Some of the city’s charitable organisations may owe their survival, post the pandemic, to the combined efforts of POP+ and the Plymouth Social Enterprise Network. Throughout the lockdown POP+ and PSEN have been regularly meeting with the Plymouth City Council’s economic development team to highlight the plight of charities and social enterprises across the city unable to access emergency business funding. Now, as a result of their intervention, more than 350 charities; social enterprises; small and micro businesses have been given money to enable them to weather the economic storm brought about by Covid-19.
It is the role of the Plymouth Octopus Project (POP+) to support the many and varied organisations that make up the city’s voluntary and community sector. A survey carried out by POP+ just two weeks into lockdown, and a follow-up survey in June, identified the precarious position of many of its members, such as The Island Trust, which provides sailing courses from Plymouth for disadvantaged young people. The charity was anticipating one of its busiest years in its forty-seven-year history: with the Mayflower commemorations on the horizon it was to sail across 2020 with 1,100 people on board but suddenly all were grounded leaving the charity, as Emma Pate explains, without an income;
“If we can’t sail, there’s no money.”
Unlike ‘conventional’ businesses eligible for the government’s Small Business Rate Relief, many of POP’s members have found themselves facing great uncertainty with no money coming in and unable to qualify for emergency funding. Imogen Potter, the capacity-building manager, employed to give advice and support to the organisations and help them grow has seen the damage: in the last four months, Imogen has met (via zoom) and listened to the concerns and fears of more than eighty different organisations as they struggled to survive the impact of the pandemic.
“We could see that charities and social enterprises had been hit hard, particularly those working to improve people’s health & wellbeing; working with young children and families in ‘early years’ and those supporting refugee and asylum seekers. All of these were in dire need of financial support.”
Sharing their plight with the council, POP+ helped to direct critical funding through the ‘Discretionary Business Grant’ devised to support organisations with a significant fall in income; fixed property costs (including boat-based businesses) and/or rental costs on premises. Unlike other grants – crucially – it enabled the people assessing and awarding the funding to consider the needs and circumstances of each applicant, such as The Island Trust;
“Earlier in the lockdown we applied for the government’s business rate relief, believing us to be eligible, but were turned down” explains Emma. After hearing about the council’s discretionary grant
during one of POP’s on-line support sessions, the charity applied and received £10,000 which will pay for the rent, bills and berthing rates for our three sailing boats until September.
“We are really grateful for the work of POP+ and PSEN,” says Emma, “raising awareness of organisations like ours who were falling through the net of the government’s emergency funding schemes. While we are still fighting for our survival and looking for other support, this will help see us through the summer.”
For many organisations the discretionary grant has bought them time. Owen Finnie, from the social enterprise Pollenize, which has twelve bee colonies in five sites across Plymouth, says it’s thanks to POP+ that they even knew about it;
“The only information we had about grants came from POP,” says Owen who along with Matt Elmes runs Pollenize, without any income. “Without this funding we might have had to put a temporary stop on our work at what has been a really pivotal time for us. Instead, we’ve been able to tick along, pay our rent, look after the bees and continue our efforts to build a sustainable business.”
More than £2.25m has now been awarded through the discretionary business grant in Plymouth helping to ensure that the city’s many charities, social enterprises and organisations run by volunteers endure to help others. Furthermore, the efforts of POP+, PSEN and the city council has protected about 1,700 jobs and with them, their livelihoods.