A Year In Lockdown
23/03/2021 (Engage Post )
23rd March marks a year since the first COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were put in place across the UK. It has been an incredibly tough year for our sector, and one that we know will have ramifications for years to come. We were initially unsure how to mark the day, it will be a strange time for many, but as we traditionally use this time of year to develop our plans for the subsequent one we invited our teams to consider the accomplishments of the past year. Elements of work that surprised us, the changes we have seen and, crucially, what we have learnt.
Our first two responses from Stuart and Jacqueline highlighted how digital had allowed us to continue and indeed expand our services.
The way we thought was “the only way to work” has, in the past year or so, been turned on its head. One benefit for me has been the chance to showcase so many different sources of funding to our members. We have been able to arrange funding spotlight sessions, where funding officers based around the UK, who would normally not be able to travel to Renfrewshire, we now can meet and chat with and nobody has to leave their own living room. Some examples being The Tudor Trust, Gannochy Trust and Corra Foundation.
The biggest achievement in this year for the Engage Finance team has been able to run the financial services remotely, and introduce our paperless system. Despite not being in the office we have still managed to maintain an audit proof system, and introduce new ways to communicate with our clients.
Furlough was also new to everyone, and we managed to deal with all the unknowns and confusions around this, to support our clients. We also managed to take on new clients along the way!
For Iain and Karen the wins of lockdown were in the reinvigorated working of existing groups and the banding together of communities that triumphed even under the strictest lockdown restrictions.
2020 was strange in that while it kept us apart, in many ways it also brought people together. I saw this through the emergency response of groups and organisations particularly around food provision, health delivery, and the prevention of isolation and loneliness.
For me, the HSCP Strategic Planning Group continued to build on strong foundations to make 2020 one of its best yet. Through listening and honest conversations, we achieved a cross-sector equality that had never quite been reached before. We came together and openly discussed challenges and how we could be more effective. We joined forces to develop new ideas and find new ways of working. We communicated respectfully and with kindness, because everyone appreciated the huge pressures that each other were under.
There’s undoubtedly some major challenges ahead in terms of health delivery, but I am optimistic that the shared experience of 2020 has brought us significantly closer, helped us to understand one another better, and therefore made us more likely to collaboratively create a stronger crisis recovery within Renfrewshire HSCP.
Throughout 2020 I supported volunteers from Erskine, Bishopton & Inchinnan (EBI Unites), both from the public and private sector businesses. Since the first lockdown they have been coming together to run food banks, as well as providing food and prescription delivery services to those who need it most.
As part of their food distribution efforts they are working with local supermarkets to intercept food that would normally go to landfill. I supported EBI Unites by providing access to a national third sector agency, Senscot and their ‘P4P Initiative’ to look at the proposal of establishing a memorandum of understanding between all parties concerned, therefore establishing guidelines to ensure all parties know what is expected of them as well as highlighting transparent and effective collaborative partnerships.
It has been an inspiring project to watch develop.
Our final two responses are from the newest members to Engage, Gozie and Alice, who joined the team in April 2020 and November 2019 respectively. Their wins were the new connections made and the commitment seen from the membership to continue their work.
Starting my new role as the New Buddies Network Officer for Engage Renfrewshire was not the start to a new job I’d ever experienced. By my start date on April 6th the office was closed and my community engagement with Renfrewshire’s ethnic minority groups was suddenly administered from the kitchen.
It was obvious that engagement was going to have to target immediate issues – food drops, digital upskilling, emergency funding etc – and that collaboration was going to be key. I was enthusiastic to get stuck in with local groups like Pachedu, Kairos and The Zoe Parish who were collaborating and counting on the support from my role to identify small pots of emergency funding so they could keep services ticking over and providing ethnic food parcels for those most in need.
While this pandemic has challenged many there has been celebration and I was honoured to be involved in the planning group for Black History Month 2020, working with local artists to create a month of celebrating culture, music and storytelling. It felt like we still had ways to bridge the gaps social distancing forced on us all. And what a joy to see the collaboration between Renfrewshire Leisure and local ethnic minority groups grow in a range of heritage projects during 2021 – Devolving Restitution, Robertson’s factory Golliwog marketing and the re-design of Paisley Museum. I’ve identified groups to work on these projects and find it heartening to know local ethnic minority people are more involved in reflecting on Renfrewshire’s diversity.
When we left the office on the 19th March I had been in post for just three months. In the weeks before the lockdown started we held the first Volunteer Managers’ Forum with nearly 30 attendees sandwiched in to the Glencoats room, went to meetings all across Renfrewshire, and even attended SCVO’s The Gathering conference at the SEC Glagow, all of which quickly became unimaginable and even now feel a little strange to contemplate.
Despite lockdown however, I never felt truly disconnected from those activities. Our Volunteer Managers’ Forum went digital and we have held bi-monthly sessions ever since with great attendance and enthusiasm from managers and coordinators. My calendar remained busy with meetings of groups from across the authority area and country, the only difference was I was Zooming around online and not in my car.
In 2020 I met and worked with some incredible individuals, from volunteers who immediately picked up extra shifts to support food and medicine distribution efforts, and the volunteer managers who had to learn, adapt and ultimately completely relearn their idea of community engagement, to the partners who embraced volunteering and volunteers in a monumental way. I remain positive about the new vigour with which volunteering is seen and inspired by the self-empowerment seen by communities that actively support one another.