When the historians look back at the early 2020s they are going to be taking stock of what is sure to go on the record as a particularly turbulent time in the story of the Human race. While some of the challenges we’ve faced over recent years have been global in nature, those of us working in frontline community organisations are reminded daily of the impact they have closer to home. 

Our teams at Futures worked especially hard throughout the pandemic to keep the show on the road. Whether it was going out to keep homes safe despite the fear of an unknown viral threat, supporting local food banks, or delivering emergency supplies, our people could be trusted to do the right thing. 

Just as we thought the pandemic was fading away, the conflict in Ukraine combined with the economic aftershocks of Covid-19 have pushed some of our customers into levels of poverty not seen for decades. And while the summer months might provide some respite from soaring fuel bills, the problems are set to return with a vengeance when we head into winter again. 

Recently I wrote about how artificial intelligence still lacks the ability to sense people’s underlying needs or to respond adequately to the more subtle or complex side of Human communication. Now, even more than ever, our personal ability to connect with our customers is set to be put to the test. 

Like many organisations we’re investing in ‘big data’ solutions to help us better understand and adapt to our customers’ needs. This is really powerful and helps us see hidden trends. We can even see distinct groups of customers and, to an extent, better anticipate what help and support we think they may need. This teamed with the insights we get from interactions in the community, puts us in a privileged position to make our interactions count. 

Our frontline workers get hugely valuable information that can help us and other agencies identify those who need help. Whether that’s a clue that someone is suffering abuse, hints that keeping on top of bills is impacting on people's health, or the empty food cupboard glimpsed when visiting a customers home, our physical presence can be a vital trigger to get support. 

Over the last decade the safety net that so many rely on has been eroded and the evidence is that there are many people falling through the gaps. The challenging economic environment has also made it difficult for organisations that provide support for people and that’s where partnership working really comes to the fore. Our access into people’s homes means that we are often the first to spot critical signs of need – and our partnerships with other organisations allow us to provide a more robust, holistic response. 

While sometimes our access to people’s homes and lives is granted by law – for example to carry out annual gas safety checks - the rest of the time it is founded on trust and that trust is earned by our brilliant people and the partners we work with. 

The economic uncertainty is only set to grow throughout 2022, which in turn presents us with the challenge of working even harder to communicate, to engage, to build trust and to support people through these difficult times. But the good news is that, based on the road we have travelled so far, we can count on our people to deliver and provide that human touch.