And similarly, many in the third sector know how to get through some of the complexity of local government or public services on behalf of communities and individuals as well. So, in terms of signposting, the relationship was reciprocal.


Thanks very much for that. Do any other of our witnesses want to add anything? No. Okay. We will move on, then, to our next set of questions—Mark Isherwood.

Prynhawn da. Good afternoon. We've received evidence from some of you talking about how the response to the pandemic has accelerated partnership working. We've also received evidence showing that partnership working between the voluntary sector and statutory sector during the pandemic has been 'varied'. We also know that the voluntary sector has long been expressing concern to us that they were being treated as the junior partners in regional partnership boards and public services boards. Given that mixed picture of evidence, how do you believe that co-operation could be improved going forward, using the national, regional and local networks and forums that exist or could be put in place?

Thank you, Mark. Who would like to begin a response? Andrew.

Could I just say—? I think that probably in the last six months, there's been some learning on both sides in terms of having a much better understanding with the voluntary sector as well. Clearly, one of the issues—. On regional partnership boards, where we sit with them, we have a lot of engagement—certainly in my region, it works very well with the voluntary sector—however, we have statutory responsibilities, whereas obviously the voluntary sector doesn't. But the voluntary sector does bring to the table the local knowledge on many times, so it helps to influence our services. So, it is about getting the right balance but also having the right engagement, I think, and the right understanding. 

I would just say that, in terms of being junior partners, when the start of the pandemic happened, I can recall being in the First Minister's office in a high-level meeting of a small group of Ministers who were called urgently with myself and, actually, Ruth Marks from the Wales Council for Voluntary Action was there, so the voluntary sector and local government were in the room with Ministers ahead of some of the significant announcements that were due to be made by the First Minister and Prime Minister. I think the way that the voluntary sector stepped up was absolutely fantastic, but also I think the way that local government has perhaps learnt through this over the last six months and understands the voluntary sector is probably better now than ever in the past.

There are competing priorities, because there will always be competing priorities around funding et cetera. But ultimately, I think having that shared understanding about what we have to do and what we would like to do and where we can meet in the middle—for me, that is the learning point this year. It's been quite helpful, actually, in developing that shared understanding and shared purpose. But in terms of the local boards, certainly in my region I don't see them as a junior partner; I think they bring a lot to the table. And I would just be clear that I think that over the last six months in Wales, we wouldn't have delivered the level of support to the communities through public services alone without the voluntary sector stepping up. So, I think they've been fundamental in this.

Thanks very much for that. Any other of our—? Hayley.

Thank you. I think it's a really important question. I think that, prior to the pandemic, I think the principle in the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, the regional partnership board, and working as equal partners—not just with the third sector, but with the independent sector, service users and carer and citizen representatives—is the principle that underpins our partnership working, and I think we've demonstrated that locally. The vice-chair of the regional partnership board is the chief officer of the county voluntary council, and the county voluntary council has been really important to help co-ordinate and ensure that the voice of the third sector is an equal voice in the decision-making processes that we have in place. So, for example, when we've been looking at our winter resilience planning through the regional partnership board, we've been looking at that both in terms of deployment of priorities, but also how we resource all sectors to make sure that we've got the best possible response for winter.

I think the added value of the third sector is hard to sometimes capture in terms of evaluation of the value for money and the added benefit of using the third sector to deliver on key priorities, and that's something that we're keen to capture, through the evaluation work we already had in train, through integrated care funding projects and pipeline projects we had in place. So, I think it's important to capture the particular contribution of the third sector and how it represents good value for money in terms of tackling key priorities.

In the context, then, of emergency crisis, I don't think anyone of us has faced this scenario before for such an extended period. Often, emergency planning is short pockets of time, so I do think, in terms of collaboration and co-operation, they've been strong principles, but I think there will be some reflection about how we see the third and community sector as an equal emergency response partner in the context of these sorts of environments moving forward. They've certainly played a role—a very important role—but I think we might need to think about how we get, potentially, the best practice we've come from during this period focused a little bit more in terms of that pandemic response planning moving forward.


Thank you, Chair. Just to follow on from what both speakers have just said: there's always been a good partnership based on shared understanding of principles and roles and responsibilities, and it's reflected at a national level. And Councillor Morgan mentioned meeting with the WCVA; we've got a strong relationship with the WCVA. As the WLGA nationally, we've developed a programme of work, which has been impacted by COVID, but the plan for work was around developing partnership working, promoting good practice locally as well. I think it's important to recognise, as well, the complexity of the voluntary sector. I think that the WCVA's evidence highlighted that Wales, in particular, has many more smaller community groups than perhaps the rest of the UK. And so, engaging with such a broad spectrum of organisations with differing views, different priorities, et cetera—. But also, then, on a strategic level, we're talking about a regional footing with the RPBs or a local authority level with PSBs and it's a challenge, both for the public sector bodies but also the organisations that seek to represent the interests of the third sector.

So, county voluntary councils—I know you're taking evidence from some later on today—but it's challenging for those organisations that seek to provide a voice and reflect the views of the voluntary sector at a strategic level, as well as at a sort of micro local delivery basis. So, there is an inherent challenge within the system around how you can ensure that all of those voices can be heard and reflected and responded to. There have inevitably been challenges in the immediate period, given the pace of the response and the impact on funding, the impact on capacity. But also, that's been a challenge in recent years around austerity too, around some of the challenges around reducing finances and how that is deployed across a range of delivery partners, which includes the third sector.

So, as I say, it's a complicated picture, but we have plans, nationally, to work with WCVA and I know that they are being delivered locally as well, in terms of how to maintain effective, constructive relations, where possible.

Sorry. Just to add to what other speakers have said: so, in regard to health boards, as Hayley has mentioned, all health boards have worked very closely with their local community voluntary service councils to look at what their needs and their requirements are for that population, whether they're around supporting those who are shielded or around distribution of food, prescriptions and things. The other thing to highlight is that a number of health boards do have charities, and a number of them, such as Awyr Las in Betsi Cadwaladr health board, have provided extensive support since the beginning of the pandemic, looking at co-ordinating donations. I know that in Aneurin Bevan as well, they've worked very closely with the Gwent Association of Voluntary Organisations to work together to ensure that the support packages for the people living in Gwent have been available as well. So, as others have highlighted, I think that partnership working has definitely increased, because it's had to, to respond to the pandemic.


Thank you very much, Nesta. Mark, are you content? Did you want to come back on anything?

Just a very short follow-up. To what extent are lessons being learned about how engagement in design and the delivery of services with voluntary sector and community organisations can help you to not only deliver statutory services, but also, potentially, through early intervention, prevention, reduce potential pressure on statutory services and actually deliver a social return accordingly?

Okay. Would anybody like to give some views on that? Yes, Hayley.

Thank you, yes. I think the third sector has been really important to help us get some of the short-term changes we've had to put in place, in managing the services within the NHS over the last period, particularly around access to services and how we've been managing essential services, but also the impact more generally in the context of increasing demand. There is a fundamental role, that they've supported all health boards in terms of consultation and engagement on any service changes normally, prior to the pandemic, but particularly at the moment in keeping the focus on well-being, early help and support and prevention. They really are our front line in supporting communities and individuals in that space. So, absolutely, I think that it's continued to be an important role the third sector has played, and as we move forward through the winter period, there will be far more that they can do.

I think that we've, particularly in Powys, had also the context of the cross-border differences, as well, to deal with. For example, one community in Knighton, there's part of that community within Wales, and part of it within England. So, we've also had to think about how we handle different messages and engagement and discussion around some of those services with key populations as well, and we've relied on the community and the third sector to support us to do that and to target that information getting out to communities, and to have feedback.

So, service user feedback has been really important, not just from hearing back from the third sector about how individuals are feeling, and the impact the pandemic is having on their health and well-being, but also we've worked really closely with the community health council, who've been able to provide us ongoing feedback and insights around certain developments, particularly, I'd say, the digital technology. We've made massive strides within the health service in rolling out a number of digital new ways of working. But, equally, we've had feedback that one size doesn't fit all and that there is feedback that we have to take into account, particularly in a rural area like Powys, where we've got parts of our community who struggle with broadband access, and digital exclusion is an issue for us all across Wales.

Just to add to what Hayley said, I think one of the key challenges at the beginning of the pandemic and throughout, I would say, is around communication and the range and the amount of guidance coming out at a Welsh Government level and a UK Government level. At the Welsh NHS Confederation, at the very beginning, what we did was work with our partners in third sector organisations through our policy forum, which is made up of over 60 health and care organisations, including Macmillan, British Heart Foundation and the WCVA. So, from the beginning, the information and the guidance we were receiving we were sharing with the forum, and then they were able to distribute that information both within their communication channels and to their service users. Also, we were meeting with the forum every other week to find out what the key issues were for the service users and the clients, and then we were able to either provide them with that information or raise any issues that they had with Welsh Government, or possibly with any of our members, whether it was a health board or trust, particularly with Public Health Wales. That did lead to, for example, Public Health Wales using more accessible information at the beginning, having heard back from one or two organisations, including RNIB, that the information at the beginning that was being developed wasn't accessible. So, we were able to broker those conversations as well.


Okay, thank you, Nesta. We will move on now to Huw Irranca-Davies.

Thank you, Chair. I'm going to focus very specifically on volunteering as opposed to the voluntary sector or the third sector more widely. We all saw—and we've said enough about it—very much at the early stages of the response to the pandemic crisis, people were coming out of the woodwork, when they could, the ones that could, and there were new self-help groups being started up, new volunteers coming forward. We responded to that by some sort of regional co-ordination for the voluntary sector organisations to try and drive that effort. But let me go at this in a bit of a hard-nosed way: looking back at that early phase, what do you think we did well in terms of making the most of that volunteer effort, and what did we learn from it that we could do better going forward? And this isn't, by the way, to decry all the efforts that went on, because it was massive, but one of the jobs that we've got to do, I guess—all of us—is say, 'Well, if we need to do this again, or on an ongoing basis, how do we better marshal that energy that came forward at a moment in time?' So, I don't know—Nesta, can I start with you?

In regard to volunteers, as you know, volunteers have been instrumental in providing additional support to the workforce, and our members have really welcomed the co-ordinated approach that Welsh Government took through Volunteering Wales to develop a volunteering environment that was right for the NHS and for Welsh communities. We are aware of the concerns that the WCVA and others have highlighted around the number of volunteers that came forward at the beginning who may not have been able to be placed in health or care settings at the beginning. As I highlighted briefly before, with volunteering and the protocols across the NHS in Wales, each health board had got different protocols, so I'm sure Hayley can provide a bit more detail. So, providing that consistency across Wales would definitely be something that could improve the environment and ensure that more volunteers could come forward.

The pandemic has also provided new opportunities to implement and introduce new volunteering roles based on the requirements that were identified across the health boards, such as supporting the new field hospitals, and across Wales, like I said, the health boards have been working very closely with community voluntary councils to develop clear processes and to be able to deploy the volunteers. I think there are opportunities as well with the new health and social care workforce strategy that's just been launched around the continued partnership working with volunteers across both health boards and the wider sector, and I think the fact that they've been able to mobilise so quickly and safely is something that we all should be proud of.

Nesta, thanks very much. Hayley, I think you've just been dobbed into it there, so if I could ask for your response, and if you could focus on that, what we would do differently now, going forward. I wonder if I could ask you as well: do you think because of that initial surge that we had, where some volunteers didn't get an immediate response—do you think that we lost any volunteers in any significant numbers, or not? Is that a minor thing in the grand scheme of things?


Sorry. Can you hear me now?

Apologies, I pressed the wrong button. Yes, in terms of learning, I think that we did really well. That explosion of additional volunteers that came forward was an important one. In terms of your specific point, Huw, around whether we've lost volunteers because of that immediate response, I know that, in terms of the books that we hold in terms of those health and care, NHS-related volunteers, we still have those individuals available to us. I'd have to double-check if we've lost people on the way. We probably have, because people's personal circumstances have changed, because at the time, people may have been furloughed or not working and, as the pandemic has shifted during the period, I think there are naturally different people who will put themselves forward during the pandemic. But in terms of the learning, I think with the explosion, it was brilliant but also difficult, in that it was, 'So how do we deploy this additional action and resource?' And I think that the learning from that is that we've never faced a situation where we've had this level of capacity to deploy before. So, I do think, in terms of learning, we might want to think about what are the key roles, tasks or jobs or elements of work that we want to use volunteers in the context of an emergency pandemic response.

