Having arrived as Chief Executive of Wellingborough’s Daylight Centre Fellowship last September – at the height of the COVID pandemic – Carina Fisher understands the phrase ‘baptism of fire’ rather better than most!
Now, five months into her role at the helm of the charity which, for more than 26 years has been serving the local homeless and those with complex social needs, including the vulnerable, lonely or those grappling with addiction, Carina tells All Things Business why she’s relishing the role….
Why did you want the job, particularly at a time when the charity was facing one of the toughest periods in its history?
I asked myself that same question! During the interview process I met some of the Board members and I was so inspired by their passion and the vision for the Daylight Centre Fellowship, it was quite contagious. I also visited the service as part of the process and, just driving into the car park, I instinctively felt that this was the place for me. I had no doubts whatsoever. All organisations have their challenges at times, but I think that when you have shared values, a clear vision and are passionate about what you do, it gives you the determination you need to overcome them. Whilst it has been a challenging few months, I still have absolutely no regrets.
What additional pressures has the pandemic brought to the charity, whose services are often ‘stretched’ at the best of times?
The impact of COVID has had devasting effects on a community that was already disadvantaged in various ways. For example, our clients who were isolated became increasingly so, while individuals and families on low incomes suffered even greater poverty. These types of issues all have an impact on people’s mental and overall wellbeing.
So, the challenge was to meet the growing need in our community but with reduced staffing, with some being furloughed at the onset whilst we grappled with the ‘new norm’ and what it meant for us. While we also have a large volunteer base, initially we had reduced capacity as some of our volunteers are in vulnerable groups and had to self-isolate.
Funding was another issue. The revenue from our Daylight charity shop was affected by retail closures and the necessity for reduced operating hours, with the result that there has been a deficit in our unrestricted operational funds, at a critical time of increased need. We had to secure alternative sources of funding, and that is a process that can take time, which was something we simply didn’t have.
So how has the work of the Fellowship changed and adapted over recent months?
When we had the first national lockdown, COVID regulations and restrictions meant that people were not permitted to meet in groups. Up till then, the Centre had been a real hive of activity, providing about 30 hot meals and 50 food parcels from there every single day. Sadly, the Centre had to close almost overnight and we had to think really quick on our feet to change our operational model.
With support from several local organisations and our incredible team of volunteers we were able to adapt to a delivery service instead. Since then, we have delivered over 3,000 food parcels, nearly 8,000 hot meals and snack packs to vulnerably housed individuals and again almost 8,000 meals to families in difficult financial circumstances. From the Centre itself, we have provided takeaway hot snacks and drinks as well as showers for homeless individuals.
We also give other support whenever we can, as sometimes our clients will just call us because they need some emotional support and reassurance. That they have the opportunity to connect with someone they know and trust is a real lifeline for them and that should never be underestimated. So, for this reason we will continue to be there for our clients throughout this pandemic, in whatever small ways we can.
Too many charities are currently struggling due not only to the lack of usual fundraising streams and opportunities, but also to the additional demand being placed on their services during these challenging times; how are you managing to survive?
We have been extremely fortunate in that the Wellingborough community has shown such incredible generosity and solidarity throughout. Many local businesses and organisations have supported us both financially and practically, for example in providing all the equipment we needed to prepare meals and setting up various food collection points. Individuals, trusts, churches, schools and pubs have all donated so generously, while we are blessed to also have an incredibly committed, hardworking team of volunteers that have given tirelessly of their time and energy. Through this pandemic, come rain or shine, they have been there to collect, assemble, prepare, and deliver food. When they could, they have also opened our Daylight shop to bring in much needed revenue.
Such kindness was no more apparent than at Christmas when The Rotary Club, Stanair, Wellingborough Ladies Golf Club and others provided over 150 individuals and families with Santa sacks overflowing with Christmas presents and treats. We had four rooms literally brimming with gifts, all thoughtfully packaged, some home sewn sacks with home sewn labels – the type of Christmas sack that would be any child’s delight! For some recipients, the gifts were the total sum of what they had for Christmas. Unless you have been in that position, I don’t think you can fully grasp the emotional impact that this had.
