the shape of the emergency

In an earlier post I wrote about the things we are doing in Farnham to respond to the coronavirus crisis. Here is an update one week on.

We are working closely with the Town Council, community groups, The Farnham Herald, residents associations, health authority, food bank, credit union and many more. What has very quickly become clear is that this isn’t going to be an emergency like a flood or fire. This is a slower, longer term set of challenges we face. At the moment, mostly, people are safe although anxiety levels are very, very high around what comes next.  There have been some local issues, such as Meals on Wheels and all their drivers being over 70, and on-line shopping slots not being available for weeks but we are finding solutions as we go.

In one week we have managed to set up a helpline with three dedicated lines, a new CRM system that is GDPR compliant and auditable (thanks Keith, a man I didn’t know one week ago) with a script for operators to use (thanks Steph) a leaflet which is being delivered to 35,ooo people next week to every single ward across the town and surrounding villages and we have had over 50 people call for help in the first two days. Mostly they have needed food supplies or prescriptions picking up.

What I have quickly come to understand is that there is very real need and anxiety in every street in this town.

I thought I would share some of the challenges and solutions we have found so far. Very happy for people to respond, suggest solutions or add their own thoughts….

Over the last week during the setting up of the helpline service we convened a daily Zoom call with what quickly turned into 30 plus community organisations including the local paper, the Farnham Herald, churches, facebook groups, resident associations, Town Council, emergency response team, the local MPs office and others. This has proved really useful in ensuring everyone feels part of one solution and that we don’t duplicate provision. The guiding principal is that services should be delivered at the most local level – mindful that some requests need to be escalated quickly to the County or health service emergency number. To make sure this wrks well we are constantly speaking to Waverley Borough Council emergency response team who are in turn keeping us up to date with the national plan. We have remained resolute in wanting to provide a town wide service that coordinates the endeavours of others, by street or neighbourhood: firstly because people are more likely to trust someone very close by (and less likely to take advantage) and secondly because these relationships might outlive the current crisis.

One early question in the script is ‘do you have family near by or neighbours who already help you’ and about a third have said yes. In these cases we have encouraged the caller to continue to use their existing networks unless that becomes unavailable or a problem. It’s clear that some people thought they had to use this service because it was available….

We have, through the local authority,  been checking against the electoral role each volunteer – although to date we have had sufficient DBS cleared volunteers – as one way of verifying that people are who they say they are. Given the general level of anxiety these steps have felt important to mitigate peoples concerns.

We have had challenges with how we pay for shopping securely. Supermarkets won’t let us let customers pay on the phone and, obviously, we don’t know what the cost of a particular list will be until we get to the checkout and we are reluctant to use cash. The best solution we have found so far is to work with a social care provider ‘Right at Home’ who already shop for their clients using a system of direct debits with an upfront deposit. They have volunteered their services and the town council has agreed to underwrite the deposit, any bad debts or non-payers if they arise. (none have)

Meals on Wheels have a bank of volunteer drivers who are DBS checked but they are all over 70. A local taxi firm has agreed to do the deliveries on a ‘per trip’ basis. (all the taxi drivers have up to date DBS certificates)

One group of callers have been people living in other parts of the country who have elderly parents living in Farnham for whom they have been doing on-line shopping – sometimes for years. We have had three today from Bournmouth, Salisbury and York. The challenge is that there are now no delivery slots and in all these cases the elders are very isolated and not well connected to their neighbours. In all three instances they have been couples rather than single people so perhaps relying on each other for their social contact. Here it feel like there are two challenges. Firstly sorting the shopping which we can do but secondly finding ways of better connecting to the local community which will take longer.

Having the ex-head of the ambulance service as part of the initial shaping group has been useful in developing safe guarding protocols and a set of questions to protect volunteers when interacting with others. We can share these

Having the local MP office in the Zoom meeting has been useful – they were very keen to join – to offer them a bottom up view on how people are responding, what local solutions are emerging and feeding back to government where they think they can influence. For example encouraging the post office to speed up the delivery of leaflets.

One thing we have become increasingly clear about is that we should run this as a free service – even though people are offering donations. Because charity shops are mostly shut and fund raising activates have ground to a halt, we want to leave space for them to raise the funds they need so, when offered, are suggesting they make a donation to the local food bank because….

….food banks are struggling for three reasons. Food donations are down, many essential items are out of stock and lots of collection points – like the ones in churches – are now closed. We are exploring with catering suppliers if there is a deal to be done with them as they aren’t supplying restaurants and we are looking for new drop off points.

The group that originally shaped this initiative is now starting to talk about the longer term, how we ensure people don’t feel socially isolated, how churches are adapting to run their services, having dealt with each callers initial need we are currently writing some guidelines for volunteers to follow up with a social call – especially to those who are on their own. we will also share other peoples solutions like organising quiz nights via Zoom, etc. It’s early days but I have no doubt the ingenuity of people will triumph.


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