Some of it has been really fantastic work. So, not only have people volunteered to support the health service, we've also had situations where existing third sector organisations had some of their existing volunteers shielding or unable to continue volunteering, so they've also had to support the sustainability of third sector provision. We've looked at a number of areas around wayfinding companions, technical buddies, things like that—things we had thought about before that we thought would be really important in the sort of space that volunteers—[Inaudible.]

I think we've lost Hayley temporarily. Hayley, you've paused there on my screen. I think it's the same for you, Chair. 

—learning around how we can do that. 

We got most of what you said, but we lost you for about 30 seconds towards the end. I can see Daniel has got his hand up, but, Andrew, could I just ask you, because there was a real rapid approach to try and marshal some of this energy that was coming forward, your thoughts on going forward, but also your thoughts on: do we go back to some of those people that you mentioned earlier on that have now returned to work, that have got changed life circumstances and say, 'Look, we know you can't volunteer full-time, but when the time is right, come back'? Are we thinking along those lines?

Yes, I think very much, certainly in my own authority we've been discussing that, about how do we marshal some of that enthusiasm. As you said, people may not now have the full time to be volunteering, but certainly doing a few hours a week now and again. In Rhondda Cynon Taf, for example, we had well over 1,000 registering through the local authority, and like one of the points made earlier, we had difficulty actually placing the number of volunteers with the tasks that were needed—there were so many people volunteering. So, for Rhondda Cynon Taf, we set up six hubs that tried to co-ordinate on a local footprint.

Very quickly what became evident to us and has been replicated, actually, in some parts of Wales, where other leaders have referred to it, is that it was important that we didn't try to compete with the local groups being established. In many cases, communities actually came together for themselves—probably, in some cases, much quicker than we could, anyway. So I think it was about providing support and guidance to them, helping them with things around the risk assessments, making sure that they followed—what were the COVID procedures if they were delivering things to people's homes, making sure that people weren't vulnerable, how you make sure that, if somebody is shopping for somebody—. So, we were helping for example with doing Disclosure and Barring Service checks, but it was very much I think that, in some areas, the community came together for itself and they just needed some support and guidance from us.

In addition to that, then, we were trying to focus on those areas where the gaps were. But in terms of placing volunteers, I think certainly in my own local authority we'll be able to do some learning from this, and I think most local authorities will reflect on what we can do differently in the future. The slight different thing I would say in our part, and I know that you represent part of Rhondda Cynon Taf, is, of course, we had the floods only three or four weeks before the start of the pandemic, and that was the first real emphasis with the community volunteering, where we had a whole raft of volunteers, pop-up groups, agencies coming together. So, I have to say that Rhondda Cynon Taf was probably better placed, I would think, than many local authorities to switch straight from the flood response to the pandemic, because we had those mechanisms. But it is right that we do need to reflect in terms of the huge numbers of volunteers coming forward, because I'm aware, in my own authority, I would say, probably a third of the volunteers were never actually called upon to support, because there were simply so many people coming forward in such a short period of time. 


Thanks, Andrew. And, of course, we know that if people, when they offer themselves, don't get called upon they become demotivated for the next time something happens. So, Daniel, let me come, finally, to you, there, because people have helpfully touched on not only what we've learnt, but possibly the ways forward. And in your response, Daniel, I wonder whether you can also touch on whether you think, across all the organisations—health, local authorities, WCVA and others—there is some exercise that might be worth doing here, which is when we have the time, because you're up to your eyeballs, all of you are, at the moment, but just to reflect on this and talk about how we could do this in future, and how we could really capture, before it's too late, the best bits of what we have found there. So, Daniel, over to you.    

Thank you. The other speakers have covered all of the issues, and obviously the overwhelming response from the community was a challenge to mobilise and satisfy. But just to reassure you, there are those discussions ongoing. The Welsh Government has put forward a funding programme to try to sustain volunteering into the future and learn the lessons. And so our website, as we've included in our evidence, includes a number of good-practice case studies from across Wales, looking at how volunteers were recruited, supported, allocated. And as I mentioned earlier, a lot of that was based around technology—not always appropriate for all people, as we all know, because of digital exclusion—but we do have a huge amount of information on systems, on databases. So, for example, you suggested maybe going back out to people and re-engaging and trying to keep people on board, but there is a programme of work ongoing, just to reassure you. I think there's a meeting on Friday to scope out this work, to look at how local authorities, health boards, third sector organisations, county voluntary councils, can work together to try and support the growth in volunteers coming forward, but also better support them. As Councillor Morgan said, it's one thing people coming forward, but some people, depending on their roles, will need training, will need guidance, will need checking. So, it's about how we best do that going forward. So, there is a programme of work beginning now, but, as I say, it is something that we need to build on to sustain into the future, but also when it comes to the recovery as well, because the recovery isn't just going to be about big capital projects, it's going to be about building and sustaining community resilience and the role of community volunteers is key to that. 

Thank you, Huw. Okay, we will move on, then, to Delyth Jewell. 

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Prynhawn da i chi gyd. Yn dilyn ymlaen o beth roedd Huw newydd fod yn gofyn, a gaf i ofyn i chi gyd, o ran noddwyr ac adnoddau, ydych chi'n teimlo fod y sector gwirfoddol wedi cael y cymorth ariannol a'r hyblygrwydd oedd ei angen gan noddwyr? Roeddwn yn clywed beth roedd Hayley yn ei ddweud yn gynharach, o ran helpu pobl oedd byth wedi cael unrhyw brofiad o'r blaen o bid writing a phethau fel yna ac yn y blaen. Ydych chi'n teimlo bod y cymorth yna wedi bod ar gael, o ystyried pa mor eithriadol mae'r sefyllfa wedi bod? Hwnna yn gyntaf. A hefyd, yn gysylltiedig, ydy'r sector cyhoeddus yn gallu cynnig unrhyw adnoddau ychwanegol i gadw gwasanaethau i fynd? Pwy bynnag sydd eisiau ateb yn gyntaf, gydag un o'r naill gwestiwn. 

Thank you, Chair. Good afternoon to you all. Following on from what Huw was asking, could I ask you all, in terms of resources and funding, do you think that the voluntary sector was given the financial support and flexibility required from funders? I heard Hayley's comments earlier, in terms of assisting people who'd never had any experience of bid writing and so on. Do you believe that that support was available, given just how exceptional the situation has been? That's the first question. And also, related to that, can the public sector provide any further resources in order to maintain services? I'm not sure who'd like to go first on either of those questions. 

Yes, thank you, Chair. Just to say that—. I think, as I mentioned, there's probably been a learning position for local authorities, in terms of what exactly the voluntary sector could do at the right time. Certainly I would say that I think any voluntary sector group would have said they could have done with more funding. A number of local authorities, including my own, but I know of other examples, where local authorities have put additional funding in, in particular supporting areas such as food banks. We've had additional Welsh Government funding, which has been channelled through local authorities, but in addition to that, many local authorities have put their own funding in. But in particular, food banks are reporting back in a number of local authority areas, including my own, that it isn't actually the funding that they're having difficulty with, it's some of the actual purchasing. So, I know a number of local authorities are helping with their procurement, in terms of understanding what are the shortages. So, that is one area we're supporting.

We're also looking at areas such as mental health. That is a real area where a lot of the third sector groups are reaching out right now and saying that they need additional funding. That is something that we've had discussions with Welsh Government about—how do we help, not just the big organisations, but the smaller, more community-focused localised organisations? So, that is something that is ongoing and I know there have been a number of discussions with WLGA.

So, I think, probably, there is some learning to be done, in terms of whether we could have channelled more money their way. But I suppose, in the early weeks and perhaps the first few months, as I mentioned, it was understanding as well what the capacity was. In some areas, I have to say, the voluntary sector, and not just the organised, normal voluntary sector, as we would assume—these pop-up groups, the people who volunteered, in some cases, they've been able to deliver things much quicker, much smarter and, in some cases, I know in my own authority, much more cost-effective. So, it's getting the right balance between public service delivery and those in the third sector. So, I think it's only fair to say that we do need to just review where we were from the start to where we are, and take that learning away, because this year isn't over with just yet.


Thank you. So, I think our members really supported the sector resilience fund, the voluntary service and emergency fund and the other funding that was made available. From the feedback we've had from the health boards specifically, during the first wave COVID, the majority of service level agreements that the health boards had to commission from the voluntary sector—they were enabled to be maintained and the majority of services we are able to provided remotely, to continue to support the service users in the digital way.

I think we do agree with the concerns that the WCVA have around the lack of certainty and the level of financial support from April 2021 onwards. A number of third sector organisations have been in touch with us to highlight concerns that they've had around the sustainability of services in Wales post April next year. So, while their resources and their budgets are in place for this financial year, there are concerns for the next financial year, and this is something that I know the WCVA highlighted last week around the impact that this could have on large UK-wide organisations and their resources in Wales. So, one UK-wide organisation has informed me that fundraising has decreased by 40 per cent, and that is having a bigger impact on their staff in Wales than in other UK countries, with that person's role now going to be run by a person in Scotland. So, I think that is a big concern, and it's a concern for our members as well due to the significant support, but also how third sector organisations, by giving a voice to vulnerable people in society, can speak up on behalf of people to health boards and trusts and other public sector bodies where improvements are needed. So, that is a big concern, I think, from next year.

Thank you. I think that, generally, yes, I would say that, through the county voluntary councils, the third sector had to be supported. It was a complex set of funding arrangements to help them to know what they were eligible for and how they could access those funding streams. I mentioned earlier, we had a partnership panel as well, which comprised health board and local authority representatives, which was tied to the social value forum that we had in place through the regional partnership board. I think public services fund a small contribution towards the third sector's income, generally. I know that for us as a health board, in terms of the service level agreements that we have in place with third sector organisations, we've been actively discussing with each organisation the impact of COVID and trying to give them stability to actually get through this year and looking to next year in terms of the arrangements we've got in place.

I think the key issue for me is the role that the public sector can play with the third sector now in understanding the impact of COVID and the potential new needs that are currently not being met and how best to identify those and meet those needs, taking on board Councillor Andrew Morgan's point around they always offer, in my opinion, good value for money and a good contribution in terms of service delivery options. So, I think there's a really important role for us to play together around what is the impact of COVID, and we're starting to find in certain areas already that, particularly, younger people have been identified as a particular category of people where we need to think about their needs moving forward, and mental health, emotional health and well-being, and obviously the ongoing issues that social isolation offers for us, particularly in the rural context. So, for me, it's about continuing and stabilising what we already have and our role as a public sector to support that, but also in actually understanding what our best route is now to meeting the needs that have been specifically created as a result of the COVID impact on our communities. 


Okay, Hayley. Thanks very much. Is that okay, Delyth?

Diolch yn fawr. Okay, and finally, then, for this session, Dawn Bowden.

Thank you, John, and thanks, all, for your evidence, which has been really interesting, seeing how the relationship between you and the third sector has developed through this pandemic, which brings me on to the question that I wanted to ask, which is about how you see the role of the voluntary sector in the reconstruction and recovery phase. Andrew, you talked earlier on about how you've already started to develop new ways of working and you said you've now got a better shared understanding of how the respective sectors work. So, how do you see this happening, moving forward? Do you think this provides better opportunities for developing a new kind of relationship between the voluntary sector and the public sector, going forward?

Yes. Ultimately, the answer to that is definitely going to be 'yes'. I think that, going forward, we'll see where the gaps are, certainly, with the statutory service, and where the voluntary sector can help fill those gaps more than perhaps we've considered in the past. But, to do that, it will need support, and alongside the support from local authorities and public sector, they will need finances. So, it's just understanding where they can support things, going forward. I have to say, in terms of social care support, we know full well that this winter ahead, without the third sector supporting local authorities, the pressure on us would probably push us to the brink. I think many people out there in the community are now being supported by the voluntary sector at a lower end of the scale, and that is taking pressure off us, and I think that is the way, probably, going forward. Helping people to do more themselves is in line with the well-being Acts that we've passed in the past over the last three years, where the direction of travel has been, and I think helping people to do more for themselves and being supported in their local communities is probably a better use of resources, and we need to concentrate the higher level of support, then, to where it's really needed, as resources are scarce. 

