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Turn2us - turn2us

The importance of strategic planning in the midst of a pandemic - Turn2us

As the UK went into lockdown, national poverty charity Turn2us was just about to go live with its new purpose and strategy. Determined to make sure that their immediate focus was on getting urgent help to as many people as possible, as soon as possible, the charity’s team was prepared to put the new strategy launch on hold. What they found, however, was how its new purpose had actually prepared the charity to deal with such a crisis. Sara Willcocks, Head of External Affairs at Turn2us, explains:

If the coronavirus has taught us anything, it is that life is unpredictable and many of us are just one-life changing event away from poverty. And it’s not just events of the magnitude of this pandemic and large-scale job losses, but everyday events too – from a relationship breakdown, to a bereavement or even the birth of a child.  

Turn2us was founded by Elizabeth Finn in 1897 and started out as the Distressed Gentlefolks’ Aid Association. Now financial hardship takes a very different shape but the need for the charity’s services is greater than ever.

While we have evolved naturally over the last 123 years, it was clear we needed to reassess our purpose, strategy and values. Equally clear was the need to co-produce this work with experts by experience. We recognise that to do our job properly, we need to be led by the people for whom we exist; and to work in partnership with them to create a genuine strategy to end both the symptoms and causes of poverty.

The purpose

We started by creating a purpose for the organisation.  Our lived experts, together with staff, trustees, partners and external stakeholders all took part in devising this. Only through working together were we able to develop a purpose that will underpin everything we do moving forward: So everyone has the opportunity to build financial sustainability and thrive, Turn2us offers the information and support people need in the face of life-changing events, and collaborates to tackle the causes and symptoms of poverty.  

None of us could have predicted that the UK – and the rest of the world – was about to experience the most significant life-changing event of our lifetime.  And we found that our new purpose and the strategy were more relevant than they’d ever been; with a strong starting position to get people the urgent help they needed.

The strategy

Indeed, the organisational aims and three year strategy, which were all built using the same models of co-production that developed the purpose, became both relevant not just for the long term, but also the short term. Our six strategic aims are:

  1. Deliver high-quality, practical programmes that include information and financial support so that people can build their own financial sustainability and thrive.
  2. Deliver even better impact for people facing financial hardship through the co-production of our work with experts who have lived experience, in collaboration with other organisations and through a dedication to insight, evaluation, learning and improvement.
  3. Build the profile of Turn2us and its work to reach people facing life-changing events and experiencing poverty, and secure support for the work.
  4. Develop our influence on policy, practice and public opinion, tackling the prejudice towards people experiencing poverty and insisting on their fundamental rights to access social security.
  5. Invest in our culture, systems, knowledge and skills.
  6. Maximise our assets and secure income ethically to achieve impact.

Some of this is familiar ground; some of this was totally new. Amongst the aims that were new to Turn2us were policy, co-production and insight.  

We know that poverty is systemic and it’s no longer enough to treat the symptoms, without getting down to the root cause.  With this in mind, we wanted to create a policy team to tackle the prejudice that exists towards people struggling to keep their heads above water and help shape and redesign a social security system that meets people’s needs; when they need it.  

Introducing these new elements while also continuing our existing services and improving our overall impact, was no small ask. But now we were clear of our purpose and aims, we could create a comprehensive three year strategy, a plan, to get it done.


As I previously mentioned, no sooner was the first draft of the strategy complete when the UK went into lockdown. Focus was suddenly put on the here and now. We launched a new Turn2us Coronavirus Grant Fund, increased our helpline hours, updated our Benefits Calculator with new legislation, ran a media campaign, increased fundraising, and lots more in a very short period of time, including:

  • Awarding £3.2 million in grants since March 2020
  • Increasing capacity to cope with a 500% rise in demand for our services
  • Giving evidence to the Work and Pension Select Committee

With hindsight, our purpose and strategy work had put us in the perfect position to respond like we did. We didn’t know at the time, but we had teed ourselves up to be incredibly well-prepared for a financial crisis.

What next?

We are now halfway through year one of our three year strategy. Once the original lockdown ended, we had time to reflect. In the end we made some minor tweaks to our strategy, but nothing fundamental.

The implications of this pandemic will be felt for years to come.  While we will continue to provide practical and timely help to people struggling with money we will also make the case for a necessary redesign of our economy so that people can keep their heads above water.

As a country, these times are troubling.  As a charity, despite our 123 year old legacy, we are only just at the start of a very important journey.  And we are unashamedly ambitious to improve the lives of people for whom we’re here to exist. We will build partnerships, influence policy and deliver programmes to support people facing life-changing events and break patterns of stigma. Only by working together will we be able to tackle poverty and give people the support they need to not just survive, but to thrive.