Why collaboration is crucial for an effective response to Covid-19

by Mike Adamson | Jun 12, 2020 | Leadership Voices

Chief Executive
British Red Cross Society

We are used to supporting people during disasters – whether conflict, floods, fires or earthquakes – but an unprecedented crisis like Covid-19 creates a whole host of new and untested challenges. How do you decide how best to respond and deploy your resources when an emergency is at such scale, and the needs so complex, compared to any emergency you’ve dealt with before?

For the British Red Cross, the answer has been innovation and partnership.

Since the beginning of this crisis we have known that strengthening our relationships with other charities across the UK would be the best way to respond to the level of need coronavirus was creating. Without this collaborative way of working, we knew there would be a risk that some people would receive more support than they needed, while others would receive no support at all.

The British Red Cross helped to set up the Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership (VCS EP) following the major UK tragedies of 2017, including the Grenfell Tower fire and domestic terror incidents, with the aim of improving coordination with other organisations during an emergency. The partnership, which brings together charities big and small across the UK, is proving crucial to our coronavirus response; allowing us to get a broader understanding of the needs of different communities across the country and opening new avenues for reaching the most vulnerable people.

During Covid-19, the VCS EP has ‘operationalised’ in a way like never before. Setting up five regional ‘multi-agency cells’ across England to pool expertise and resource from emergency response organisations like the British Red Cross, St John Ambulance and Team Rubicon, to respond to needs that cannot be met at a local level.

Crucially, collaborating is allowing us to support more people than we would if we worked alone. Last month our partnership supported people to get food, tested residents at care homes and couriered iPads to hospitals so patients could keep in touch with loved ones. 

As British Red Cross, our new partnership with the foodbank charity FareShare has also given us an insight into the worsening food poverty sweeping our country and allowed us to pool our volunteer resource with theirs, to ensure more people are able to feed themselves and their families. 

Developing new partnerships in the middle of a crisis is not easy and is an immense achievement; something I am personally proud of. But, while these relationships have enabled us to have greater insights into need across the country, getting support to those who need it most isn’t always straightforward and is a challenge we continue to face at the British Red Cross.

By their nature the most vulnerable people in our society are often those who are “hidden” and hard to reach. We’re working hard to ensure people from Black, Asian and minority ethic communities, for example, know about the support we have available and are able to access it. But we have a long way to go to ensure the support we have on offer is truly accessible to those who need it most. 

Many people in the UK say we are entering the recovery phase of the crisis, but I disagree.  Our country’s most vulnerable people will be feeling the effects of coronavirus for a long time to come. But finding those people and getting the right support to them will be even harder when volunteers have gone back to their day jobs and charities have shifted their focus back to business as usual.

This is why collaboration is so crucial, now and in the future. There’s no doubt that collaboration carries risk. You need to be prepared to invest time and resources with no guarantee that others will do the same. You need to adapt to different ways of working and accept challenge. But I believe it’s the best way to identify the people who really need your help and harness relationships that multiply impact.

For the most vulnerable, coronavirus is here to stay. Strengthening relationships with other organisations is crucial to improving our ability to effectively support the most vulnerable and marginalised over the lifetime of this emergency.


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