Thank you. And, Hayley, you were talking about new needs not being met, so would that be the kind of relationship that you would see as the new aspect of that relationship, going forward? 

Yes, and, building on that, I think, in developing our recovery planning, it's about how we get the involvement of citizens generally and the route that the third sector offers us in terms of getting key people involved in that discussion and in that debate around what it is we need to do to recover after the pandemic. I think the focus on prevention, early help and support, focusing on well-being and community resilience is key to the role of the third sector, but also I suppose I'd want to highlight the economic impact of the third sector as well, both in terms of their ability to attract other sources of funding to support service delivery within our respective communities and that general impact that they have in terms of well-being for our population. People who volunteer tend to be happy. They get a lot of value out of volunteering themselves, and I think, for us in the NHS, I have a feeling—I haven't got the evidence yet—that, through the volunteers that we have engaged, we might actually identify people who might want to work within the NHS and take on roles, particularly some of the roles that are quite hard to fill. So, we've also had an explosion of students who have come forward, so I am feeling really hopeful.

We did a lot of work in Powys, before the pandemic hit, on our workforce futures approach, which was across the whole system—third sector, independent sector, carers, the whole gambit of people, including the statutory sectors for health and care. So, I'm feeling very optimistic that we can find really positive opportunities around how the sector can support the recovery of the sector itself, but also, more generally, in terms of the provision that they can bring to the table to support meeting those new needs that we're likely to have to find different ways of delivering against over the next period of time.


Thank you. That's really interesting. I don't know whether Nesta has got anything to add.

Thank you. I think a light has definitely been shone on the importance of the sector in supporting communities during the pandemic and, going forward, I think it's really important to include the third sector in future emergency planning and preparations at the national, regional and local levels, as Hayley and others have highlighted. I think services have modernised, and the third sector, like many other sectors, have had to be innovative and have had to work with lots of different partners and new partners. I think both Government and the public sector do need to continue to modernise and look at the contracting and commissioning arrangements that we've got, and to ensure that there is continued flexibility and dynamism after the pandemic is over and that the positive developments in models of services and models of delivery of health and care continues in the future, because that's what's going to really make a difference to the populations, to service users and to patients.

Okay, thank you, Nesta. Thank you, everyone. Well, thanks to all of you, our witnesses for this particular session, for coming in virtually to give evidence to the committee. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy in the usual way. Diolch yn fawr. Okay, committee will, at this stage, take a short break until 14:45.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 14:32 ac 14:45.

The meeting adjourned between 14:32 and 14:45.

3. Ymchwiliad i COVID-19 a'i Effaith ar y Sector Gwirfoddol: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 5
3. Inquiry into COVID-19 and its Impact on the Voluntary Sector: Evidence Session 5

Welcome back, everyone, to item 3 on our agenda today, and our second evidence session today with stakeholders on our inquiry into the voluntary sector and the impact of COVID-19. I'm very pleased to welcome Amanda Carr, director of Swansea Council for Voluntary Service, Bethan Russell Williams, chief officer at Mantell Gwynedd, and Chris Johnes, chief executive of the Building Communities Trust. Welcome, all of you. We'll begin with a two and a half-minute statement from each of you, beginning with Amanda, please.

Okay. Many thanks, Chair. I'm obviously here representing, as you just said, Swansea Council for Voluntary Service, and I hope that I'll be able during this session to be able to reflect some of the views both of the sector locally and of our own staff and our own volunteers. So, as an introduction, I wanted to highlight, I suppose, part of our journey over the past few months as a sector. So, thinking back to late February and the very beginning of March, to some degree it felt like the contribution of the sector could really be drawn on in terms of resilience planning, but it felt a little bit like we were late to the table in those very, very early days, and I completely understand why, because there are obviously people and agencies dealing much more in the kind of emergency planning field than the third sector traditionally does. However, once we were around the table, I felt that, as partners together, we made some considerable gains and progress by coming together and drawing on our strengths in each different agency. From the onset of our own planning as an organisation back in late February, SCVS had recognised that probably adopting a place-based approach was going to be the way that we were going to be able to best contribute and that adopting that would be central to supporting people in our local communities, whilst also considering the needs of specific communities, communities of interest and communities of identity.

So, now, so many months on, I'd just like to mention the need to balance the longer term impacts on the sector, which is, actually, directly linked to its response during the pandemic, to the agile response and to the success of the sector's response, and also to the outcomes that the sector and communities have achieved. That now, based on our local experience, means that we're being called to be part of more and more. So, additional to trying to get back to the day job, but actually now having proved our worth, perhaps, we're now at the forefront of people's minds in terms of what else we could be used for.

So, in summarising, I think that we've lived an experience. We've all lived it in different ways, and different experiences have kind of happened over the intervening months, and I feel that where we're at at the moment is that we need to be mindful that, whilst volunteers give their time for free, organised volunteering doesn't necessarily come without costs and that that plays into the challenges that the sector was actually facing prior to the pandemic in terms of long-term sustainability. But, having demonstrated our worth and the importance of volunteering, that's the challenge that we're very much focused on, certainly within Swansea. Thank you.

Prynhawn da. Diolch yn fawr iawn i chi am y cyfle i gyfrannu i'r tystiolaeth i'r pwyllgor yma heddiw. Dwi'n meddwl bod hon yn broses bwysig iawn er mwyn tynnu at ei gilydd y profiadau amrywiol sydd wedi bod ar draws y sector ac ar draws cymunedau yng Nghymru yn ystod y cyfnod yma. Dwi wedi darparu papur ymlaen llaw, a dwi'n cymryd eich bod chi wedi derbyn copi o'r papur hwnnw, Gadeirydd, ond mi fuaswn i'n licio tynnu sylw at un neu ddau o faterion dwi'n tybio sy'n go bwysig yn y papur sydd ger eich bron chi. 

Good afternoon. Thank you very much for the opportunity to contribute to this committee evidence session today. I do think that this is a very important process in order to bring together the diverse experiences across the sector and across communities in Wales during this time. I have provided a paper to the committee, and I assume that you've all received a copy of that, Chair, but I would like to highlight just a few issues that I believe to be important, and they are included in the paper before you.

Fel cyngor gwirfoddol, wrth gwrs, yn gweithredu yn ardal Gwynedd, mae'n ardal ddaearyddol reit fawr, ond mae'n ardal wledig iawn hefyd. Ac yn aml iawn mewn ardaloedd gwledig, mae'r her yn wahanol iawn i beth, efallai, mae ein chwaer fudiadau ni wedi'i phrofi mewn ardaloedd mwy trefol ar draws Cymru. Felly, i ni yng Ngwynedd, mi oedd gennym ni gysylltiadau cryf iawn efo cymunedau, a chysylltiadau eithaf cryf efo'n partneriaid yn y sector cyhoeddus hefyd, ac mae hwnnw wedi bod yn sylfaen bwysig iawn i ni fedru adeiladu arno fo, er mwyn llwyddo i gyfrannu popeth oedd yn bosibl i ni fedru cyfrannu yn ystod y cyfnod COVID yma.

Mi welwch chi o'r papur dwi wedi'i ddarparu bod gwirfoddoli wedi bod yn greiddiol i'n cymunedau ni yng Ngwynedd yn ystod y cyfnod yma, ac un o'r pethau cyntaf wnaethom ni fel cyngor gwirfoddol oedd sefydlu banc COVID gwirfoddoli, banc COVID-19, ac mi oedd yn dangos i chi gymaint oedd y gymuned yn awyddus i helpu ac i gyfrannu yn y pandemig. Mi wnaethon ni gofrestru dros 600 o wirfoddolwyr o'r newydd mewn cyfnod o bythefnos, ac mi roedd hwnna'n dipyn o dasg i'w gydlynu, ond y newyddion da ydy bod hanner—dros 50 y cant—o'r recruits gwirfoddoli newydd yna wedi cael eu lleoli i helpu unigolion a chymunedau o fewn y pythefnos cyntaf, i ddweud y gwir. Ac mi fuodd y gwirfoddolwyr yna yn greiddiol wedyn. Dwi wastad yn cyfeirio at y gwirfoddolwyr yma; maen nhw fel y gliw sy'n dal ein cymunedau ni at ei gilydd, ac mae eu cyfraniad nhw wedi bod yn allweddol bwysig yn ystod y cyfnod yma.

Yn y papur, mi welwch chi fy mod i wedi rhoi sawl enghraifft o stori gwirfoddolwyr i chi. Mae'n werth ichi glicio ar y lincs—mae rheini'n brofiadau personol iawn rhai pobl sydd wedi gwirfoddoli am y tro cyntaf un. Ond mae o'n wir dweud mai un o'r partneriaethau hynod o ddiddorol a newydd y gwnaethom ni greu yn ystod y cyfnod yma oedd efo cymdeithas dai Adra, ac mae honno'n gymdeithas dai cymdeithasol. Mae ganddyn nhw bron 15,000 o denantiaid, mae ganddyn nhw dros 6,000 o gartrefi, ac mi roedden nhw'n wynebu problem enfawr: sut roedden nhw'n mynd i gefnogi tenantiaid bregus yn ystod y cyfnod COVID. Trwy greu partneriaeth efo Adra, a thrwy gydweithio, mi wnaethon ni fedru darparu yn agos i 100 o wirfoddolwyr ar gyfer tenantiaid, a dwi'n credu bod partneriaethau newydd fel yna yn greiddiol ar gyfer symud ymlaen yn y dyfodol. Mae'r rheini yn bartneriaethau rydyn ni angen adeiladu arnyn nhw, maen nhw'n enghreifftiau o ymarfer da, ac maen nhw'n enghreifftiau o sut mae gwirfoddolwyr wedi cefnogi'r bobl mwyaf bregus yn ein cymunedau ni.

Mae o'n wir, fel gwnaeth Amanda gyfeirio ato fo yn gynharach, na fuasai dim o hyn wedi bod yn bosib heb gefnogaeth Llywodraeth Cymru, ac yn sicr i ni, mi roedd y gronfa argyfwng sector gwirfoddol yn greiddiol bwysig i fedru cyflawni'r gwaith yma. Mae yna sawl enghraifft o ffordd newydd o weithio wedi dod i'r fei. Mae gweithio yn rhithiol fel hyn yn newydd i lawer ohonom ni, ond mae'n wir dweud ei fod o wedi gweithio yn eithriadol o lwyddiannus. Felly, mae'r holl rwydweithiau trydydd sector oedd gennym ni yng Ngwynedd bellach yn rhwydweithiau rhithiol. Mae hynny, wrth gwrs, yn dda i'r amgylchedd, mae o'n golygu bod pobl yn gallu cyfrannu mewn ffyrdd gwahanol, ond mae o hefyd wedi golygu cefnogi unigolion a mudiadau mewn ffordd wahanol iawn. Dwi wedi darparu yn y papur i chi rywfaint o adborth gan y sector, sut mae mudiadau wedi teimlo am y cyfnod yma, sut mae gwirfoddolwyr wedi teimlo, ac rydyn ni'n dechrau creu darlun rŵan o'r weledigaeth wrth inni symud ymlaen ac adeiladu ar y gwaith da yma.

Jest i gloi, dwi'n meddwl ei fod o'n bwysig iawn i nodi bod mesur gwerth cyfraniadau gwirfoddolwyr a mesur gwerth gweithgaredd cymunedol yn eithriadol o bwysig. Mae'n bwysig ein bod ni'n mesur gwerth cymdeithasol mewn dulliau ffurfiol iawn, ac mae'n bwysig ein bod ni'n medru rhoi gwerth ar y pethau sy'n gwneud gwahaniaeth i unigolion ac i gymunedau. Mi ydym ni, fel Mantell Gwynedd, wedi bod yn mesur gwerth cymdeithasol ers rhai blynyddoedd bellach, drwy ddefnyddio'r fformiwla social return on investment. Mae hwn yn bwysig iawn i ni wrth symud ymlaen i'r cyfnod ar ôl COVID, fel ein bod ni'n gallu sicrhau ein bod ni'n buddsoddi ein hadnoddau yn y pethau sy'n gwneud y gwahaniaeth mwyaf.

