Our response to the Black Summer bushfires and COVID-19

Like many of our sector colleagues, we responded to the Black Summer bushfires and to COVID-19 with Rapid Response Grants.

The Trust’s decision to cancel our scheduled Multi-Year Grants round enabled us to quickly consolidate our response to both crises, and pivot to a new style of grantmaking. The combination of flexibility, a streamlined application process, and quick turn-around times for decision were key, with decisions by the Trustees taking as little as a week.

Following the horrific Black Summer fires, the Trust was resolute in its commitment to supporting bushfire recovery, but acknowledged that it takes time to gain a true understanding of what long-term recovery looks like. We put our ear to the ground and reached out to those working alongside bushfire affected communities, to better develop our awareness of what the needs were to support the long term recovery of local communities and the natural environment.

Our emergency response to the bushfires was intensified with the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic in March 2020. We immediately contacted our current grantees and sought to apply the utmost flexibility possible to support them through the impact on themselves and on their communities. Grants could be repurposed, and reporting and project timeframes extended as needed. This flexibility has enabled our response to be appropriate, informed, strategic and impactful.

Three existing grants were either wholly or partly redirected towards untied general operating expenses. These included the recent Impact Grant of $200k to STREAT for Moving Feast, a collaboration of Victorian food social enterprises addressing critical food security issues for vulnerable Victorians, which were intensified by the pandemic. SANE and Westside Circus also requested to repurpose part of their funding as a result of the emergency.

The rolling nature of Rapid Response grants resulted in 12 new grants approved by 30 June for a total of $596k, representing 17% of our total distribution for the year.

10 Rapid Response grants offered COVID-19 impact support, either directly to organisations in need of funding to cover general expenses, or to organisations developing and implementing specific programs designed to ameliorate and cushion the projected fall-out of COVID-19. (See Oonah, Melbourne Chamber Orchestra and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute case studies.)

The remaining two Rapid Response grants supported the scoping and development of larger bushfire recovery projects due for implementation in FY21. The Black Summer bushfires were a sobering reminder of how vulnerable our natural landscape is to natural disaster, and the immense impact a disaster of this scale has on rural and regional communities. Over 1.5 million hectares were burnt across Victoria, with Eastern Victorian communities and landscape bearing the brunt.

As we move into FY21, we plan to maintain this flexibility and incorporate key aspects into our future grantmaking.

Our response to the Black Summer bushfires and COVID-19

At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, St Kilda Mums was already experiencing a flood of orders from families in need, particularly in Gippsland following the Black Summer bushfires. However, they had to suspend receipt of donated secondhand goods (the main source of goods for redistribution) as well as suspend their volunteer program on which they rely for staffing, to ensure compliance with government COVID-19 guidelines. A $50k Rapid Response grant enabled St Kilda Mums to purchase much needed goods and employ paid staff so they could continue distribution.