Sunflowers in Sprowston - supporting the community during COVID-19 and beyond

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We are regularly reporting on the wonderful achievements of Good Neighbour Schemes and community support groups – many of which have been born in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  CAN’s Development Officers have been advising and supporting many of these enterprises. Such a group is Sprowston Supporting Our Community Together, which has joined our Good Neighbour Scheme network. Their chosen title describes exactly what they do.

Retired teacher Carol Pennycook didn’t hesitate when COVID-19 arrived. She saw a need in the very early days of the pandemic back in early March, and set about organising a concerted support effort in her community – Sprowston, the most populous civil parish in Broadland district, with a population of nearly 15,000.

Carol approached local civic bodies and businesses, looking for support and donations, gathered a ready and willing bunch of volunteers and got the group up and running. One of the early tasks was to make residents aware of the services on offer – Sprowston Runners – forty of them – hurtled around the area delivering 8,000 leaflets. Broadland District Council provided hand sanitisers and gloves, and also pays mileage expenses for the volunteers; Sprowston Parish Council is co-ordinating the handling of monies, and organised a central phone number for local residents to call for help and support.  That number is staffed by twenty volunteers in rotation and messages can be left out-of-hours.

“’Sprowston - Supporting our community together’ is the title we democratically chose as our name” explains Carol. “We were born out of the pandemic, but we grew as a community and fledged from Sprowston.”

The group has set up a lending library of DVDs and books, all quarantined for several days to prevent infection. They’ve also manufactured and supplied protective masks to local schools and surgeries and, at minimal cost of just £1 each, to local residents.  Clarion Housing helped with a grant and Sprowston Supporting Our Community Together also has a food hub based at the parish church, ST Cuthbert’s. Finance is important, as the food hub alone costs £150 a week to maintain.

Carol and her team have been recognised at Broadland District Council’s COVID-19 Community Heroes Awards and many other groups and organisations are now ‘on board’ with the community effort across Sprowston.

In light of a spate of burglaries across Sprowston in recent times, the group maintains strict protection procedures for vulnerable residents, especially the elderly, and for the volunteers.

“Our phone befrienders are often in the same ‘boat’ themselves” said Carol “and the one-to-one connections have led to ongoing friendships. One lady’s story is especially moving. She had effectively been trapped in her home for 12 years, with visits from different carers who she was never able to get to know. And with the pandemic  she lost her shopping time slot. Then she read the leaflet that dropped through her door. Now she has made a new friend for now and for the future. For her, ironically, COVID-19 has been a blessing in disguise.”

And the group was able to organise, in the space of one week, a garden makeover for woman whose husband had been rushed to hospital with a terminal illness, prior to his return home for palliative care.

Volunteer numbers topped 150 at one stage, and have now levelled off at around 85 as people return to work, but there is a will and passion to carry on a permanent basis. Many young people have stepped forward too – in particular, Carol has provided references for  three unemployed young people who worked hard in the group and have now moved on to formal employment.

And the sunflowers?  Historically, sunflowers symbolize happiness, loyalty and longevity and optimism. SSOCT have been giving away sunflower seeds around the area, there’s even a family walking trail to follow around the streets and byways. It’s brightening up people’s lives.

If your neigbourhood support group needs advice on legal issues, safeguarding or volunteer management, call CAN for advice - 01362 698216 - or email [email protected].   You can read more about our Good Neighbour Scheme network here.