Mi welwch chi fy mod i wedi tynnu rhywfaint o ganfyddiadau'r cyfnod yma at ei gilydd ar ddiwedd y papur dwi wedi ei baratoi. Felly, mae gwaith partneriaethol yn bwysig, yn genedlaethol, yn rhanbarthol, ac ar lefel sirol. Mae'r partneriaethau newydd sydd wedi eu sefydlu yn hollbwysig wrth i ni symud ymlaen. Mae'r cyllid sydd wedi cael ei ddarparu gan y Llywodraeth wedi bod yn greiddiol bwysig i ddangos beth fedrwn ni ei wneud drwy gydweithio, ac mae mesur gwerth cymdeithasol yn eithriadol o bwysig wrth i ni symud ymlaen. Mae yna fanylion yn y papur, Gadeirydd, ond rheini ydy rhai o'r uchafbwyntiau roeddwn i'n awyddus i dynnu sylw atyn nhw. Diolch.

As a voluntary council operating in the Gwynedd area, it is quite a large geographical area, but it's also a very rural area. And very often in rural areas, the challenges are very different to what our sister organisations have experienced in more urban areas across Wales. Therefore, for us in Gwynedd, we had strong links with communities, and relatively strong links with partners in the public sector too, and that has been a very important foundation for us to build upon in order to contribute everything that was possible during this COVID period.

You will see from the paper provided that volunteering has been a part of our communities here in Gwynedd during this time, and one of the first things we did as a voluntary council was to establish a COVID volunteering bank, and it just demonstrates how eager the community was to contribute and to assist during the pandemic. We registered over 600 new volunteers in the period of a fortnight, and that was quite a task in terms of co-ordination, but the good news is that more than 50 per cent of those new volunteers had been placed to assist individuals and communities within the first fortnight, if truth be told. And those volunteers were crucially important. I always refer to these volunteers as the glue that holds our communities together, and their contribution has been crucially important during this time.

In the paper, you will see that I have provided a number of examples in terms of case studies from volunteers. It's worthwhile looking at those links because those are personal experiences provided by some people who have volunteered for the very first time. But it's also true to say that one of the very interesting new partnerships that we created during this time was with the Adra housing association, and that is a social housing organisation. They have almost 15,000 tenants and 6,000 homes, and they were facing huge problems in terms of how they were going to support the vulnerable tenants during COVID. By creating a partnership with Adra, and by collaborating with them, we were able to provide almost 100 volunteers to serve tenants, and I believe that these new partnerships are centrally important as we move forward for the future. Those are partnerships that we need to build upon, they are examples of good practice, and they are examples of how volunteers have supported the most vulnerable people in our communities. 

It is true to say, as Amanda mentioned earlier, that none of this would have been possible without Welsh Government support, and certainly for us, the voluntary services emergency fund was crucially important in delivering this work. There are a number of examples of new ways of working that have emerged. Working virtually as we are doing today is new to many of us, but it is true to say that it has worked exceptionally well. So, all the third sector networks within Gwynedd are now virtual networks. That, of course, has positive aspects for the environment, it means that people can contribute to different ways, but it's also meant that we've been able to support individuals and organisations in very different ways. I have provided in the paper some feedback from the sector in terms of how different organisations have responded to this, how volunteers feel about this, and we are starting now to draw a picture and a vision as we move forward and build on this good work.

Just to conclude, I think it is very important to note that measuring the value of voluntary activity and community activity is exceptionally important. It's important that we do measure social value in very formal ways, and it's important that we can identify the value of those things that make such a difference to individuals in communities. We, as Mantell Gwynedd, have been measuring social value for some years now, through using the social return on investment formula. This is very important for us as we move to post-COVID period, so that we can ensure that we invest our resources in those things that make the biggest difference.

You will see that I have drawn some conclusions from this period at the end of the paper that I have provided. So, partnership working is clearly important on a national, regional and county level. The new partnerships established have been crucially important and will be as we move forward. The funding provided by the Government has been centrally important in identifying what we can deliver working together, and measuring social value is exceptionally important too as we move forward. The details are all contained in the paper, Chair, but those are some of the highlights that I wanted to draw your attention to. Thank you.


Diolch yn fawr, Bethan. Chris Johnes. Chris, you're muted.

Sorry. Thank you, John. I'm speaking more from the position of local, place-based organisations, both from the Invest Local programme, which we directly fund in 13 communities across Wales, and the wider community sector network, which has about 150 members doing local, place-based work. So, we're operating at a lower, smaller geographical level than that described by Bethan and Amanda, although often doing a lot of work alongside CVCs at the county level.

I think it's worth reflecting a little bit on the journey that people have been on in this period. If we look back to February, you've got organisations involved in a wide range of community-based activities—anything from play to environment projects, emergency food, running local services, local community assets and so on—and then, suddenly, in mid March, there's this grinding sudden halt where everything that's normal comes to an end, and people react in some really, really diverse ways. For completely understandable reasons, some organisations have more or less shut up shop, particularly those whose volunteers were old and vulnerable themselves, but a very large number of others have refocused their work remarkably quickly into providing emergency support to their organisations. What was really interesting was because of the networks we were able to run—and we had to adapt very quickly as well—we were able to see almost this reaction in real time, where people took, in some cases, about a week to readjust and then were suddenly providing, particularly to start with, emergency food support, and then medicine—those were the two things that came forward straight away—to start with just on their own, and feeling a little bit isolated, and then quite quickly things like networks run by CVCs kicked in so that people weren't quite so isolated.

For the first week or so, there was a shutdown of supermarket food, because that reflected the panic buying that was going on elsewhere, and then that opened up, and then links to other food providers were able to be brought in. Over the weeks, the operations that people were able to run became more and more sophisticated. The number of volunteers rose. The connections with local authorities, and so on, grew. So, you ended up with some extraordinarily sophisticated operations in a number of places, in terms of the support provided to people and, as has already been described, a very large number of volunteers coming on board. Unfortunately, not all of them have been able to sustain that volunteering, but I think the coverage in many areas—and we're doing some more research on this, which we'll publish at the end of the month—was quite extensive.

But I think it's also true to say that people remain very, very aware that there were a limited amount of community needs that could be addressed. There was a concerted attempt amongst many of the organisations we saw to move on to try and tackle wider well-being concerns around isolation, perceived problems of mental health and certainly lack of contact for children and young people. But there remained significant limitations on that, and there probably still do to this day, even with coming out of lockdown today. And I would say that the overall experience has been this interesting process of being able to provide a great deal of support in certain areas for people, but also a degree of uncertainty about how far they can go with that. A lot of the work that people felt was extremely valuable before lockdown has not been able to fully restart.

There was also a sense of uncertainty about what the scale of the challenges ahead were. I've spent a lot of the last two or three months talking to people who are really, really worried about furlough coming to an end, and of course, until last week, that was something that was really like a the sword of Damocles over our heads. That's been lifted for a while, but people, I think, still retain that sense of uncertainty. And while it's true to say, as Bethan has said, that emergency funding from the Government and, indeed, other sources has been extremely helpful in this stage, there's also a degree of uncertainty about how long that can last for as well. So, I would say of the people we've worked with, there's been a lot of really valuable funding for the work they've done up to now, but also a sense of, 'Where does this leave people?'

I think if I was going to finish with one thing to cap on, what the whole exercise has shown—and I think Amanda reflected this—is the value that community organisations and place-based working can add to people. But there's a sense of, 'Where does it go next?' and I think we have this strange mix of people being called upon to do an awful lot of things that might be almost beyond their capacity, because of being pulled to too many places at once, and other people feeling that their efforts are now being ignored and that, actually, the capabilities that they've shown are not being used to their maximum potential as we go forward into recovery stage, despite the fact that everywhere else in the system is also facing major stresses. So, we're in that juxtaposition where we've got to almost decide how we're going to come out of this without it falling into a really haphazard mix of disjointed local responses, which in some cases build upon what we've done so far and in other cases fail to do so.


Thank you very much for that. Thanks very much to all three of you. Perhaps I might begin with a couple of questions before we move on to other committee members. I'm interested in how prepared communities and the voluntary sector were for the pandemic and how effectively they responded. Amanda, I think you said that, in Swansea—you described it as perhaps the voluntary sector being late to the table. Was that a lack of preparedness from the sector, or was it that the initial structure that kicked in, as it were, didn't involve the voluntary sector at that stage?

It was a mixed picture. As Chris has just said, there were some organisations that were a little bit in panic mode and shut down, had to have some time to then think how they were going to adapt. But there were a lot of organisations that were there ready and waiting—ready to go and couldn't find the connection points. And so it was something about the infrastructure around emergency planning being a little bit behind the curve of people being ready to step up and act. So, it was in the kind of infrastructure space, rather than the third sector not being ready.

Certainly in Swansea, it was even probably early February when we started to look at Swansea Together, which was around food specifically—it was post the panic buying and how that was rolling out. So, in terms of food, we did come together very quickly, but it was because of partners, because we have the poverty network in Swansea, and so it was partners through that pre-existing structure, whereas in terms of other areas where people needed to have some sort of alignment with statutory services, there was no place at the table very early on in that space. As I said in my introduction, once we got round the table, we were able to organise and co-ordinate together really well.


Okay, Amanda. Bethan, is there anything that you'd like to highlight in terms of the rurality of Gwynedd and what that meant particularly in terms of the challenges of preparedness and response?

I think one of the really interesting developments in Gwynedd was how elected local authority members jumped in to help. They really jumped into the gap, because they knew their communities well and they had really good contacts, obviously, with their constituents. Their role was invaluable, both in terms of supporting within and co-ordinating within their communities, but also the links to the local authority and to ourselves as a county voluntary council. That's been a really interesting development.

But I think in terms of preparedness, in terms of organisations, very much a mixed bag. I would agree with Amanda there. Some were really ready to go and they were almost waiting at the door, but other organisations struggled slightly with that. But that's the nature of the sector as well, really, and it is our role as the county voluntary council to bring organisations together and to make those links with the local authority, and we had the north Wales resilience forum, which was extremely valuable as well.

Okay, diolch, Bethan. Chris, I wonder if I could ask you—you said that there was an initial brief hiatus, as it were, but on the very local level that you were talking about, very quickly that was overcome and there was a readiness and energy to get involved. But you said that in relation to isolation and mental health, which I think we all know are huge issues around COVID—well, they're huge issues generally, and obviously they're particular matters that need to be addressed during COVID-19, so it was then more difficult, I think you said, and less effective in terms of those particular issues. Is that because dealing with the medicine, the food and other aspects, there wasn't enough spare capacity to stretch to deal with these isolation and mental health issues, or was it something of a different nature?

I think it was something of a different nature, for the most part, partly because so much of the support that people give within communities is based on human contact, and so much of what we were doing in response to COVID was based on platforms like this that, actually, going into a situation, particularly where you've got a mix of people who are mostly old and unfamiliar with the technology, or actually don't have access to decent quality technology, either because of their broadband or the fact it's too expensive for them, actually found that hard to connect with. And also, a lot of the groups doing the support were run by people in similar positions, especially in terms of age profile. So, that was, I think, the challenge, and we still haven't got anywhere near complete answers to connectivity challenges. So, we've got a lot of people who remain isolated.

There's also a degree of uncertainty over permissions to give support. We sorted out the challenges of delivery of food, for example, being seen as a legitimate thing to do quite early on, but to what extent could people go around and have face-to-face, socially distanced conversations with isolated older people? It took quite a long time for people to feel confident doing that. So it's a question mostly of appropriate resources and working out the most effective way of doing it. There was also a question of some of the organisations feeling confident enough that this was something they were allowed to do, which they're less worried about now, but, obviously, we were in completely uncharted territory at the time.

I just wanted to give one very quick example of, actually, where—and it was using telephone, actually, so good old-fashioned technology, a home phone. A bit like Bethan, we were working with housing associations and we had housing association tenants who came forward wanting to volunteer because they were shielded. So, there were some amazing stories of people who were in that vulnerable group wanting to contribute, unable to go out of the house, but using the telephone, who were able very early on to become telephone befrienders for other people. So, as Chris said, it's a very mixed picture, but some really interesting things that were about good old-fashioned technology as well, and also that amazing thing of vulnerable people also wanting to volunteer, and so creating appropriate roles for people.


