By Simon Sherbersky, Lead Officer
The last six months has seen a coming together on a level I have never experienced in 18 years of working in Torbay. I wanted to take this opportunity to celebrate the different elements of this. First, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit us, we saw huge numbers of people offering to help their neighbours with the 1st lockdown. Over 900 people responded to Cllr Jack Dart`s Help Hub Facebook page. We worked together with Jack and all those people were passed over to us on the community helpline. We referenced them all and matched people needing help with the closest person offering – a huge thank you to all those people who have helped and continue to do so! Jack also set up a website, so people could access information to help them and again we collaborated and put info on that website rather than setting up or using another one.
The community helpline was started by us here at TCDT, but soon after lots of others joined it and we built a whole range of supports to ensure people in need had what they needed, whether that was food parcels, emotional support, financial advice or pretty much anything people called up asking for, as long as it was possible. Again, a huge thank you to all the voluntary organisations, who are too many to mention, who have contributed to this and offered to much. But it didn’t stop there, Children’s Services at Torbay Council were planning to set up an early help phoneline, but when they saw ours, they asked if they could join in and that is what happened, with Children’s Services providing staff to help take the calls. But it was not just them, our NHS Hospital trust also fielded people to help with the calls and the health system provided some resources to enable us to expand the supports too!
One of the biggest demands was in relation to food – remember what it was like in April, limited food on the supermarket shelves, massive queues at pharmacies and food retailers, but more importantly a quadrupling of demand for food banks and cooked meals and with support from us and the NHS the Foodbank Alliance brought together 12 existing organisations into collaboration. But the problem was supply, none of the existing supply chains could supply the level of items needed, so we reached out to local businesses and Richardson Hotels came up trumps and provided the supply we needed, so that people could get the essential food supplies they needed. This was further supported by a range of residents and businesses pledging funds to help buy the food through a Crowdfunder campaign.
So now we have residents, voluntary and community groups, public agencies and local businesses all working together to support us all through the challenges of a pandemic!
Long may it continue and to date it has with unprecedented collaboration across a whole range of individuals, groups and organisations, which has enabled us to secure additional funding to maintain it all. Special thanks to the National Lottery Community Fund, Torbay Council, Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, police and Crime Commissioner and Devon Community Foundation amongst others for resourcing all of this fantastic collaboration. It has been an absolute pleasure to be part of this coming together on a scale we only dreamed of before.