Our Covid work with Good Neighbour Schemes & Mutual Aid

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Over the weekend of the 14th March 2020, we saw several hundred Norfolk communities create new Mutual Aid Groups in response to the pandemic's effect on their communities.

This was our community spirit at its best. A process of forming groups that would normally take several months was accelerated into days. People were coming forward to help, who had never volunteered before. Whatever the legacy of the practical support that was delivered, the simple truth is “you can’t un-meet your neighbour” and this is hugely positive for our communities.

It has been heartwarming to meet lovely local people but also an eye-opener to see the levels of need in some places

It is also another great example of the importance of strong community development work supporting grassroots activity. Alongside the admirable positive efforts of community volunteers, we sadly saw our first incident of a debit card being taken from an elderly resident on the Sunday, and had reports of people impersonating volunteers by the Tuesday.

In the early days of the pandemic, our Team offered help by answering questions and uncertainties on all sort of subjects like cash handling, volunteer training, and whether or not walking someone’s dog posed a health risk.

We published our first guidance specifically for new Mutual Aid Groups on the 16th March which would continue to be updated and expanded.

Drawing on our experience of working with Good Neighbour Schemes for over a decade, and our extensive national networks, we were able to help provide the best local solutions by drawing on the best practice available nationally.

We would also adapt our approach. In response to the speed of groups setting up and facing challenges with insurance, policies and banking, we created a new Good Neighbour Scheme Connect model (GNS Connect). GNS Connect Schemes operate under the Community Action Norfolk umbrella, benefiting from our insurance, policies, training and systems and serving as a platform for either their long-term model of delivery or a staging process as they develop into independent groups. A consistent part of our approach is not to dictate a model but to guide and support groups in achieving their aspirations and serve their community’s needs.

We established seven GNS Connect Schemes with 153 volunteers trained, screened for safeguarding, and supported, providing support to local residents. They would join the wider network of 19 Good Neighbour Schemes and a wide range of Mutual Aid and Good Neighbour Schemes at various stages of development.

We supported this network of organisations through specialist updates and catch-up sessions to help them share experiences and best practice as well as by our delivery of a training programme tailored to their needs. Training sessions included bereavement support, safeguarding, boundaries, managing volunteers, befriending, and mental health awareness, as well as regular volunteer induction training.

As we look to the future alongside understanding the needs of Schemes, we have gathered feedback directly from volunteers on what they are getting out of their volunteering experience and what they see as their future development needs. This will drive our future development programme.

Being there when needed for advice and support was the key piece of feedback we got from Schemes. However, during the pandemic we have worked flexibly to lend a hand on very practical things like acting as a host for funding. Our Team also assisted with DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) checking for a range of Schemes, providing practical support to maximise the numbers of volunteers who could be safely deployed and assist Schemes as we all made the transition to entirely online DBS process.

Our scheme is very professionally organised by people with great compassion and a thirst to serve

Community response has been the backbone of our efforts to fight the pandemic. Without it formal services would have been overwhelmed.

To help understand the demand being placed on Good Neighbour and Mutual Aid Schemes we began tracking both task and volunteer numbers. Our relationship with both new and existing groups provided a unique strategic insight.

Overnight, demand increased rapidly. Volunteering numbers would initially fall as many existing volunteers shielded and it took time to recruit and induct other volunteers. Whilst volunteer numbers would flatten demand is yet to reach its pre-covid levels. Based on this data we estimate that Good Neighbour and Mutual Aid Schemes across the county would respond to over 97,000 requests for support in the last year.

Good Neighbour and Mutual Support Demand & Volunteer Tracking Graph

In the summer, Community Action Norfolk led work on behalf of Norfolk County Council and the wider Community Resilience Cell, to understand the level of mutual support activity, the support needs of local groups and the capacity to respond to community needs.

We identified 172 groups that had broadly been established under the Mutual Aid banner and began contacting them. Of these, we established that 141 appeared to have operated in a form where they were undertaking practical tasks for neighbours through a structured process. As with all community activity some had never really started, others had completed what they set out to do and shutdown. Others were different types of group either providing emotional support online or a platform for neighbour-to-neighbour support without any formal process.

103 groups were identified as still operating in November. Each would have on average 23 volunteers providing an estimate of 2,394 volunteers supporting mutual aid across the county.

Whilst most now had a structure in place for undertaking tasks, the majority didn’t have systems for insurance, safeguarding and volunteer training.

Mutual Support Summary Information

We have been very grateful for the support of CAN

When we led a session on Developing and Sustaining Community Based Voluntary Action at our joint VCSE Conference in November, this was clear from the groups speaking. Established Schemes had robust systems and processes in place with newer Schemes still finding their feet and identifying what they wanted to do in the future.

Whatever their model of delivery going forward our Team will be here to support them.