Stories of community solidarity
Examples of successful COVID-19 mutual aid and community support groups.
We are collecting experiences from groups and communities across the UK. Would you like to share yours? Please contact us at email@example.com
- Harnham Harvest Table
"The Harvest Table operated for ten weeks every Saturday from the end of July to the end of September. It was a huge success, also providing a venue in the open air for people to meet and socialise with friends in a way that Covid had been denying them, whilst operating under distancing and tracing rules. A survey on the last Saturday was 100% in favour of it continuing the next year, Covid or no Covid."
Gregor Condliffe, Harnham Harvest Table.
How Harnham Harvest Table (HHT) Was Set Up: A Guide To Community Groups
Guide and material provided by Harnham Harvest Table group.
- Wixams and Wilstead Community Shopping Club
"On March 15 2020 the two communities of Wixams and Wilstead joined forces to create a community response to the Coronavirus and the difficulties this posed for the elderly and those self-isolating in doing their shopping and picking up prescriptions. Over 80 new volunteers were vetted and recruited into the ‘Community Shopping Club’ from both villages and to date over 1000 tasks have been completed.
As well as advertising our services on social media via Facebook and a webpage, a flyer was also created and distributed to every house in Wixams and Wilstead to ensure that those who do not have access to social media would be aware of the services available.
Clients would send their shopping or prescription requests in via email or over the phone. The client response team would handle the initial contact, create a task on our database then handover to the Volunteer coordinator to assign a suitable Volunteer to the task.Initially Volunteers were able to do in store shops at store of choice of the Client. However, as the virus outbreak grew and with it the risks to the volunteers, and to ensure sustainability beyond the shopping club, all of the regular weekly shopping clients were moved onto online delivery services. Initially this was Click & Collect and then Home Delivery. Volunteers ran the accounts for the clients at first, but over time were able to teach the clients how to run the accounts themselves and they are now self-sufficient.In addition to shopping and individual requests for prescription collections our main community pharmacy came under pressure so for 16 weeks the shopping club supported them by providing 3 volunteers a day to act as delivery drivers dropping off prescriptions across both communities to ensure their service was not disrupted and they could cope with demand.
The success of the shopping club and the kindness shown by members of both communities has now led to the villages’ two good neighbour schemes merging into one. This will mean a stronger network is available to support residents for years to come."
Leon Staszak, Community Shopping Club
Community Shopping Club
- NR2 Covid Community Response
"When the pandemic lockdown hit Norwich in March 2020 a steering group of 10 local residents living in the NR2 postcode area formed a WhatsApp group to see how they could respond, in particular to try to ensure that no-one in the community was left confused, isolated or uncared for. The group set about drafting a leaflet explaining how they might help and what other support was available. The leaflet also contained a plea for more volunteers. This was distributed by hand to nearly all the area’s 60,000 households.
As a result, over 300 people signed up to a larger WhatsApp group community. The steering group also set up a dedicated phone line and email, monitored daily by a volunteer, for people without access to WhatsApp.
Our most urgent task was to ensure vulnerable people were able to get food and medical supplies safely and quickly. We liaised with a local food bank, and some of steering group members became food bank volunteers, physically delivering food parcels to any vulnerable person referred to them. This way, households had, as one steering group member put it “an immediate response to basic Covid19 related needs using a growing network of the local community.”
The Group has enabled hundreds of links across the NR2 community, with daily requests being fulfilled through private messages or on street level micro-groups.
Local MP Clive Lewis applauded the group’s impact. “So many people have pulled together. There’s a real sense of community.” He was keen to express his appreciation with a letter formally recognising their positive impact.
All in all, we’re proud that a bunch of complete strangers could get together to run such and effective support group in such challenging times."
Stephen Wiseman, NR2 Covid community response.
