Dr Julie Ridley, member of the Community Connectors Group and UCLan researcher has written the following story for Podio Preston about the community response to Covid-19 in the Broadgate and Hartington / Christchurch Community.
The Community Connectors Response to Covid-19
‘’At the start of lockdown, individual residents in the south of the City organised support for their neighbours via street Whatsapp groups, and people from Fishergate Mosque and the Broadgate and Hartington/Christchurch Community Connectors Group got together to support the community.
Joining forces under Community Connectors Group, leaflets similar to those being shared up and down the country offering help for free with picking up shopping, prescriptions, posting mail, or a friendly phone call to those who were, or would in the future, be self-isolating were delivered door-to-door. Thirty-five volunteers of various ages and ethnic backgrounds were involved in a leaflet drop to nearly two thousand households.
About three weeks later, after becoming aware that some people were clearly struggling and didn’t know about the local and national help available, a two-sided information sheet was written and delivered to every household in the area. Whilst all this has been happening, wider efforts to support people in this area have included: a regular Food Market on Fridays at St Stephen’s school; the Gujarat Hindu Society (GHS) delivering meals to people from their usual lunch club; St Stephen’s church delivering cooked meals to its lunch club attendees; and food from the FareShare charity being distributed through residents to neighbours.
People of various ages directed to self-isolate as well as some families on low incomes, refugee families and international students have contacted the Group. Volunteers have collected groceries, distributed food parcels, collected prescriptions and sometimes just chatted to their neighbours offering moral support. Some people haven’t had money to buy groceries or pay bills. Recently, a successful application to the Lancashire Covid -19 Community Support Fund for Lancashire enabled the Group to purchase food staples and distribute these via the Food Market.
Whether or not help is needed, mailing individual households communicated something fundamental: that neighbours care about each other. The result is that people now feel more connected to their neighbours and they also want to reciprocate the offer to help, as these phone texts to volunteers show:
“How kind of you to post a letter through our door, strange and tough times ahead. We are all ok at the moment thank you but please if you do need anything or help we will do our utmost best.”
“We got your self-isolation help slip in the post and just wanted to let you know we’re incredibly grateful and want to offer the favour in return should the worst happen.”
Other volunteers reported the leaflets as being a catalyst to getting to know more people on their street by name: ‘We haven’t needed to use it but it was nice to get that note, it was you wasn’t it?’ The Group has learnt a lot from this and has got to know the community far better, for instance, there is now a growing knowledge about people who are potentially isolated and in vulnerable circumstances. One volunteer who organised a Whatsapp group on his Broadgate street commented:
“We were especially concerned for one older lady who is disabled and alone and were able to organize volunteers to get her shopping and walk her dog and drop in some reading material. Also talking with her carers when they visit and then contact her son, who has now been able to come and stay with her to provide support.”
People are finding ways of keeping in touch, of having those ordinary conversations with their neighbours that they perhaps didn’t make time for in the past, all the while observing the rules of social distancing. There is a strong sense of community spirit in the air. As one person said of receiving the information sheet ‘makes you feel differently about people around here even if you don’t use it.’ Involvement in Community Connectors had given one volunteer more confidence to be proactive in supporting the Thursday night clapping, which she said, has become ‘quite an event’ in bringing people together in her street.
Another spinoff has been that more people have now heard of Community Connectors Group and some have donated to it and there are more people involved now. Demand experienced by the Food Market and more informal distribution of food amongst streets, shows there is a need for accessing affordable fresh produce, and it has facilitated conversations between people as well as encouraging creativity in kitchens such as making bread for the first time with fresh yeast or cooking new things such as parsnip bhajis! A thank you card to one volunteer said – ‘Just to say thank you and best wishes for a quick end to the virus.’
Background to Community Connectors Group
The Group was set up as a constituted community group in February 2019 to ‘help people connect’ in the area. Wanting to act on the findings from a community survey in 2018, residents and local organisations formed the Group to strengthen the weak social connections and communication that were found between neighbours; to develop spaces where different people from the community can meet; to reduce loneliness and social isolation; to improve the local environment, and to increase active citizenship through volunteering opportunities. Membership is open to anyone over the age of 18 who lives in or is associated with the area and wants to help the group achieve its aims. Representatives from the local authorities, Preston United and Preston Sports Club are part of the Group and the Group usually meets at the Sports Club. The Community Connectors logo was designed by children at St Stephen’s primary school.
What Community Connector groups need
Groups like Community Connectors are part of a growing grassroots movement within communities who are realising the capacity they have and wanting to make a difference to each other’s lives and the place they live. This doesn’t always need huge amounts of funding but it does need to be recognised and supported by the statutory authorities (including health) who need to work alongside such groups. Community groups need to be empowered to do safely what comes naturally – caring for our neighbours. It shows that people want to be involved, they want to make a difference there’s an opportunity to harness the major volunteer effort. ‘’
Find out more about the Broadgate and Hartington/Christchurch Community Connectors group on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/587083825091386/
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