At our latest Open Door webinar, we invited National Clinical Director Jason Leitch to participate in a Q&A about public health issues for voluntary sector organisations emerging from lockdown due to coronavirus. Professor Leitch opened the session with a reminder that the coronavirus pandemic is only the 6th time in living memory that a global pandemic has been declared.  

With no treatment or cure to control coronavirus, lockdown was “the hammer” to contain the threat and protect lives. The situation we are now in is “the dance”, where we still have controls in place and move fast to contain outbreaks where they occur. 

An hour was never going to be enough to get answers to all the questions we had from SCVO members and beyond. 

As SCVO Chief Exec Anna Fowlie reminded us all at the start, the voluntary sector is not one sector, but many – it spans health and social care, hospitality, sport, tourism, the arts and more. While Professor Leitch covered some key areas or ‘themes’, the main message was that we hold the answers to many of our questions, and that official guidance is only one part of navigating our way out of lockdown. 

The situation is complex but the role of the voluntary sector in supporting people and communities through lockdown and beyond is clear and there are ways to continue this work within the restrictions we all face.  

Professor Leitch explained there are two main tools being used to contain coronavirus:  

  • test and protect to identify and isolate outbreaks 
  • and measures to influence human behaviour to prevent the spread of the virus

Any move to ease lockdown in any sector must follow official guidance and support these two tools. Otherwise, it should not be happening. 

For example, in response to a question about the return of events, conferences and large gatherings, restarting community and support groups and re-opening services, advice was that while the challenges are different in every case, the basics are really the same for everyone when it comes to preventing the spread:  

  • follow guidance (including FACTS
  • gather the information needed by test and protect services 
  • put measures in place to promote human behaviour that will prevent the spread – e.g. hand sanitisers, one-way systems, staggered entry times and spaced seating  

Professor Leitch also stressed the importance of making choices in an objective and rational way about what is “essential”. So, for example, face-to-face business meetings between colleagues are not essential if they can be carried out remotely using phone or video, and similarly face-to-face AGMs could arguably be replaced with other mechanisms and so are not essential. 

For the many services and activities that are essential and are yet to re-open, Professor Leitch expressed the importance of planning and preparation. In all cases, the starting point for any decisionmaking is to have carried out thorough risk assessments covering both premises and people. You need to be sure that the place you are operating is safe and you need to understand the risks and vulnerabilities of the people involved – staff, volunteers and users – so you can plan effectively around those. 

Another important piece of advice was to act with caution and adopt a test and learn approach to re-starting. Small pilots with manageable numbers are a safe and controlled way to try out new ways of doing things and allow you to make adjustments as you go. And implementing ‘bubbles’ amongst the people involved will help reduce the risk of spread. 

In summing up, Anna Fowlie challenged us to embrace the uncertainty that exists and find a way forward and to play our part in supporting others through the uncertainty. Here are some links and resources to help you on that journey: 

You can find a full recording of the webinar on our YouTube channel, and we’ve also pulled out some key answers to common questions, such as: 

  1. Can cooking classes be held indoors/outdoors, how many households can take part and can people share food? 
  1. Can our organisation’s AGM be held indoors? 
  1. What is the advice for reopening community centres, village halls and other communal facilities? 
  1. How do we define what ‘essential offices’ are? 
  1. Are community support groups allowed to restart and meet under the current guidelines? 

For more information and guidance on leaving lockdown visit SCVO’s Coronavirus Third Sector Information Hub – other useful links shared during yesterday’s event include: 

To help shine a light on the essential role of the voluntary sector during the pandemic and beyond please support SCVO’s #NeverMoreNeeded campaign.