South Gloucestershire Labour Councillors
As the narrative began to turn from ‘herd immunity’ and ‘low risk’ to this ‘might be something major after all and we’re not ready’, my thoughts turned to the residents of Kingswood, our large amount of elderly and low waged/vulnerable residents, how badly this pandemic could potentially impact them, and I felt sucker punched and heartbroken.
I decided we needed to have a project set up, practised, rehearsed, cohesive and ready to support residents through the peak.
Unfortunately, at this point, one of the Kingswood Councillors was away on holiday and 3 were in isolation. Pat (Labour Group Leader) was running round, attending leadership meetings and briefings, researching, and trying to get all the updated information, to pass on to the Labour Councillors, and help us keep pace with the change of tack. That left only me on the ground.
I have a background in Community Development so I wasn’t worried. I’m a qualified Community Development Worker, so I decided to put my skills to use.
On the 12/3/20, I put an appeal out for volunteers, and posted it on my Councillor Andrea Reid Facebook Page with the intent of setting up a working group once all details were checked and collated.
Response to the appeal was so overwhelming that initially I couldn’t keep up.
I had volunteers contacting via email, phone, Facebook messenger, the Councillor Page, my personal profile and Whatsapp. The information provided varied from ‘my brother in law wants to help’ to ‘my name’s Sue I live in Kingswood’ to full life stories and CVs.
The ones I had managed to register so far were impatient to be sent out, and asking why they had no tasks yet, so I was having to respond and reassure them, whilst still trying to build the team and collate the team info, and deal with the volunteer requests that were still flying in.
At this point, I had 60 volunteers and an incomplete database.
I had also started talking to local partners, such as Kingswood Foodbank, Southern Brooks, Holy Trinity Church, Bristol Community Cafes CIC and Bromford, persuading them to take a collaborative approach to supporting Kingswood and join the Facebook Group I would be setting up shortly. I wanted all the local services under one umbrella. My aim was to provide a single point of access for residents, ensure there were no gaps in service and that each local service would be supported/complemented by the others, to stop any services being swamped by demand as need increased.
Thankfully, among the volunteers was a lady called Vicky, who had a background in Care Management. I knew she would understand safeguarding, GDPR and have a wizard grasp of admin, so I invited her to my house and we spent the 18th and 19th March 2 metres apart in my lounge collating and identifying the missing data for the 60 applicants I had so far.
The 19th in particular was a real icebreaker.
In light of Johnson’s request to stop all necessary socialising and travel, I had cancelled my 50th party that was due to happen on the 20/3, but had decided I was at least still having my hair done….so had left my hairdresser appointment in place.
Vicky and I were sat busily collating data/making plans when my hairdresser arrived. I had been so caught up in everything that I had completely forgotten about it.
So there I sat with a rubber hood on my head and my hairdresser taking a hook to my scalp, yanking my hair through the holes, whilst Vicky and I planned the FB group, tried to anticipate safeguarding issues, how to reach people without internet access and discuss the services we would offer. Then whilst the bleach was working its magic on me, Vicky and I swapped and she got a haircut too – all of this without us skipping a beat in what we were doing.
I was by now starting to get requests for help from residents, so on the back of this, and given that CVS guidance still hadn’t landed, I decided the need was urgent enough to warrant going ahead with setting up the Kingswood Covid 19 Support FB Group, and I asked Vicky to be the Admin rather than myself.
We agreed I would remain behind the scenes in terms of the group, both to head off distractions from accusations of electioneering and politicising and allow the focus to remain on the service provision and the people we were helping.
It would also free me up to deal with any residents who had fallen through the gaps and grow and develop the larger overarching partnership project that would support the FB group.
I also asked Vicky if she would set up an equivalent group for Hanham, as no support was in place at that point, and we were beginning to get lots of requests for help in Hanham, so she did.
I spoke to the other Kingswood Councillors and suggested we do this as a team, rather than by wards, to simplify the process for residents. All agreed, so the Kingswood FB group covered all three wards of New Cheltenham, Woodstock and Kingswood.
