A lifeline for London

28 October 2021

How mental health services in the voluntary sector worked during the pandemic

Jo Wilton and Louis Allwood

The Covid-19 pandemic has put unprecedented pressure on people’s mental health.

A lifeline for London, commissioned by the Mayor of London, explores how voluntary and community organisations in the capital supported people’s mental health during the first year of the pandemic, how they adapted to the crisis, and what they’ve learned from the experience.

The voluntary and community sector (VCS) has played a critical role in supporting mental health within communities in London, as it has nationwide. Voluntary and community organisations in London saw a sharp increase in demand for services, as well as people presenting with more complex needs. Organisations rapidly moved their services online, and some were able to access emergency funding.

But some of the extra support available to VCS organisations is now being withdrawn, just when they need it most. Some organisations have seen a return to short-term contracts and more competitive bidding processes. And this is at a time many staff and volunteers are feeling burnt out.

As a result of this research, we’re calling for:

  1. Local government and NHS commissioners to work collaboratively with the VCS when planning services
  2. Commissioners to offer funding models that support the stability, sustainability and diversity of the VCS
  3. Commissioners to create contracts for VCS organisations that enable them to work flexibly to meet people’s needs
  4. Commissioners to work with VCS organisations to develop more appropriate monitoring and evaluation protocols
  5. Integrated Care Systems to embed mechanisms to include VCS organisations in their governance and decision-making processes
  6. Integrated Care Partnerships to include members from a range of VCS organisations representing communities and groups that experience the most significant health inequalities
  7. The Government to extend the remit of the CQC to inspect and review commissioning practices
  8. Health and Wellbeing Boards to work closely with the VCS when carrying out Joint Strategic Needs Assessments
  9. Charitable funders and larger VCS organisations to build partnerships with smaller community- and user-led organisations to amplify their voices and create a more level playing field for groups that have been marginalised or disadvantaged
  10. Thrive LDN to explore ways of supporting VCS organisations across the capital to build capacity and resilience within the sector.

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