Weathering the Storm: Insights from Neighbourly's Community Survey

28 June 2024

The past year has brought immense challenges for communities across the UK and Ireland. From the persistent cost-of-living crisis to funding constraints, local charities and good causes have been at the forefront, tirelessly supporting those in need. Neighbourly's May 2024 Community Survey provides a vital snapshot into the realities on the ground.

Hearing about these challenges can seem overwhelming, but we also hear many stories of great local resilience and success. We gather and present these insights to aid our understanding of the challenges and the ways that we can collaboratively support.


The Increasing tide of need

Nearly 4 out of 5 respondents (78%) report a surge in demand over the past three months. On average, each charity or community group is supporting 374 people per week, which is tracking fairly consistently from previous quarters. However, in this survey we found out that due to capacity and funding limitations, 47% are being forced to turn individuals away, unable to meet the growing needs.

For food banks and other food-aid organisations specifically, the numbers are particularly interesting - showing that an average of 45 people per week are going unsupported. Across Neighbourly's network of over 5,000 such causes, an estimated 225,000 people are going unsupported each week due to lack of resources - equivalent to the entire population of Westminster. Extrapolated up nationally, these figures are potentially huge. As the Leg Up Foundation in Doncaster told us, "Foodbank demand remains strong, with people from all walks of life – employed and unemployed looking for help."


A perfect storm of challenges

The cost-of-living crisis continues to be a primary driver, with 79% of respondents anticipating it will persist or worsen throughout the year. Compounding this are cuts to local authority funding, with 88% of organisations already feeling the impact and prompting concerns from groups like Southampton Street Pastors, who have seen their council funding slashed, with more cuts looming; “The local authority has traditionally made up 40% of our funding. This sum has just been slashed by 25% for this financial year and will be halved again the following year. In 26/27 it will cease.” Limited financial resilience adds further precarity, as 38% report their financial position has deteriorated. The toll is evident, with 80% worried about the health and wellbeing of staff and volunteers due to the unrelenting workload.

A shortage of resources

Paradoxically, while needs have spiked, 44% of causes cite a decrease in food and product donations over the past three months. The most requested items illuminate the breadth of community needs with food being the most needed item, followed by toiletries and personal care items, household products, baby care products and kitchen/cooking items. From pet supplies and children's toys to clothing and craft materials, the list continues, underscoring the diverse array of support needs.

On the volunteering front, demands for delivery drivers, gardeners, administrators, and marketing assistance topped the rankings. Remote-friendly roles like befriending services, financial guidance and programme delivery were also areas of need.

The AI frontier

As new technologies like generative AI emerge, 64% of respondents admitted being unsure of where to start or having not yet explored its potential. This highlights a knowledge gap that may hinder these organisations from harnessing innovations to bolster efficiency and impact. Our new DigitalBridge remote volunteering campaign aims to help tackle the digital divide, by facilitating the transfer of digital expertise and beginner AI knowledge from employee volunteers at multiple partner companies into Neighbourly's charity network, supported by online resources curated by Microsoft. Last year’s Charity Digital Skills report shows that charities increasingly have a growing interest in leveraging emerging technologies like AI and ChatGPT, enabling them to reduce administrative workloads and spend more time on strategy.

A call for collaborative action

The findings from this survey are a rallying cry for collective efforts. Local charities and community groups are the backbone of support systems, and increased awareness, resourcefulness and creative solutions will be critical to their ongoing sustainability.

Political decisions will also determine the economic landscape they operate in. This week Neighbourly joined hundreds of charities in pushing for hardship to be top of the Prime Minister’s priorities from day one, in a campaign led by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Their research commissioned with Nuffield College Politics Research Centre shows voters' worries about economic insecurity are set to play a pivotal role in how they vote in the upcoming election - 39% of voters (18.5 million people) feel economically insecure with concerns over outgoings for housing, childcare and debt.

Whether the incoming government will set out a plan to help provide immediate relief to struggling families and commit to an ambitious strategy for the improvement of living standards remains to be seen. As businesses, we can continue to support through responsible resource allocation, volunteer mobilisation and partnerships that will champion grassroots organisations and empower them to continue their vital work.