The first blog in the series looks at how individual local Community Hubs are servicing the 33 wards of Leeds to ensure that the most vulnerable people in the city have access to support during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over 8,000 Leeds residents registered as Community Care Volunteers in response to the COVID-19 crisis, to ensure that those in the greatest of need were able to access support. Voluntary Action Leeds and Leeds City Council established the programme, which matches volunteers with vulnerable people in need of help with a range of tasks - from shopping deliveries to dog walking. To make this possible, a network of 27 local third sector organisations were established known as ‘Community Hubs’. These organisations are delivering the volunteer programme locally, across all 33 wards in Leeds.
Delivering this vital service has been a monumental task that has completely changed the way third sector organisations deliver services in Leeds. This blog series focuses on the Community Hubs and the volunteers at the hubs, who have risen to this unprecedented challenge.
The first blog in the series looks at how New Wortley Community Association, which has been servicing the ward of Armley, has been able to collaborate with new partners and adapt its services.
Adapting service to stay connected with the community
Chief Executive Officer of New Wortley Community Association, Andrea Edwards, oversees the management of the Community Care Volunteering programme in Armley. Andrea reflects on how the services they normally deliver are almost unrecognisable now.
Before the COVID-19 crisis, a varied range of activities took place at New Wortley Community Centre such as; lunch and supper clubs for the older service users, support groups, one-to-one counselling, group counselling, martial arts, Zumba, youth clubs, a cyber cafe, a laundrette, a Russian school and church groups and the list goes on.
Most activities have had to stop completely but some have been able to be modified to make sure that those in the most need still get access to food and social interactions to help prevent feelings of isolation.
Andrea commented: “The community centre for some people is like an extension of their family, so it’s the only place they go - and they go everyday; it’s the opportunity that we get with those people to check that they’re ok.
“The big change for us has been to move away from the community cafe environment but still be able to provide that support of being a friendly voice at the end of the phone, making sure they’ve got access to food.”
Andrea stresses that these changes would not have been possible without the continued support of other organisations that have partnered with New Wortley Community Association to make the Community Care Volunteering programme possible in Armley. Organisations such as Fairshare Yorkshire, Leeds Food Network, Real Junk Food Project and Mecca Bingo have all been providing food for the parcels which are then distributed by Community Care Volunteers.
Andrea said: “It’s like a production line. Monday is our coordination day - we make up the food parcels and activity packs. Tuesday is delivery day. Everything that was prepared on Monday gets delivered on Tuesday. Thursday is hot meal and additional food parcels delivery day.
“We normally do a weekly lunch and supper club. Everyone gets together and sits around the table and has a two course meal. That has become a delivery service now. We have had to adapt. We’ve relied very heavily on the Community Care Volunteering team, because we don’t have that existing network of volunteers that we can draw upon.”
A little less conversation a little more action please
New Wortley currently has 55 active Community Care Volunteers working in Armley. Volunteers like Sam Horner, who signed up to become a Community Care Volunteer with Voluntary Action Leeds after he was furloughed from his job as a Rugby Leeds Development Officer at the Leeds Rhinos Foundation.
Sam has a lot of prior experience volunteering with his job but has become a favourite amongst the locals. After discovering one lady’s love of Elvis, he started dressing up and impersonating the King during his delivery rounds; serenading people with Elvis classics whilst delivering food parcels.
Sam said: “I’ve always liked Elvis and had a go at the karaoke. In these sad times, we need to keep people’s morale up, and it’s not just the food deliveries, it’s that knock on the door, step back a couple of metres and actually talking to people for a few minutes that also makes the difference. This may be the only contact that people get each week.”
Sam has strong ties to the Armley area in which he volunteers, having been born near to the New Wortley Community Centre, and has a family history that goes back 150 years. He even helped start the West Leeds Rugby Leeds team in Armley, 23 years ago.
Sam continued: “Before we come to New Wortley, we pick up from Mecca Bingo Leeds, who are making food for the homeless, and take them to St George's Crypt.
“Even though you think you know your city, you don’t really know your city until something like this crisis happens. There’s a lot of poverty and so the impact for me is being more aware of the city and the people that live in it.”
Community Care Volunteers have been volunteering in numerous ways, from dog walking, to making one-to-one calls with vulnerable people, as well as picking up and delivering medical prescriptions. Andrea’s gratitude for the organisations that have partnered with New Wortley is very apparent, particularly the Leeds Rhino’s Foundation, who have played a vital role distributing the food parcels to local schools and vulnerable people in Armely.
Andrea said: “We really needed access to transport to help us get food parcels and the hot food service going and when we were chatting to Sam, he mentioned that there was a minibus and a team of people available. Staff at Leeds Rhino’s Foundation, such as Helen Schofield, have been also been fundamental in helping New Wortley match volunteers to people needing help.
“The Leeds Rhino’s Foundation has allowed us to develop the bespoke services for the people that aren't accessing help through the helpline, but are known to us as vulnerable people. What the Rhinos have brought is the ability to stay in touch with these people.”
With every new situation comes new challenges
Like many local third sector organisations, New Wortley’s core team of staff is small. Apart from Andrea, the team of four consists of Becky Houlding, Operations Manager, Victoria Kortekaas, Volunteer Coordinator and Barry Dalby, Facilities and Catering Manager.
And even with this additional external support, there have, of course, still been challenges says Andrea.
“I think it has been underestimated how many people are going to experience some sort of mental health issue. Either a recurring mental health issue or even a brand new one because of the circumstances they're facing - losing jobs and income.
“It’s about taking the initiative to establish an ongoing relationship with somebody that has just come as a result of the fact they’ve got no food. We’ve actually ended up doing quite a few referrals to adults and health services due to conversations we’ve had after a food parcels been delivered, because there's actually more to it than access to a food parcel.”
There are also challenges regarding what long-term financial implications COVID-19 will have on the centre. Andrea explains the revenue they normally receive from room hire will need to be subsidised by small pots of funding but finding the time to submit these applications is also hard to come by.
Even with these immediate and long-term challenges, the team at New Wortley are taking an optimistic approach as they have seen first hand how people can band together. The number of volunteers willing to help has been a lifeline to the centre.
“I have to say the volunteers have been amazing. The majority of the volunteers we are working with are giving feedback to say they love what they're doing. It's helping them because they're getting out of the house and they're interacting with people, doing something good to contribute to the community. So, there's a lot of positivity that’s coming out in the volunteers as well. The scheme is definitely working and I do think Leeds has led the way with the programme.”
Responding to COVID-19 has meant organisations have had to be flexible and adapt quickly, working in tandem to help the most vulnerable. This crisis, Andrea believes, may have reshaped the way third sector organisations in Leeds work forever.
Andrea concluded: “I do feel there are personal positives to draw from a very negative situation. I think a lot of community organisations often work in silos, not really understanding what one another does. I think it’s helped us understand each other's services and needs a little bit better and it’s brought out that community spirit.”
Post Written by Ndrika Anyika at Voluntary Action Leeds