- Barlow Moor Community Association
Barlow Moor Community Association (BMCA) is a community-based organisation supporting children, young people and adults from Merseybank Estate, Chorlton. It was started 29 years ago to support families at a deprived estate in Chorlton, and then grew into a community centre. As a well-established organisation, BMCA quickly adapted its activities to meet community needs during the Covid-19 pandemic. The association mobilised its volunteers and resources and was able to continuously provide support to the local community, as explained by Nicola Hamilton, who we interviewed on the 6 January 2021:
So, the community centre being very active within the community for many years, but during Covid-19 we had to change the way our services were delivered. So, we worked with families, children age up to people over ninety. So, we had to do like family activity packs to be delivered out, we also, there was also to access the lunches, we done different ways to access our services, so cooking on a budget that we used to do, we had to do that in a pack and deliver that out. [We] adapted it to remote befriending, cake and conversation where we dropped cake off and food. (…) For those that didn’t have access to the internet at home, we managed to gain some funding to buy tablets and internet devices so that people could stay connected, through the technology. And we also worked with partners as well where we had volunteers who support people who may struggled if they haven’t had that digital training or that access to get used to it as well. (Nicola).
There were many activities and services offered by BMCA during the pandemic, including food packs and parcels, meal deliveries to people in isolation or shielding, different games and activities offered to families (e.g., jigsaw puzzles, health walks), Christmas cards, uniform donations for children, Christmas dinners offered in bags to people in need, mindfulness activities, among others. Food provision was a key part of the community response according to the interviewee: ‘[the local community] face quite a lot of food deprivation as well around this time, so we’ve had to respond to their needs’ (Nicola). These services were provided, at least partially, because the organisation could rely on a pre-existing group of committed staff members and a group of volunteers, as explained below:
I think because we paid attention and we listened and we had a feeling that this was going to go this way, so we need to get ourselves into action before it hits. And I think because the team worked together so well, we were able to implement things quite fast and get - and run with it really rather than drag our feet and go into a panic. It was just, it was action for us. It just kicked in. (Nicola,
Nicola has been volunteering and working in community development for several years. In the last three years, she has been working at BMCA as the volunteers’ coordinator. She is responsible for ‘recruit, induct, train and place volunteers, both at the community centre and across the community as well’ (Nicola). She is strongly oriented towards working with communities, and when questioned about her own motivations to engage in community work, she immediately replied:
The, the passion that we’ve got for the people, we see that, we see that difference that it makes, we see that, that person changed that come through the door – normally when our centre’s open, that might be absolutely at their wits end, they don’t know where to turn to get help. And when you see that journey and you know that you’ve helped that person and you see that person change and be able to, be more proud of who they are, feel more connected, can’t access to other services, it’s a massive, massive motivation. And I think the work that we do, even though we’re one of the poorest areas, we’re really, really blessed to see that difference that our work makes as well. And that gives you your passion, you’re drive when you know you’re making that difference, it comes naturally to want to continue to make that impact and have that positive impact on people and their families. (Nicola).
As the quote above suggests, Nicola reveals a strong sense of efficacy in responding and contributing to the local community. In Nicola's perspective, BMCA has been very effective in consulting, listening and responding to local people's needs:
We’ve learnt to, [I would] say, do consultations better, so we’re listening more to the community and their needs and that impacts on what services we deliver and what we put our funding for as well – so we’re meeting the needs of the locals.
Consequently, the services provided by the association were vital for that specific deprived area and community. The sense of improving the lives of community members can also be found in the way Nicola describes BMCA. In her view, the organisation is immensely committed to the local community:
Because the area we work in, like I mentioned it’s one of the top deprived areas and people depend on us. A lot of the feedback, evaluations that we’ve been doing, it talks about how BMCA is the heart of the community, how people don’t know how they’d manage without it, and we’ve done consultations where we’ve had feedback previously, one of our main concerns is this, the high level of mental health problems, drug and alcohol additions of people on that estate, and we didn’t want to lose touch with people that might need our services. And people are quite isolated as well, so we know the services we work with, we know that community, so for us it was vital that we were still staying on contact, still offering that, so that people didn’t become, more dependent on self-medication or more isolated or suffer more with their mental health or can’t put a meal on the table for the children. So, for us we were absolutely dedicated to making sure our phones and our persons were still open, even if the centre wasn’t. (Nicol .
Perceived as the heart of the community, BMCA seeks to meet community needs during and beyond moments of crisis. According to Nicola, such work is possible because the organisation follows a systemic and holistic approach to community needs:
The impact that our services have on that one person, but then the wider impact that has on the family members as well. So… people coming into our services, might be coming in for one thing, but we can offer the holistic approach, so we can address any other needs, and identify them and help support them. And if it’s something that we can’t personally do, we have great partners that we can signpost them to, as well. And its very much community focused on the people, and how we do our services. (Nicola).
