Advice from community leaders on the frontline


Covid-19 has turned our world upside down. Many community projects, centred on bringing people together and collective action, find themselves unable to carry out their core work. At the same time, the vulnerable and isolated communities that these projects support are now in greater need than ever. 

How can community projects adapt to the current situation, respond to new and rising needs and be agile enough to work through the new constraints and ride out the crisis? We ask 6 projects to share how they’ve adapted their work and lessons they’ve learnt so far.

Made in Hackney
Key lessons for Covid-19 food delivery services

When this community cooking school realised everything was about to be put on hold, the first thing they did was hold a ‘letting go’ circle to process the situation. They tore up their current job descriptions and asked themselves, ‘how can we be of service in this crisis?’. Given their experience in food provision the logical answer was a free food delivery service for isolated and vulnerable people. 

After crowdfunding over £50,000 to finance the service, they began coordinating the cooking and distribution of 350 meals per day. They aim to scale this to 1000 meals per day if funding allows.

The food is cooked by a team of chefs who live and work together, self-isolating from others in order to avoid contamination. The food is then delivered (at a safe distance) by a team of cycle couriers who ensure it reaches the right person. 

The initiative requires thorough and meticulous organisation. Particularly around food hygiene and volunteer training and coordination. It’s been a learning curve for the Made in Hackney team and they’ve developed resources to share with other projects interested in considering a food delivery service. The lessons they share are incredibly valuable – we recommend you check them out. 

Outdoor People
Signposting and sharing accurate information can support your communities

Outdoor People is a social enterprise with a mission to make the outdoors accessible, especially for children and families. Knowing how important it is for everyone to get fresh air and sunlight, their priority response to Covid-19 has been to provide clear information for people asking the question “Can I go outside?”.

With advice changing almost daily, they’ve created a blog which is updated regularly after liaising with the Greater London Authority and other experts to ensure the information is in line with official guidance. You can read the latest version here: ‘Can I Go Outside?

It’s been crucial for the OP team to stay in touch with their community so that they can support and signpost as needed. They have increased engagement with the families they work with through a Facebook group and are reaching out to their community daily via social media and through Netil Radio, a local online station. 

It’s really important to remember that every adult and child is going through one of the most stressful times any of us have ever had and that each individual has their own view point, their own needs. We have been offering a listening ear and showing where to get information. We are not social workers, but we can find out if people in our communities are struggling.

Alchemic Kitchen
Partnering with other organisations can help you reach vulnerable people

Alchemic Kitchen is a social enterprise which pilots new ways to save and revalue food otherwise destined for the bin. When the crisis hit, they asked themselves what they could do, how to do it safely and how to best work within regulations. The first step was to rescue as much fresh food as possible from restaurants and bars that were closing, diverting 205kg of food from waste. They passed some of this food to the food banks that were still open and borrowed freezer space from another organisation to store what they could. 

The team have now set up a system to prepare and deliver fresh hearty soups to vulnerable and isolated people. They have partnered with other community groups who working with these groups to share information and workload including identifying the individuals in need of support and meeting the extra safeguarding measures.

We deliver a big batch to the community centre and they then portion up the soup for delivery – we don’t come into direct contact with the recipients which prevents issues around safeguarding and data protection.

All of this has taken careful planning. The team spent time organising protocols to ensure against contamination and working out what they could realistically deliver, given limited capacity. They also thought through how to keep the team separate so if one person falls ill the whole team isn’t affected. 

Though the temptation is to jump in with both feet we’d really recommend taking a deep breath, having a brainstorm and working out your best response. Contact the local community sector leads in your area and see what help they need and if you can then support. They are being inundated with offers of volunteers, but volunteers need training and just as much, if not more support than the people they are helping! 

Brixton People’s Kitchen
Working with local councils can help you reach those in need

Be Enriched and Brixton People’s Kitchen joined forces to deliver emergency food boxes, producing home-cooked meals in partnership with Wandsworth and Lambeth Councils. Co-operative working with other organisations and local authorities has produced good results for project delivery and helped reach people in need. 

These people were always there, they were always hungry and needing these support networks. The crisis has forced people in positions of power to not just take notice, but take action to prevent hunger and poverty.

They have a volunteer coordinator to provide clear volunteer management and have also used the Mutual aid groups for support with deliveries. They’ve pulled together funding using an online fundraiser, and negotiated with some of their existing funders to repurpose funding to support the relief efforts

The Curator Educator
Taking face-to-face craft sessions online

The Curator Educator runs community-based craft sessions twice a week to support mental health. With less connection to our loved ones, to nature and to the outside world, lots of people are needing support with their mental health more than ever. But the project had to adapt to survive. They moved the craft sessions online, doing them via Facebook live as most of their existing community were already using Facebook already. At a time where people are dealing with so much change they knew it was important to use an online tool their community was already familiar with. They also redesigned the sessions to make them accessible to people without a heap of art supplies at home. Painting with coffee is just one of their creative sessions using things most of us have kicking around! 

Painting our World in Silver
Using care packages and re-allocating funding 

Founded to combat social isolation and loneliness, Painting our World in Silver was quick to think of new ways they could do this. “We couldn’t run our monthly craft club so we took the crafts to them instead!”. They put together 65 craft ‘care packages’ for their socially isolated clients, including origami crafts, puzzle books, colouring books, pencils, paints and a newsletter full of practical ideas on how to keep entertained at home. 

They found the project was very labour intensive so they made care packages designed to last 2 months as opposed to monthly packages and have planned in bulk with enough stock to send packages until July. Some shops are running low on some craft items so they advise checking with smaller companies outside the usual go-tos. The packs were funded by the Carling Made Local Fund. The funding was originally allocated for craft club events but Carling was happy for it to be reallocated. Don’t be shy to ask funders if you can divert existing funding for new solutions. To have an impact beyond their existing clients, the group have also used social media to encourage people to make up care packages for older people in their streets.

More from Semble on community action during Covid-19

We’re running workshops, writing resources and sending updates on social media and email to support community action in the current climate. Be the first to know about future workshops, funding opportunities and more:

> If you run a community group join the Semble network here
> If you support community action subscribe to the Semble mailing list here

Register for our upcoming workshop on holding community spaces online here

Please note: this blog was posted 3 April 2020. Due to the quickly changing situation be sure to check trusted websites such as the Coronavirus (COVID-19): UK Government Response for all necessary advice and information.


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About the Author:

Chloe works to ensure Semble comms are inspiring and impactful. She’s dedicated to nourishing, strengthening and growing our community through awesome communications. Inspiring and empowering others is what lights her up. When not at work Chloe is happiest in the sea, in a forest, on a yoga mat or lying in the sun.