In early 2020, charities entered what will likely be one of the more challenging periods of their existence. Despite the potentially long-lasting effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on funders and their grantees, the Carers’ Music Fund projects are showing determination and resilience, finding new and transformative ways to address the wellbeing needs of women who are carers.
Since March 2020, projects have been juggling increased demand for their services and a reduction in staff numbers, as their financial situations became increasingly volatile. Social distancing and the furloughing of staff led projects to rethink their recruitment strategies and music-making activities and to pay increasing attention to the primary needs of their participants.
“We’ve tapped into a group of women who normally have very busy lives with work and family”, Carer’s Music Fund grant-holder
As of November 2020, national data on wellbeing and loneliness points to a complex and challenging landscape in which wellbeing inequality has worsened in recent months. The pandemic has exacerbated loneliness for those who were already at higher risk of being lonely. Young adults, people from low income households, people with mental illness have been disproportionately affected.
The women who are carers engaged by the Carers’ Music Fund were among those hardest hit: with 70% providing more care than before and 55% feeling overwhelmed and worried about burning out. The impact on young carers is likely to be quite severe given the effects of lockdown on access to pre-existing networks such as school and peer group friendships.
By June almost all Carer’s Music Fund projects had begun to deliver at least some of their activities online, working with a broader group of carers and providing wrap-around pastoral support.
“Our participants now have designated time and space to talk” – as opposed to a quick hello over a cuppa at the beginning/end of an in-person music session”, Carer’s Music Fund grant-holder
The Fund’s Learning Partnership has captured initial learning on the immediate effects of the pandemic on grant-holders and is keen to understand the experiences and emerging needs in this new delivery context.
Findings from a survey conducted with six projects were presented and discussed during a three-part Learning day when grant-holders shared challenges and success stories on how they’d worked to sustain engagement and build flexibility into their activities along the way.
- Online delivery has provided opportunities for grant-holders to engage new groups of carers with new opportunities.
- Remote participants were afforded less time away from their caring roles as sessions took place with family members and children in the background. Projects highlighted the increasing intensity of their caring responsibilities, particularly for women with young children out of school or those caring for shielding individuals.
- Technological barriers and the broader effects of digital poverty are some of the additional challenges that the projects have been trying hard to address. Projects working with older carers have noted a general lack of experience and confidence to access online services, and younger carers have not always had easy access to devices such as computers and tablets.
Remote-working has posed challenges for organisations themselves, as project leads have been managing staff remotely and providing additional support to their staff’s mental health needs.
“Participants have provided mutual support through chatting about experience of lockdown, caring responsibilities, shared fears and frustrations, as well as good news stories”, Carer’s Music Fund grant-holder
Building resilience beyond Covid-19
“We’ll have to learn to build trust without face to face contact”, Carers’ Music Fund grant-holder
The Fund’s projects have risen to these challenges, gaining in-depth knowledge of the needs of their participants s and building skills and capabilities to meet the changing demands of digital delivery.
Several organisations have pointed to the benefits of online delivery which has attracted new and previously excluded carers to their projects. Transport and poor health are no longer barriers to participation and for some, logging onto sessions from home without leaving the person they care for, has made them feel more comfortable and confident to attend.
There have also been several successful adaptations to the music-making component of the programme, including the use of new software to facilitate music-making online and delivering musical instruments to carers’ homes. Grant-holders are now thinking more creatively about resource development, producing pre-recorded content as well as documented musical activity in written formats.
One of the biggest innovations since March 2020 has been the use of mutual support groups which now form an integral part of the CMF projects’ offer. Participants are using online platforms such as WeChat and Facebook to build closer relationships within their groups, strengthening their social networks in the shorter-term.
As online delivery increases and leads to new forms of social interaction between participants, CMF projects have shared learning on what successful delivery approaches might look like.
The importance of well-facilitated social time is key. Facilitators must be able to support the flow of conversation during the sessions, ensuring participants are not excluded and knowing when to steer the conversation away from topics that may trigger individuals within the group.
Greater flexibility, where possible, may also help sustain engagement, with some projects offering more evening and weekend sessions to accommodate some of their participants.
When working on Zoom, real-time annotation and the use of shared sound through external instruments have helped online conversations appear less “transactional” and may be strengthening the cohesion of groups.
With the recent increase in Covid-19 restrictions, moving forwards, it is likely that many grant-holders will adopt a blended approach, mixing online and face-to-face delivery where possible.
Stay tuned for our upcoming podcast when we explore how they’ve struck the balance between virtual working, sustained engagement and the achievement of wellbeing outcomes.
The Carers’ Music Fund has been made possible by funding Spirit of 2012 received from the Tampon Tax Fund, awarded through the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The Tampon Tax Fund was set up to allocate the money generated from the VAT on sanitary products to projects that improve the lives of disadvantaged women and girls. Spirit was awarded £1.5 million from the fund in March 2019.