Starting at street level, in parishes and towns, the social infrastructure and relationships built by 1ND enabled rapid community-led volunteer support to build on its established relationships and extend support to those affected by COVID-19.
The social prescribing managers, link workers and community builders that know their communities best have been central to coordinating the effort. To support them these local teams are offered tools – like a template workplan – and opportunities to connect at a daily operations meeting with 1ND. A process for cascading cases up and across the district – including if local volunteers cannot be found – aims to ensure that no one in North Devon needing support during the COVID-19 crisis is missed.
The seven communities that comprise 1ND now have a combined volunteer workforce of more than 1,000 people carrying out essential tasks. By July 2020, more than 2,000 requests for help have been answered, including 600 shopping deliveries, 940 prescription deliveries, 300 befriending check-in calls and 160 other acts of kindness such as dog walking and letter posting.
Lessons learnt include:
A sustainable staffing model
1ND employed a System Support Coordinator, funded by the Devon Integrated Care System, for a five-month period to cover the initial COVID-19 response. The post covers the whole 1ND patch with the purpose of developing greater understanding of the needs and gaps in different areas.
A more resilient system of volunteering
To plan for scenarios in which demand rapidly escalates due to a local outbreak, the System Support Coordinator explores solutions with other local partners including businesses to see if they would be willing to fill gaps, such as supporting community shops that face running out of supplies or shopping for large numbers of newly isolating members of the community.
Identifying vulnerabilities and people in ongoing need of support
There are also concerns about people falling through the gaps where communities are not aware of their needs. Working to try and identify people that may not already be known to 1ND, potentially with a high level of need, is a key priority going forward.
Sharing with others
One Ilfracombe continues to be supported by the Institute for Social Prescribing and, together with the South West Academic Health Science Network (SW AHSN), they are sharing information about how social prescribing has helped support the community response to COVID-19. SW AHSN also helped with spread methodologies, supporting the scaling from One Ilfracombe and into other parts of the county.
Strong social infrastructure
The project has a strong social infrastructure stemming from work previously done that focused first and foremost on building relationships across and within the community. Taking a bottom-up approach and being confident in their community relationships and knowledge enables the project to respond quickly to a fast moving situation, rather than needing to wait for offers of county-wide, regional or national support.