COVID-19 Community Response Impact

Hub & Helpline Impact

A partnership of Chelmsford City Council and Chelmsford CVS, Chelmsford Community Hub and Helpline launched on 29 March as part of the Essex Resilience Support effort and Welfare Service to help with food, prescriptions, pet and other essentials, with signposting to local charity services and making welfare calls and visits.

The community response to those isolated due to the pandemic has been incredible, especially at a very local level. As a charity that supports voluntary action, we received 100s of calls from people wanting to help or seeking guidance on how to set up a neighbourhood support group. We checked and signed up 176 amazing volunteers (100 in 4 days!) who began picking up requests for support from the Helpline. City council staff and council members rallied quickly with over 100 coming forward to help with emergency food delivery.

Within days of lockdown, people began to ‘self-mobilise’ and over 30 new volunteer groups were also ready to help their neighbours. Thousands of local people, in a co-ordinated effort, to help those isolated and vulnerable across Chelmsford, its villages and South Woodham Ferrers. Making scrubs for health and care workers, face coverings for charity workers, shopping and collecting prescriptions, checking in for a chat with those stuck at home and struggling, delivering meals, posting letters and more! Our heartfelt thanks and that of the community go to all. These numbers and stories are just some of those captured by our CVS Helpline.

Please note: These stats are to 20th July 2020.

Hub Volunteer Stories

This is Wendy.

Wendy has collected and delivered prescriptions during lockdown, working this around her daily walk or bike ride. “On VE day I delivered to an 88-year-old and I asked him how he was doing; he told me a wonderful story how he was at school when the news came through that the war in Europe had ended and the children were told to go home and hug their mothers.”

Wonderful work, Wendy.

This is Ashraf.

“I collected both of the medications from the pharmacy and dropped it off to
local residents. I had my St John’s Ambulance uniform on as I was going to Broomfield Hospital for an evening shift. Looking forward to the next job!”


This is Susie.

Susie works for local charity InterAct and in her spare time has been helping to match local volunteers with people needing help during lockdown. She says she is “regularly overwhelmed by the warmth and enthusiasm that volunteers show when undertaking a task.”

Super job, Susie!!

This is Caroline.

“I supported someone in Chelmer Court. She was so pleased to come down from her 3rd-floor apartment and talk to me at a distance outside the front door. She said she had walked along the corridor and felt as if she was the only person in the block even though 70 people live there. With the garden closed, everyone becomes very isolated in their flat, so having the prescription
delivered is much more than just getting what is needed – a chance to see someone face to face.”

Neighbourhood Support and Other Groups

Supporting local people through the Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t just about one agency or one service. The community response has been unprecedented, involving a cast of 1,000s across the city, charities and newly mobilised voluntary groups. Led by ward or parish councillors, by church or community leaders, by retired health workers these new groups include: ARU Medical Students – Chelmsford, Beaulieu and Channels & Springfield, St Mary’s Church Broomfield, Broomfield Parish Council, Boreham, Chignals, Chelmer Village, Chelmsford Neighbourhood Watch, Danbury Coronavirus Volunteer Group, East Hanningfield, Galleywood Good Neighbours Scheme, Good Easter Group, Gt Baddow Neighbourhood East, Gt Baddow Parish Council, Gt Leighs, Gt Waltham, Little Leighs, Little Baddow, Melbourne, Margaretting, Mousham Support Services (MLCT, St Luke’s Church, Tile Kiln Church), Pleshy Corona Virus Helpline Group, Rettendon, Sandon, South Hanningfield, South Woodham Ferrers Health & Social Care Group, SWF Town Council, Stock, West Hanningfield, Woodham Ferrers and Bicknacre, Writtle & Roxwell.

As restrictions lift we are still hearing about new activity but here is just some data and stories from neighbourhood coronavirus support groups (as at 15 July).

Danbury Coronavirus Volunteer Group

Danbury Coronavirus Volunteer Group mobilised within days and have their own FB page, website and over 154 volunteers on rota offering a range of support and local delivery services. Within days they had delivered leaflets offering help to 2,300 households. They have an office with two helplines and set up a Foodbank at Danbury Mission. Over 780 requested jobs (100 of these were in the first 2 weeks) a mix of prescriptions, shopping, masks and welfare calls. There is a lot of work being done with other agencies for social welfare issues and Danbury Sewing Bees have made over 4,000 masks.

