Responding to the Coronavirus pandemic in the Rochford District
The faith sector in the Rochford District played a key role in responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
Rochford District Council (RDC) was asked to set up a community hub to be able to co-ordinate a response to the Coronavirus pandemic and to find a way to provide support to the community. A working group was set up by Cllr Mike Webb and Rev. Scott Williamson from the Megacentre, Rayleigh, which involved representatives from a number of different churches, RRAVS (our CVS) community groups and local Cllrs. This became our community hub.
Working together, we were able to set up a community helpline for the district. This was manned daily by nearly 100 vetted volunteers who worked a shift system from 9.00 AM- 5.00 PM, seven days a week, with 5 call handlers on shift at each time. They were supported by over 200 vetted volunteers, who then carried out jobs for those who called the helpline, for example buying food or getting medicines, or just offering someone to talk with. The helpline was advertised by a leaflet that was delivered by post to every household in the district. The helpline has taken over 800 calls and residents have been supported with over 4,000 minutes of conversation on the helpline. To ensure the service was set up and launched smoothly, we initially held daily team meetings which evolved into weekly steering group meetings.
As a hub we were also asked to contact our shielded CAT A residents and provide support. The Minister of Rayleigh Baptist coordinated a group of 20 senior ministers from the district who contacted these people, speaking with 300 in the first phase and 500 in the second.
The time scale was a significant challenge; the community was looking for a response and some local Facebook groups had already been set up to try and meet this need. Our hub was under pressure to get up and running, however due to the scale of the potential number of people needing help we needed enough volunteers to cope with potential demand and because they were working with vulnerable people they all needed to be vetted. The balance between speed and maintaining safety was a challenge.
In terms of recruiting volunteers it was the various church groups that helped these numbers of volunteers to be quickly found, with many of these already vetted from previous church / community work. The role and availability of the MegaCentre staff was key to getting out community hub running.
As a helpline over 800 calls were taken, and over 1,000 food parcels were delivered. Many people gave ongoing support to residents during lockdown. The Hub helpline continues to operate, and work is underway to see what other joint work can be carried out.
The work of the hub is being supported by RRAVS (who are managing the volunteers), the MegaCentre (who are running the helpline) and RDC.
The strong working partnership enabled us to meet changing needs and demands moving from a potential food delivery hub to a helpline instead. It was also important to keep volunteers engaged and feeling appreciated, with a mixture of emails, zoom meetings and a Facebook group set up to do this.
We opened several our meetings with prayer and certainly all of the initial meetings, recognising that many of those around the table were from a Christian faith background. This enabled Church leaders to feel that faith was part of these discussions and valued, not just an afterthought. In the same way, before the helpline launched, those that wanted to stay on the meeting were invited to do so to pray for the helpline. Again, this recognised the role of faith in the process and spoke in a language that faith leaders understood.