"We are a town united" - how one community has responded to the Coronavirus

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At CAN we’ve seen the spectrum of community groups forming in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, seeking to help their vulnerable and isolated residents. We have, and are, helping many of them with safeguarding, insurance and legal advice and volunteer management, under the auspices of our existing Good Neighbour scheme network – you can find out more about that here

There are some inspiring examples of communities coming together during the Coronavirus pandemic, and one south Norfolk town has shown how it can be done. 

They didn’t hang about in Harleston. They were ahead of the game even before formal government directives were introduced. The town has a high density of older residents and forthcoming need was recognised early on. 

Harleston Kindness Help Hub began life as a Facebook group in March 2020 in response to the growing threat from Coronavirus. The idea was that it would be an information point for the community about COVID-19 developments from an early stage, with links to government, NHS, local councils, and World Health Organisation updates.  Then people began to use it to find or offer help to others and it quickly evolved, linking to other groups in the town and district. 

Local volunteers self-started to establish a safety net for vulnerable residents, maintain community activity, and engage with businesses and local councils. By 21st March, all corners of Harleston had received a volunteer card with a contact number for the volunteer assigned to their neighbourhood. 

Harleston Town Councillor Lizzy Pegg is at the centre of a hard-working team, each of whom brings their skills and enthusiasm to the Kindness Help Hub.  Good organisation has been the key from the start. 

The town is renowned for its collective spirit and co-operative community activity in support of social, economic and environmental wellbeing

said Lizzy. 

Harleston has a wonderful capacity to spontaneously react to need and opportunity, but these recent difficult times have revealed a depth of dedication of a totally different order. It helps that there are no egos, no arrogance, no hidden agendas. We all work well as one great big cohesive team.” 

Turning ideas into action required considerable effort and organisation, not least over the matter of volunteers’ safety, ensuring an adequate supply of personal protection equipment, attracting the funds necessary to run the scheme, and deploying IT skills to set up dependable communication systems. 

Harleston Ray of Sunshine, Harleston Future, Just Ask in Harleston & District, and Harleston Information Plus are just a few of the many local agencies and businesses who have pitched in to help. Redenhall with Harleston Town Council plays a key role in co-ordinating donations and handling the bank account.  

The Hub is organised as two teams. The Lanyard Volunteers help shielded and self-isolating residents with shopping, medications, post, dog walking and other deliveries; they’re easily identifiable - hence the name – and have been known to done some weird and wonderful fancy dress costumes to cheer up and entertain residents as they move about the town! Then there are the admin volunteers who monitor requests for assistance and ensure that no-one gets missed out. An online chat group and regular emails within the Hub keep volunteers in the loop and ensure requests for help get responded to quickly.  Currently, more than fifty people are being helped each day – quite an achievement. 

No-one is left wanting or waiting” 

said Lizzy.  

The Help Hub has reinforced the dense of unity in the town with special events and competitions. 150 Easter Eggs were distributed last month; on VE-Day Lanyard volunteers toured the streets in a flag-bedecked convoy, and such was the response that they did it all over again later that same day! 

This is joined up community working at its best, and Harleston’s army of volunteers continues to support the people of the town during these unprecedented times - and afterwards. We are a town united” 

said Lizzy. 

Find out more at www.harlestons-kindness.org.  If you would like help starting or developing your own COVID-19 community response group, CAN is here to help. Call us on 01362 698216 or email tracey.allan@communityactionnorfolk.org.uk.