Lessons learnt from a year of lockdowns

The pandemic has made people think of themselves as custodians of the village as a whole… I can’t see that stopping over night.” People in the South West say that the pandemic will change their behaviour and lead to a longer-term boost in community spirit.

Research from The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK, suggests that the pandemic could be a step-change moment for the South West, leading people to make lasting changes to how they live their lives and the connections they build with friends, family and the wider community. 

As the UK recently marked the anniversary of the first lockdown on March 23, over seven in ten (72%) in the South West say that they will change their behaviour as a result of the pandemic, with an emphasis on enjoying a simpler more pared back life post-COVID.

The findings come from a newly-launched Community Research Index – an annual survey of over 7,000 adults across the UK designed to get a temperature check on how people are feeling about their communities and their key concerns for the year ahead. The Index will be used by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and enhance learnings gleaned from the thousands of projects and groups it funds each year*.

Nearly half (48%) think community spirit will be better in the long-run following the pandemic.

Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 crisis has put a greater emphasis on health, with over a quarter (29%) of the 602 people in the South West asked, saying they intend to be healthier in future. The experiences of the last year have also made people want to be more neighbourly (26%), kinder (18%) and more environmentally friendly (23%).

People in the region are also optimistic that changes in behaviour brought about by the pandemic will be widespread. Nearly half (48%) think community spirit will be better in the long-run following the pandemic – just 12% say it will be worse – while many agree that the pandemic will have a positive impact on the amount people care about others (49%) and the environment (35%).

In the last challenging year, being part of a community gave people a reassuring sense of ‘we’re all in this together’ (43%). They could see real benefits to being part of a community, including having people close by to help (43%), a sense of connection with others (37%) and a reduced sense of isolation (31%).

Another of the biggest benefits of all was being able to give others support (37%), which confirms that helping others or volunteering brings its own rewards. For more key findings, please see the full research report.

Sarah Elliot, 49, has lived in rural Somerset, on her own, for several years. After working in London as a town planner for two decades, she decided to move to Ham, a tiny village of just 38 houses. A beautiful village, but one that’s prone to road flooding in the winter months, Sarah was soon involved in the Village Flood Resilience Project. Along with her fellow members, she set up a WhatsApp group as a way of better communicating during emergency situations.

When COVID-19 hit, the group chat became a lifeline for the whole village. “We were able to organise really quickly, splitting up the village into small groups and helping out those who were shielding, key workers or those doing home-schooling in that area. Whether they needed someone to nip to the Cash and Carry or someone to pick up their medication, there was always a neighbour willing to help out.”

A naturally independent person, and a born organiser, Sarah is an enthusiastic community member and has attended webinars run by National Lottery Funded project Community Prepared to pick up ideas as to how to better coordinate her community. But the thing that surprised her most about the pandemic, was the outpouring of kindness she witnessed in her community, and to her, herself. “You might be the most independent, self-sufficient woman you know, but it’s still so appreciated having someone check in with you…. That incidental, everyday chit chat has made me feel really quite looked after by the community which is really lovely.”

A river with  a gauge measuring the depth of the water

She went on: “The pandemic has made people think of themselves as custodians of the village as a whole… I can’t see that stopping overnight.”

“Usually we all live such busy lives, it’s rare we have time to really help each other out. I think this will continue well after the pandemic ends.”

Julian Hubbuck is a councillor and Flood Warden for the Parish Council in Puddletown, Dorset. Previously an outdoors events manager, he has become increasingly involved in his community over the years particularly in their flood resilience efforts, attending webinars put on by Community Prepared to pick up ideas as to how to better coordinate his community. But, when the pandemic put a stop to all large gatherings, the small rural community became his main focus.

He said: “When something like this happens, it brings people together. The local vicar, Sarah, had so many offers of help a large part of my job was managing volunteers. We had people shopping for others, picking up prescriptions and managing socially distanced queues for the local shop.”

He went on: “I have planned for emergency scenarios before, but I never thought we’d have to deal with something like this. One positive to take way from it is the outpouring of kindness we saw. Usually we all live such busy lives, it’s rare we have time to really help each other out. I think this will continue well after the pandemic ends.”

