|21 Sep 2021|
|Written by Kiana Noble|
ToucanTech's Community Comment series provides a view of how community management is evolving, from a range of experts around the world.
What are some services you offer your community?
We offer a plethora of free or very low cost activities & facilities for our community, from a packed full after-school programme for 8-13yr olds (Police cadets, drama, chess, martial arts & football etc), a Youth club for 13-19yr olds (information & guidance, employment advice, sports, cooking & trips etc) an environmental project to improve mental health & wellbeing within our Horticulture Hub & 4 acre community parks, our Ageactivity 60+ project to improve older people’s physical & mental dexterity and tackling loneliness & isolation head on with a multitude of positive classes, clubs and trips out for members to enjoy and benefit from. We also have an LGBTIQ+ community hub for the local community to meet socially away from pubs & clubs providing a safe & welcoming space. And our newest offer since June 2020 we have an emergency foodbank helping those directly affected by the COVID pandemic, once a week we provide healthy food parcels (fruit & veg, pasta, rice, tinned goods, cereals etc) and also recipe cards to encourage those to cook healthy meals with the goods given. We have fed over 1200 people during this time, and also referred over 40 people onto setting up their own food coop’s. We have also helped many people get advice and guidance around benefits, housing and employment so that they stop using our foodbank. We also provide advice and guidance, giving the community a voice against local planning/licensing applications that will affect their homes, businesses and wellbeing. Plus we have two not-for-profit (social enterprises) businesses: a nursery and a floodlit astroturf sports pitch that help the community with childcare and physical fitness. 100% of the profits from these businesses help to sustain the charity.
The past year
How has your community responded to the unique challenges that we have faced during the global pandemic? What do you think the biggest challenges have been for the community you interact with?
The biggest challenges have been those that lost their jobs, loved ones who were possibly the breadwinners in the household and not being able to see loved ones, families and friends. Children being homeschooled without the right equipment to do so and parents not having the skills or time to help them through this, and older people who live alone and are medically vulnerable. Also the language barrier for some of our local community to get the help they required during this time caused issues too.
As regulations have limited many kinds of in-person community engagement, have you seen community members band together online, for support or other purposes?
Yes, we use an app called Nextdoor which set up a local volunteer network where local people would offer their help and time to pick up shopping, medical goods and anything else that the local vulnerable needed. We also noticed many mutual aid groups set up quickly to help local people particularly in the first lock down.
What impact are you aware of on the ultimate causes behind the communities you are in contact with - have people, campaigns, or goals been put at risk, or suffered as a result?
Yes, we know that domestic abuse (towards men, women & LGBTIQ+ community) has increased and also children's learning has been affected by not being in school. Homeless people were seriously affected (we work in partnership with The Outside Project - LGBTIQ+ homelesseness project), and older people were at the highest risk of infection and sadly death before the vaccine was available. All of these issues combined have had a huge impact on our local communities mental & physical health.
Both our businesses were affected as they had to close, this had an impact on our core funding stream so we had to furlough three members of staff during this period. Which caused more work for me and the rest of the staff who still worked during this time.
On the other hand, do you have any examples of success stories or anecdotes about positive outcomes that have emerged from operating differently during the COVID era?
Due to the pandemic Castlehaven had to change its services extremely quickly, once we had closed our facilities. We were agile and able to work from home pretty much immediately. Our older people’s project called all their 300+ members - those most vulnerable were contacted first. They asked set amount of detailed questions asking whether they needed extra support or deliveries of food/medicines etc and referred them onto specific services that could help. They continued these calls throughout the lockdowns. They set up 12 weekly exercise & cultural classes on zoom, also trained older people in how to use this online platform. They provided two weekly email newsletters packed full with stuff to do whilst at home and links to many online events that they could attend. They also regularly sent those that were not online fun packs with things to do and information booklets on how to stay safe and incontact with people. The feedback has been phenomenal, many people said that we kept them going and also that without us they would have not known what to do.
Four environmental volunteers and 1 PT member of staff, worked extremely hard to make sure our parks were clean and fit for purpose, as so many people were using our parks during this time for their daily exercise. They put up signage to inform people of restrictions, cleaned bins, cut grass and made sure that litter was picked up quickly.
