Community Hub Spotlight: How Hunslet Involve Keeps Evolving
The Community Hub Spotlight 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 coronavirus pandemic.
Over 8,000 Leeds residents registered as Community Care Volunteers in response to the coronavirus crisis. 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.
Today’s focus is on Hunslet Involve and Community Hub Manager, Claire Whiteley, who has been the manager of Hunslet Involve for little over 18 months now. In that time she has supported the charity to successfully purchase their building located near the Penny Hill centre in Hunslet. Claire has got big ambitions for the organisation and her experiences and running the Hunslet and Riverside hub during coronavirus has only served to inspire her further to open their doors to wider communities.
How has your community hub changed during the coronavirus outbreak?
“The Hunslet area really doesn’t seem to be served as well as other surrounding areas when it comes to local charities and services for local people. We work closely with Escape2sports, The Hunslet Initiative, Hunslet TARA, Rise and Shine and the Hunslet club. Prioer to lockdown Hunslet Involve also offered room hire to local groups during evenings and weekends. Kurdish House Leeds used the building on Saturdays and Sundays for their school, celebrating Kurdish language and culture,” said Claire.
Claire sees a future for Hunslet Involve to grow their remit far wider than just alternative education provision. Claire explained:
“Because we are not a registered school, we have more flexibility in the curriculum that we deliver. Experiences the young people have had over the last nine months have had a real impact. Our pupils have been helping to pack food bags and it’s been a really good learning experience for them.”
There’s so many skills that young people can learn outside of the classroom-based environment. Yes it’s important that we teach Maths and English, but most subjects can be taught in interesting ways. We have a fully kitted out kitchen in the hall at Hunslet Involve and the potential for a community café, cooking lessons, and potentially business experience which would be enriching to many of our pupils.”
What is the history of your community hub?
Hunslet Involve was established in 2009 as an alternative education provider working with young people referred by schools all over Leeds. Hunslet Involve work with small numbers of young people for a 30 week period, offering a proactive and holistic approach to learning. Claire said:
“We have a safe space for young people to come and learn with us at their own pace. We are a nurturing provision and base our curriculum on individual need and therefore we have the flexibility to offer a wider curriculum to our young people.”
Hunslet involve are part of a citywide forum working in partnership with alternative education providers such as LS 10, MAP, and others. “We have chosen to work in partnership rather than competing against each other,” Claire said. She emphasised that it is the young people who ultimately benefit from a more coordinated provision across the city.
What have been the challenges of the Community Care Volunteer programme?
“When schools close, we stayed open as all of our young people would be classed as vulnerable, though most choose to learn whilst remaining at home, or are shielding. We only work with a small group of young people at any one time.”
It’s been difficult balancing our core activities with the running of the food hub, but support from our volunteers and partners have been amazing and all staff who have worked so hard to make it work,” said Claire.
What does a normal week at a community hub entail?
No two days are the same at the community hub. Claire describes the intricate processes that enable the volunteer effort to run efficiently:
“We see who needs food parcels and sort them out depending on the size of the family and if there any special dietary requirements. The volunteer drivers are usually booked in for a regular time slot. We have volunteers who come to undertake shops for some people – getting a list, doing the shop and then delivering it. In addition, we may have an emergency come through. If someone is in urgent need, we call them to see what they need. We also do welfare checks, particularly on those who aren’t answering their phones or didn’t answer when a parcel was due to be delivered.”
Then there is cleaning, checking stocks and collecting from the central bank, from stores donating to us, from The Real Junk Food company and Fareshare. We make requests for specialist items, or asking someone to find them for us. Talking to people is the central role though, from a befriending welfare check, to finding out what an individual needs. Giving people time to talk helps us identify their needs. It may be practical but often it is a chance to share their worries, concerns, and to be listened to.”
How has managing volunteers during the coronavirus-19 crisis made you feel? Explain your experience and how its impacted you so far.
Claire says that although the volunteers have been closely supervised, they have been asked to work with some very difficult situations and the standard of volunteering has been exceptional. The existing volunteers that Hunslet Involve already worked with brought with them an incredible range of skills and the volunteers commitment has been excellent. With this in mind, Claire knows that the third lockdown will bring a new set of challenges. She explained further:
“The difficulty we are facing at the moment is as things begin to get busy again with a third lockdown, we find ourselves quite short of drivers who can drop off parcels, and also shoppers who carry out bespoke shopping for people.”
Although many areas of Leeds are still doing excellently for volunteer numbers, a few local hubs are beginning to feel the impact of a increased demand. If you would be interested in volunteering for Hunslet Involve please do get in touch.” *(or visit Doing Good Leeds website and click on volunteering to join up to the Community Care Volunteer programme on the Be Collective platform.)
What’s your message for anyone thinking about volunteering and what are your hopes for after the pandemic?
Claire urges people to volunteer as volunteers are still very much needed. She said: “There are a range of tasks that are needed and we always try to match people with the job – all of it makes a contribution to tackling the impact of the virus and making a difference to people’s lives. The volunteers are essential to all aspects of the work and are a great team to be part of.”
After coronavirus, I hope we will continue to value the contribution made by everyone from packing bags to carrying out welfare checks, or bringing the doughnuts for the team to share! In addition, we have opened up to working with different people, in new partnerships and to responding to real community need. These are all positives we should build on in the next steps.”
What learning would you like to implement going forwards?
“We are lucky as we are a blank sheet due to our current circumstances”, said Claire. Hunslet Involve now own the building they run their services in, meaning they have more flexibility and control over how it is used. Going forwards she thinks it would be wrong to go back to normal, as the pandemic has brought to the surface many needs within the local community.
“I think that the coronavirus crisis has allowed us to learn so much about ourselves and our communities that we just can’t go back to normal after this. We want to build on the learning being a hub has given us to respond to the needs of the community and work with them to build our community,” said Claire.
She worries about all the need that has been unearthed within the coronavirus response and she is very careful to think ahead and plan how to transition out of lockdown. Claire said, “We are already considering ways in which we can help people reintegrate. Our volunteers visit people who are very isolated and it feels wrong that we would stop working with people when this lockdown ends”.
Claire talks about ways in which volunteers, where appropriate, have been offering socially distanced walks with some of their referrals – helping people build confidence when re-entering community spaces. Claire said:
“Because we have a large hall on the ground floor of the building, it’s a real asset for us to be able to offer socially distanced spaces where people can come in and meet the team. We will look to work with other charities, offering signposting to organisations who can offer support.”
Once people have come to the building with their Community Care Volunteer, it’ll be a lot easier for them to gain access it in future. We would love to offer community courses, such as computer courses, cooking courses and anything else that community organisations or our local community itself might want to run. We want to work with partners to meet people’s need. We can broker people accessing the right services working with them and the right partners.”
Although the staff at Hunslet Involve are very busy, they would still like to hear from you or your organisation if you are interested in helping with future plans and partnerships. You can contact them at this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Volunteers can offer practical support for vulnerable people (such as shopping deliveries, preparing meals, making check-in phone calls) or can sign-up as an informal volunteer to help within their own neighbourhood in more general ways. The Leeds City Council helpline is available so that people in need of support can call 0113 378 1877 to be matched with a local volunteer who can help.
To find volunteering opportunities in Leeds, please visit https://doinggoodleeds.org.uk/i-want-to-volunteer/