NSUN is a community of people and groups who come together to support each other.  We come together in many ways: physically, digitally through social media or through sharing information.

The current situation in the UK and across the world in relation to Covid-19 or Coronavirus is anxiety-provoking. I’m worried about my own health, the health of the people I care about – and the health of the global community.

There is a lot of information on the news, a lot of opinion and a lot of contradictory views on what the next steps should be in the UK to keep everyone safe.  This is leaving me feeling overloaded, confused and anxious.

As a network not just of individuals but also user-led groups NSUN has to consider how best to carry on our activities which support others, while also ensuring we minimise the possibility of transmitting the virus – or of sharing information that is unhelpful, confusing or misleading. 

Isolation, or the prospect of isolation is frightening for some, especially those of us who are already isolated or who are already not getting enough support. The worry about becoming ill, or loved ones becoming ill, is very real, for all of us. Not being able to meet our friends or family in person to support each other is difficult to imagine.

During these uncertain times, we will try and share with you what we can that is useful. In particular, we will think of ways of being together, when we can’t physically be together. And finally, we will continue our campaigning role, ensuring that policy and legislative changes are scrutinised and are rights based. 

Akiko Hart, NSUN CEO

NSUN’s work during COVID-19

#NSUNCovidLife film series
NSUN Covid Life logo - yellow speech bubble with hashtag in the centre and "NSUN Covid Life" around the bubble in blue

During the pandemic, we launched a new series #NSUNCovidLife, a collection of blogs and videos by our members, for our members.

We wanted to go beyond the mainstream guidance which doesn’t speak to many of our members, and let our members speak about what matters to them. How they are experiencing this crisis, or how they are reaching out to others. We’d like #NSUNCovidLife to offer ideas, practical resources, connection, possibilities or validation. Click here to view the series.

The NSUN COVID-19 Fund
NSUN Covid-19 fund logo in yellow and blue

The Fund is now closed

We received 381 applications in total, and initially awarded £60,000 to 78 organisations, groups and collectives. We were then able to provide 10 additional grants to existing grantees which were organisations led by and for people from Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic communities. Thanks to an additional grant from Lankelly Chase, we then awarded an additional £10,000 to 10 organisations, groups and collectives. The total awarded was £120,000 to 88 organisations. The NSUN Covid-19 Fund was made available through a grant from Mind via the Department of Health and Social Care, and a grant from Lankelly Chase. The NSUN Covid-19 Fund was entirely managed by NSUN. Read more.

How our members adapted

We commissioned a series of ten films edited by Flexible Films showcasing the ways our members used NSUN COVID-19 funding to adapt their activities through the pandemic and talking through thoughts of the future for user-led groups. Click here to view the series.

NSUN COVID-19 resources for members

COVID-19 General Information

Official information and guidance:

Public Health England guidance:

Click here

Information on shielding, updated August 2020

Health Protection Scotland guidance:

Click here

Public Health Wales guidance:

Click here

HSC Public Health Agency (Northern Ireland) guidance:

Click here

Information and guidance from the VCSE sector

Doctors of the World have published information in 20 languages.

Easy Read guide to Coronavirus (Mencap)

Information from Friends, Families and Travellers: Guidance for supporting people living on traveller sites, unauthorised encampments and canal boats

Coronavirus advice for people experiencing homelessness (Groundswell)

COVID-19 Translated Materials Resources (Race Equality Foundation)

Coronavirus and Food Banks (Tussell Trust)

Guide for supporting migrants during Coronavirus 

Housing Advice (Shelter)

COVID-19: Mental Health Information

Public Health England: Guidance for the public on mental health and wellbeing 

Mental Health Foundation: Looking after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak

Mind: Coronavirus and your wellbeing

BBC news: How to protect your mental health 

OCD UK: OCD and coronavirus

Beat: Eating Disorders and Coronavirus

Self-injury Support: Coping with Coronavirus Lockdown when your mental health is already not great

Galop: Trans Resilience in Isolation

Mad Covid has links to online/phone support options, practical & financial support, mental health & wellbeing support, staying connected, information resources & things to do.

Information for DWP claimants:

The DWP have announced that special arrangements will be in place for:

  • People in receipt of benefits who cannot attend reassessments or jobcentre appointments because they are required to stay at home or are infected by coronavirus
  • People who need to make a new Universal Credit or ESA claim
  • Employees and self-employed sick people who need to claim Statutory Sick Pay and Universal Credit.

You can read more here.

COVID-19: Information for User-Led Groups and Organisations

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) has prepared guidance for voluntary sector organisations in relation to coronavirus.

