Aviva first entered a partnership with the British Red Cross in 2016 to drive pride across through the business through its corporate responsibility initiatives, but also to utilise and share the knowledge and skills of both organisations to their mutual benefit.
But Covid-19 has given added impetus to the partnership’s pledge - ‘Working together to help build stronger, safer communities – equipping people to prepare and be ready for whatever lies ahead’.
From the outset, they determined to rapidly adapt and scale up existing services, such as a two-year-old community reserve volunteer initiative, to provide a lifeline to those hit hardest by the pandemic.
But the British Red Cross also needed funds which led Aviva and its charitable foundation to donate £10 million, one of the largest corporate donations ever received by the charity.
The monies are to support people returning home from hospital; to ensure they are safe and have adequate supplies; provide cash grants to those experiencing financial hardship; and to upscale the national network of community volunteers.
Given the pace of the emergency response, Aviva and the British Red Cross worked together to announce the investment, secure local and national coverage and promote a blog by the charity’s chief executive Mike Adamson by 25 March.
Half the donation was allocated to a newly created Hardship Fund, which provides financial support to those struggling as a result of the coronavirus crisis. With £5 million at its disposal, the initial challenge for the fund was to identify those hard to reach ‘at risk’ groups, such as people who are homeless, families living below the poverty line or refugees seeking asylum.
The solution was to partner with organisations, including local government, charities and specialist BAME associations, who know their communities and were able to help identify and reach those in greatest need. The Hardship Fund provides cash grants of £120 a month for up to three months to help people with their immediate living costs, such as rent, fuel, food or even a few minutes of mobile phone credit to let family members know that all is well. Half of the people who have been supported by the Fund have no recourse to government monies.
The British Red Cross and Aviva have pledged to support 13,000 of the most vulnerable people in the UK via the Hardship Fund; almost 5,000 people had received cash grants by October 2020. But to avoid overwhelming the Fund during its establishment, the organisations adopted a measured approach towards social media and press activity, while a blog by British Red Cross director Alex Fraser led to several new partner referral leads.
The Fund has also set up Aviva’s Vulnerable Customer team as a partner, which allows the insurance company to refer its most vulnerable customers to the fund to receive financial support.
The partnership also worked to scale up its community reserve volunteer scheme. This initiative was launched in 2018 after joint research revealed that, while 88 per cent of the population would want to help if an emergency happened in their area, 66 per cent did not know how they would do so. The volunteers, who are aged 18 or over, are contacted by text if there is an emergency in their community, such as a flood or fire, where they can help.
Prior to the pandemic, there were 9,000 registered community reserve volunteers and the goal for 2020 had been to recruit an additional 4,000 people in priority areas. The outbreak forced the British Red Cross to rethink its strategy to rapidly upscale the network, boosting numbers while also ensuring that volunteers focused on the areas of greatest need.
Support from online influencers and local MPs helped double volunteer numbers within a week, while the British Red Cross also promoted the initiative by leveraging an existing four-month partnership with the Daily Mirror. A new partnership with the Scottish government at the end of March prompted a record 13,293 sign ups within one day. Today, the number of community reserve volunteers stands at 88,000 – a 733 per cent increase on the charity’s initial target and recruitment has been temporarily paused.
Since March 2020, around 2,000 volunteers have been deployed, supporting more than 170,000 people. They have worked with the Red Cross’s partner, the Trussell Trust, and local emergency food distribution hubs, such as the Brixton People’s Kitchen, to put together and deliver more than 49,000 food parcels. They have delivered library books to vulnerable people, distributed information leaflets and checked in on neighbours.
With Aviva’s support, the British Red Cross has also distributed more than 29 tonnes of food, delivered almost 10,000 prescriptions, provided 35,300 mobility aids and equipment and supported 23,700 people home from hospital.
But the pandemic also sparked lots of local community initiatives, where people offered to shop for self-isolating neighbours or provide support via WhatsApp groups or simply turned up to help at local food banks, which meant that many organised volunteer responder programmes, including the NHS scheme, were not called upon as much.
Consequently, the British Red Cross has worked to keep those who were not deployed enthusiastic about the volunteer initiative and aware that their commitment is valued through an email campaign, that included a big ‘Thank you’ during Volunteers’ Week.
Adamson said that, thanks to Aviva’s support, the British Red Cross was able to ‘put the power of kindness into action to make sure that no one gets left behind, no matter who are where they are’.