Case Study 4 - Launching the Community Response Team in response to COVID-19

Outcomes met:

  • A high quality of life in Letchworth for all residents.

  • Isolation in Letchworth is reduced, particularly for older people.

Alastair Stewart, Head of Grants, Communities and Partnerships

During 2019-2020, the COVID-19 virus spread globally and caused countries to lockdown to protect their populations.

In March 2020, the government introduced strict measures to reduce the spread of the virus.  The advice was clear – people had to stay at home and were only permitted to go outside for exercise or to pick up food and medical supplies. Those most vulnerable to the virus and those who had symptoms were told to stay indoors and isolate from others, including family and friends.

Life as we knew changed overnight and many people in our town became isolated and lonely. Businesses closed their doors, jobs were lost, and many incomes reduced.

Community Response Team

In a matter of days, the Foundation, local charities and organisations, as well as the local council, came together to create a network of help for the community. The vision was to bring together groups in Letchworth that were able to help during the crisis to mobilise and work together for the town. Together with a working partnership, the Foundation created a response phone line for the public to get in contact for medical supply pick-up, food deliveries and other help. And so, the Community Response Team (CRT) was launched.

People could ring or email the CRT directly with queries and requests for help. Our team was able to assist with the request or pass to a working partner such as Citizens Advice North Hertfordshire, First Garden Cities Homes or North Herts District Council.

Due to the severity of the emergency, this service and working group was up and running within days thanks to the huge cross-community collaboration.

Letchworth has a strong tradition of volunteering and local interest in charities, so we felt that it was advantageous to the residents to bring groups together and assist people where needed. We wanted to help those experiencing food poverty and other troubles and find out who was already receiving support so we could assist these people to find something more sustainable.

As the pandemic spread, some well-established groups and charities had to shut their doors to protect the community’s health. For example, due to social distancing measures the Food Bank introduced a voucher system funded by monetary donations by the public and local organisations. However, the partnership supported The Salvation Army to expand its food relief programme, distribute Operation Shield Parcels, provide a shop unit for the Best Before Café to run a delivery service and kept partners aware of levels of demand across the town.

The work

Formed from volunteers and redeployed staff from the Foundation and the community, the team not only helped people gain access to supplies but also referred people to local befriending services to help service users with feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Thousands of hours were dedicated to the response line to help those in need. At the same time, the working partnership across the town created a safety net for more specific issues such as financial advice and access to mental health services.

Many ongoing issues came to light during the pandemic as some found their entire lives turned upside down due to job losses, lost money due to cancelled plans, and bereavement.

Future plans

The services delivered by the CRT and partners has been passed across to charities and groups who are best placed to offer continued support to those who will still need help as the impact of COVID-19 continues.  We now have a model in place that could be resurrected if needed, and we know that the appetite for solutions-focused collaborations across our town is strong.

We will continue our work with the network of charities and organisations in Letchworth that we established relationships with. These partnerships will help improve the lives of many vulnerable residents in Letchworth and meet the ever changing circumstances arising from the pandemic.