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Responding to Covid-19: reasons for hope


  • John James

    John James

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused an unexpected increase in demand for the services of voluntary sector organisations, alongside an abrupt decline in fundraising revenue. John James OBE, chief executive of the Sickle Cell Society, reflects on the challenges the organisation has faced and shares what he has learnt and what gives him hope for the future.

The team: trust in people to do the very best they can

  • We have adjusted so nimbly. One day we were in the office, the next in our own kitchens or sitting rooms, working, and yet immersed in our own families or grappling with new caring responsibilities. We keep in phone contact and work out our plans together. I realise that we share values we really believe in, and this has enabled us to pull together.

  • We have found a new resilience, which we didn’t know we had, to cope with the demand for our services which went up exponentially1. This experience of coping with the effects of the pandemic has given us renewed confidence in ourselves and what we can do.

Collaboration and collective action are possible

  • As sources of funding disappear before our eyes, there is a narrative that says, ‘We can’t save all charities at any cost’. However, I am seeing funders work together to make emergency funds available for those charities that are struggling. That is not easy to do and is a sign of the determination in the system to survive.

  • The enormous volume of chat on our website is enabling new conversations and connections between patients, many of which will continue.

  • The network of sickle cell specialist medical centres has mobilised. These were only established in the past year, and clinicians are collaborating across centres and with local hospitals, to ensure patients continue to receive regular care.

We can learn from Covid-19 to change the future

  • Covid-19 has exposed the scale of health inequalities in the UK. As a charity that works with these issues every day, most particularly in the UK’s Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) community, this is sadly not news to us. Now, the whole country is alert to the issue. Let’s use this moment to act.

  • We now value key workers and public servants in new and different ways. Many have been amazed at just how many frontline workers are from the BAME community – and how many have died. Let’s hold on to the respect we feel now.

  • Covid-19 has helped people understand the connections between the NHS, care homes and voluntary organisations. We must strengthen the voluntary and care sectors, find the resources they need. Let’s cement that in at policy level and build it in to plans on the ground.

  • As a voluntary sector leader I’m optimistic about the future of the sector and its place in health and care in the UK. We need to use our recent experiences; there is no going back.

Want to know more?

If you're looking for further reading on this topic, see our recent blogs on the voluntary sector response to Covid-19, the role of volunteers during the crisis and ethnic minority deaths and Covid-19.

Leading through Covid-19

Short resources and shared experiences to offer some help in supporting leaders working in the NHS, social care, public health, local authorities and the voluntary and independent sector.

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