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Community groups working together at Wells-next-the-Sea

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The COVID-19 lockdown in in March triggered a fast and effective response from key community groups in and around the Wells area.  

A swift response

Greg Hewitt, Clerk of Wells Town Council, explains: “It was town councillor Roger Arguile who mooted the idea, and we quickly convened an ‘early doors’ meeting at which Wells Maltings, Heritage House (day care centre for frail and elderly in the area), Wells Churches Together, Wells Community Hospital, and the Holkham Estate came together to devise a co-ordinated action plan to address the needs of the vulnerable residents of Wells-next-the-Sea and communities further afield.”

On 25th March, little more than a week after the national lockdown began, Wells Community Hub launched as a seven-day-a-week service providing telephone befriending, collection and delivery of essential items – especially prescriptions and medications – and delivery of hot meals.

The word ‘hub’ is apt - centralised co-ordination was needed and The Town Council hosted the operation from the beginning. Greg, his wife, and Town Councillor Roger Arguile comprised the team standing by the telephone to receive requests for help, along with offers of help from more than one hundred volunteers offering their time and skills.

Getting the word out

Leaflets were printed and distributed within 48 hours to every household in the town and surrounding area. Professional printing services being unavailable due to self-isolation, Sarah Phillips, editor of The Quay Magazine, printed 2,000 leaflets on her own home printer, and the Wells Carnival Committee turned out in force to deliver them. The Quay’s distribution area extends to the wider NR23 community including Binham, Walsingham and Holkham – it’s worth reading their back issues available online here to get a real sense of how the community has come together and supported those in need..

Hosting and organising the Hub

The Maltings Arts Centre was originally willing to host the hub in but sadly this proved problematic as the staff were not able – because of lockdown – to open the building for use.

“Many local shops and business stepped up to help by delivering groceries” added Greg. “which left medical deliveries as the main reason for home visits.”

Help extended to straightforward but essential talks such as explaining the remote control on someone’s television, and a telephone apparently with no volume - communication with the outside world is important when someone is isolated in their home.

Twenty calls a day for four months with three people was quite an achievement, and fortunately the rate of calls for help tailed off a little eventually. At the end of July the Town Council handed over co-ordination responsibility to Wells Community Hospital under the direction of Sam Taylor, general manager, and her successor Sarah.

“It was quite easy to organise” says Greg modestly, who has lived in the community for many years and served as a police officer before becoming Town Clerk “Council business ground to a halt but we worked seven days a week for a while, dropping Sundays later and scaling down to fewer hours.

“Simplicity was the key. We found the volunteers and matched them to the need. A small nucleus of coordination, with no egos, was what was needed, and taking managed risks to get the job done. And many individuals have carried on in their own capacity – a lady in Warham for example ended up undertaking all the deliveries in the village, and some people have struck up friendships on a one-to-one basis that would not have happened otherwise, and will endure.”

Read more about the pivotal role played by voluntary and community organisations across Norfolk at our Norfolk VCSE Covid-19 Story page.