A team of volunteers delivered 5000 leaflets around Kingswood. Each leaflet had offers of help with shopping, prescription collection, dog walking etc and had the Kingswood Councillor phone numbers on as point of contact. This was falsely described as politicising and blazing Labour colours, and we were instructed to stop.
It didn’t matter.
At this point the group was fast developing and we had now taken advantage of a free call handling service, that had been set up for FB groups in response to Covid 19.
Our volunteers delivered another 17000 leaflets with the group’s new hotline on it. This meant the volunteers could now be accessed by people without internet access.
The group has continued to widen its remit and services and strengthen safeguarding practices as best as can be done in unprecedented circumstances.
The number of partners involved has also massively grown.
Gaps and struggles for each individual service have been filled by the bending and flexing of other services.
As new needs have become apparent – we have developed a new service to match it.
We now have the following partners currently working together with a team of 360 volunteers and the Kingswood Councillors: Southern Brooks, DHI, Impact Mentoring, Ignite, Kingswood Community Transport, Bristol Community Cafes CIC, Kingswood Foodbank, Bromford Neighbourhood Coaches, Kingsmeadow Made 4 Ever and Holy Trinity Church.
Given that Kingswood and Hanham are neighbouring areas, although we have nothing to do with running the Hanham group, we have pooled our resources with Hanham.
Hanham’s Conservative Councillor volunteers on the group hotline.
This means we are now partnered with enough organisations to offer support to asylum seekers/refugees, mental health support, shopping, prescription collections, grocery shopping, food parcel delivery, hot meal delivery, signposting, telephone befriending, substance misuse support, all under one umbrella of the Kingswood FB Group.
The Kingswood Councillors both refer to the group and take on the group’s referrals of the more complex cases.
We also have a funding page set up for Kingswood Foodbank, and Iceland in Kingswood has just become a 2nd drop off point for foodbank donations.
Our most obvious success story was a week ago, when I received a call from a very concerned friend of a man who had begun a new tenancy. This man had a new home, but no belongings besides a blanket, a glass and his 2 dogs. He had been sleeping on the blanket on the floor and hadn’t eaten since the previous Thursday. Unfortunately, this call came through in the evening, meaning the necessary services weren’t available.
I called the local chippy to see if they would deliver fish and chips to him and bill me. They were closed, but they insisted on nipping out to get him sandwiches etc and delivered them to his home. On spotting he had 2 dogs, they went back out and returned with dog food.
Meanwhile I was on the phone with Vicky, seeing what we could sort via the FB group. We put out a request for household items for a newly moved resident, and yet again we were overwhelmed. Offers came in too fast for us to avoid duplicates, and we ended up deciding to take it all and store any excess in the Church hall at Holy Trinity Church.
By the next morning, it was clear we were ‘gonna need a bigger boat’ to get all the items from the donors and over to him. We put out a post for a van and Tollgate Van Hire gave us a truck free of charge.
In less than 24 hours, the man went from having a blanket on a floor to fully equipped home, and we had identified a new need and created a new service – donations of Household goods.
During the same day, he had breakfast and lunch delivered by Bristol Community café CIC, and a fish and chip supper by the Clocktower Chippy, lots of dog food and toys for the dogs and a large food parcel from Kingswood Foodbank.
From the 19th March, with 60 prospective volunteers, to what we have today is incredible. Vicky makes weekly stats to keep volunteers feeling motivated, accomplished and appreciated.
I had an idea and went with it, but it has taken on a life of its own, thanks to the incredible hearts, compassion and enthusiasm of the volunteers!!
It has been a real privilege to be a part of this response.
The group has been so successful that professionals are coming to us for advice, and our local Neighbourhood coach told me today that he has been phoning every Bromford tenant, and so far hasn’t found one without a support net in place.
Our latest stats were released last night (see the photo above). When you think the FB group started up fully a month ago -the 19th March – the stats are absolutely mindblowing and shows the incredible dedication and effort of Kingswood Volunteers!
Councillor Andrea Reid