Key learnings from Semble’s Covid-19 advice sharing workshop


From the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic communities have come together to look out for the most isolated and vulnerable. To support the community leaders and compassionate neighbours in our network Semble held an advice sharing workshop on Wednesday 25 March. During the workshop we shared tools and ideas for action and considered some of the key challenges being met by grassroots actors.

Here’s what we learnt in brief:

What is the need?

  • Coherent and sustainable solutions that have long term impact
  • Support for existing groups to adjust what they do to the new circumstances
  • Guidance navigating best digital or non-digital approaches and volunteer coordination

Ideas for action?

  • Go to your audience i.e. it’s key to remember that those in need are in their homes
  • Offer hope with a project or campaign that leads to connection after this crisis

Here’s a deeper dive into discussion points from the workshop:

A considered, sustainable response is needed – challenges and ideas

  • General enthusiasm for community support needs to be made the most of and turned into constructive, coherent and sustainable responses
  • Established community groups with long-term experience in community action should be learnt from and in many cases prioritised
  • Established community groups adjusting what they do but not necessarily responding directly to the crisis need to be remembered and supported through this time

Coordinating the response where possible– challenges and ideas

  • It’s important to partner with organisations (like Mutual Aid and Housing Associations) to locate vulnerable individuals
  • There is rising tension around competing groups and hierarchies of established groups as opposed to informal groups
  • There is some push back against council ‘pressure’ to link in with government responses due to bureaucracy slowing down crisis-relief efforts

Cutting through the noise– challenges

  • Some isolated and vulnerable individuals are overburdened by leafleting and door knocking feeding into the infodemic
  • Reaching audiences has become difficult with inboxes so full and community leaders so busy

Digital communication – challenges and ideas

  • How to access non-digital natives?
    • Non digital alternatives for elderly include leafleting, postcards, early shop opening hours, having a neighbourhood code for making clear when someone needs support (e.g. when a vulnerable person needs support they put a red paper in their window)
  • How to ensure good practice in digital communication?
    • Use the digital platform your audience uses already – if possible don’t introduce new tools
    • When setting up a group or introducing members give a clear code of conduct
    • Think about using platforms like youtube that don’t require sign up

Volunteer – challenges and ideas

  • Community groups require guidance on volunteer coordination to constructively manage the huge volunteer response
  • Corporate volunteering skill sharing (pro bono work) is called for in legal advice, safeguarding advice, comms direction and project management support

Community action – challenges and ideas

  • How can we to take outdoor community initiatives (gardens, litter picks etc.) inside?
  • How can we take group gathering initiatives (sport clubs, meet-ups, litter picks, community meals club etc.) into solitary isolation?
  • Activity based activations need to meet the audience where they are (i.e. at home) and utilise existing materials e.g. tin cans, toilet roll tubes, old clothes
  • Support tried and tested, successful responses rather than initiating a new idea i.e. Painting our World in Silver have got kids to create craft kits for isolated, vulnerable individuals (ideally these kits could be sanitised)
  • Reimagining community spaces – individuals can use areas like windows, doorsteps and balconies to connect with their community through plants, posters etc.
  • Long-term ideas that offer a sense of hope for the future and the possibility of coming together on the other side of this e.g. everyone create a tile, bring them together to create a mural after the crisis or everyone grow a plant in a pot and bring them together in a community garden after the crisis

Thanks to all the workshop attendees for engaging in the session. And to Lucy from Alchemic Kitchen, Sophia from Creator Educator and Sarah from Made in Hackney for sharing how their organisations have responded to the current crisis swiftly, safely and successfully.

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Please note: this blog was posted 27th March 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.

About the Author:

Lorna’s all about purpose led comms. She champions the power of connection. When she’s not talking, writing and recording at her desk she’s making pottery or has her nose in a book.