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Cambridge Social Ventures and COVID-19

27 April 2020

The article at a glance

Social ventures adapting to issues posed by the coronavirus pandemic. The goal of the Cambridge Social Ventures programme, part of the Cambridge …

Social ventures adapting to issues posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Picture of colourful playdough.

The goal of the Cambridge Social Ventures programme, part of the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation, is to support a range of businesses that have positive social and environmental impacts. While everyone changes their routines due to COVID-19 (coronavirus), many ventures supported by the programme are adjusting their procedures in order to address issues posed by the pandemic. We talked to a few of those enterprises to find out how they are adapting to the current climate in order to help their constituents:

Griffin Occupational Therapy

Founded in 2010 by occupational therapist Kim Griffin, this startup provides online training and therapy programme solutions for parents and teachers. It focuses on sensory processing disorder training and motor skill development programmes for families of, and teachers working with, children with autism or developmental delays. Usually, when working directly with a child, Kim would set the programme of activities up to match their abilities.

In March, Kim started publishing daily videos to help parents teach things like fine motor skills while their kids are home. The videos include activities such as exercise, modelling playdough, papercraft and colouring.

“As I’m no longer able to work directly with children, I decided to do videos to help parents have something to do with their children as I knew it was going to be hard for parents to be teachers at home,” Kim says. “The challenge with the online videos is that all children are at different ability levels. So I have tried to create some flexibility and variety in the activities.”

Watch the Griffin Occupational Therapy videos on YouTube.

The Centre for Education and Youth

The startup, established in 2009 by former teacher Loic Menzies, works to ensure that all young people can make a fulfilling transition to adulthood. The Centre researches the root causes of issues that affect young people and supports those who can make a difference.

The team is currently working with schools, helping them to respond appropriately and support their vulnerable learners. They recently published a report Supporting Vulnerable Young People Through COVID-19 based on an online roundtable attended by nearly 200 teachers, school leaders, policymakers and youth sector professionals, as well as an accompanying survey. The report provides 15 “Ideas for Action” to ensure vulnerable young people are protected at this difficult time and explores three themes: the workforce; resources and curriculum; and outreach, wellbeing and safeguarding.

Loic Menzies, Chief Executive of the Centre and author of the report, says:

“Schools’ leaders and teachers are showing remarkable ingenuity and dedication in rising to the challenge of COVID-19, but no one should have to take on these challenges alone. We, therefore, wanted to bring professionals together to share their emerging responses and identify ‘Ideas for Action’ that could help to protect the most vulnerable young people in our society at this uniquely challenging time. We are looking forward to working with government and sector professionals to ensure the reports’ recommendations translate into action.”

Cambridge Community Arts

Founded in 2014, Cambridge Community Arts (CCA) aims to provide high-quality creative learning accessible to all. The team uses the creative process as a tool to empower individuals by tapping into their own creative resources and improving their mental well-being. CCA works with talented artists, musicians, photographers, poets and storytellers experienced at delivering creative learning.

Currently the team is sharing arts activities online to keep supporting their learner community of people with mental health needs (a cohort of 150). CEO Jane Rich says many current learners have depression and anxiety, are on low incomes, and live alone.

The team has now set up virtual classrooms, offering a safe space for people to undertake creative learning and communicate with their classmates. “Whilst we never planned to offer distance-based learning, we realise that at the end of this we will have created new products that could be marketed and also a way to reach those who continue to be socially isolated when the rest of the world goes back to work,” Jane says.

Parent Zone

Founded in 2005 by Vicki Shotbolt, Parent Zone helps parents keep their kids safe online. The organisation works with more than 19,000 schools, local authority and police forces throughout the country, and also interacts with parents, children and technology companies.

Parent Zone’s activities include the development of a guide aimed at children between five and 16 on how to spot bullies and fake news online, a guide on gaming online, an overview of social media apps and how to use them safely, and online courses for parents. In response to the pandemic, many activities moved online, including live streams for schools that are still open.

“Our work at Parent Zone feels more urgent than ever before. Families are relying on technology, so it’s critical that we help them do that safely and confidently,” Vicki says. “We’ve made our membership programme free for three months so that anyone can access information and support. As families and professionals grapple with the ‘new normal’ our task is to make sure that the advice they receive about doing it safely is as pertinent and accessible as we can make it.”