How are communities coming together during COVID-19?

Maria from Healthwatch Stockport explains how they have worked with their community to help people get support and stay connected during the coronavirus pandemic.
Elderly woman on phone

When the pandemic started, Healthwatch Stockport realised there was an immediate need for someone to coordinate local volunteers to support people who needed help. We spoke to Chief Officer Maria, to find out what they did and the impact it’s had. 

We became a delivery service

“We were aware that Age UK Stockport and other local charities would be flooded with calls from people needing help. We also knew local people would want to help where they could. As support and resources for our local voluntary sector is limited, we offered to coordinate a volunteer database for other organisations during the COVID-19 outbreak. In addition, we set up a central point for local organisations and services to update information on changes to health and care so people in the area could stay informed.

"As the local council’s coronavirus helpline wasn’t available yet, Age UK Stockport and others were directing all volunteers our way. For example, people were calling for help with things like shopping and collecting their medication. As there was nothing else set up, our small team of two realised we would need to start doing the deliveries ourselves!

Building a community response

“As well as collecting essential items, we began to build a connection with local mutual aid groups. This meant we could pass over some of the practical elements of help to them, while building an idea of what support was available to people in Stockport.

"At the same time, the local council set up its coronavirus helpline and we began to work with them to coordinate people offering to help. We now have a list of over 300 people who want to volunteer. As well as the council, we worked with our local Clinical Commissioning Group to organise our volunteers to deliver medication and have continued to work with our food banks to make sure people can get emergency food parcels.

"We’ve also been working together with local charities, led by Public Health and Mind, to put together useful advice and information about mental health support in Stockport.”

I remember at the end of the first week, we had a phone call at 5pm from a mum of two small children, who had run out of nappies and couldn’t get out to get any. We didn’t know if anyone else would be able to help her so went to get the nappies and also delivered some emergency food parcels we picked up from the local food bank at the same time.

Keeping people connected

"Two volunteers who at first came to us for information and advice turned out to be a couple of our volunteer heroes - Pam and Maria. We put them in touch with a 94 year old woman called June, whose daughter felt she would benefit from a couple of calls from a friendly volunteer. They have since been having three way conversations. It then turned out that all three of them had been part of the same local group and had a mutual friend Dorothy. Dorothy and June had lost touch nearly 20 years ago, but have now been able to reconnect thanks to Pam and Maria. They are now talking again on a weekly basis!

“When we first started coordinating volunteers, we were overwhelmed with calls for support. I did stop to wonder what exactly what we had taken on, but stories like this make it worthwhile.”

What next?

“We are continuing to think of new ways volunteers can support their local community. For example, we are now working with Stockport Advocacy and are setting up a pen pal service for people with learning disabilities and we are exploring different creative ways people can use to stay in touch during this time. This is something we hope can continue beyond the coronavirus pandemic.”

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