The remarkable way Leeds communities and the third sector have come together - Chris Hollins, Voluntary Action Leeds chairperson
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As we look back on a year which many would rather forget, there are triumphs to be celebrated and lessons to be learned, writes Mr Hollins.
The people and communities of Leeds have stepped up to the unprecedented challenge to their health, their livelihoods – and have proved to be the heroes they are.
The way communities and the third sector in Leeds have come together in response to the coronavirus has been remarkable, and a testament to the strength and impact of the voluntary sector in Leeds.
The rapid response of organisations, like Voluntary Action Leeds (VAL), working in partnership, has enabled people to support one another and take positive action at a local level, across the whole of Leeds, to deliver essential services and invaluable support throughout this time of crisis, and for the people who were most at need.
VAL in partnership with Leeds City Council, worked with well-established organisations, built on existing relationships and forged new ones to establish 27 Community Care Hubs across all wards of Leeds.
Working with and through community groups, with individuals on the ground being best placed to listen to and understand the needs of the people they support. In turn, this enables VAL and the third sector to do what it does best in responding quickly and flexibly to meet the demand and make the best use of limited resources.
The Hubs have empowered groups in Leeds to have their say on how they take care of vulnerable people in their area and spend their allocated resource.
Fantastic, vital interventions have taken place during the pandemic, including befriending calls, fish and chips deliveries, shopping and prescription deliveries and dog walking, all with selflessness and a smile.
Though the true impact of a volunteering effort of this scale may never be fully understood, staggering figures collected over just one week in May showed that 6,750 people were being supported by the Community Care Hubs, 1,620 volunteers were actively supporting people, 885 food parcels and hot meals were prepared, 595 food shopping deliveries took place and 1,227 welfare and befriending calls were made.
In September, VAL dedicated our AGM to the Community Care Volunteers to thank everyone involved for their outstanding contribution to the city and their community. We produced a heart-warming video showcasing, celebrating, and listening to the people involved, and sharing their experiences.
Using the hashtag #TogetherLeeds - created by Third Sector Leeds in 2019 with the aim of celebrating all of the brilliant things happening in Leeds which bring people together - we continue to carry that message of positivity and community spirit to this day.
Cooperation, collaboration, neighbourliness and partnership working have been highlighted as key to effective action, and the empowerment of communities.
Nurturing existing and building new relationships must continue well into the future if we are to continue to support one another and the third sector.
What we must not do, as this crisis moves to the next stage, and a new year, is lose the strength and togetherness of the sector. Our readiness to adapt and respond to the next challenge is crucial to the third sector’s sustainability in the years to come.
Recent surveys, carried out by the MoVE partnership, highlight how significantly many voluntary and charity organisations have been affected by Covid and there is a real danger that many will not be able to continue to operate past March 2021.
This poses a risk not only to the strength of the sector, but to the people of Leeds in being able to access support they desperately need in order to fill gaps in areas such as health and social care, wellbeing and support services for specific demographic groups, for example; young people, refugees, women, and diverse communities.
Ongoing support of the third sector will be vital going forward, as the fallout from covid continues to have devastating effects on people’s lives and livelihoods, both in terms of funding and engagement.
People can continue to support us by being part of our membership, getting actively involved with their communities and VAL’s projects of work, lending their voice and influence to create lasting equality, and secure a safe future for all the people of Leeds to thrive.
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