The Government has also published a page of “guidance for voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations”.

NSUN knows that our member groups vary in size, funding arrangements and obligations to the community.  What is important is that we find ways of continuing to do the things that are needed while making sure that everyone is as safe as possible.

We know that many of our members and the people they support in communities will live with more than one health problem.  This may mean we have to think hard about how to provide support in ways that don’t put people at risk.

It is also likely that the ongoing situation related to Covid-19 will have an impact on other organisations that our members work with and possibly upon our members ability to carry out some of the activities they have been funded to carry out.

NCVO’s advice covers practical things like sick leave, working from home and implementing things like handwashing.

An alliance of funders has also come together pledging to offer support to civil society groups affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Funders are offering flexibility around activities, reporting times and finances. We would recommend you contact your funders if you have any questions or concerns. 

The following Covid-19 emergency funds are still open:

Arts Council England:

Third Sector Resilience Fund (Scottish charities):

Regional funds:

Calderdale: Community Foundation for Calderdale

Cumbria: Cumbria Community Foundation

Dorset: Dorset Community Foundation

Derbyshire: Foundation Derbyshire

Greenham: Greenham Trust (Berkshire and Hampshire)

Heart of Bucks:  Heart of Bucks Community Foundation

Heart of England: Heart of England Community Foundation

Hertfordshire: Hertfordshire Community Foundation

London: London Community Response Fund

Somerset: Somerset Community Foundation

Steve Morgan (North Wales, Merseyside and Cheshire) Steve Morgan Foundation

Suffolk: Suffolk Community Foundation

Tyne & Wear: Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland

Worthing: Worthing Community Chest

COVID-19: Mutual Aid

Groups are still functioning across the UK and some mutual aid groups for marginalised people ran well before the pandemic began. You can explore the groups available here:

List of mutual aid groups:

Queer Care Net: Queercare is a transfeminist autonomous care organisation, providing training, support and advocacy for trans and queer people in the UK. Here is the form to sign up local groups in order to get sent people asking for help from Queer Care Net.

COVID-19 and Human Rights (and the Coronavirus Bill)

Proposed changes to mental health legislation

On the 25th of March, the Coronavirus Act was passed.

The Act will relax safeguards in mental health legislation for up to two years in order to ensure that health services can continue to operate in the event of increased demand. 

NSUN is concerned that significant legislative changes are being rushed through with minimal informed scrutiny, and inadequate consideration as to their impact on the lives and rights of people who live with mental ill health, distress, or trauma.

The Coronavirus Act proposes two main measures related to the detainment of people under the Mental Health Act (commonly known as being sectioned or held under section). 

  1. In order to relieve the burden on front line staff in the NHS and beyond, the power to recommend individuals be detained under the Mental Health Act would be implemented using one doctor’s opinion instead of two. 
  2. The proposed bill would temporarily allow the extension or removal of time limits in mental health legislation. Under the proposed changes, individuals might be released into the community early, or find themselves detained for longer. 

Patients may be detained for slightly longer than they otherwise would have been under normal circumstances, in three areas of the law:

  • Under section 5. Emergency detention for people already in hospital would extend from 72 hours to 120 hours, and nurses’ holding powers would extend from 6 to 12 hours.
  • Under sections 135 and 136. Police powers to detain a person found in need of immediate care at a “place of safety” would extend from 24 hours to 36 hours.
  • Under section 35/36. The cap on how long someone can be held in hospital while awaiting a report (currently 12 weeks) would be be lifted 

Whilst we understand that these are unprecedented times, any legislative change must be proportionate and thought through, and should protect all of us. Minimising some of the safeguards in an already coercive Mental Health Act, and extending its powers, is a step in the wrong direction. 

Keeping individuals unnecessarily detained beyond their section because of workforce pressures is a violation of their human rights. Equally, releasing individuals because of pressures on the workforce or the mental health estate is deeply irresponsible.

Community mental health services have been depleted by years of funding cuts, and will be further reduced over the coming months. It is unclear from the wording of the proposal what the changes would look like in practice and what the impact might be on people who live with mental health difficulties. NSUN’s concern is that the Coronavirus Act will have serious consequences for some of the people it seeks to protect, and is a deep and onerous encroachment on both our civil liberties and our rights to appropriate support.

These changes have not yet been activated and we will continue to scrutinise any legislative changes and ensure that they are human rights compliant.

