When COVID-19 hit the UK in March, it brought an initial instant shut down of community organisations and centres delivering much-needed community services and activities here in Sandwell. As doors closed to the physical world though, many organisations took the step of adapting their delivery (through digital innovation) in order to continue to support the most vulnerable within their communities – from children and families through to older people, and everything in between!
The pandemic lockdown made community organisations, big and small, re-assess what the needs of their community were and how they could continue to address these needs in a re-imaged way. The imagination, resourcefulness and innovation at the height of the lockdown just goes to show the creativity and resilience of organisations, residents and service providers here in Sandwell. With ‘pop up’ COVID-19 support groups appearing overnight at a very local level, to an army of over 700 COVID-volunteers coming together to lend a helping hand during this time of need to support those most at risk.
- New telephone befriending services;
- Development of ‘meals on wheels’ for those most in need and vulnerable;
- ‘Fish, Chips and Zoom’ chats replacing, in the short-term, luncheon clubs and other similar gatherings;
- ‘Zoom Cafés’, where you brought the cake and cuppa and the community centre brought the conversation or short artistic performance (in partnership with a local arts organisation);
- Events such as ‘virtual afternoon tea’ and ‘dial a story’ through to ‘doorstep fitness’ and ‘virtual fitness sessions’ from the comfort of your own home.
The creativity and resilience shown has been first class, with so many examples of community organisations thinking on their feet to continue to support their communities and others.
Community organisations have risen to the challenges presented, showing just how determined they are in supporting and continuing their service provision at a time when it matters the most. They have, where possible, joined forces with other community organisations, service providers and others to prevent duplication and to maximise their ability to support local residents by sharing resources and communication channels to get the messages out for those wishing to access the services on offer.
And more is continuing to happen as groups take advantage of the funding provided by a whole range of funding bodies – developing new services and adapting old ones to better meet the needs of communities and individuals in the ever-changing circumstances around us.
SCVO, too, has adapted quickly to the changing environment. Working from home, the staff team has learned a whole host of new skills (mostly digital) to take our support services online; from virtual ‘meet the funder’ events to virtual training workshops and networking sessions (bringing organisations together to share with and learn from each other) all in addition to our regular support services (delivered remotely) – helping them to turn their ideas into reality or simply to champion our sector and the fantastic community opportunities that have arisen.
Whilst the road to recovery is something of an unknown quantity, the message from across Sandwell is loud and clear – groups are wanting to ‘bounce back’ stronger, ensuring the new connections made during lockdown are retained, nurtured and built upon in order to harness the volunteers that came forward and further develop the creativity that was born during the pandemic.