It really has been a heart-warming experience and this spirit of generosity is what I will remember most about this pandemic. So, to all of our supporters and our volunteers, I would like to say a heartfelt thank you, you are simply amazing!
What are your plans for the coming months?
There have been so many uncertainties over the last year but one thing is for sure; we will eventually come out of this pandemic so we have continued to look ahead. We have completed some refurbishment of the Centre but there is still a lot of work to do and indeed in the coming months we will be fundraising to improve the shower facilities and complete a much-needed kitchen upgrade. We want the Centre to be a real community hub, where individuals and community groups can meet, hold functions and various activities. We also want to work in partnership with a range of local statutory, voluntary and community organisations to provide specialist support and expert advice to our clients. We have begun initial discussions with strategic partners, but we will be focusing on progressing these further.
Your role would seem to be challenging enough without the arrival of a global pandemic; what makes the inevitable pressures, stresses and no doubt sleepless nights worthwhile?
Quite simply – our clients. They are at the very heart of everything that we do. I have worked with people for over 20 years and I have never met a person that doesn’t have a story to tell. Some stories are full of deep pain and suffering and people need respect, empathy, time, and appropriate interventions to move forward with their lives. In others, people just need a little practical support along the journey of life, to prevent things from escalating. A simple act of kindness or practical support can make all the difference to them. A client recently said that the food service he received reminded him ‘that there are caring people around’, and that this helped to ‘motivate’ him even though it was the ‘only dependable aspect’ of his circumstances.
The Daylight Centre Fellowship has come very close to having to shut its doors many times over the years owing to lack of funding; how can our readers help to ensure that you’re never faced with that predicament again
There are several ways that people can continue to support our work. The Daylight shop brings in much needed revenue so any donations of good quality items for resale will be most welcome. We also sell online, but these are typically higher value items or designer items, so if people have these goods lying around, taking up space, but are loathed to part with them, giving them to a good cause may soften the blow!
People can also join our team by volunteering their time, sharing their skills or even simply their knowledge with us. We have several volunteering positions including befriending and hosting, kitchen assistants, chefs, charity shop assistants, warehouse operatives, collection and delivery drivers. Volunteering can be a positive and rewarding experience, giving people the opportunity to really connect with their local community and learn new skills.
Our foodbank relies on donations from the community, our corporate partners as well as grants and funding and support for that can be provided by either donating food products or through monetary donations. There are a number of food donation points throughout the Wellingborough and surrounding areas, so people can keep an eye out for these or contact the Daylight Centre.
There is also an option to donate to Daylight through our website or through online giving platforms such as Localgiving and Give as you Live. These donations are an unrestricted source of funding which means it can be contributed towards our charity running costs. The foodbank warehouse, Day Centre and shop have costs attached which are not easy to fundraise for and such costs do not attract funding through the usual sources. Whilst these are critical resources for us as a charity, there is nothing interesting about funding buildings, staff or utility bills, so these types of donations are a vital source of income.
Will the end of this pandemic bring any comfort?
Some, of course, and I am so looking forward to the day when we can finally start to implement our plans for the Daylight Centre Fellowship. But I just hope that the world does not forget that the needs that existed in our communities before COVID have not suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. As we recover, I believe we will begin to see more and more of the hidden costs of this pandemic – higher levels of unemployment and debt, increased mental and physical health difficulties and greater risks of homelessness, to name but a few. Sadly, the end of the pandemic will not be a time for complacency or rest, rather a prompt to mobilise quickly and work harder than ever to meet those needs.
To find out more about the work of the Daylight Centre Fellowship, including becoming a volunteer, please call 01933 446490, or to make an online donation, please visit Daylight Centre Fellowship