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COVID-19 - Rural Communities Pulling Together (Week 9)

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

Honiton Health Matters, East Devon

Both EDDC and DCC send out regular newsletters packed with information, advice and helplines based around Covid-19. They have also set up funding to help organisations like ours to respond the needs of those that need it.

Lechlade on Thames Town Council, Cotswold District

Services provided to the community include: food deliveries, prescription deliveries, dog walking, Talking (keeping in touch) with isolated members of the community, making scrubs, face masks, head covers, extenders for masks, laundry bags for scrubs, hearts etc for the NHS and others that need PPE.

Salcombe Town Council, South Hams

All organisations were passed a Town Council newsletter with up to date information at that point of what local services were available and how to contact them. This was then sent out either by email to the group members or for those without email the club/organisation made copies and passed such to them. Salcombe has in excess of 60% holiday homes so this was directed at residents. The website contains this information and is updated regularly. Within that information there was an offer that volunteers could be contacted to deliver groceries. The health centre has organised that medication is delivered or collected. There have been a couple of contacts made from services with regard to vulnerable people coming out of hospital (routine discharge not Covid) and someone without any family member who needed checking on.

Newquay Town Council, Cornwall

Town Council has established a £10k Emergency Resilience Fund for Newquay community and charity groups who need help overcoming barriers to support COVID-19 response - funding has been given to foodbanks, radio Newquay, lions groups, rotary and others to buy food, fuel for transporting supplies and medical staff to different locations and for mobile phones for one community to use. Town Council is also now leading the local effort in Newquay taking over the flu-friends network from volunteer Cornwall and co-ordinating it to alleviate some pressures they face. We have also setup a dedicated contact centre for vulnerable people in Newquay to access food and medicines - this is delivered in partnership with both Lions groups in Newquay and the Rotary, supported by the flu friends. We have redeployed all non-essential staff to this initiative, and it includes regular chats and welfare calls with anyone who registers online. We have also increased our communications and provided useful guides and information about businesses who now offer takeaway and delivery services (i.e. pubs and cafes etc) as they don’t have many means to promote this. We are also now establishing a Community Response Cell/group with local partner reps and Cornwall Council to start managing emerging issues and plan for the Town's recovery effort.

Grimsargh Village Community Association, Preston

Two groups of volunteers set up at the start and delivered notes to all properties giving contact details should anyone need help with shopping, medicines, etc. The Village Hall (run by us) has compiled a list of local businesses providing free local deliveries, or mail-order provisions.

Olney Town Council, Buckingham

A Covid support group to provide delivery of essentials to those who are isolating.

Seaton Coronavirus Community Group, East Devon

The Seaton Coronavirus Community Group page has been set up to help keep the residents of Seaton and surrounding areas informed of what is happening in our community during these difficult times.  Seaton Town Council are working with members of the local church, individuals and a support network of volunteers to support everyone in the Seaton area.    The Seaton Community Group has over 160 volunteers registered so far, divided amongst the 9 areas, which have their own individual coordinators, and each area has a backup list of volunteers to step in and assist if needs be.   A group of supervisors has been established to offer support, carry out administrative duties and to oversee the coordination and volunteer effort.  The supervisory team have constant communication via email and WhatsApp, and these channels are very active amongst the coordinators and volunteers.    A dedicated helpline has been set up to help direct enquiries and offer assistance during the hours of 8.30am - 8.30pm. Outside of these hours an answerphone service is set up and messages are listened to and responded to on a daily basis.   

A useful helpline leaflet and ‘Hello’ leaflet was distributed to every household in Seaton, with information regarding a helpline & email that has been set up as well as personal information form a volunteer on the ‘Hello’ leaflet that has offered to assist the residents in their Area.  Following on from this initial leaflet drop a facebook page was created to keep to utilise social media as a tool to inform the community of Seaton, and beyond, information regarding the volunteer scheme and how Seaton has been divided up into Areas. With the current restrictions in place to our everyday lives the use of social media has proven a fantastic way of interacting with the community providing help to those who need it, sharing information and advice (both locally and nationally), and keeping everyone informed on the constant changing situation and disruptions.  The STC website has been updated with important information on it, along with details of the helpline and email and a direct link to the facebook page which it manages. The facebook page currently has almost 800 followers, and is steadily growing, which is promising considering the demographic of the area.    Official ID Cards have been created and distributed to coordinators and volunteers aiding the self-isolating and vulnerable during the pandemic. These allow the volunteer to shop for multiple people/households at once at any Seaton supermarket, with certain regulations being relaxed, they also act as a form of identification which offers a piece of mind to us all during these difficult times.  Guidelines have been put in place and shared to coordinators and volunteers and a structure has been created to help support the community group.   A booklet was created by the community group, funded by Seaton Town Council and printed locally, supporting a local business during this difficult time, and then organised and distributed to every household in Seaton. In a short space of time important/relevant information was collated and put in to booklet format and analysis and research of the numbers of streets and households was carried out and an effective system was put in place for distribution involving the volunteers in place. A fantastic team effort that emphasise what a community can achieve when working together.  We have been able to utilise local organisations such as the Seaton & District Lions to deliver to the community.  There is a core group of volunteers established to assist the local surgery with phone calls to vulnerable patients within the community.    The community group is working closely with Seaton food bank and local food suppliers & services, and the group is working with the Tesco Fare Share charity to access food that is about to pass it’s use by date. Twice weekly this food is being collected and delivered to local care homes and animal sanctuaries for them to utilise.  Promotion of the participating organisations as well as community activities and local business services takes place via the Facebook page. The positive stories published on social media are well received and appear to be helping the community take pride and ownership of the town - which will be essential moving forwards.   