Okay, thank you, Amanda. Mark Isherwood. Mark, you're muted at the moment.

Okay. Prynhawn da, good afternoon, everybody. Bethan Williams referred to the involvement of Mantell Gwynedd in the north Wales local resilience forum. I also note, however, that Building Communities Trust, in their 'Building Stronger Welsh Communities' report, identify a disconnect between Government, public bodies and communities as a barrier to community action, despite examples of cross-sector collaboration. In that context—I'll just get my notes; I'm jumping between documents—how effective has partnership working and, more broadly, engagement across the public and voluntary sectors been, and to what extent are the specific needs of local areas and communities being met through their voices being heard?

Yes, I did mention the north Wales resilience forum, which was co-ordinated by North Wales Police, as it happens, but it did include all six north Wales county voluntary councils, North Wales Police, the health board, Public Health Wales, a number of housing associations, and also national organisations like the Red Cross. In my opinion, it functioned very, very well. During the early part of the pandemic we had weekly meetings, which now have come to monthly meetings, but a very important space to share information and join up some working that needed to be joined up. Then, at a county level in Gwynedd, we very quickly, probably within the first week of the pandemic in March, set up grŵp gwydnwch cymunedol Gwynedd, so, the Gwynedd resilience group. Again, housing associations, the local authority, the health board, ourselves as the CVC and a number of third sector organisations, and both of those provided a really important forum to encourage joined-up working.

As an example, maybe, in the north Wales resilience forum we identified Tywyn in Meirionnydd as one place where it's difficult logistically, it's always been difficult, to recruit volunteers. It's a sparse population. But by working together, we did identify an organisation in Tywyn, and I doubt whether we'd have identified that organisation without the north Wales resilience forum and the fact that one of the rapid responders was actually a part of that forum. So, that's an example of how those meetings provided a really important space for joined-up working, and they were set up very quickly. They did work very well, and as the information came out of the forum, all six county voluntary councils in north Wales were sharing that information with the sector and with their membership. So, very, very good examples of joined-up working there.

Okay, diolch, Bethan. Chris, do you want to come in at this stage at all?

Yes. First of all, I'm certainly not going to row back from the substance in the report, because I think it holds true, but I think there are two things to think about. Firstly, COVID did change things—there's no doubt about that. The flexibility and collaboration across sectors was much, much better during the lockdown period than we'd had before, and I think Amanda's already reflected that. I think there still remains a variability of that across Wales, that there are some really good examples and some really poor ones. And there also remains a challenge about how you move from an emergency situation where you have people willing to put the rules aside—of course, some rules are necessary, some are not—and the extent to which people are actually willing to learn from working more flexibly and whether we can continue to do that, or do we just automatically go back to the old way of working, which in some cases wasn't terribly effective.

And I think there remains also a challenge about, however effective your working at county level goes, whether those messages and that co-ordination get down to a more grass-roots level, where the actual implementation of support for individuals and families is taking place. In our work in Gwynedd, we saw some very good examples where it did happen, but I've seen some examples in other areas where it didn't happen very clearly. So, I think, on that one, it's genuinely a mixed picture, but looking forward, I think the key challenge is how we actually take the learning from that and recognise that collaboration at county level is vital, but for it to have real meaning, it also needs to get down to a lower level than that.


Okay, thank you for that, Chris. Okay. We'd better move on, then, and bring in Huw Irranca-Davies. 

Thank you, Chair. You've touched on a lot of this already, all of you, in your evidence and in your written evidence too, but I want to focus particularly on volunteers as opposed to the voluntary sector, the third sector and so on—the role and nature of volunteering. I'm just wondering what lessons have we learned. What would be the two or three key things that you think we've learned about how we respond and utilise volunteers in a crisis situation, and what does it teach us about going forward, about gaining, capturing, the very best of the volunteer energy that came forward? I'm tempted to misuse a well-known quote by Anton Chekhov here, which is essentially that any fool can face a crisis, it's the day-to-day living that wears you out. And it's a little bit like that in the third sector, it's a little bit like that in local government. So how do we capture the best of what we saw with volunteers as we go forward? I don't know who wants to start with that. Bethan, from your experience, perhaps, did we make the most of our volunteers, and what do we learn about going forward?

Well, I think, from what I said earlier, we recruited volunteers very, very quickly. So, in Gwynedd, over 600 came forward in a couple of weeks. So one thing you can conclude is that there is definitely a wish to support communities and society there. So there's a big willingness there, and there's a wanting to. How we embrace that, well, the second part of the learning for me is about volunteers needing proper support. I always say this: volunteers aren't paid not because they're worthless, but it's because they're priceless. And in terms of volunteering, one of the very, very important things that we must always do is to support volunteers.

Now, in terms of the bank of COVID-19 volunteers we have in Gwynedd, as I mentioned, there were over 600 brand-new volunteers, people new to volunteering here, but we supported over 900 volunteers. So the difference there is the people, maybe we hadn't recruited them but they came to us for advice, for support, for knowledge, for information on anything from ID tags, to DBS, to whatever. So, very nearly 1,000 new volunteers have been supported now. So that's the second lesson: volunteers need absolute support. They need to be supported not only to fulfil their role, but we need to be supporting them in the sense that, if there's one thing that I wish we could do from this pandemic it would be to put all that volunteer enthusiasm into a jar and put the lid on it and open it a little bit every time we need some of that in the future. If only we could do that. But they need constant support, volunteers. So, those are two very big lessons. Those are the things that I've always advocated and we always have as the voluntary sector, but those are very, very important lessons. And, I think, moving forward as well, one of the things that we are looking at now, and measuring, is how many of these volunteers now are maintaining that contact. So, out of our 100 volunteers supporting the vulnerable residents of Adref, how many of those will still be doing that six months, or 12 months, or 18 months down the line? If we are to improve and to better our communities, if we are really to value the human side of all of this, we need to be measuring what difference does it make to those who've benefitted. And what do we need to do to maintain that within society? So, that's another thing we need to work on, and really learn more about as we move forward.

So, maybe those are some of the top-end lessons for me in terms of our volunteer centre in Gwynedd.


Thanks, Bethan. I wonder if I could put the same question to Amanda, but also just to phrase it in this way: if we were—and we will in the future; if it's not this, facing a virus, it'll be something else where locally, regionally, nationally we face a crisis and we have to respond—. Are there things that we've learned about marshalling the volunteer effort, the things that Bethan was talking about—support, signposting and advice, et cetera, in some ways co-ordination? Are there things we did well, and are there things—? Let's be honest with each other as well, are there things that we would do differently, that we didn't do quite as well, if we were facing something like this—we're not out of it, of course, but if we were facing those early weeks again? Amanda.

Yes, thank you. Interestingly, the use of volunteers in any future emergency situations was one of the things that I think is a lesson to come out of this. Certainly, we've been thinking about how we could have almost a standing bank of emergency volunteers, as it were, for whatever the situation—flooding, whatever it might be—so, looking at how we take that forward. For me, that partly depends upon maintaining those partnership links into resilience and other planning forums so that, if we bother to do that, they can then be deployed at pace.

I think one of the things that is really great that we're experiencing—and I don't know if colleagues in other CVCs are—lots of the kind of street champion, mutual aid, street-level, very localised volunteering that happens, the very informal volunteering, people have loved it and they want to continue it, and so we've got a lot of groups—. I say 'a lot'; in the scheme of new groups forming during a pandemic, we've got lots of people who are coming to us now wanting to incorporate, set up a charity, carry on, formalise what they're doing, because I think those groups have also learnt a lot of lessons through the immediate, early response, where we were all making mistakes, and are wanting to make sure that they can formalise some areas, maintaining what they've done informally as volunteers, but be able to offer something better from the lessons learnt.

I think one of the things that we are starting to—. So, we're actually helping lots of groups at the moment to get into that more classic third-sector space rather than informal community action. And that's people choosing—and both are really important, but that's people choosing to go down that route. One of the things that we were really clear to do all along was to provide support to informal groups. Just to touch on the very edges of just the minimum things that you might want to think about in terms of being informal—so, for example, putting out very basic safeguarding information to people on what to do if they felt that someone who they'd been delivering food to suddenly was not answering the door, or whatever it might be, and actually how to approach things like that. And I think that different level of information provided to different groups is something that we need to continue.

And then I do think we need a bit of an action plan, and, again, I'm assuming this isn't just Swansea, but we are now starting to see some—. As we've built relationships with people over many months—and that might be an initial contact delivering a prescription, but then someone moving on to a befriending scheme and having weekly contact, and some of the mental health issues that Chris had mentioned earlier—we are actually becoming aware of levels of abuse that were either not COVID-related or are COVID-related, because some of the volunteers—only some of them—who came forward during the pandemic actually were opportunistically taking advantage of people. So, we are seeing an increase in cases of financial abuse and other sorts of abuse that we're actually then having to process as safeguarding concerns. So, I think safeguarding is also one of the lessons that we do need to think about. Because that very informal contact with people is also an amazing way—it's an insight into people's lives, it's an insight into people's homes. And it might be the only touch point that people have, where actually we could come up with interventions that would be helpful and would be protecting people.


Amanda, that's really helpful. I know in the areas I represent, and the engagement that I had with volunteers, but also directly volunteering with some of the self-help organisations, in some ways it was a relief when there was a helpful co-ordination and support role played by the local voluntary sector organisation, the Bridgend Association of Voluntary Organisations, because they were able to deal then with the safeguarding issues, the safe working issues. Because, certainly from my mind, it was great to see the enthusiasm of the people springing out of the woodwork, but I was equally worried, from the moment it happened, 'Well, what if something goes wrong, what if they don't quite know best anyway?'

But, Chris, I wonder if I could just put this to you in a slightly different way. Because one of the things that struck me within all of this is that we all know that what volunteers want is something that fits them, something that motivates them, something that—they don't want to be put in a box and told, 'This is—'. They haven't gone to work for a local authority, they've volunteered because something is inspiring them. And I found a lot of groups locally, which you will know as well, in the Rhondda, here in Ogmore, and so on, they almost re-engineered themselves to deal with the crisis. Is there something in that, from your perspective, about this sort of ownership of solutions, ownership of community models of working? Because you've been involved in that a lot. Now, I found that quite interesting, that Men's Sheds, or groups that were previously doing other things, suddenly became food distributors because they knew their community and they wanted to provide the solution for the local authority. Is there something in this with volunteering?

Oh, absolutely. I think it's—. There are a whole lot of motivations for volunteering, and it's worth—. I'm thinking about some of the people we both know in the Llynfi valley. There's an awful lot of wanting, I think, to provide that mutual support to your neighbours and friends that is a really important part in terms of who you are and feeling part of that place. And I think that's one of the reasons why that sense of local ownership is really important. The other thing that I think was very noticeable, looking at it as a national picture, is, where you had that volunteer support provided by the CVC, like BAVO in Bridgend, it worked a lot more smoothly than when organisations like local authorities, for whom it's not really their bag, tried to step into that space. And I think for me that's definitely a lesson: play to people's strengths.

But I think, thinking forward in the longer term, and going back to one of the examples that Amanda gave about the phone help, people also volunteer for their own benefit, and that's absolutely fine. We shouldn't criticise that at all. People volunteer because they get something out of it—they give and they receive; they benefit and they share it. You see that with all age groups. And we need to make sure that those opportunities remain in place and that they're strongly valued. Because we've also seen, in some of those same places we were talking about just now, that kind of support from people who can't get out of the house themselves, but can still do things. And we need to make sure that that remains valued as well. Because that is also the way that some of the people who are suffering from isolation can get support from other people who might be in a similar position.

Yes, volunteering has always been a two-way process. It kept me sane in the first three months of this, I have to say—I got as much out of it as I was giving to others, without a doubt. So, thank you, everybody. Chair, back to you. 


Okay. Thank you, Huw. Thanks to our witnesses on those issues. We still have a couple of questions to squeeze in, but we're rather tight on time, so bear that in mind. Delyth. 