See NSUN’s statement on the Coronavirus Bill

COVID-19: Keeping in touch with each other when we can’t meet face to face

During this period of uncertainty, we need to keep in contact with each other however we can.  If we want to keep an extended circle of people in touch, making sure that there is at least one link that exists where we can reach out to each other is vital. Remember that a telephone call, a text message or an email can be as useful and important as any of the more complex means of staying in touch with each other.  

There are lots of free ways to set up a group chat or shared message system, but none of them will be useful unless we can also maintain our basic connections with each other.

We could think of means of keeping in touch as being like a pyramid.  Some of us will be involved in online networks via social media such as Twitter or Facebook or through telephone or email contact.  These are the basic ways of keeping in touch. Checking in with each other this way is important and also vital if we want to be able to share other ways of being together online.

Choosing the right digital ways of keeping in touch

The most basic forms of communication are the building blocks of making sure that people know how to join other more involved forms of keeping in touch.  Sending someone an email or a text message, or even leaving them a voice message, with details of how to join larger chats, video conferences, whatsapp groups or more specialist ways of keeping in touch will help to create opportunities to join with others.

The next level of keeping in touch is through chats, whatsapp groups, messenger, forums, chat rooms or other means.  These are ways that we might in small groups discuss with each other in real-time or near to real-time, mainly sharing typed words or messages.  Sometimes this might be one-to-one, other times it might include more people. This can be vital for feeling together with others, even if it doesn’t involve seeing or hearing them.  Many Disabled people and people living with mental ill-health, trauma and distress already make use of digital communications in this way.

The final level of keeping in touch digitally might involve video conferencing or other real time interactions.  These are ways that a number of people can be with each other online all at once. Some people will be very experienced in this, and already have their devices set up to do, but others may need help and support to take part.

Different people will have different preferences, different levels of experience and different digital devices.  It might take a time of trying different ones to find one that works for everyone with whom we want to stay in touch.

We’ll be updating these pages as time goes on, so please get in touch to share your stories and experiences of using technology to keep in touch with each other.

Small groups

Whatsapp groups, skype groups and messenger groups are all good options for smaller groups.

Here’s a guide to setting up a Whatsapp group: 

This is a guide to setting up a skype group using the skype desktop app: 

And here’s a guide to setting up a group chat using the Skype mobile and tablet app: 

Here’s how to set up a group conversation on messenger (Facebook messenger): 

The most significant drawback of group chats is that everyone is notified about every message.  In a large group chat like a big whatsapp group this can be overwhelming and difficult to keep up with.  

Applications like slack, which can be accessed online, through apps on a computer or through tablets and smartphones, make it possible to set up channels for different topics so that people can choose which topics or discussions to subscribe to.  Slack is most often used as a business collaboration tool, so it’s more complicated to get used to and may not be appropriate for everyone.  

This is a beginners guide to slack 

Video calls and more

Obviously, in most situations it won’t be possible to guarantee that everyone has a great internet connection and a microphone headset, but more people than ever before probably will.  

Zoom has advantages in video chat because you can set up a room with its own weblink.  You could use this to hold meetings at particular times. This is a beginners guide to zoom: 

Remember that a quick search with a search engine for any questions you have will throw up a range of video and written tutorials.  

Coming together in friendship and support

When you do set up a group chat, facebook group or any other form of collective channel where members will be sent all messages in a conversation, be clear about for whom and for what the group is intended.  

Try as much as possible to remember that our group conversations may be the things that people are relying upon for comfort, companionship and human interaction.  Don’t, if you can help it, use them to share every piece of breaking news as it happens. Most people will be following these news alerts anyway. Many of us will have had the experience of having to unsubscribe from a group chat or thread for our own wellbeing.  We can’t support each other if we are just clogging up our channels for keeping in touch with each other with a barrage of shared news stories and social media posts. This is particularly important to bear in mind if we are looking to make sure that these channels of communication are available for practical and emotional support.

Always be aware that any communications you share on a group chat might be experienced by someone who is also a member of the group as a series of notifications popping up on their phone, tablet or computer.  Not everything is appropriate for sharing in a chat. Be aware of others. While some of us may really want to keep up to date with the latest breaking news, others may be looking for a respite from it. Always think about whether it is vital to share something with a group chat and whether sharing it might cause distress or worry.  A group chat set up for mutual support can’t work if those most in need of support feel they have to leave for their own wellbeing.

These are unsettling times.  Being there for each other is important.  Using technology to do so may seem different and new, but the basic rules of community haven’t changed.  Concern, kindness and responsibility to others are the building blocks of any community.  

Read more: Coronavirus Tech handbook