National Lottery players raise £30 million a week for good causes. For more information on The National Lottery Community Fund and the funding available to support communities visit https://www.tnlcommunityfund.org.uk/funding/covid-19

Spontaneous volunteering during the Pandemic

Back in June last year I wrote a blog for Communities Prepared about my research into volunteers in disasters after being awarded a Churchill Fellowship.  My report has since been published in September and can be found here.

I have now been commissioned to undertake further research into the work of spontaneous volunteer groups across the United Kingdom by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust as part of their Covid-19 Action Fund which provides grants for Churchill Fellows to run projects combatting the effects of Covid-19 in all areas of society. 

The UK government definition categorises spontaneous volunteers as “individuals who are unaffiliated with existing official response organisations, yet, without extensive prep planning are motivated to provide unpaid support to the response and /or recovery to emergencies.”

Through disasters such as the Grenfell Tower Fire and many flooding incidents over the last decade, groups have been formed in the community by concerned individuals who want to help others in need. Through the pandemic, thousands of spontaneous volunteers have come forward to support their communities, forming Mutual Aid and COVID-19 support groups.

Often, they have faced barriers and issues that have prevented them working as effectively as they could. New Local’s report Communities vs. Coronavirus: The Rise of Mutual Aid examines some of these challenges, including “how best to structure themselves” and “managing their relationships with local government.”

In examples where the authorities work with volunteer groups, the combination of effort maximises the benefits to those in need.

My research and experience working with these spontaneous volunteer groups in Eastleigh, Hampshire (where I am the Resilience Manager), have demonstrated the impact of a joint effort. In examples where the authorities work with volunteer groups, the combination of effort maximises the benefits to those in need.

Here we worked with three spontaneous volunteer groups, which were formed in direct response to the pandemic. They have acted as the delivery arm of our local response centre, providing help and support to both those Clinically Extremely Vulnerable people who were shielding, and also to those who were having to self-isolate due to catching the virus or being a close contact. We have hundreds of volunteers doing shopping, collecting prescriptions, dog walking, befriending over the phone and doing regular checks on those in need of support. It has been and continues to be a fantastic effort by many members of the local community.

I am therefore calling to all spontaneous volunteer groups in the UK to ask for their help by completing a simple survey on behalf of their local group. This survey looks at how the groups were formed, their role and the work they have undertaken, how they are led, their interactions with the statutory authorities and considerations for their future post COVID-19.

I am conducing this survey through my work with Eastleigh Borough Council which ensures therefore that all data will be kept securely and used appropriately during the course of the research.

You can find the survey here on my blog: https://disastervolunteers.home.blog/

Alternatively, please email Melvin.hartley@eastleigh.gov.uk and I can send you a copy.

Melvin Hartley
Melvin Hartley is Safety & Resilience manager at Eastleigh Borough Council and Community Resilience lead for Hampshire and IOW Local Resilience Forum. Following a career with Bedfordshire Police and in community safety, he was part of the London Borough of Southwark’s management team for the 2012 Olympics response. 

Coronavirus case studies: NALC

Local (parish and town) councils across England are galvanising their staff and volunteers to take action and look after the most vulnerable in their communities during the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the country being in lockdown, local councils are stepping up to coordinate emergency action plans which include support groups, buddy schemes and the collecting and delivering of shopping and medication. Others have donated funds and food to their local food bank. Some are putting vulnerable and self-isolating residents in touch with businesses who are delivering food. Many are collaborating with other local councils, principal authorities and third sector organisations – to ensure a coordinated effort to help as many people as possible.

Local councils, as the first tier of local government, are closest to their communities and their coordinated efforts are a crucial contribution to the national effort to keep on top of the pandemic.

The National Association of Local Councils (NALC) has worked closely with the sector to gather a collection of case studies on local councils as an exemplar of the essential work that they are carrying out to help their communities during the pandemic.

