“Thanks for still being there for me.”
As we read through the stories of local responses to Coronavirus this one stood out. Said by a young person who is being supported by The Junction, it was the shortest and simplest, but summed up the fact that in the toughest of times, local organisations have found a way to adapt, focus on people in need and make people feel heard and looked after.
Behind any quote like this are thousands of people, hundreds of hours of work, new tech systems rapidly created, funding bids written, proposals created. We wanted to show how Edinburgh’s voluntary sector has collaborated to create new opportunities and meet the needs of the city’s most vulnerable. People Know How, The Junction, Health Opportunities Team, The Yard and Go Beyond gave us their insights.
1) Maintaining Connection: Children, Young People and Families Organisations
Overcoming the sheer scale of potential disconnection between people and support organisations has been a logistical triumph. We’ve seen many services have moved online or to phone support, 87% of organisations in Edinburgh who responded to the TSI Survey said they had moved support to online and phone-based approaches. This has required tech support, new kit, staff training and flexibility from beneficiaries.
Community support has been offered in new ways, such as People Know How’s online befriending and group support for young people. This provides a safe, supportive online environment where young people and their befrienders can talk, play games, learn and share stories in these uncertain times. People Know How have also adapted their Reconnect service, supporting adults into distance befriending and offering a friendly ear to someone who may feel isolated. Adapting these services meant recruiting over 100 new volunteers and supporting 240 new service users.
”It’s nice to have somebody who understands your situation regularly check up on you, it helps with feeling like you always have somebody to talk to throughout the week if you need it.”
A young person who is supported by the Junction.
Maintaining relationships with the young people who access support for their health and wellbeing was The Junction’s first priority at the beginning of lockdown. They did this through adapting services to offer one-to-one and counselling support on the phone and online. Once this was up and running, The Junction widened their support and launched a digital drop in for all young people aged 12-21 across Edinburgh.
Connections have also been maintained in innovative ways. Health Opportunities Team (HOT) have developed their e-working practice to ensure important services continue to be available. HOT has utilised social media to interact with young people through their ‘Feel Good’ programme, the organisation also offers one-to-one support for young people completing the ‘Turn Around’ programme and digital drop-in services for any young person aged 12-25.
When The Yard’s site closed in March, staff began creating online video content for the disabled children, young people and families who access their services. The online video content enabled sharing of ideas and supporting play at home during lockdown, the staff also recorded personalised video greetings to keep in touch with their members. Staff from The Yard say they have learned that they can successfully adapt and innovate to keep their community going strong while we all stay at home.
“He was really happy to see them and some big smiles throughout. Thanks for all the efforts when we can’t be with you in person.”
Feedback from a member of The Yard’s online videos for early years.
58% of respondents from Edinburgh-based organisations said they have seen improved collaboration during this period (TSI Survey). For many, barriers have been broken, new connections have been made quickly and a willingness to ‘get it done’ has shone through.
Go Beyond is a community network that is responding with greater capacity to support vulnerable people in South West Edinburgh.
Bridie Ashrowan of Space & Broomhouse Hub, who initiated the GoBeyond Network, with support from Leah Black at Whale Arts and Craig Wilson at Big Hearts Community Trust, told us… told us that dilemmas arising from the coronavirus were not unique to certain organisations, in fact a range of organisations within the locality were facing similar challenges. In the first days, organisations were hearing worries about a lack of baby milk and began discussing the idea of a network to quickly and efficiently find solutions to issues like this. Go Beyond has three lead organisations: Space, WHALE Arts and Big Hearts Community Trust.
“The network has created a new sense of togetherness between many of us who exist to serve our communities. The chances of duplication and confusion has really reduced and in fact, true partnership working from beginning to end of the service design is hopefully an outcome we will see soon.”
Craig Wilson, General Manager, Big Hearts Community Trust
Go Beyond told us how they use Slack (an online communications tool) to connect as a locality in South West Edinburgh. This has meant 130 members, from small third sector groups and churches, through to social workers and members of the anchor Go Beyond staff can easily connect with each other. It allows the locality to have group discussions, private conversations and share information with each other easily and safely online. For five years the South West has had four local action groups meeting in areas of high poverty, and the Go Beyond Slack means they can connect quickly throughout the crisis. The South West Voluntary Sector Forum can now be backed up with an organic network of people who can connect with each other outside of quarterly meetings as needs arise.
Responses to the TSI Survey show that 54% of Edinburgh based organisations are concerned about their communities’ access to digital. People Know How have been running projects to combat digital exclusion for over five years, and due to the coronavirus outbreak this subject came into the spotlight more than ever, prompting the development of their computer delivery project. In collaboration with Venture Scotland, they are providing devices to those who need help staying connected. The project is now on track to deliver over 1,000 computers thanks to donations from organisations such as the University of Edinburgh, Taranata Group, Inverclyde Community Trust and the Good Things Foundation, as well as generous individuals from the community.
So many success stories have been about knowing who can help, collaborating and getting the local area response up and running with volunteers from neighbourhoods. This says a lot about what local insight means to communities – there aren’t blueprints for the ‘right way’ to do something and local nuances and connections are important to make something work well.
“Let’s not go back to normal. Things weren’t so good back then. We can join together with communities and the academic, business, public and third sectors to share knowledge, join resources and improve the wellbeing of communities. We have an opportunity now to reset the status quo.”
Glenn Liddall, People Know How
3) Future Thinking
Now we know what we can do, we want to embed it in our services but we also have to find new ways to make them sustainable. Many have put new ideas into practice, so innovation is possible.
For organisations such as The Yard, who mainly focus on delivering in-person services and support, they have shown great resilience and a willingness to find new ways of working.
The Junction has found that for some young people who struggle with talking, being able to communicate through writing has been helpful. In the future, it is important to offer blended services in order to widen access to support.
Similarly for HOT, the new ways of working are likely to be incorporated into standard services, to stay adaptable for schools and young people in the uncertain times ahead.
People Know How told us that after their experiences of supporting people through digital exclusion projects, the organisation is supporting a campaign for digital equity and published a research briefing considering the problem of digital exclusion and how it should be combated.
The take-home message for Go Beyond is that the voluntary sector needs to seize the chance to do things differently as COVID-19 has brought great hardship, with more to come. We need to be agile and we’re going to be needed.
If you have an inspiring story to share, contact Tessa Williams (firstname.lastname@example.org).
#SideBySideEdin is a campaign showing how Edinburgh’s charities work with Children, Young People & Families across the city.