TCF response to COVID-19

Trying to get ahead of the curve

Trying to chart a path through the complicated and unpredictable impact of COVID-19 is fraught with difficulty. Recent events show that we cannot be sure what will happen next, although there is understandable anxiety about the consequences of the Federal government’s JobSeeker and JobKeeper support programs undergoing expected changes in September or October.

Sally Darke, Chair of Tasmanian Community Fund

Some observers are already calling it a “cliff’, when the financial structures that have provided vital support to thousands of Australians are either suddenly taken away or drastically reduced. This concern points to a shift in thinking, from ‘What do we do now?’, to ‘What will we do then?’ And it means the many organisations are getting prepared for that outcome, whatever it may look like.

The Tasmanian Community Fund has set its sights on what happens then, backing its local knowledge to respond to what’s happening on the ground, in its response to the pandemic’s impact.

TCF chair Sally Darke says the Fund made a decision that it didn’t need to respond urgently once the pandemic hit. “We’ve got a State government that has provided quite a bit of support to those in the community who are vulnerable and we’re very aware that once JobSeeker and JobKeeper and other forms of assistance wind up that’s when it’s going to be really important that organisations like TCF are available with some funding,’’ she says.

“It’s not our job to do some of that rapid response work – ours is to help in the long term, particularly working with the vulnerable members of our community.

“We’ve been talking to a lot of CEOS in the community sector and the time they are most concerned about is the September-October when that form of funding is no longer there when the banks are starting to ask for mortgage repayments,’’ Sally says. “We believe that’s the time it’s really going to be needed as far as to help organisations and individuals.’’

Tasmania went into the COVID-19 lockdown with a decisive step to isolate the island from any non-required travellers. The result has been an exemplary period of more than seven weeks without a confirmed case, too early July. But that has come with consequence, for local communities, deprived of everything from interstate visitors to the end of their winter sporting competitions.  Many local football competitions in Tasmania, for example, have been abandoned, because the potential impact of the Coronavirus on many elderly club volunteers is too big a risk. Not only that but with restrictions on spectator numbers, footy clubs’ revenue from canteen and bar sales would have plummeted. And then there are the concerns about players mingling with spectators from other areas. The dilemmas were often too complex to find a workable solution.

As an example of what has happened because of COVID, it also provides Sally with insights into what life may look like on the other side of the pandemic.

“Those clubs are going to have 12 months without football and then they’re going to have to pick that up again, so re-connecting with their players, reconnecting with their volunteers, reconnecting with their sponsors, with the community; those sponsors may well have financial stresses may well make it difficult,’’ Sally says.

“So they’re going to, as one example, look at how they do things…and that’s very relevant in small country towns where they often have a football team. And that’s appropriate for hockey teams, soccer teams, and community groups.’’

At the heart of the discussion about funding support for the communities working their way through recovery is an understanding that each community will have its own solution.

“I’m hoping that it’s not just about repeating where we were before,’’ Sally says. “It does allow an opportunity for a new normal and allows an opportunity for organisations to re-align and rethink what they’re doing. I’m hoping we’ll come out of it a lot stronger but there will be vulnerable people who need to make sure they’re not left behind as we come out of the Coronavirus.’’

What has happened is that discussions around the TCF’s new round of funding that has just opened – and will be disbursed in December – indicates that there has been little change in what’s required from before the pandemic to now.

“It was interesting that the applications that we got just before Coronavirus when we asked the CEOs if these projects were still appropriate as we come out of Coronavirus period - they were very definite that those programs are still really important,’’ Sally says.

One of those programs is called Inside Out 4 Kids, delivered by the Launceston City Mission, to provide in-school support for children who have suffered some form of trauma. It has worked successfully in Launceston, in northern Tasmania, and with TCF’s $440,000 will be extended to Tasmania’s north-west coast to cover about 1000 children over the next three years.

A separate program, from Relationships Australia, delivers an older person mediation and support services to help families when there may be conflict within the family. The TCF is supporting that program with a $320,000 grant.

The TCF turned 20 last year and has disbursed $106 million in grants to more than 3000 projects across those two decades. But there is no doubt that there is still plenty of work to do to redress some of the state’s problems around access to work and people’s capacity to engage with the workforce. Some of Tasmania’s more measurable issues are better known – its literacy problems, low school retention rates, the lowest level of bulk-billing GPs in the nation, and that disadvantaged Tasmanians have a life expectancy 18 years less than their better-off peers.

Sally says that despite a strong state economy during the past five years, there was an understanding that those benefits were not always evenly spread across Tasmania.  “I think politically there’s an awareness that is the case and organisations like TCF have a role to keep reminding everyone that the gap is getting larger and to just give a voice to those who may be struggling to get the services they need, particularly in the rural and regional and remote areas,’’ she says.

The TCF is supported by an annual State government appropriation of $6.5 million but this next round of funding will mean dipping into its reserves, an increasingly common step for funders in the current crisis. “While we’ve always had the reserves there, we’ve made the conscious decision that, if ever there was a time to use those reserves, it’s exactly now,’’ Sally explains.

“So by the time we’ve done the $4.2 million in June and the $3.5 million in December, we’ll have had quite a big year as far as funding into the Tasmanian community.’’

The work doesn’t stop there – in the same way that Sally anticipates other community organisations will review and renew as a result of the pandemic, the TCF has just held its own strategic review session.

“I’m really confident that the TCF has had a continuous improvement approach right through and we do respond to the community need,’’ Sally says, “but I think it’s a really great opportunity to stop, to rethink and to say: ‘Are we comfortable with the internal and external ways that we go about our business’ and let’s make the changes that we need to as a result.’’

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