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Mi wnaf i geisio bod yn gryno gyda beth rwy'n ei ddweud. Pa mor effeithiol ydy'r cymorth wedi bod sydd wedi dod i'r sector o Lywodraeth Cymru, a hefyd Llywodraeth San Steffan, o ran y cymorth sydd wedi dod hyd yn hyn? Ond a fyddech chi hefyd yn gallu ateb o ran pa gymorth, boed yn ariannol neu unrhyw beth arall gan y ddwy Lywodraeth, fydd ei angen ar gyfer y dyfodol? Rwy'n gwybod bod rhai ohonoch chi wedi sôn am hyn yn eich cyflwyniadau. 

Thank you, Chair. I will seek to be brief. How effective has the support been for the sector from the Welsh Government and the UK Government, in terms of the support provided to date? And could you also cover what other support, be it financial or otherwise, you may need from either or both Governments in the future? I know that some of you mentioned this in your opening remarks. 

If we're talking in the sphere of funding, I think one of the things that I've been encouraged by is starting to see joined-up approaches to funding, and, when I say that, I mean funding that's come via Welsh Government VSEF and some of the money via WCVA, but also grants and trust funders having conversations with each other to try and shape funding strategies. I think that's really encouraging, because I think there's a huge risk of—not that the public funding won't have been used appropriately, I'm sure it has been, but actually that we might—. By joining up we can make best use of the available funding, so that we can have a clear strategy and clear priorities. So, I think seeking more of that happening would be really, really helpful. And I think that, then, puts something back into the sector for the future, because I hope, as we maybe move beyond emergency funding, that perhaps some procedures around funding come back into place that had to be dropped in order to make things happen quickly, and that then support the third sector's journey in terms of good governance. So, I think that's some of the stuff for me, where, by agencies working together, and I'm just using funding as an example—multi-agency approaches to some of those things might be a little bit of a road map for supporting the sector in the future.  

And, then, while I am talking money, I suppose, I think for me one of the things that is coming out from funding advice enquiries that we're seeing within our CVC in Swansea is—. Clearly, there are huge issues beyond 31 March for all of us in whatever agency we operate in, but, in terms of funding to the sector and survival of third sector organisations, I really do think we need to have a look at how even small amounts of core funding will help people survive and then be able to rebuild, develop new strategies, post this. But if there's nothing at the core then it is really, really difficult for people to move on. 

Thank you, Amanda. Does either Chris or Bethan—? Bethan. 

Ie, diolch. Roeddwn i wedi sôn yn gynharach, Delyth, mor bwysig oedd yr arian ddaeth o Lywodraeth Cymru reit ar y cychwyn—y gronfa argyfwng—i gefnogi'r gwaith yma. Mae'n go debyg buasai lot o'r gwaith da yma heb ddigwydd heb yr adnodd ychwanegol yna. Ond dwi yn credu mai beth sy'n bwysig, wrth inni symud ymlaen a bod yna gymaint o waith wedi cael ei wneud rwan—. Fel roeddwn i'n sôn gynnau, i mi, mae'n hynod o bwysig i werthuso yn iawn beth sydd wedi gweithio, yn lle mae'r buddsoddi wedi gweithio orau, fel ein bod ni yn gallu ail-fuddsoddi yn y llefydd rydym ni'n cael y return gorau am y buddsoddiad, a nad ydyn ni ddim yn parhau i fuddsoddi efallai mewn llefydd sydd ddim yn gwneud lot o wahaniaeth. Felly, mae eisiau rhyw fath o werthusiad o'r gronfa argyfwng a, wyddoch chi, mae eisiau buddsoddi yn y dyfodol yn seiliedig ar y canfyddiadau yma. Dyna beth fuaswn i'n ei ddweud o ran y gronfa argyfwng yn arbennig. Ond, yn sicr, heb gefnogaeth Llywodraeth Cymru fuasai llawer o'r gwaith yma ddim wedi medru digwydd. 

Yes, thank you. I did mention earlier, Delyth, how important the funding provided by Welsh Government was at the very outset—the voluntary sector emergency fund that supported this work—because it's likely that much of this good work wouldn't have happened without that additional resource. But I do think that what's important, as we move forward and now that there has been so much work done on this—. As I mentioned earlier, for me, it's extremely important that we properly evaluate what worked, where investment has worked best, so that we can reinvest in those places where the return is greatest, and we don't continue to invest in areas that perhaps aren't making a huge amount of difference. So, we do need some sort of evaluation of the emergency fund and we need to invest in the future based on those findings. Those would be my comments in terms of the emergency fund particularly. But, certainly, without Welsh Government support much of this work couldn't have happened. 


Okay. Chris, did you want to add anything? You'll have to unmute, Chris.

Thanks. First of all, just to be really clear, I don't think we saw any UK Government support, and I think that's probably because it would have come through Welsh Government funding anyway—just to be clear on the question. I don't have massive amounts to add to the funding questions and what Bethan and Amanda have said. I think what I would say, though, is money has not been a problem. There have been lots and lots of barriers people have faced, and money hasn't been one of them, and that speaks volumes for lots and lots of organisations at different levels. I think, in a couple of other areas, though, there have been issues. I mentioned problems with the police to start with. We had people delivering emergency food being stopped and sent home and stuff like that. Now, that got sorted pretty quickly because Welsh Government officials got onto it, along with the police, and so there was a reactive approach by Government, working with the police, to sort that out, and I would say that was sorted out within a week or so. So, that was really helpful.

The less helpful thing, which caused quite a lot of problems at a very local level, was something that is a well-documented problem with the NHS now, which is shielding letters. There were lots of people who should have been designated as vulnerable who weren't designated as vulnerable and, therefore, they weren't getting linked into the right kind of support locally, and then you had lots of community groups saying, 'Hang on, this person is vulnerable and not getting supported.' So, there was a disjoint in communication there.

I have to say, in general, though, from feeling for a long time that it was quite hard to get a listening for the work of community groups, I think the whole experience has changed that nature of dialogue with Government quite substantially and it's become a lot more open and willing to get the perspectives of community groups heard by both officials and Ministers.

Okay. Thanks for that, Chris. Thank you, Delyth. Diolch yn fawr. I think your answer does lead us into Dawn's area of questioning, Chris, as do other comments we've heard already. Dawn.

Thank you, Chair. I think those final comments did actually lead me nicely into what I wanted to ask, which is really around the post-COVID situation and what you see as both the opportunities and the challenges being faced by the voluntary sector in the post-COVID world. So, Chris, you've just been talking about how the dialogue with Welsh Government has improved during that period and, Amanda, you were touching a little bit on the way you'd structure it going forward. I was really interested to hear how the volunteers and the voluntary sector per se responded to this pandemic. But we have to move past this at some point, and we would still want to see the voluntary sector as being a major part of that recovery and reconstruction process. How do you see the voluntary sector in that situation?

Shall I start? I think the thing that we've talked about a lot, about making sure that we maintain that legacy of volunteering, have appropriate roles in place, have the appropriate support there, recognising Bethan's point about volunteers being priceless but volunteering doesn't come for free—. So, being able to focus on—. If we want to have really well-trained, well-supported volunteers, that is inevitably an area for investment. But actually seeing that in the context of recovery, in terms of the role—. If we end up in the situation where unemployment levels are rising and stuff like that, we're also seeing volunteering as an opportunity—it is a route to build skills, it is a route back into work. So, we're seeing volunteering not just in its own silo, although, for some people, it is absolutely that, and making sure that we are covering lots of the different motivations that people have for volunteering.

And then I suppose one of my reflections is that I think COVID has exposed really hidden vulnerabilities in our communities and how we start to address some of that. Even people who would never receive a service or consider themselves vulnerable were vulnerable at points in the past few months, and so we're being really clear that anything about recovery is trying to address some of those now exposed hidden vulnerabilities, of which there have been many.


Yes, possibly, just to refer to something Chris mentioned earlier, it's highly likely that many of these community groups and organisations don't even know whether they'll be in existence post March, at the end of March 2021, and this is why it's really important to be measuring the value of where funding is invested. We must invest in those areas where we're able to get the greatest return, to make the greatest difference to communities and people's lives, and to do that, we need to be actively evaluating the investment that Welsh Government has made over this COVID period and we need to be building on those areas that give us the greatest return on investment.

So, I keep coming back to evaluating the social return on investment. I think that is absolutely crucial as we move forward because a significant amount of public funding—additional funding—has been put into the voluntary sector during this time. We need to know where the greatest difference has been made, we need to know why it's made that difference, and we need to use that as a blueprint for investing in the future. And unless we do that, we aren't going to be investing properly in the post-COVID landscape, and that's the vital lesson to me. 

Okay, Bethan. Chris, anything you might want to add very briefly?

Yes, I think so. Going back to where we started from, and this also is true for the work of volunteers, people are, for the most part, volunteering to do something—they're volunteering to provide services, support and activities, and all of those activities and support are really valuable for the social if not always the economic and environmental aspects of recovery. I think one of the errors that has been made prior to recovery by some public bodies is not actually factoring in and recognising the contribution that those organisations are making, and if you don't recognise them, you're not likely to work effectively with them and make the most of the particular contributions they can make alongside you, and I think, for me, that's one of the big lessons out of this. That's why I'm particularly pleased to see what's happening in Pembrokeshire, where there's actually a really planned, coherent connection between the local authority and community organisations to recover better, and that's the kind of thing that I think we should be—. It won't work the same in every part of Wales, but I think there will be lessons out of that, and that is the right approach to take because you're recognising where you've got an awful lot in common with what you're trying to achieve, even if you're doing it at different levels and in different ways. I think community organisations have been, in many ways, an under-recognised asset, and I think it's time that they were recognised, and I think we'd all be better for it, given that we're undoubtedly going to face a very, very tough recovery period.

Thank you very much, all three. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr. Committee will take a very short break. I'm afraid we've got a two-minute comfort break, and that's about it, I'm afraid. See you very shortly.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 15:43 ac 15:47.

The meeting adjourned between 15:43 and 15:47.

4. Ymchwiliad i COVID-19 a'i Effaith ar y Sector Gwirfoddol: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 6
4. Inquiry into COVID-19 and its Impact on the Voluntary Sector: Evidence Session 6

Okay, this is our final evidence session today on our inquiry into the voluntary sector and the impact of COVID-19. I'm very pleased to welcome Patience Bentu, national community engagement lead for Race Council Cymru, and also Rocio Cifuentes, chief executive, Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team Wales—EYST. Welcome to you both. Thanks for joining us today. We'll begin, if we may, with short, two and a half-minute initial statements from both of you, beginning with Patience.

Thank you very much, Chair. So, I'll just give a little background for our work as Race Council Cymru. Good afternoon to all the Members who are here. Thank you very much for having us. So, Race Council Cymru was established in 2010 and acts as an umbrella organisation that supports and represents approximately 300 black, Asian and minority ethnic grass-roots organisations within our multicultural hubs across Wales. We have 120 organisations in our Black History Wales network, 300 young people in our national youth BAME forum for Wales, and this includes our Crossing Borders Young Roots project, and 121 Windrush Cymru elders and their families, and the main objective of our work with these groups is to strategically challenge racial inequalities, prejudice and discrimination.

As images of the COVID-19 deaths began to emerge, it was clear that more BAME people were dying in significantly higher numbers than their white counterparts, and Race Council Cymru's chair, Judge Ray Singh CBE, and his vice-chair, Professor Emmanuel Ogbonna, were invited to work with the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, BAPIO, to lead the First Minister's advisory committee on the impact of COVID-19 on our BAME groups in Wales. So, since the start of the pandemic, the race council has organised and held regular meetings and consultations with our hub members and grass-roots communities. We have continued to convey feedback to the Welsh Government as well as Public Health Wales on the effects and challenges of COVID-19 and the lockdown on BAME people living in Wales.

In all our work, we ensure our projects, activities and events are focused on the needs of our communities, many of whom are on the margins of society, and we work with the Welsh Government, public, private and third sector organisations ensuring that they are shaped and aligned to provide strategic delivery that meets the local needs across Wales. We also represent BAME grass-roots groups on the third sector partnership council, facilitated by WCVA. The majority of our work is dependent on volunteers, and, through the pandemic, we have benefited from the contributions of both formal and informal volunteers supporting our communities to pull through. Thank you.