“The response to our call to the community in Danbury to volunteer during the Covid19 pandemic has been overwhelming. In the midst of some very difficult and challenging times we are so proud of our neighbours. 152 lovely people on our register, helping in a variety of ways with compassion and good humour. Alongside this, the volunteers themselves have commented upon how rewarding it has been to them to get involved, and I am sure many lasting friendships have been made.” – Danbury Coronavirus Volunteer Group

GPs at Crouch Vale Medical Centre approached South Woodham Ferrers Health & Social Care Group to work with them and the pharmacists to deliver support in the town to shielding and isolating patients without local support networks of their own. By June the group had a dozen accredited volunteers responding to requests for help and have delivered over 1,700 contacts and tasks to date, about 90% prescription deliveries but also many others to improve the health and wellbeing of local people.

GBENA Volunteer Group hit the ground running on 25th March, without an official name, but with five volunteers who fulfilled 38 requests in the first week. Thanks mostly to the 4,500 followers of the GBENA Facebook page, by mid-April they had grown to 55 people! They have completed over 770 interventions: as well as food shops, prescription collections they have collected surplus items from food parcels and delivered to Chelmsford Food Bank, gathered books and DVDs to give away to others, mowed lawns for seniors, shopped for pet supplies, mailed letters and conducted doorstep welfare checks on behalf of Essex Welfare Services. Volunteers who are shielding have offered a friendly chat to the lonely or anxious.

“As a group GBENA is so proud of our community and how we have all pulled together in a time of real need. With all the uncertainty and anxious times it’s been great to know GBENA has a lot of support and people in the community who are so willing to volunteer and help others out. A huge thank you to each and every one of our GBENA Volunteers.” – GBENA

A Cast Of 1000s

The approach to supporting people in this time has been the sum of many parts and has relied on local networks and relationships to reach those most vulnerable in our community. It’s not just been about food and prescriptions. We’ve worked together on some complex cases and this has included local charity experts and agencies such as the Foodbank, Citizens Advice, Essex Befrienders, Essex Child & Family Wellbeing service, St Vincent de Paul, Age Concern Chelmsford and Mid Essex ASC Early Intervention social team. With the help of these local networks and relationships and our social prescribers, we’ll be able to continue signposting after shielding.

If your group is not mentioned and you would like to be included please contact us on 01245 351888.

City Council Food Hub

The City Council set up an emergency response community food hub at Chelmsford Sports and Athletics Centre (CASC), a few days ahead of the first customer on 29th March. The challenge was to support anyone with difficulties in getting shopping. In the early days of lockdown, with panic buying, supermarket queues and limited online shopping there were simply no alternatives, particularly for those shielding.

The Council’s leisure services team provided the bulk of the staff available as they were able to be redeployed due to closure of their facilities. The scale of the likely operation was initially unknown and around 75 staff were trained up dealing with administration, warehouse and driving roles should the service need to increase to meet demand. A range of food items were purchased from wholesalers and supplemented by dairy and meat products from other  suppliers and stored in a commercial-sized fridge at CSAC. Options for
people in need included:

· A food parcel of varying sizes and priced accordingly
· A bespoke shop at a supermarket (staff had passes to access priority timeslots for key workers)
· Click and collect – staff would deliver
· Financial hardship – a first free parcel, then directed to the foodbank. On “account” for those with cashflow issues.

Food parcels were packaged up and sold to customers, but it became clear that over 90% of people required a bespoke shop, often to meet specific dietary requirements. This proved a popular service and many people relied on this with significant positive feedback. The Food Hub has dealt with 862 individual customers and carried out over 1,500 food interventions. At its peak, the Hub was shopping for around 25 customers per day with 85 people requiring a weekly or fortnightly shop. Chelmsford CVS provided an additional 205 small food shops. City Council staff also made over 1,300 welfare calls to Category A residents.

CVS Hub Staffing

Staff at Chelmsford CVS (3.14 WTE) were repurposed to support the Essex Emergency Resilience plan, working throughout the pandemic to man the Chelmsford Community Helpline, take referrals and co-ordinate volunteer help to ensure local people were supported very, very quickly. Thanks to core funders, ECC Public Health and the City Council for swiftly enabling this. Thanks also to Essex Community Foundation for awarding us a £3,000 emergency response grant within days of lockdown. Special thanks to Susie (Pictured above) who went above and beyond to help coordinate our volunteers and to our GP Link Workers who made 82 referrals to the Hub for support of local people.

Peter Brooks
Charity Engagement Manager

Sally Medd
Volunteering Centre Manager

Tom Gudgeon
Communications Officer

Lorraine Jarvis
Chief Officer

Sandra Marsden
Timebank Co-ordinator