By focusing on the importance of looking at community needs from an holistic perspective, Nicola also highlights the value of local connections and partnerships. These relationships with other local groups and organisations have been established over time: ‘we already had great connections within the community, that’s something that we’ve built up over the years and established really strong partnerships with’ (Nicola). According to Nicola, BMCA plans to continue relying on these connections and will be offering community support during and beyond Covid-19: ‘coming through this next one [lockdown] now with what we’ve got put in place I think it’s really going to continue to keep people connected and make that difference and keep people involved’. Interestingly, despite all challenges faced during 2020, the community is perceived as more involved and connected:
I think, I think people are more appreciative, and I think people feel more… compassion for each other, and there’s a little bit more, I don’t want to say tolerance, but people are happier to see people now, and they look out for each other a little bit more. There’s a bit more connection in the community, people look out of reach other, at that, the estate where we were, people had drifted apart quite a lot, there wasn’t that neighbourliness, and I think now, having come through lockdown, that, that's developed more and people have felt more connected. (Nicola).
Nicola sees these signs as positive and ends the interview expressing confidence about the future role of BMCA in offering community support and improving people’s lives: ‘I think that’s been positive. But yeah, I feel really confident about the future as a whole and the community centre and the volunteering group.’ (Nicola).
- Overton Community Emergency Plan
"Our Emergency Plan Group had not anticipated any such scenario as a viral pandemic.
The Overton Emergency Plan Group began discussions as soon as the severity of the virus and its impact were acknowledged.
A need to monitor the needs of the people of the area during the imposed lockdown was recognised.
The village was divided into areas, each area the responsibility of one or two coordinators, supported by volunteers.
The need to provide an information flyer/letter to each household was debated. Although there was strong opinion that such a means of communication should be used (to alert anyone not able to access social media routes) the final consensus was that the possibility of carrying contamination at this time (as the public had been advised to minimise contact with other households) outweighed this.
However, printing materials were purchased for future use and a flyer was produced and distributed, in July, at the end of the first lockdown (copy available on request). Information updates, along with offers of services, support and deliveries, were regularly updated and posted on the Parish Council website, on All Things Overton Facebook page and on the Parish noticeboard. The first was put together in March 2020.
A list of volunteers, and their contact details, was made. A list of those, known not to use social media, was made. Replacement “H” signs (see plan) were distributed as appropriate.
Socially-distanced daily walks were arranged by coordinators and volunteers to ensure that every road in the village was checked; communication was established with outlying areas such as Sunderland Point and Heaton Bottom.
Volunteers communicated with coordinators who fed back, daily, to a dedicated WhatsApp group.
Generally, the village fared well. A few needs were met: provision of shopping for those ill or isolating, a telephone repair, a plumbing repair, dog walking, arrangements with police and ambulance to attend an elderly resident, living alone, who was later admitted to hospital (non-Covid 19). Care for her pet was put in place along with subsequent support on her return home. Advice was sought in connection with a reclusive resident.
The Lancaster City Council and Morecambe Bay Foodbank launched a partnership and volunteers from the village arranged donations for this as well as for animal welfare. The Parish Council made a cash donation to the Foodbank fund, as did individuals from the village. Our vicar and one of the coordinators were named as Foodbank links.
Members of the community supported each other wonderfully; as well as arranging the ordering and distribution of vegetables, flour, fish and other necessities. A particularly valuable method used to share and disseminate information and to support one another, was All Things Overton Facebook initiated and maintained by two local volunteers.
Individuals and groups made and distributed face coverings, scrubs and other medical items.
Regular deliverers of mail, milk and other produce offered to stay alert in case assistance or notifying the team became necessary.
Communication with Lancaster City and County Councils was regular via Mark Bartlett (Civil Contingencies Officer) and via Community Connectors through Rural/Parish Council Microsoft Teams meetings.
Following the relaxation of first lockdown the consensus opinion was that daily walks were no longer needed; volunteers and coordinators would stay alert and feed concerns back to the team.
During the second lockdown in autumn, the same conclusion was reached; however, in addition, regular WhatsApp communication was re-established between the coordinators.
Daily walks recommenced as the situation worsened early in the new year; regular WhatsApp communication, minimum of once weekly contact, also restarted."
Michael McTague, Overton Emergency Plan
Overton Community Emergency Plan