The volunteers have reported back that coming along to help saved their mental health, one said that without having this daily task to do during lockdown he would have thought about taking his own life due to suffering from depression.
We started a foodbank, which we never thought we would ever have had to do. This has been a huge success and our foodbank has also been recognised as a model of good practice by national charity The Felix project. We have also raised a significant amount of funding through an online campaign for our foodbank too, which was a great positive for us to continue this highly regarded and important service for our local community.
We are more agile and now are working towards a hybrid way of working. We have introduced blended classes where some older people can come into our facilities safely and do their class and others can still do the same class online with the help of technology. We also hold a majority of meetings online still so that more people attend instead of physically in our building too. This seems to still work well too.
The biggest positive is that we have reach many more local people than before the pandemic and have helped them in many ways to improve their current situations.
The here and now
What is the atmosphere like at the moment within the networks you work with - would you say there is a positive undercurrent and signs of optimism, or are people experiencing fatigue with the limitations that we are dealing with across the world?
The atmosphere varies. There are some organisations that are exhausted and really need a break, and have been seriously affected by the pandemic - financially etc. And others that are extremely optimistic and looking into new projects, ways of working and also re-evaluating what now works and what doesn’t within their organisations and businesses due to the last 17 months.
I also think that the VCS has shone throughout the pandemic and shown that we are here to help those in most need when statutory (government) services aren’t. We were there to pick up the pieces when the services were closed, people couldn’t get food or support. We helped those without homes, mental health needs and also crisis recovery too. So I think for our sector the pandemic proved to society & government that we are worth investing in and taken seriously.
Are you seeing any marked change in how networks have started to reinstate in-person engagement practices in recent months, or during periods where restrictions are lifted?
Yes, as soon as we could open our doors we did. Many local organisations have done the same. This is not only for the local communities benefit but also our staff, volunteers and tutors too, as we have been employed to do face-to-face work and engagement with people, when this is taken away it is very difficult for our staff & volunteers to deal with. As I am sure many of the organisations we are affiliated with would agree.
Are you aware of any communities that are thriving, and whose fundraising efforts have pivoted or even been facilitated by an increase in online engagement?
Those that deal in mental health advice and guidance (MIND) have increased in demand and also domestic abuse charities and organisations too. In regards to communities thriving, Organisations such as Black Lives Matter and prevention of Hate Crime organisations have increased in demand during this period too. I think Mutual Aid groups thrived during the lockdowns and some have now disbanded as the need has dwindled.
Have you spoken to any contacts recently who have taken the opportunity to change their ways of working, are employing new tactics or trialling alternative techniques?
Yes, I have. One community centre changed their emergency foodbank model and are now doing meal bags, cleaning bags and breakfast bags. A bit like Gusto or Hello Fresh model. This is so families can cook together and enjoy a meal instead of receiving a bag of varied items that most foodbanks give. I have been asked how we do our blended classes by another community group who said that they would like to do this. We are also in the process of changing our foodbank model to a pantry to reduce the amount of items we give, as numbers are currently decreasing. We are also rewriting our business plan and looking at ways to become more efficient and know exactly what our community needs and wants us to provide. So that we can continue to help those most in need.
In the future
Whilst it’s tricky to predict, do you foresee any long-lasting outcomes for fundraising and community engagement operations or initiatives that your community would welcome?
In regards to this our aspirations are to possibly set up two more social enterprises so that we are sustained to continue the work that we provide for the local community. However running businesses and charities together is a real challenge, which we are very well rehearsed in. Due to the increase in competition in being awarded funding and the specifics that funders now require or demand is possibly taking our projects in new directions and away from what the local community need and require and what we are skilled to do here at Castlehaven. We also are looking at other areas to seek funding such as local NHS CCG’s to continue our work in improving local health outcomes, whilst working with local GP’s and social prescribers in providing inclusive and engaging activities for their patients.
Tricia Richards is CEO of Castlehaven Community Association, an organisation located in Camden Town that provides a variety of community activities & opportunities for people of all ages, cultures, abilities & backgrounds. People can support Castlehaven by donating their time, money or spreading the word via word of mouth or on their social media channels. When Tricia isn’t working, you can find her hanging out with her two girls or gardening.
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