A series of podcasts focusing on the impact COVID-19 had on Colchester’s charitable and voluntary sector is launched this week.

The podcasts highlight the findings from the project ‘North East Essex Communities Responding to Crisis’, a University of Essex study which was commissioned by Community360 and funded by the North East Essex Health and Wellbeing Alliance.

The study, which collected 45 local testimonies through two phases, revealed the impact COVID-19 had on this sector through a series of oral history testimonies. It is part of an ongoing commitment from C360 to record and explore the role of voluntary and community sector assets in Colchester.  The research revealed the “absolute and immediate human impact” the pandemic had on staff and volunteers delivering services in the community, and on those who use them.

Now, these stories and the findings and impact they had – and are continuing to have – have been brought to life for all to hear in a series of podcasts, allowing for further reflection.

Launched at a poignant time, three years on from the early days of the national lockdown, the series of podcasts will continue to be released every week for the next four weeks. Each one gives a unique insight into the project, its impact, and lessons that were learned.

Dr Rebecca Warren, from Essex Business School, one of the lead researchers on the project, said: “Three years on, as the memory of lockdown starts to fade, these podcasts highlight the promises of change many said they would deliver.

“They also serve as a timely reminder of what people – and communities – did during this time to support and help one other and remind us of the struggles we all faced.”

The findings from the research, which was led by Dr Alix Green, Dr Rebecca Warren, Dr Deb Wiltshire and researcher Samantha Woodward, showed the creative ways in which organisations responded to ensure people had access to the support they needed.

Community360 worked in partnership with the University to ensure the local experiences of citizens and community leaders were captured. The charity works with over 500 community groups each year and wanted to look in greater detail at the ways in which organisations that help people of all ages responded and continue to respond to the pandemic.

Together with Anne Steinhoff and Dr Daisy Payling, also from the University, the research team collected testimonies from people working to support communities in Colchester and northeast Essex. The interviews revealed how the pandemic impacted staff morale and the wellbeing of service users, funding and fundraising, and the development of partnerships.

The testimonies were recorded between October 2020 and February 2021. Interviewees then had the chance to reflect upon the contributions at a workshop in May 2021 and agree a series of implications.

Organisations that contributed to the research include Refugee Action Colchester, Beacon House, Outhouse East, MS:UK, Breathe Easy Colchester, St Helena Hospice, Action for Family Carers, and Next Chapter.

Dr Alix Green, of the Department of History, said: “This project was about hearing and learning from the people who kept local community services going during the main phases of COVID-19 – so being able to share their testimony with wider audiences through this podcast series is really important.

“Listening to someone’s voice connects you to them and their experiences in an immediate, human way. We hope this podcast will help people understand not just what happened on the ground during the pandemic but also the longer-term case for change to ensure the most vulnerable in our communities, and the organisations that support them, can thrive within a system that recognises their value.”

Community360 has been working with organisations to implement actions in response to the report, including continued work with the University to understand and influence the process of recovery to include in its ‘we can’t go back’ action plan.

Louise Willsher, Head of Programmes at Community 360, said:

“The podcasts provide an opportunity to gain deeper insight into the experiences of our local voluntary organisations during the Covid crisis and allow us to reflect on where we are heading. People are giving of their time, skills, and resources to shaping positive outcomes within their local communities.  We have a diverse and vibrant sector in the City but there are opportunities to strengthen and develop this further.  The lessons shared in the report, captured when groups were managing extreme pressures, and in many cases are continuing to do so, are valuable now.

“We all said we did not want to ‘go back’ and are working hard to enact change based upon the testimonies of community leaders and volunteers.”

The series of five podcasts, all hosted on the Community360 website, give a different perspective of the project. They also include the voices of those interviewed. The podcasts are co-funded by Community360, the North East Essex Health and Wellbeing Alliance and the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account at the University of Essex.

Podcast one 30 March

A timeline of pandemic impact

Rebecca Warren narrates this podcast which introduces the lived experiences of community organisers and leaders during the pandemic.

She introduces the project following the timeline of the pandemic’s impact on the voluntary and community sector, looking at: the early days of the pandemic; how organisations adjusted to moving online; the gaps that could not be filled by an online approach; the temporary easing of lockdown; and finally, the move into the vaccination roll-out.

Each of these stages presented different challenges for the voluntary and community sector and each are explored in turn.


Podcast two 6 April

The pandemic left no-one untouched

Samantha Woodward narrates this second episode which focuses on the impact of the pandemic on people. The COVID-19 pandemic left no-one untouched. Across the voluntary and community sector, not only are the consequences of the pandemic beginning to unfold, but also areas that were lacking crucial funding and provision from years of cuts and austerity are being highlighted.


Podcast three 13 April

The financial landscape of the pandemic

Anne Steinhoff, a researcher at Essex Business School, will take listeners through this third episode, which explores the financial landscape of the pandemic and its impact on community organisations.


Podcast four 20 April

What was the impact of COVID-19 on partnerships?

Samantha Woodward, postgraduate researcher in the Department of History at Essex, narrates this episode, which focuses on the impact of the pandemic on partnerships and collaboration.


Podcast five 27 April

The impact of COVID-19 on the voluntary and community sector

The final episode looks at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the voluntary and community sector in North-East Essex.

Anne Steinhoff, from Essex Business School, narrates this final episode which focuses on the work of Community 360 as an infrastructure organisation in North-East Essex. Anne explains what an infrastructure organisation is and highlights the fundamental support that C360 provides to voluntary and community organisations and local communities. This episode includes input from some of C360’s closest partners.