By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead
IT is hard to think of the pandemic providing opportunities, but that is exactly what happened for key organisations across the Bay.
If nothing else, the lockdown gave people the opportunity to step back and to observe the effects of life slowing down – on individuals, on organisations, on companies and on the environment.
It also offered organisations and charities across the Bay an unprecedented opportunity to work together for the greater good of all and important lessons were learned.
Work is now continuing to ensure that those lessons are not lost as life returns to a new normal and relationships that have been forged through the crisis are taken forward.
Torbay Council has been quick to recognise the collective strength of working together and they will be exploring it further at their second annual community conference at the end of the month.
It has been documented at length in this column the way that charities across the Bay came together to staff the Torbay Community Coronavirus Helpline which launched a full week before lockdown started with a 12 hour a day, seven days a week service.
The Helpline was initially launched by Torbay Community Development Trust, Healthwatch Torbay, Age UK Torbay, Citizen’s Advice Torbay and Brixham Does Care though many other organisation have since joined to swell the ranks, providing staff, volunteers and expertise as the need has expanded.
It is still running on 01803 446022 and is evolving into a one stop call service that will allow people to reach out to one number to get answers to questions about services whether it be in the health, public services or charitable sector – one call, that’s all.
To date the helpline has taken more than 12,500 calls and has reached out to 4,000 people who have either needed help or have been offering help during the coronavirus crisis.
Torbay Council has seen the benefit and the flexibility of working with smaller, sometimes more agile groups who were able to adapt quickly to meet a changing landscape without having to follow sometime arduous due processes.
The Torbay Food Alliance was another excellent example of smaller groups working together alongside the council, Torbay and South Devon NHS Trust and Torbay Community Development Trust to ensure that no one in the Bay went hungry as jobs were lost and some people were no longer able to provide for themselves.
Twelve different foodbanks joined forces to provide nearly a quarter of a million meals and it continues to help around 400 people a week, no mean feat when large quantities of food were hard to come by.
The Food Alliance now represents 10 food banks as two organisations who were providing the service have returned to providing their more traditional community led services, but all are braced in case there is another surge in demand caused by the end of both furlough and the traditional tourist season.
Boundaries between all the sectors were blurred, but necessity meant that no one batted an eyelid and new cross sector relationships were forged which will now be built upon for the good of everyone in the Bay.
It would be easy to fall back to where we were, each in our own bunker fighting our own corner and battling against each other for elusive and restricted funding but that would be a step backwards and a failure to learn the lessons that have been presented.
During what was hopefully the worst of the pandemic we all worked together to relieve pressure on the emergency services of the NHS and that was incredibly successful.
But it went further and it meant that vulnerable people across the Bay were looked after ensuring that no-one was alone, no-one went hungry and essential back up was provided where necessary.
No one agency can claim all the plaudits, because none worked in isolation, on the contrary, they worked together, often alongside volunteers, and the beneficiaries were the residents of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham.
Torbay Council leader Steve Darling summed it up when talking about the upcoming Zoom conference: “It’s important that we reach across our community and, using the opportunities from the new ways of working which have emerged during the pandemic, engage with people in a different way.”
To book your space on the Torbay Community Virtual Conference on Wednesday September 30th from 5-7pm go to: http://orlo.uk/URQyu