The view from: Gloucester City Homes
Over the last few weeks, we’ve been speaking with numerous housing associations about their response to the Covid-19 crisis. We wanted to share some of their experiences, so will be starting a blog series called, The view from. The seventh in the series comes from Mandi Holt, Community Investment Team Leader, Gloucester City Homes, who are based in Gloucester.
We’re fortunate that we had existing strong relationships with numerous partners across the city when the crisis began. The thing about Gloucester is that it is laid out like a hub and spoke, with each area encircling the city centre. Even the bus services only go out in one direction, so if you want to visit someone across the city, you always have to take two buses.
One consequence of this is that areas are very distinct and can be quite isolated as a result. Before the crisis began, we already had a unique set of partners in each area. Our first response was to convene as many partner meetings as we could to see what they were able to offer and how we could best help. Each area responded and came up with different plans and we then provided support as appropriate to each area.
Some areas are very rich with community organisations and voluntary organisations and were able to respond quickly. It quickly became apparent, however, that a couple of areas had less cover on the ground, and it was difficult to know where support would come from if we didn’t step in.
In some areas, we gave out grants to a variety of different organisations, so they could continue to deliver their services, whether for food packs for families, providing cooked meals or delivering craft kits.
In one area where there was no support available we worked with a community organisation to set up a foodbank from scratch. Using one of our empty offices we were able to open it up to provide a hub for volunteers to move in. We also gave them some funding and have been working together to deliver food parcels to the local residents.
Volunteering has also been a city-wide response. We put out a call for people to become street champions, which involves them putting leaflets through all the doors on their street offering support. The street champions then contact the local food referrer so they can coordinate deliveries. This scheme stops duplication and makes it a more personal service – in one area there are now 90 street champions, covering every street!
For the past month, all of our usual activities have been put on hold while we focus on immediate needs. We’ve been supported in this internally with our colleagues in housing. Now we can start thinking about our other community investment activities.
Before the lockdown, we were getting ready for our summer events, but these have all been cancelled. We’re now thinking about how we can relaunch some of them. For example, we usually have a gardening competition. We’re thinking about how we can do this differently by providing people with growing kits and hosting a competition to see who can grow the best salad crops.
We’re also continuing to support residents into employment, which is more challenging without face-to-face work. Now our work is through phone calls, identifying job opportunities in supermarkets and on farms, and then going back to people and asking them how we can support them to make applications.
That seems to be our new normal now: delivering our projects in different ways. Many residents seem to be embracing communicating in new and different ways but we must not forget the importance of continued work in the community and working with partners on the ground.