Trust calls on local public and voluntary sector to continue to work together as winter approaches

September 30, 2020

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With a second wave of COVID-19 likely to hit during the winter months, the Carnegie UK Trust is urging local authorities to step up their offer to vulnerable citizens now and learn from the successful deployment of community support hubs earlier this year.

The report Pooling Together contains four descriptive case studies of community hubs that began at the start of the emergency phase of COVID-19 (March 2020) and continued operating until at least August 2020. The case studies were North Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, Scarborough and Lancaster City.  The case studies explore this learning as a contribution to planning future pandemic responses, the recovery phase and contributing to the ongoing reform of public services.

Additional research by the Trust shows that 60 per cent local authorities currently have recognisable community support hubs in operation. Community support hubs started to form just prior to lockdown in March. They bring public services and volunteers together under one roof (physically or digitally), offering a rapid, grass-roots response designed to reach people most acutely affected by the pandemic. Common services include helplines, food parcels, tackling loneliness and financial support. The Trust’s research found that this was highly effective in meeting the needs of vulnerable people during the emergency phase of lockdown.

Sarah Davidson, CEO of The Carnegie UK Trust, said: “The most vulnerable in our society have felt the harshest impact of the coronavirus pandemic. But while people were staying apart, services for vulnerable people were coming together in a way not seen before. These community hubs threw the usual public sector rulebook out of the window in order to get the job done – and we must take heed of this as authorities plan for the next phase of the virus.”

The Trust has reviewed the impact of four of the successful community support hubs. It found that many had to handle thousands of enquiries, mostly seeking food and medical supplies, in the initial weeks after lockdown. Hubs then had to pivot their response to meet the changing needs of communities, often focusing on mental health. It praises the “key” role volunteers played in helping vulnerable people to overcome deprivation, hardship and mental health problems. The case studies found:

  • The shared challenge and scale of the need galvanised local authorities, other public services and voluntary sector organisations to come together quickly, in some cases in a matter of days.
  • Community hubs were an important, instant emergency response that reached into communities, and built positive relationships between services and citizens.
  • Previously cited barriers to cooperation such as budgets and targets were dropped to ‘get the job done’.

Sarah Davidson added: “Volunteers, charities and public services have been working hand-in-hand for the benefit of communities in many parts of the UK. Community support hubs have been the grass roots success story of the pandemic, but we are concerned that they are not currently up and running in enough local authorities as we go into winter.”

The Trust’s report has also highlighted an urgent need for multi-agency structures such as community support hubs to receive more funding to ensure their survival.

Sarah Davidson commented: “By working across sectors, community hubs can be the vehicle through which resilient communities are supported and a preventative approach can be taken to poverty, mental health, and financial hardship. We would encourage all local authorities to set up formal community support hubs in response to the enduring nature of this pandemic. However, if more funding is not channelled towards these community hubs, we fear many more lives will be lost as an indirect result of the pandemic. Once again, it will be the most vulnerable in society who will suffer most from this.”