A year ago, in anticipation of the election taking place in May 2020, we wrote a Love Letter to London, setting out our vision of how the newly-elected London Mayor could optimise their relationship with London’s voluntary and community sector (VCS) for the benefit of everyone in London. We described how close relationships between the VCS and City Hall could become hard-wired in to strategic decision-making at every level of London government and make sure organisations have the resources they need to deliver for Londoners.
Soon after, the pandemic struck. It has delayed the election by a year and had terrible consequences. However, the response to it has shown what can be achieved through the approach we advocated.
The current Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has been a partner to London Funders and its fantastic efforts to bring trusts and foundations together to enable swift emergency financial help for organisations who have been supporting Londoners through the crisis. In this, and some other ways, London’s voluntary and community sector has been working more closely, at both strategic and operational levels, with the top layer of London government than ever before.
The Mayor’s engagement team moved its face-to-face operations online in order to convey public health messages to communities, to gather weekly impact reports from 300 organisations across London, and to engage with marginalised groups. It hosted digital roundtables with deputy mayor Debbie Weekes-Barnard. It set up community-led recovery grant and Civic Futures programmes, based on the needs identified.
And at a strategic level, the London Recovery Board, co-chaired by the Mayor and the chair of London Councils, has proved to be a shining example of bringing London’s voluntary and community sector to the strategic decision-making table. Jake Ferguson, chief executive of Hackney CVS, Angela Spence, chief executive of the Kensington & Chelsea Social Council and co-chair of the London CVS Network, Bharat Mehta, chief executive of Trust for London, Wanda Wyporska, chief executive of the Equalities Trust and Simon Woolley, director of Operation Black Vote and others, sit alongside private and public sector representatives.
But this involvement of voluntary and community sector leaders in key London-wide boards is not yet embedded across other policy areas. Recovery must not result in a return to past structures and processes. Doing that would risk further embedding the economic disparities and myriad inequalities the pandemic has laid bare. The London Recovery Board provides a template for working together that every mayoral candidate should want to include more broadly in their plans for creating a fairer, greener, more sustainable London for everyone. London’s VCS can help make sure, across the breadth of the next Mayor’s portfolio of direct and indirect influence, that we build back a London that is fairer and tackles poverty and the climate emergency.
As we all know, the pandemic has had a devastating impact on Londoners’ lives: over 10,000 Londoners have died of Covid-19 and around one in 60 Londoners have the virus; one estimate has found that 700,000 people have left the city; millions have been forced to work from home, often in difficult circumstances, while others have been on the front lines, treating people, making sure essential workers can get to and from their places of work, keeping the supermarkets open and delivering food and parcels. Thousands have been placed on furlough, others simply made redundant. Whole sectors of the economy have been put on hold: areas of the City once bustling with people and noise are now pleasant playgrounds for skateboarders, walkers and cyclists.
The ability of local VCS organisations to deliver rapidly, cognisant of hyper-localised communities and structures and with the ability to knit together cross-borough and pan-London provision, has meant the value of the VCS as a key partner to the Mayor and the boroughs has been recognised. We are there for a crisis and to tackle deeply entrenched inequity, but we also enrich the lives of Londoners, working alongside every part of society, delivering cultural activities, protecting wildlife and green spaces, organising sport and recreational activities and contributing broadly to the city we all love. Together, our mutual love of London can create an even more fabulous city for the 21 century.
Elizabeth Balgobin has led and volunteered with a string of London VCS organisations, worked with Hackney CVS, Laburnum Boat Club and Rich Mix and many others, addressing issues such as domestic abuse, the situations of refugees and housing and sustainability. Elizabeth tweets here. Peter Lewis is chief executive officer of the Institute of Fundraising and a member of the Centre For London board. He has previously run the London Cycling Campaign, worked in the Mayor’s office and volunteered for numerous organisations including Streetdoctors and Crisis. Peter tweets here. Their article is an edited version of a longer original, which can be read here.