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COVID-19 - Rural Communities Pulling Together (Week 7)

We asked for examples of our rural communities pulling together and have been inundated with responses so far! We featured 10 each week, and this week are pleased to feature 10 more this week!

We have been heartened to read stories from our rural communities, showing that despite the incredible situation we are living in, communities are coming together in amazing ways, to support each other.  Many of these initiatives were started before the Government introduced the NHS Volunteer Scheme, as communities recognised a need in their local communities.

10 Rural Communities helping each other

IP17 Good Neighbour Scheme, East Suffolk

The IP17 Good Neighbour Scheme was set up to support the communities of Saxmundham and Kelsale-cum-Carlton, providing emergency food parcels, collecting/delivering prescriptions and acting as a phone buddy to the lonely and isolated.

Satley Parish Council, Durham

Hand delivered letter-drop to every household identifying volunteers from the community who will collect shopping, fuel, medicine, walks dogs or simply telephone the lonely for a chat. Shopping bills underwritten by the Parish Council in the short-term.

Brightling Parish Council, Rother

Two councillors taken the role as points of contact that can be telephoned if vulnerable residents require any help. A list of approximately a dozen residents living on their own was identified and they were called individually.

Weybread Parish Council, Mid Suffolk

Network of volunteers made up of parish councillors and residents set up by the Parish Council who get shopping and collect prescriptions for elderly and vulnerable people in the parish. They are also on the other end of the telephone for a friendly chat.

Penrith Town Council, Cumbria

The county are leading area multi authority and multi-sector emergency response teams. We meet weekly to monitor issues, projects, actions and to share information and resources. Representatives from towns, villages and parishes who have established informal Covid-19 volunteering groups via Facebook or websites are supported by hubs and local councils who have also set up an emergency response. In Cumbria we had existing structures in place having endured Foot and Mouth and Storm Desmond.

Knaresborough Chamber of Trade, Harrogate

1. Knaresborough Connectors - a collaboration of community groups to provide a one stop shop to residents of the town for all forms of support. The start of this group was accelerated to help during the pandemic 

2. Knaresborough Delivers, utilising local businesses who can still source supply of meat, fruit, veg etc this Chamber initiative is now being managed by a local business and is delivering food parcels daily. It has expanded to include over a dozen local businesses offering a variety of products and has expanded to different premises and also now covers Wetherby and Harrogate.

3. Re-opening of the town foodbank - currently in planning but for some reason Harrogate closed down the town foodbank so local groups are getting this going again. 

4. The Chamber are surveying businesses to identify "best practice" for businesses once lockdown restrictions are eased - this will provide consumers confidence to come back into town 

5. NYCC Voucher scheme to help vulnerable/self-isolating people with shopping. 

6. Volunteers have been identified, over 150 have offered help, to assist people close to them with a variety of requirements. Some volunteers have a "trusted" status to provide a greater level of care.    There are many other initiatives in Knaresborough, I've included the main ones all of which have been running now for over 5 weeks.

Rotherfield Parish Council, Wealden

"Parish Pals" network of parishioners, working in partnership with our existing and successful senior citizen support group (a registered charity). All senior citizens and vulnerable parishioners have received "flyers" to make them aware that support is available for shopping, prescription collecting and similar. Phone calls are also being made to counter loneliness issues.

Stanford in the Vale Parish Council, Vale of White Horse

Several Groups providing help with shopping, medical requirements. All play areas shut and locked. MUGA unit floodlights switched off.

Kings Bromley Parish Council, Lichfield

On 21st March the Parish Council delivered a 'You are not alone' flyer to every property in the Parish inviting self isolators to get in touch if they needed shopping or prescriptions getting or just day to day contact. It asked for volunteers prepared to do this for their neighbours. The response was dramatic- we now have 75 volunteers and 59 'home heroes'. The allocation of volunteers has been done centrally from the house of the Chairman. The village of 1400 residents has now been organised into 8 self organising areas that communicate through WhatsApp groups. The central organisation works through telephone and internet. A subsequent flyer has concentrated on helping people to cope with boredom and loneliness, this initiative done with the help of the WI. The system now runs smoothly. The parishioners are kept informed of developments on a daily basis through the Parish Council website and Facebook page.

Elsworth Parish Council, South Cambridgeshire

Volunteers to shop and collect prescriptions. Local Morrisons providing doorstep deliveries to residents on the vulnerable list. Parish Clerk co-ordinating.

What further support do they need?

The Rural Services Network also asked each of these 10 communities what further support they need from national initiatives or locally and they stated:

We are feeding these points into Defra each week and key issues will be raised at the weekly Rural Stakeholder Impact Forum that we attend virtually with Defra and rural organisations.

The following points were raised:

  • I think providing free broadband in all areas is an absolute priority so that everyone can keep connected, regardless of income.  People from different walks of life coming together to help their communities is very heart-warming and hopefully will continue long after this emergency is over.
  • Give our volunteers priority at shops so we don't have to queue. Some sort of nationally recognised permit or something they can show.  An accessible list of support networks we can use to find the right contact for residents of other parishes who contact us having been given our number by i.e. doctors surgery.  A fund we can access to buy shopping for residents running out of cash to repay volunteers. Not all have bank cards they can order online or by phone with and if they can't go out, they can't collect their pension.
  • Foodshare
  • Speed up the implementation of support that has been announced, basically reduce the red tape.  Release funds quickly.  Encourage other groups offering funding to minimise the red tape involved. I am applying to one group who have a 25 page instruction guide and a 10+ page submission form for funding - this really isn't helpful.  Encourage chain stores to keep open in rural areas, a few in Knaresborough (including Superdrug) have closed and have relocated staff to Harrogate. This forces people to travel to Harrogate and is not helpful to the local community or local businesses.  Legislate to make Banks do what they should be doing, providing services to rural communities rather than entrenching back to head/regional offices and forcing customers to travel to them.  There has been a fantastic reaction in Knaresborough to this pandemic, so many people have quietly offered support or undertaken and delivered initiatives to help vulnerable and self-isolating strangers in the town survive.    More national focus should be trained on local initiatives like these, people using their own time and skills to help out strangers in these extraordinary times.
  • Additional financial support for registered charities for older people
  • People are confused about virus testing and if they should try and find a centre to get tested. We still find that villagers are walking around as if it was normal. Some older residents do not seem to understand what restrictions they should be taking.
  • The national government should just concentrate of getting adequate PPE and testing delivered, which they have manifestly failed to do, and getting the help to businesses in a timely fashion which they are also failing on. While the furlough system is good, we have parishioners who have fallen though the net and are really struggling -this needs to be addressed. We can look after the local issues.
  • Direct funding for parishes from central government to enable funds to be available without having to go through the usual legal channels of financial control- e.g. if a small parish does not have the ability to use funds more flexibly because it doesn't qualify for the general power of competence because its members were not all elected, it is very much hampered by how its funds can be used.
  • Holding parish council meetings remotely is an extremely difficult thing to do for small parish councils.  It could be costly too and many councillors would not have access as they do not have the technology required.  The broadband coverage in our parish is also very poor.  Mobile phone coverage is virtually non existent.

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