Community buildings are at the heart of many communities – providing a hub for social activities, classes and services such as post offices, doctors’ surgeries and shops.
Community buildings closed to the public in March, with activities cancelled and most paid staff furloughed. Some continued to function as a community hub, distributing meals and collecting prescriptions.
For example, Portchester Community Association started a “meals on wheels” service. Meals are freshly cooked each day, and delivered (along with a craftwork made by the children at the pre-school) to shielding local residents.
Once lockdown started to ease, community buildings were raring to get back to work. However, many were unsure about when they could re-start activities, what they could re-start, and how to handle the practicalities. For example, pre-schools were allowed to re-open, but community buildings were forbidden by law to re-open. So what about pre-schools within community buildings?
Action Hampshire is a member of ACRE (the national body supporting rural communities), and as such has access to national expertise, policy, and templates. We disseminated this information to all the community buildings we serve. We also have a very vibrant online messaging board, with a huge amount of activity daily. Some questions could be answered in this way, but many community buildings wanted more in-depth guidance and reassurance.
So our Community Buildings Adviser Kevin Sawers convened a video conference on 28th May via Zoom. 90 participants joined the conference, which provided a summary of guidance at the time, a Q&A, and an opportunity for participants to discuss with peers their concerns and ideas regarding the way forward. Feedback received after this session included:
The next round of lockdown relaxation caused even more consternation among community buildings. The guidance from government was unclear and at times contradictory. So Kevin swung into action again, disseminating a huge range of information through our website, newsletter and online message board. There were several iterations of guidance from government, which confused the picture further.
Kevin therefore convened another video conference on 25th June, which had 100 participants (Zoom’s capacity). Again, the guidance was discussed in detail, questions answered, concerns assuaged, and ideas shared.
The video conferences have given community buildings the confidence and knowledge that they need in order to open safely. Without our expert support, some community buildings would have run unsafely, and some would have been too nervous to open at all. Our support has also enabled them to know what they need to know, and build a strong and supportive peer network, so that community buildings can continue to support each other via Basecamp or other methods.
We have vast amounts of positive feedback for the support that our Community Buildings Adviser has provided over the lockdown period. He has been run ragged! This is just a tiny snapshot of the work that he has been doing, and continues to do, to help community buildings regroup and continue to support their communities.
We intend to make much more use of video conferencing in the future, alongside face-to-face training, briefing and networking events. Video conferencing removes the need for travel to a central location, thereby increasing accessibility and reducing environmental impacts. A year ago, we would have had a mutiny on our hands if we’d tried to deliver support remotely, but it all seems pretty do-able now!