The community group has been working closely with Tesco, Co-Op and the local pharmacies to provide up to date information to the residents and to help ease the difficulties that have arisen as a result of the pandemic. Communicating with local businesses a detailed list has been put together to help promote and increase awareness of what is available locally. This not only helps the residents but also helps the small local businesses during this difficult time. This information has been well received, published online and in the booklet, and is updated regularly.

Lutterworth Town Council, Harborough District

Tri-organisation of Lutterworth Town Council, Lutterworth Church & Age Concern Lutterworth with the twin aim of attracting volunteers, but more importantly setting up an 'help' scheme for aged, lonely and vulnerable within our community.

Arundel Town Council, West Sussex

St Nicholas’ Church have a team of trained pastoral visitors who have been through the official vetting provided by the DBS (“Disclosure and Barring Service”) process who are ready and willing to offer support and companionship over the telephone to residents. They also have lots of volunteers who have offered to collect and deliver essential supplies (e.g. food, medication) for those who need help. Arundel Town Council are also working hard to continuously update residents as to the services that local shops and organisations are offering in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. ATC’s website has a dedicated Coronavirus Support page which is regularly updated with this information and the Town Council are using the Arundel Community Network email newsletter system to distribute information to residents directly.

Kirkby Stephen Town Council, Cumbria

Town Council Staff have been working through their own 'Good Neighbours' Scheme and Cumbria County Council's 'Support Cumbria' to support vulnerable people needing to self-isolate or shield by arranging a roster of volunteers to collect/deliver shopping and prescriptions across Upper Eden. Individually some councillors have worked hard independently to support the fair share initiative and are seeing some increase in demand for food parcels.

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:

  • Any support that would provide funding opportunities to enable us to maintain the services that we as a community are providing for the vulnerable, elderly, homeless and those that have to isolate.  We are now experiencing a lot more families suffering with mental health/anxiety problems, who we are supporting but additional funding to take this further would be great.
  • Enabling better sharing of data in the early stages so Community Groups, already set up, could access members of the community that may have needed help.
  • The community appear to have looked after each other well.  Whether a national list of those that should be checked would assist might be interesting.
  • Communication with those who might not be on anyone’s radar remains the biggest problem.  My personal suggestion would be that the local media (radio and tv) should have put out a message not that nationally there was support but just a simple telephone number of town/District/County that could be called if someone had a need for assistance whether illness, groceries or another problem.  Then a loop of those outside IT might be addressed.
  • Being given powers under the Civil Contingencies Act to be more responsible for local action - our Principal Council have certainly been told what we are doing locally, but they do not appear to be sharing any info with us - including what their services are doing.     Equally, due to Data Protection, we cannot be given access to the shielding list - which means someone at the Council is having to call those on the list from our town and refer them to us or ask if its ok to share their details - yet the regulations and acts around COVID-19 list Town and Parish Councils as Local Authorities for the purpose of those acts - so surely it would be reasonable to share the details for the purpose of public health and safety of the most vulnerable in our town?
  • We have certainly been left to do things our own way and have been delayed due to waiting for responses from the Principal Council that never came - we could have moved faster with the contact centre but didn’t want to duplicate effort or detract from "official" systems - which it turns out aren’t in place in the way we are delivering the support.     We also are receiving no financial support from government - all local council funding for our county is going to the Principal Council and we don’t even receive business rate relief or delays in payment - we have to suffer from loss of income, delivering more without any budgets for these new services and funding we are giving out and we are delivering Principal Council services such as grass cutting their open spaces whilst Cormac have been furloughed (keeping well-used open spaces safe for exercise and walking).
  • Now, as we are hopefully passing the peak - clear communications and advice to all on how to best prepare for the lifting of restrictions. Not only small businesses, but community groups and community buildings will need guidance on all aspects: appropriate cleansing regimes, clarity on any responsibilities and where the boundaries for that lie. It would be good not to have to make it up as we go along.
  • In such an unprecedented global crisis, there are some limits to what national government can do to assist at a local level. A great deal of benefit could/should be gained by instead enabling and encouraging those at the local level to be able to act for and within their communities.
  • A national fund to support parish and town councils who have had to invest heavily in remote technology to function.
  • The national broadband and mobile phone infrastructure provision needs to be more universally well resourced. There are days when not only can the Council not function but neither can local farms and businesses.
  • Support to help enable those who are most vulnerable get online and enable them to access information. Clearer information for small business regarding support, restrictions and assistance. Pharmacies increasing their delivery service and being more proactive in aiding the community.
  • The response since this initiative has been set up has been fantastic and it really shows what an amazing community spirit there is in Seaton. People are supporting one another and adapting to communicate with each other via mediums that they may not have used previously and using these as a resource to keep the community safe, aware and informed.
  • Greater devolvement of government monies to Town & Parish councils to provide local help and initiatives.
  • A nationally co-ordinated economic recovery plan supported locally by locally based project officers helping business through the process of opening up after lockdown.
  • Greater clarity in messaging within local government and the third sector would be beneficial. The volume of emails received during the covid pandemic has been overwhelming. A reduction in the use of email in local government would be beneficial.

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