Agenda item

SK Community Hub (The Hub)

Report summarising local community response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and what has been learned so far.

Minutes:

The Cabinet Member for Communities thanked all members and officers who worked in the community Hub, conducting befriending calls and offering their support to residents during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Cabinet Member went on the discuss how the Hub was created in an extremely narrow timeframe and how the Hub looked to mainstream and build on the success of the Hub as staff began to transition back to their substantive roles.

 

The Community Engagement and Policy Development Officer informed the committee that the Hub was created due to initial confusion as to which authority would provide direct support to residents. Seventeen SKDC staff volunteers, all without any background in this new type of support, had worked in the Hub. The Hub worked closely with the Lincolnshire Resilience Forum as this was the organization tasked by central government to provide support to residents. From 21 March 2020 communications were sent out to local community groups, organisations and individuals to gather volunteers to assist residents during lockdown. This resulted in the Hub having coverage of 29 wards within the district, with the remaining ward covered by volunteers working within that area separately from the Hub.

 

By 18 June 2020, the Hub had received 2,000 calls and had worked with groups such as BHive and Evergreen to coordinate the volunteer response to these calls. There were many advantages of working with local groups, such as the ability to respond quickly to shopping requests which could, if required be repaid on invoice to residents at a later date and the use of experienced local coordinators. All groups registered with the Lincolnshire Resilience Forum were able to make use of Lincolnshire County Council indemnity insurance. This covered both the group and the individuals volunteering within the group.

 

Members heard that as restrictions eased the pressures on the Hub would be reduced but there was a need to build on the excellent work of the Hub and create a legacy. The committee heard that ongoing cover for the Hub would continue to be provided by staff who remained unable to return to their substantive roles due to ongoing restrictions. There was also a need to remain vigilant in case of a second wave of the virus. Members were informed that should such a wave occur the Hub was positioned to quickly respond.  Members heard that there was a need to transition incoming calls into the existing Customer Services team and the council’s out-of-hours offer.

 

The committee heard that volunteer groups that had worked with the council during Covid-19 could now start to return to their business-as-usual work, transition to other purposes, or disband. The Hub would support groups that decided to transition to other purposes post Covid-19. To this purpose the work of the Hub in creating a list of volunteer groups had given the council a great opportunity to engage further with voluntary and community groups in future. The Community Engagement and Policy Development Officer told the committee of a planned community forum which would be key to developing an ecosystem of connected organisations and community groups that could partner together, learn and cooperate with each other.

 

The Chair and members thanked officers of the council. Members were amazed at the community’s positive response to the crisis. Concern was raised regarding the closure of community rooms within Council properties, particularly in one facility where the Post Office operated out of the community room. Such closures may leave vulnerable residents unable to access key Post Office counter services such as local banking. The Assistant Chief Executive informed the committee that there had been no reports of residents being unable to access food or services due to being unable to withdraw cash, and that if any specific issues arose, the Hub would be able to help any resident facing difficulty by utilizing the facility set up for such instances with Evergreen Care Trust and BHive.

 

Members discussed the difficulties around helping socially isolated residents during the pandemic and that many residents would lack the technical ability to access virtual meetings. Members asked what support could be provided to these individuals and were told that BHive and Evergreen would take over in the transition responsibility for offering the befriending service to these individuals. Once it was safe to do so, there would be a need to help transition the isolated back into in-person social interactions. It was noted that social isolation and loneliness could be more prevalent now than before lockdown, with those previously unaffected finding themselves more isolated.

 

Members were informed that plans continued to develop a ‘chat café’ in Grantham. The idea for the chat café had originally been developed as a support mechanism for residents whose first language was not English.  The council was working with a local faith group to develop this proposal further to incorporate the needs of people experiencing isolation and loneliness and to promote mental wellbeing in communities.

 

Some residents would continue to need assistance from the Hub even as restrictions eased, and there was a need to identify those in need and develop systems of working going forward. Members were concerned for those residents who lacked technical knowledge, and there was a discussion of the work of community groups who aimed to increase this knowledge and confidence. The Cabinet Member for Communities spoke about the intelligence that had been gathered by the Hub during Covid-19 and spoke of the opportunities that this presented to the committee to guide and support the community going forward. She asked the committee to approve the recommendations within the report to allow staff to transition to their primary roles and to gather more intelligence from committee members that would help shape the Council’s work going forward.

 

ACTIONS

 

Members of the committee to participate in a workshop to explore future working with the voluntary and community sector.

 

That Cabinet approves the transition of the inbound call handling element of the SK Community Hub to the Customer Service Centre.

Supporting documents: