Covid:19 Community Reponse: Learning Together

As we all work out how we can support our communities through Covid:19, I have decided to gather and capture what we’re doing, what we’re learning as we go. I’ve had calls from other communities who have seen our stuff online. They are asking where we’ve got to, how we’ve gone about things, and what we’re learning about how to make it work. So I thought I’d capture it, and share it so that people can focus on the bits they need, and I don’t forget where we’ve come from.

Of course, we’re only a day or so ahead other people, and we haven’t thought of everything. This situation requires us to work differently. There isn’t time for lengthy deliberations or procrastination. It’s a case of start somewhere, follow it where it takes us and set it up in ways that it can grow, adapt and change to meet the changing demands.

So, I’m going to embrace the concept of working out loud, and write an online diary, gathering our experience and the experiences of others as we work it out together.

We are learning from all the places we talk to, and there is a risk in sharing this, that people think we have it all sorted. WE DON’T! There will be gaps. Please help us to fill them.

Friday 13th March

Saw the fantastic ‘post a card through the door’ idea on The Great Get Together facebook group. The cogs started turning….


Sent a message to two ‘spark plug people’ in the village, to see what they thought…

Why these two?

  • Because they are the people who I knew could help me to make this happen, and quickly!
  • They care.
  • Their values are without question.
  • They have the capacity to look beyond the needs of themselves and their families.
  • They ‘get it’- the need, that is.
  • They are trusted and connected across generations in the community.
  • They have large and wide circles of influence.
  • They are ‘doers’ aswell as thinkers.

Spark Plug People

Of course. They replied within minutes.

Yes, they were up for helping. Said we’d all have a think and speak the next day.

Saturday 14th March

6 hours walking/running across 21 miles of the beautiful Peak District with two friends. At least 50% of our conversations circled back to Covid-19.

Lots of time to think.

By the time I got home, there were numerous examples of cards like the one above, on twitter from around the country. It was time to move. Some snippets of the conversation below:

I offered to put the word out for potential helpers on my personal facebook page first, as they are people I know well and trust.

This facebook post was Saturday at 4pm.

First FB

Sunday 15 March

11 am, 10 people in my kitchen. Two of whom I’d never met before. Parish Council, Community Association volunteers, friends and people with knowledge and experience in emergency planning. Men, women, and a bit of sense checking along the way from my teenagers.

Before they came, I had pulled together the draft wording for a poster, and some outline ideas based on what I’d seen going on elsewhere on twitter… and from my facebook post the previous day, we already had 25 people volunteering.

The Conversation

We explored what we’d seen elsewhere, but in the context of this place, our people, our tried and tested ways of communicating as a community, and some of the methods, strategies and approaches each of us have used in our work.

We talked about:

  • Finding helpers (didn’t feel like this would be a problem for us given the response we’d had on my facebook post already)
  • Identifying and mitigating against risks to the public who need help, and the people offering help (didn’t feel nice to explore what might go wrong before we’d even started, or to imagine the worst in people, but this conversation was vital). We didn’t cover it all or have all the answers, but got far enough to get started, with a commitment to get advice and keep adding to our risk assessment all the time.
  • Setting up communications in ways that would allow it to grow with the need. We discussed all kinds of apps and methods, and listened to the advice I’d received on twitter about how different people need to access comms. We decided in the end on a landline number, a dedicated mobile phone number, a dedicated email address and facebook messenger on our Community Association page.
  • Working out how to deal with money, and what to do when people don’t have any.
  • A really valuable piece of learning was from local authority emergency planning: Gold, Silver, Bronze. We decided on a very small Gold group to begin with, to keep communication simple. Decided we could grow this over time if needed. Silver group of volunteers comms in closed facebook group and via direct email. Bronze – the whole community- open comms on facebook page.

Notes of the meeting below…

Notes of Meeting 15 March


Talked through the various scenarios, safeguards, risk mitigation etc and came up with a plan. Actions outline below:

Principles by which we organise ourselves:

  • To connect to, support and not seek to replace existing services.
  • To mobilise the community because organisations like CVS, MP’s office etc might not be able to deal with growing demand.

Print and post fliers to every household, give to pharmacist and Thornbrook surgery. Ask them what else would help.

Comms routes for requests of help

Email: – XXXX, XXXX and XXXXX to have log in. XXXX to set up.

XXXXX to set up folders for actioned requests, so it’s tidy, organised and clear what has been dealt with. Phone number- can be forwarded to multiples – buy a sim card.

Landline phone number forwards already to XXXXX (Community Association number).

Mobile phone number– mobile phone to be looked after on a rota, initially for a week at a time. ‘Gold’ Network to start off with (XXX, XXXX, XXXXX)

Community Association Facebook Page – people can message the page and it will be picked up in the usual way.

Internal Comms

Closed facebook group for supporters and helpers- admins X5 (Gold Group).

Private, invisible group. Only for those closely involved and trusted. No sharing of people’s private information on the group or on any page.

Note: Not for political comment. It’s a support organising group, not a chat group. Let’s keep it to essential organising information and only listen to expert advice to guide our operations. Non party political.

Ways of working

Gold Network will always ask these questions, so that the person can come up with a more sustainable long term plan:

  1. Do you have a relative, friend or a neighbour who can help?
  2. Is it possible for you to order online? (unlikely as current delivery slots are weeks away)
  3. Order online click and collect? (unlikely as don’t do click and collect in Whaley/Chapel yet)
  4. We’ll do it for you

Guidance for helpers (please add to this, ask questions, offer things we haven’t thought of)

  • Follow current Public Health England hygiene advice
  • Wear plastic gloves
  • Tell someone where you are going and tell someone when you come back
  • Recommend that you do things in pairs
  • Check the money on the doorstep not when you get home
  • Don’t go into people’s houses
  • Volunteers showing symptoms, please don’t volunteer- but follow current advice

(note- this advice to volunteers has kept being updated. Let me know if you want a current copy)

Risk Mitigation

The situation and advice is changing all the time, so this will continue to be updated. Here’s what we have thought through so far. Please ask questions, offer ideas and solutions as different perspectives are helpful.


  1. Contamination between helpers and those who request: Gloves to pick up money. Leave groceries etc on doorstep. Maintain 2m distance.
  2. Helper is showing signs of illness: withdraw from being a helper immediately.
  3. People use it as an opportunity to abuse those at risk: ensure that trusted community members and leaders involved. Check for ‘references’ from more than one source. Advise people to work in twos to reduce risk of accusations of poor practice or abuse.
  4. People don’t have cash or we decide handling cash is too risky: Option to buy a card reader, offer BACS payments and payment by cheque.
  5. People don’t pay up for their groceries: No future shopping done. Ensure helper isn’t out of pocket. Set up a float (Parish Council/Community Association)
  6. People ask for help who don’t need it or could get help elsewhere: First response should be to enquire if there is a friend, family member or neighbour who can help.

We knew at this point that we had only just begun to explore everything that will be involved in organising this help scheme, but it was enough to start.

  • We sent the draft flier to our designer friend at Design Everything.
  • Someone went to Tesco and bought a SIM card as they navigated the bog roll aisle!
  • Someone (very busy) stopped what they were doing and set up an email address.
  • Wrote up the notes and a document with all the names, phone numbers and offers of help that had come in already.
  • Set up the private/closed facebook group for the ‘silver network’ and explained where we had got to and what we needed next.
  • We printed off lists of all the streets, divided the community up into manageable hand delivery groups and allocated streets to people, according to what they were offering to do.

By 10 pm, we had a flier ready to share on facebook and send off to print.


Monday 16th March

The world sped up. Everything went a bit crazy at work, as we made the decision to cancel key events and by the end of the day, to send all staff to work from home for the foreseeable future. With a live webinar and a TV interview in between. I didn’t get to speak to the Gold network all day, and caught up on the train home.

The dream team (Gold) had worked like a well oiled machine. Fliers were printed and messages sent out. People from the wider community (bronze comms) started delivering the fliers within a couple of hours.

By the time I got off the train at 7pm and went to the Parish Room, the last piles of fliers were being collected for delivery.



Wednesday 18th March, 10.30 pm.

We have had conversations with three other communities who are on the same journey as us, so I’ve decided to write about it, then I can just share the link. Can keep updating it with our learning along the way. Spent last night writing this.

What have we been doing in the last two days?

  • Taken our first requests for help- shopping and advice about how to cope when off work, self employed and no income.
  • Developing more guidance for volunteers.
  • Set up a float.
  • Set up cheque and online payments options.
  • Offer of help from Post Office and other local businesses.
  • Got a wider network of organisations to signpost to- Citizen’s Advice, High Peak CVS etc.
  • Got support from our ex MP, now County Councillor to support individuals who are struggling financially.
  • Gathering advice from elsewhere to move us along further. Covid Mutual Aid site is building and developing good advice and guidance.
  • Working out how and when to grow the ‘Gold’ network beyond 5 in case any of us get ill.
  • I have had a flier delivered through my door.
  • So has my friend, with a puppy… discovered they’re not puppy proof!

Learning So Far

  • Working out the best balance between our formal organisations, their assurance and processes and the agility, adaptability of the social/community network.
  • Helping people to get familiar with tech tools they haven’t used before- shared google docs, for example.
  • Keeping track of all the different forms of communication that are needed to make it inclusive. We have assigned one person to each -email, facebook messages, phones.
  • Bringing some order, whilst keeping it light touch for volunteers and their time.
    • We now have a log and record of interactions, requests for support and action taken.
    • Guidance for volunteers.
    • Procedures around money, receipts and recording
  • Responding to emerging needs, eg the local cafes, pubs and shops reinventing their services- promoting them and shining a light on the support they are offering to people too.


  • Amazing strength in diversity of people, skills, capacity and perspectives.
  • Use of social media to grow the network. We’re currently at 80+ helpers.
  • Support of the Parish Council, Community Association, Councillors, High Peak CVS, Citizen’s Advice, and other voluntary organisations in time, advice, money and support. It is vital that we don’t try to be everything to everyone.
  • Ability to grow and adapt… eg the schools will be off next week, there could be new needs.
  • Use the network of existing support, and support it as it comes under increased pressure.

Where next?

Who knows?! It’s a tense and anxious time. Schools are now closing, the NHS redeploying their teams.

In amongst all of this, my 84 year old father in law has been taken into hospital and is awaiting surgery. We need the NHS to operate well in this crisis.

If we can play our part in our communities, we will provide a web of support underneath our people and places, and hopefully reduce some of the pressure on public services, social care, primary care and our hospitals. We all need to do our bit.

What I do know is that we are more ready than we were 5 days ago and we have an amazing bunch of people ready to help. There’s a lot of learning for us in these slides below and we are seeing this already. These are from Helen Bevan’s presentation at a conference on building community power that I went to last Thursday. I’ve thought about her speech a lot this week. And it has helped!

I will keep updating this diary if I can, if it’s useful.

Happy to answer questions about things I have forgotten, and really keen to hear about others’ learning too. What haven’t we thought of yet?

Why informal InfluencesSpecial MeasuresConnected

Update: Friday 20 March

We have extended our offer to key workers:

Key Workers

We have had done some shopping, got meter top up cards, helped connect someone to advice on loss of earnings. We have over 80 volunteers and growing all the time.

We’ve been promoting the delivery services of our local pubs and takeaways.

We have a financial procedure, guidance for volunteers and other documents which we can share.

We have been sharing information on keeping mentally and physically well, and information from local authority and other key organisations.

Members of the organising group have become adept with new technology; video conferencing, google docs and more. Other groups around the country are talking about various tech solutions and apps, but we’re keeping it simple. It’s working as we’re a small community.

We’ve had offers of help from people who can offer vital services if and when things get tough, such as electrician who has offered to waive his call out fee for anyone struggling, 24 hours a day.

Update Tuesday 24 March

Requests are growing now that we have more restrictions in place and people at high risk have been told to stay at home.

New things in place and shared:

  • Updated guidance for volunteers – happy to share. Will keep updating it.
  • ID badges for people so that they can get more shopping- been organised in next town hall. Trying to get 10 or so people to get these.

Sunday 29 March

It’s been a busy week. Finally getting time to sit and update this.

Last Tuesday my father in law became very poorly. The whole family came together at the hospital, and since then we have been self isolating as spending time in the hospital could bring greater risk to shop workers and members of the public that we come close to. We also have my two nieces staying with us, and my husband spent most of the week at the hospital. I’ve been there most of the weekend.

So, we have become a recipient of our community help service, as I keep away from supermarkets and other public places.

What have we learnt this week?

My personal learning has been about the amazing care, kindness, compassion of the nurses and other NHS staff during a worrying and stressful time for them. It feels somewhat like the calm before the storm here, as the hospital is quiet, calm, car park empty and the roads completely deserted as people thankfully heed the advice and instructions to stay at home. Visiting at the hospital is restricted as far as it can be.

I have also learnt the value of someone doing a simple thing like getting your food for you, and how that can take a small part of the stress away when the world is falling in around you.

Our Community Help Service has become busier when the partial lockdown came into effect on Monday night. That said, a lot of people are simply helping their neighbours and friends, so the demand on the help service isn’t too great here. As someone said earlier in the week, we have a great sense of community and people know each other here, so people are naturally helping each other.

More people are self isolating for a variety of reasons. Looking back through our messages, these are the key things that have happened this week from the group’s perspective.

  • Put everyone’s emails into a distribution list so all volunteers can be emailed in one go with one address.
  • Minor adjustments to the protocol- now includes checking that the volunteer has read the guidance.
  • Put 200 disposable gloves out for volunteers to collect a pair before they go shopping.
  • Parish Clerk moved from her office to her house, with help from another volunteer to get online.
  • Asked people to let us know in the morning if they’re planning to go shopping that day and have capacity to shop for someone else. This saves the ‘gold’ volunteer ringing around too many people. It also reduces the number of people going into the shop.
  • We were asked by a TV production company to help them make a programme about over 70’s who are self isolating. We’re taking some time to work out how to do this safely, and if it feels appropriate to ask.
  • High Peak CVS set up a useful information page with advice for groups.
  • Online portal set up to get ID badges from Chapel en le Frith.
  • Got some lovely feedback from people that have read this blog or talked on the phone and found it useful.
  • A friend and colleague Andrea Kemp shared her reflections and learning from Crich.
  • A friend and colleague, Eve Holt shared her reflections in a podcast on Bridging the local community and local state.
  • Some good sharing of learning and challenges online and in the Covid-19 Mutual Aid facebook group. It’s really important to think about what to do at what spatial level. Our Parish is the natural geography to organise ourselves in. In cities, the challenge is how to keep communications, planning and organising clear and as simple as possible so that people don’t get overwhelmed as individuals.  This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.
  • I’m hearing of egos and politics getting a bit in the way of good collaboration in some parts of the country. What a shame. Time to put those to one side and recognise when we might be becoming part of the problem.

And finally, when I asked for some reflections from the ‘Gold’ group for this update, Phil shared a lovely thought:

“At a time when it is thought that there is a lot of ‘me, me, me’, it is so heartwarming that people are opening up to help others. Not just our volunteers but just talking to people, you find out that although not part of the group, they have taken on calling others to make sure they are ok and if they need help. May be hope for the human race yet!”


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