Caring, kind, connected: a local response to a global pandemic

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Fiona Lees says Covid 19 may be a global pandemic but it’s impact and the response, is found in our local communities 

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26th June 2020 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

Every day I hear stories, both heartwarming and heartbreaking, of hope, kindness, courage and compassion and I have been humbled and inspired by the way our teams and our communities have worked together in joint endeavour. These are the stories we will hold onto: we will treasure them and learn from them as we work with our communities to recover and to renew. 

When our council set its budget in March, which now seems a lifetime ago, we made some provisions for Covid 19 and like every other organisation, we were turning to our business continuity plans. But instinctively, we knew that our starting place was with our communities. 

Fiona Lees

Fiona Lees

But this is also a time for renewal. We have all had to re-assess what’s important to us and the services and support that are vital to our communities

By the time lockdown was announced, our community resilience groups were up and running, over 400 volunteers had already registered to help, our third sector partners were alongside us and our business community were making vehicles, equipment and residential property available. 

We conducted a full employee survey – done in 48 hours – to identify and protect those colleagues who had underlying medical conditions, those who could work from home and those who could undertake new duties as we moved to mission critical services. 

Now as I reflect upon those early days, I believe three factors were vital to us being able to respond so quickly.

First up, the strength of the relationships we have with our communities. Working with rather than for communities, our Vibrant Communities approach is all about empowerment, focusing on local strengths and talents, on early intervention and prevention and on supporting community led action. Every community has its hopes and dreams and nearly all of ours, have turned these into plans for the future. We have transferred over 50 assets to our local communities, many run their own services: they have been at the heart of our response. 

Next up, the strengths we have in our teams. A total coincidence but at the point of lockdown, we had just completed a council-wide engagement on the qualities and behaviours we value and promote and in the weeks to come, those FACE qualities – Flexible, Approachable, Caring and Empowered – would never be more evident, nor would they be more needed. 

And finally we benefited from the strength of our partnerships. You move at the speed of trust and we were able to move quickly, knowing that our partners were right beside us. 

So what has this meant for our communities? 

Food insecurity has been a major issue, reflecting the economic impact Covid 19 has had. Since Lockdown we have cooked over 250,000 meals for pick-up and delivery, we are supporting foodbanks and 12 community larders. 

We have recruited and supported 1,300 volunteers and they along with 100 community resilience groups, are helping to care for people in their community and keep them safe. This includes many of the 5,000 people who are shielding, many of whom we didn’t previously know about: now that we do, we’ll keep them close. 

As lockdown started many of our schools moved to provide childcare for key workers. Moving forward, we will want to build on this as we re-design our children’s services and develop schools as wellbeing hubs. 

We built a new telephony system for the council in 72 hours with call-handlers working from home. We re-designed business grants, paid them out quickly and talked to over 1,000 local companies who hadn’t applied to see how we could help. Together with partners, we brought together wellbeing messages and local supports, recognising the need for people to take care and to be kind to themselves. We rapidly redesigned our public protection services, building on our partnerships with the third sector, knowing that for some, home may not be a safe place. 

Now as we start to move through the phases out of lockdown, we do so with care and caution, but also with a level of optimism around the route map through and out of the crisis.  

It now feels like all of us know someone who has died from Covid or of someone who has lost a loved one. This has impacted on all of our lives and we will need time to recover. Many will need the time and space to heal and we will want to help people do that and to have the opportunity to tell their stories. 

But this is also a time for renewal. We have all had to re-assess what’s important to us and the services and support that are vital to our communities. We will want to hold onto and nurture the kindness and compassion we have seen and experienced. Equally we will want to invest in those services that are key to the social and economic health of our communities. 

In turn, that means we will need to stop doing the things that have not worked for us or those we no longer consider essential. And we need to do all of this whilst still living with Covid 19, for some time to come. These conversations have already started in East Ayrshire. 

So this is not a race back to normal. This is a time for change. Those we serve and those who serve us, all expect that. They should receive no less. 

Fiona Lees is chief executive of East Ayrshire Council