Local councils, as the first tier of local government, are closest to their communities and their coordinated efforts are a crucial contribution to the national effort to keep on top of the pandemic. This show of leadership is seen through many examples, such as:

  • Cottenham Parish Council, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, organised 140 volunteers who are performing tasks such as shopping, collecting prescriptions and making friendly phone calls. Through the General Power of Competence, the council is using its website to become a pre-payment shopping system, in conjunction with the local Co-op store, to allow volunteers to multi-buy for residents. For elderly residents unable to use that system, the council is using a Monzo card which can be used by the volunteers to pay for the shopping directly.
  • Yate Town Council, Avon, is working with representatives of churches, Neighbourhood Watch groups and a Facebook group followed by 2,500 residents wishing to assist. It awarded the local food bank an emergency grant of £4,000, donated food from the closure of cafés, 750 Easter eggs and organised a virtual Easter competition. It has also given £4,500 to aid community groups and will provide activities and support to home educators.
  • Midhurst Town Council, Sussex, helped set up a volunteer group, Midhurst Angels, which is putting businesses, charitable societies, community groups and residents in touch with each other. It is coordinating the local café, the greengrocers, the butcher and other companies which have all offered to deliver food. It is also ensuring volunteers have been DBS checked and are First Aid trained.

The case studies showcase best practice and demonstrate actions that benefit not only those at high-risk and vulnerable but every resident. For more, read the full NALC Coronavirus case studies publication.

Claire Goldfinch is project officer at the National Association of Local Councils, having joined in 2019.
Established in 1947, the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) is a membership organisation and the only national body representing the interests of local (parish and town) councils. NALC works in partnership with county associations to support, promote and improve local councils.

Communities Prepared complements the work of NALC and other national organisations by providing training and support for town and parish councils looking to set up community emergency volunteer groups. For more information and to find out how we can help, please get in touch.  

Responding to Coronavirus: Communities Prepared launches Public Health Volunteer training

With the world battling the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic and increasing levels of fear and uncertainty, harnessing the power of community action has never been more important. Across the world communities are adapting in the face of adversity. Many existing flood and emergency volunteer groups have extended their services to offer support to people self-isolating and new groups have formed to assist the most vulnerable with accessing food and medical supplies and reducing isolation.  In response to this, Communities Prepared has developed training resources to help Community Emergency Volunteers and spontaneous local groups better understand public health emergencies and their potential role in supporting community resilience at this time.

To ensure we provide the most up to date information that is reflective of latest government guidance on Covid-19 and responds to the needs of community volunteer groups, we will make periodical updates to our public health training module and cue card.

Our latest update was made on 30/03/2020 to reflect latest government guidance, the launch of the NHS volunteering programme and to incorporate feedback from key partner organisations. You can see the marked changes to the presentation and the cue card or simply download via the buttons above.

These resources have been designed to be used by anyone keen to volunteer and support vulnerable members of their community during a public health emergency such as the current Covid-19 pandemic. The information provided is reflective of the wider context, but can be adapted and tailored by volunteers and groups for use in their own community.

For any questions on these updates, please get in touch at communitiesprepared@groundwork.org.uk

Course objectives

  • What is a public health emergency
  • Types of public health emergency
    • Pandemics
    • Temperature extremes
    • Hazardous chemical or bacteria release
    • Local communicable disease
  • Who does what in a public health emergency
  • Your role before a public health emergency
  • Your role during a public health emergency
  • Your role after a public health emergency
  • Safety during a public health emergency
  • Triggering a call out
  • Coronavirus pre-briefing

These materials are a clear, concise and informative way that community resilience and knowledge is developed, both for an event such as COVID-19 that we are currently facing, but also future events we will encounter with, for example, changing climates and the knock-on effects on communities, large and small.

Dr Tony Robertson, Lecturer in Social Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Stirling

Thank you to the University of Stirling’s Extremes in Science and Society research programme for helping shape the development of this public health module

The module has been invaluable in our community response to the ongoing public health emergency – it’s helped to inform both Councillors and volunteers, to make sure that people are acting safely and are getting the information they need to support each other.

Councillor Dom Newton, Leader of Bradford on Avon Town Council

Contact us to find out about online training sessions with one of our training officers or call our non-emergency advice line on 0117 910 3930 if you have any questions. You can download the training pack for your own use and adapt it accordingly.

Hear Senior Project Officer for the programme, Paul Robertson, delivering the training as a webinar to volunteers in Wiltshire. Listen here.

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