Thank you, John. Hi, everybody—good to be here. So, EYST supports ethnic minority people across Wales, and supporting BAME community groups is one of its five key strands of work. We do that through two main programmes: one is our BME skills project, which is a capacity building project in partnership with three county voluntary councils—Swansea Council for Voluntary Service, Cardiff Third Sector Council and the Association of Voluntary Organisations in Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham respectively—and have worked with about 50 BAME community groups over the last three years. And the second strand is the BME invest programme, which provides supported paid employment places for young BAME people out of work, and they are hosted by—approximately 25 community groups have hosted those. So, the evidence that I'm going to talk about comes from that work, as well as EYST's role in delivering the all-Wales BAME engagement programme on behalf of Welsh Government.

So, through all of that, obviously, in the last—during the COVID pandemic, we have engaged intensively and in multiple ways with the BAME community and voluntary sector, and we have also commissioned a research report, which will be published in a couple of weeks. But some of the really headline key findings that I'm just going to touch on are—. One is really how much involvement and on-the-ground impact BAME community groups have actually been having, supporting very vulnerable individuals during this time, and their networks and how important that reach has been, and, secondly, how much the whole situation has impacted, in a range of different ways, on BAME community groups, mainly because they are all relatively small and under-resourced. So, it's had, in some cases, a devastating impact and some have had to virtually close down, and then, at the other end of the spectrum, because of the range of new opportunities, some have actually been able to grow and have been able to take new opportunities in this period. And the third really key message is the impact in terms of the actual physical health and mental health of BAME people through the pandemic, because of the actual virus itself and the anxiety about physical implications but also social and economic implications of the whole situation, and how that has had a knock-on effect on BAME community groups and the people working within them. So, that's the big picture. I'll go into more detail in a bit, but thank you.

Diolch yn fawr. Thank you very much. Okay, well, perhaps I might begin, then, with an initial question, which is really about that sort of BAME voluntary sector in Wales and how the response to the pandemic was shaped, how effective it was, and also the impact on particular projects and income. So, both of you have touched on those matters, and, of course, all of us, as committee members, would have our own experience, particularly for me in Newport, and I know others representing Cardiff and Swansea and Wrexham, where we've had on-the-ground issues to deal with and, hopefully, help take forward. So, what would you—in addition to what you've already said, what would you highlight to committee on those matters? Who would like to begin? Patience.

Yes, thank you again. I'm happy to go first. 

As I mentioned earlier, when the reality of the disproportionate effects of the pandemic hit the BAME communities, Race Council—well, the entire BAME voluntary sector, including Race Council, of course, EYST and others—realised that we had to work very closely together to be able to, first of all, offer immediate responses to the challenges within our communities. This involved, of course, recruiting volunteers to deliver things like food parcels, prescription and medication support and so on. Many volunteers from within the community responded to this call and to these duties.

I do not want to go into too much detail about the statistics, but this is elaborately covered in the socioeconomic report—it gives a breakdown of BAME people's representation in the workforce in Wales. However, we find that although there are higher percentages of BAME people in most workplaces, they are more in low-paid jobs and zero-hours contracts. So, we drew a lot from the narratives of the lived experiences of the members of our communities, which showed that, during the period of the pandemic, more people had reduced or lost income as a result, hence the immediate response of the voluntary sector providing the immediate needs, which I mentioned earlier on.

The other challenges that we also found, of course, had to do with multigenerational homes, where people were not able to adequately shield or isolate. Of course, there is also the lack of digital equipment for children, not just of low-income families but of our asylum seeker and refugee groups. So, to be able to respond as quickly as we did meant that the majority of our staff in Race Council, particularly those who worked contracted hours on projects that had to be suspended due to the pandemic, now offered their hours of work voluntarily in order to support the rising needs within the communities. Particularly, there was a growing need to provide continuing support for our Windrush elders, who were suffering loneliness and isolation on top of not having help and support with shopping, medication and other deliveries.

The other thing is that quite a number of our ongoing projects had to be suspended as a result of the pandemic and the lockdown, and many of these projects required face-to-face meetings and activities, which, obviously, could not carry on. Some bits of our suspended projects have since resumed as a result of the relaxing of the lockdown and, of course, are adhering to COVID-related rules and regulations and risk assessments. However, we continue to work more remotely in other ways, in more ways than one, to ensure support to our communities.

The big challenge for us is that the long hours that our staff and volunteers have spent working have meant that they've been paid very little or nothing at all. In most cases, we began to experience this feeling of a burnout that began to set in as the lockdown prolonged. This just puts an emphasis on the challenge that Race Council and most other BAME voluntary organisations working with grass-roots groups have faced, which is a continuous lack of funding—core funding—to employ and maintain staff salaries and to pay volunteers allowances. Although we have adapted to alternative ways of working, our duties have multiplied as a result of the disproportionate effects that are out there in the communities. We have done our very best to take up the opportunities that have come up, but the challenges still abound. Thank you.


Okay, thanks, Patience. Rocio, would you like to add anything to that?

Yes. So, just to reiterate a lot of what Patience has said, BAME people working within the BAME voluntary and community sector, whether as paid workers or as volunteers, were very much at the front line and very crucial to the emergency response, particularly in the first few weeks and months of lockdown. They were heavily involved in things like giving out food parcels, providing that support to prevent isolation and to help people with their mental health. They were very crucial to disseminating health information and updates in different community languages. They were very important in supporting children because of the impact of school closures. So, they were really—. We can't overstate how important they were to this emergency community response in the first few weeks and months, but obviously, as a result, exactly as Patience said, the issue of burnout and stress—the weight of that has really been felt, both on individuals and on community groups as a result.

There have been positives. I mentioned there's been more of a recognition of the role of all front-line workers, including BAME front-line workers in community groups. There has been some targeting of funding and new opportunities, which have been directed in that way. So, those have been some of the positives, but even seeking and going for new opportunities has taken a lot of energy and hard work, so it's also just adding to the overall workload of this part of the sector. There is a strong feeling that this part of the sector is not sufficiently well supported at the moment and that more could be done.


Okay, Rocio, Patience, would you draw the committee's attention to any particular ethnic minority community that was particularly difficult to reach or particularly difficult to provide necessary support to, or not?

I think—. If I may go first, Patience, if that's okay, I think there are communities that have been hardest hit. So, there are communities that work more disproportionately in areas that have been more shut down—so, restaurants, taxis and so on. The Bangladeshi community, for example, the Somali community, Yemeni—these are all specific ethnic groups within, particularly, the Cardiff and Newport areas that have definitely been hardest hit. I wouldn't say they're the hardest to reach. I think there are layers of factors that all overlap. Some of those same communities have also been hardest hit by the virus and by deaths, so those communities have also suffered disproportionate deaths, as have other communities—so, communities that are much smaller, like the Filipino community, who we don't speak about as often, but they have been really hard hit in terms of the number of deaths, particularly of NHS staff in Wales. So, there are certain groups that really need our attention in this new situation we find ourselves in. There has been the additional barrier of getting information to people when, in this time, we've relied so heavily on digital communication, but not everybody has that luxury or access or is able to. Not everybody is fluent in this new language. So, those have been barriers, maybe more so for poorer groups, but also the older populations as well have more barriers to digital access.

Yes. As Rocio has said, for us it's not more about that there were communities that we couldn't reach out to—it was the sort of challenges that we faced in supporting these communities. Just to add to the lists of the hardest hit that Rocio mentioned earlier on, one of the communities that we found it quite difficult to reach out to in terms of interpretation of information was the Polish community as well, particularly in—sorry, not the Polish, I apologise, the Portuguese community. Quite a large number of them are up in north Wales, particularly in Wrexham, and it was the language barrier that existed there.

And talking about language barriers, another one of the difficulties that we had was translating information that was coming out of the Welsh Government and Public Health Wales into as many languages as we could. I mean, ordinarily, translation is one of the things that we've always done, but with the pandemic, we found that there was an increasing number of languages that were needing translation because quite a number of members of those communities couldn't access information in English, because their first language is not English. We're very grateful for the work of Public Health Wales and the meetings that we had with them. I think they were very supportive of that challenge and we had a lot of discussions around how we alleviate this language barrier and what do they need to do. They wanted to hear from us what they needed to do in terms of translating all health-related information on their website. I think that's all I've got to add to what Rocio has said. Thank you.


Good afternoon, everybody. Prynhawn da. By coincidence, I had a meeting this morning with my mentee under the EYST Wales Routes to Public Life scheme, and in addition to working as what I regard an NHS hero in A&E in a major hospital in north Wales, he's working with a BAME community group, doing some of the support you referred to such as food deliveries, and so on. It was also clear from that conversation that groups such as his own aren't always aware of things like regional partnership boards or public services boards, or other networks that they could be connecting in with.

We also know from evidence that EYST has given this committee that 70 per cent of respondents to their survey recently on the impact of COVID on the BAME sector in Wales indicated that they don't have any reserves or enough funding to last up to three months. In that context, how effective has partnership working across the public, private and voluntary sectors been to support BAME organisations during the pandemic, and what lessons learned can we take forward to improve things where they need improving? 

Yes, no problem. The race council has been a lead representative on the third sector partnership council for the past six years, and since the beginning of the pandemic, we have engaged in many meetings that have explored these effects—the effects on BAME communities and the statistics that have come forward. Not just that, but also the role and the challenges that the voluntary sector has had in supporting these communities through these disproportionate effects. 

A lot of attention has been focused on the strain that the pandemic has had, particularly on informal volunteering activities, but also the formal ones as well. And these concerns resonate with us as an organisation, because we've had the same challenges. So, I think the strength of the partnerships has been in pooling together and sharing our resources and sharing information and putting these together to come up with recommendations, which, again, through the third sector partnerships, has been fed into the Welsh Government, which we're hoping will lead to lessons being taken and actions that will reduce some of these challenges going forward. Because we realise that the challenges have been there all along; all the pandemic did was bring them to the fore. They have been the result of long-standing systemic and institutional inequalities that have existed. And so, through these partnerships, we've been able to draw on very similar findings that each of our organisations has had, and we've been able to put these together to come up with the sort of recommendations that we're coming up with at the moment.

The other key thing is making plans on how best the voluntary sector can survive, going through to the recovery period, which we had thought, three months ago, had begun, only for us to have a second spike, which came a lot sooner than had been projected. So, the reality still remains that the organisational partnerships have proved effective in supporting our communities, and sharing of information has helped us to cascade this information throughout our networks. So, overall, whilst I can say that the communities have been kept informed, through our work and meeting their specific needs in a process that is ongoing, and probably will be ongoing for a little while to come, I believe that all the work that has been done, through the partnerships, will make a great impact on the development of the race equality action plan that is ongoing at the moment. And, hopefully, in the near future we will begin to meet more of the needs of the communities. 


I think there has been a lot of great partnership working in this period between the voluntary sector and other parts of the third sector infrastructure and public sector bodies in Wales. A lot of the success has relied on previous pre-existing relationships. So, where they were already good, those partnerships could continue to bear fruit during this period; where they were weak, I don't think we've seen that much new partnership develop. I mean, it's very difficult. It's similar to people who already had strong relationships pre COVID; you can maintain those relationships virtually, but it's difficult to create new ones in this space.

I think we also need to recognise that being in a partnership and entering into partnership with any organisation actually takes resources. So, I think there's probably an unrealistic expectation on the part of public bodies when they seek to build partnerships with community groups. They need to actually recognise and realise that if people aren't paid to actually do this as a day job, it's very difficult for them to turn up to meetings and go out and engage people. So, servicing the partnership really takes time and resource, which does need more investment and recognition from public bodies and infrastructure bodies. I think there's been a lot of variation. So, there have been some really good examples of excellent partnerships that local authorities have undertaken with community groups, particularly around managing the emergency response—you know, the distribution of food parcels and so on. There have been some really good examples of that.

I think, generally, the pre-existing relationship between the voluntary and community sector and the health sector in general was, I think, for the BME community sector of that, weak. So, I think that there was a lot of ground to be made up in this period. When patients mentioned the need to translate information, resources, all of those procedures should really have been in place before this pandemic, but we've had to all scrabble around and innovate quite quickly. But I don't think it's being managed in a very structured, systematic way so far. And, yes, I think the reality is that the vast majority of BAME community groups are very small, very financially vulnerable and most of them just have not been around the length of time that the majority of white groups have. Most charities that you can think of have got decades behind them, at least. Many celebrate their centenaries and that sort of thing. So, it's a new sector, it does need support and help to really mature and become more established. I think it's important that we do that, because there is so much strength within the sector, they have so much to offer that we as a society and other sectors really need—for example, the diversity of languages spoken within community groups, the passion and the energy and the drive to really help other people. Those are real strengths and assets that can be capitalised on if we make the right moves.


Thank you very much. We'll move on to Huw Irranca-Davies.

Good afternoon, both. I wonder if I could focus particularly on volunteering and the community self-help organisations that sprung up in the early part of the response to the coronavirus and just ask you, from the lessons we learnt on the ground—. Everybody talks about the immense amount of energy and the immense amount of goodwill and people coming out of the woodwork to help others, but I'm just wondering what lessons, good and bad, did we learn about capturing that volunteer effort, about sustaining it into the future as well. What would we do differently, if anything, or was it all good? I don't know who wants to start. Patience.

Volunteers have been a stronghold of our work within the communities, and the volunteers' work was a lot of what BAME organisations relied on, as you said, during the beginning, not just the formal volunteers who have been there, who have been paid allowances every now and again to go into the communities, but the strength was increased within informal volunteering groups—people who just gave up their time to come out. A lot of them were young people, a lot of them were students who had nothing to do with their time because universities were shut down, and a lot of them, as well, were workers who were on furlough, and loads of others—there was just that urgent need for communities to pull together and help each other in every way possible.

Now, having talked about the widespread network of our work, I don't think it will be wise to say that all the BAME organisations put together can solve every problem in the community, and this is where the volunteers come into play, and they've done such a fantastic job of it. However, it has not been without its own challenges—volunteering in itself—because, as the lockdown was gradually eased up, many of our informal volunteers had to go back to either their studies or back to work, and life was gradually, seemingly, coming back to normal.

Then, with the formal group, there was, as we mentioned earlier on, that feeling of burnout, and with the loss of some of our informal volunteers, the duties of the formal volunteers were increased, and this gave most of our BAME organisations a bit of anxiety. How do we sustain the enthusiasm of our volunteers? How do we sustain the good work that they're already doing in the communities? There's only so much that anyone can do within a particular given time without incentives. There are bound to be days when you'll wake up and feel, 'I can't do this anymore', or 'How much more can I do?' So, in terms of remuneration and incentives, it was becoming a challenge for BAME organisations.

The other thing is, our smaller group partners, the smaller community groups, some of which are not formally registered but have been operating as community groups, they are the ones that have largely served as formal volunteers for a lot of our organisations. Apart from the burn-out, they were also worried that immediate help was not coming to their groups, because they were unable to access funding due to the very difficult funding requirements, many of which they could not meet. So, it kind of dampened, I think, if I can use that word, their work spirit as they struggled to meet the immediate needs of their groups, and there we were, the bigger organisations, saying to them, 'Oh, we need you also—we've got the funding for this and that and that, but we need you as volunteers within your communities to carry out these emergency projects'.

Having said all of that, the volunteering and community response has been very beneficial to our communities throughout the pandemic, and will continue to be a leading force for all BAME organisations going forward into a post-COVID recovery. So, it is very, very important to us that volunteering is adequately funded. Thank you.


Thank you, Patience. I think one of my colleagues might well pick up on the issue of funding in a moment, particularly, but, I wonder, could I ask you just to build on that? Is this, in a sense—. It would be wrong to call it—. Is the crisis response something where we then say, 'Right, in terms of volunteers, that's for a crisis', and we have to then go back to the way it was before, or is there some legacy from here about those people who came forward? If there is a legacy, how do we capture that energy and enthusiasm that came forward in response to the crisis and turn it into something longer lasting? How do we make it sustainable?

Yes, I think there was, as you say, a tsunami of goodwill and generosity that came forward. Facebook played a huge part in letting people know about different opportunities, and matching up that goodwill to the local need. I think the local element is really crucial, and I think sometimes there's a danger that volunteering has become too bureaucratic and too far removed from the local and the actual community groups. So, I think we would do better to try and put the focus back more on the local and smaller community groups and support those to make sure that the volunteering that they can support is safe, and that we build their capacity to provide safe volunteering opportunities—so, things like DBS checks, keeping volunteers safe from the virus, all the PPE that they need to offer that. I know that, in some cases, some CVCs did that really well, and others maybe weren't as forthcoming in giving that guidance. I know WCVA were asked for that support, but I'm not exactly sure who, really, was meant to be giving that guidance to the small community groups who really were managing these front-line, local volunteers who were coming forward. I'm aware of efforts being made to put all of these potential volunteers on a database somewhere, and I'm also aware that many of those people were never matched, so I think that really highlights the dangers when you try and put everything into the computer first. I think we would have been better off, really, if those people were dealt with at a more local level so that they could really put their skills and time to good use in a more direct way. I'm not sure overall what lessons—. I think it's a very mixed picture. There are some great examples at every level, but I would just think that, generally, we need to reduce the levels of bureaucracy involved, because it's built up into an industry, really, and it shouldn't really ever be seen as an industry when we're talking about human beings helping each other. So, we need to humanise it a bit more.  


That is a really interesting response. Thank you very much indeed. Thank you, both. 

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Can I ask you about friending, as Huw alluded to just then, or just a few moments ago? Do you think there's sufficient focus from funders specifically about the specific needs of BAME communities? And do you think that the pandemic has changed that situation? Do you think that it's changed the priorities that funders have, or is there any reason to hope for that, or not?

Funders have made a great effort to alleviate the pressures and the effects of the pandemic. The big funders, such as the Big Lottery Fund, the WCVA and so on, have provided funding that has served the needs of the communities, and they were very quick as well to do so, just as the smaller funding organisations were also very quick to provide funding—the little funding that they could. Amounts went from as little as £500 to £2,500 from the smaller funding organisations. And this went a very long way in meeting the immediate needs within the communities. 

So, the funding priorities as well, as we saw, changed. They did change within a short period of time. How long that will remain the case we do not know, but certainly we have seen that funders have altered their priority focus and have beamed their lights on the pandemic and alleviating the pressures on the communities. However, because of the enormity of the disproportionate effects of this pandemic and the existing socioeconomic effects as well on top of that, there is the need for increased funding and ensuring a wider distribution in such a way that the smaller BAME organisations are able to reach funding as quickly as possible. 

The other challenge that comes out of the funding is prolonged project time frames. Oftentimes—. No, sorry, I didn't mean to say 'prolonged'— 

Short timings—the opposite, that's right. 

I was nodding along; I knew what you meant. [Laughter.]

The short timings of the projects—food parcels, for instance, medication support, deliveries. You were given three months, or two months, within which to execute these, and the big question would be, 'Then what happens when that funding runs out?' And we did have those occasions—numerous, numerous amounts of them, particularly to do with catering for BAME international students who were stuck during the pandemic, with nowhere to run to. They had no recourse to public funds and nowhere to turn to. We were able to meet some of their needs in different ways. To some we gave little amounts, like £20 or £50, to some we gave shopping, and so on. But all of that was done within a short period of time, and long after that, we were still receiving e-mails, 'When is the project going to be extended? When is the next funding coming in?' and so on and so forth. 

The other thing is what happens when we go into the recovery period. As we said, we know that these challenges are going to be with us for a very long time to come, so, definitely, we're hoping that, in the near future, that funders will continue to keep their focus on the pandemic as much as possible.

It is also vital—one last thing to add there—that the turnaround time for funding applications are made shorter to ensure quick disbursement to meet the immediate needs of people. Oftentimes, you do a fund application and you have to wait a month or sometimes six weeks, or long periods of time, before you even get a response, whether you've been successful or not, and I think this has also been a big barrier for a lot of our organisations. Thank you.


Okay. Thanks, Patience. We're running up against our time limit, I'm afraid, so we'll need to be pretty succinct from here on. Rocio, did you want to add anything?

Yes. I think what we've had in the last six months, or seven or eight, is two huge world events coming together—so, the pandemic as well as the Black Lives Matter movement. Both of them have converged, with one of the results being that there is a new realisation from funders of the need to focus funding at BAME community groups. So, that has been welcomed. They have targeted a significant proportion of their funds to BAME community groups; they've ring-fenced. Some funders have made it a requirement that they would only fund, for example, BAME-led organisations. I'm aware of a number of these, including Children in Need, the Big Lottery Fund, WCVA, Comic Relief—they have all created new emergency funding pots targeted at BAME community groups. I'm aware, as well, that they have made sure that the turnaround time is a lot shorter than normal. Even, as Patience said, a month, six weeks are actually incredibly short in relation to normal timescales, which are a minimum of three months, usually—three to six months is the average—and they've made the application process much less onerous. However, as Patience said, the downside is that these pots are still relatively small amounts of money. You know, we're talking a few thousand pounds, usually, and the funding is very short term. So, a lot of funding has been given out that has to be spent this financial year. I think, come next April, there's going to be quite a cliff edge. Some funders are also talking about the fact that they've spent loads this year, so they're not expected to be able to give out much next year. Some funders, like Children in Need, which rely on public fundraising, are also forecasting a lot less money available next year. So, the future is very uncertain for funders, which will impact on community groups applying for that funding.

Okay. Well, thank you, both. The final question, then, from Dawn Bowden.

Thank you, Chair. Now, I've been asking all the other witnesses about what they see as the role for the voluntary sector in the reconstruction, post-COVID period. I'd be interested to know what you think are the particular opportunities and challenges that the post-COVID reconstruction period might present to BAME groups and voluntary organisations around Wales.

I will. Thank you very much for that question. As a BAME organisation, apart from sitting on the third sector partnership council with other partners like the Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team Wales, we are also a member of the TSPC recovery group, and this is a group that draws from the contributions of the TSPC to offer recommendations to the Welsh Government in planning a recovery. The opportunity this provides is that voluntary sector voices are heard and their contributions across the recovery work streams are taken on. Our work representing BAME communities will not only strengthen a collective effort towards a green, just and fair recovery, but it is also very essential to the Welsh Government's achievement of a recovery that supports integrated thinking, a recovery that inspires innovative solutions, and above all, strengthens voluntary and community action. I think this is the role that we play in all of this.

It is for the same reasons that we see a big opportunity for BAME voluntary organisations to continue to contribute to the work of the race equality action plan steering committee by feeding back on consultations with our communities. However, again, the biggest challenge remains core funding to ensure the survival of BAME organisations—very, very important to us. Thank you. 


I think the biggest point to make is how much of the future workforce is actually from a BAME background. So, 10 per cent of the school-age population is from a non-white, non-British background, so there is a significant proportion of young people coming through the system, and we know that BAME and young people are going to be really negatively impacted by the impending recession. So, it's really crucial that the recovery makes targeted efforts to protect and create particular jobs that are targeted at these groups that are otherwise likely to be most severely hit. There's also the fact that so much of our health and social care workforce is made up of BAME individuals. That's also a really crucial factor that means that protecting them is actually really fundamental to protecting the ability of our health and social care systems to continue to operate. Overall, we have to protect these most vulnerable groups from being negatively affected, because otherwise they'll go into a real downward spiral, which will have really huge ramifications for the whole of society.

Can I have just one final quick question? It's quite a big question, but I'll ask it quickly. Did you think there's also a challenge for voluntary organisations that are not specifically BAME voluntary organisations, but a challenge for voluntary organisations to take on board the kind of agendas that you've been talking about as well?

Yes, completely, and not just voluntary organisations, but every organisation, whether voluntary or public sector or private sector in Wales, should be taking on board these challenges. They're not about other people; it's about all of us working together. Every organisation, including Welsh Government, may I say, should really strive to increase and improve its representativeness of the groups that we're trying to support and who live in Wales. 

Thank you very much. Thank you, both, for giving evidence to committee today. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr.

Thank you very much.

5. Papurau i’w Nodi
5. Papers to Note

Okay then, the next item on our agenda today is item 5, papers to note. Paper 9 is a letter from the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales in relation to committee scrutiny of the annual report. Paper 10 is a letter from the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales to the Minister for Health and Social Services in relation to the NHS complaints data. Are Members content to note both papers? Okay, thank you very much.

6. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd o Weddill y Cyfarfod
6. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to Resolve to Exclude the Public from the Remainder of the Meeting


bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).


that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Item 6, then, is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of today's meeting. Are committee members content to do so? Yes. Okay, thank you very much. We will, then, move into private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 16:39.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 16:39.