How Islington Council’s Community Chest’s grass roots funding has enabled effective responses to the Coronavirus Crisis
Blackstock Triangle Gardeners
Social isolation and lack of connection with those who live around them is a pressing issue in Islington and has only been amplified through the current crisis. Isolation can develop due to illness, sometimes as longstanding neighbours move away or die, and new connections aren't easily made with new neighbours. The Blackstock Gardeners help neighbours feel more part of the community and benefit from getting to know others who live around them, giving a sense of belonging and helping to reduce social isolation. These community bonds have been very tangible during lockdown, with many neighbours helping those who are self-isolating or less able to get out, by offering to shop for them and organise food bank drop-offs.
Blackstock Gardeners organised a seed and compost give away during lockdown, donating 150 bags of compost and organised volunteers to deliver to doorsteps of those not able to pick-up. Tomato plants grown from seed were also offered on the day of the front-garden give-away and this precipitated a surprisingly long (socially distanced!) queue down the street. Even without access to a car or online shopping, with just one delivery of compost, many households were able to get growing – which has received much appreciation! Not only were new people able to get growing, but people said hello to each other and curious neighbours passing by the front garden give-away who didn't know about the project eagerly joined the queue with 25 new households signing up for future events.
Below is a story of one neighbour who has really benefitted from the connections made…
M regularly attended Blackstock Triangle Gardener events and as a result came into contact with people from Tea at St. Thomas's, Finsbury Park. Since making contact, M was attending the tea meetings every week, hugely benefitting from the opportunity to talk about living with a long term illness and the onset of dementia. When lockdown struck, Dorothy who runs Tea at St. Thomas's phoned M regularly and connected him with other services when needed.
Surviving the Loss of Your World (SLOW) is a local charity that supports its members coming to terms with the loss of a child. Like so many charities and community groups in Islington, SLOW responded quickly to the pandemic and the implications of lockdown on their vulnerable members. All face to face meeting were quickly replaced with the now ubiquitous Zoom meetings instead. Despite the limitations of Zoom to provide a full group experience ‘in the room’, members have been really positive about the sessions. The support groups have flourished with rich discussion about the impact of the lockdown, enforced isolation and the ongoing uncertainty associated with the pandemic. The groups have explored how the virus has impacted specifically on members ongoing grief in a number of ways including how:
• global grief of the pandemic had eclipsed some parents’ grief;
• isolation provided a welcome withdrawal from the pressure of social interactions;
• their children would have managed, especially those with long term health conditions requiring regular admissions into hospital;
• there is a sense of congruence – that global isolation and uncertainty reflected the grief experienced by bereaved parents.
SLOW has discovered that for some members, such as those with very young children and mobility issues, Zoom meetings have actually been preferable to face to face meetings. Therefore, as lockdown recedes, they are now looking at the possibility of continuing a regular Zoom group.
Below is a story from one of SLOW’s participants:
“I am a bereaved parent. I became a mum for the first time when my beautiful son was born on the 17th of February, 2019. Evan was absolutely perfect and healthy but tragically at the age of 6 weeks old passed away unexpectantly from SIDs. This has been an absolutely devastating and traumatic thing to happen to myself, my husband and our families and the effect it has had on our lives has at times felt completely overwhelming.
I can say with 100% belief that without the support of SLOW that I would not be here today. After I lost Evan, I had days I couldn't even get out of bed or feed myself and I was completely isolated. SLOW gave me somewhere to go, to get up and dressed for, and gave me the support I needed to slowly start to rebuild my life. SLOW is a charity that means so much to me.”
SLOW gave me somewhere to go, to get up and dressed for, and gave me the support I needed to slowly start to rebuild my life.
Keen to give something back she now volunteers with one of SLOW’s siblings group and fundraised during lockdown with a 26 pancake flip as part of the 2.6 challenge – the virtual fundraiser that sought to replace some of the lost opportunities that arose from cancellation of the London Marathon.
Social isolation and loneliness is common for many local residents, in particular older people, people living with long-term conditions and people with disabilities. Through their fortnightly meetings that take place at Islington’s Local History Centre at St John’s Library, St Luke’s Community History Group reaches out to local elderly and isolated residents providing a meaningful activity that enables members to develop and record a shared sense of local history. They undertake research projects, often working jointly with other organisations and projects and organise visits to local and London wide heritage sites.
Since the onset of lockdown the group has continued to provide support by distributing local history books, enabling members to keep busy and continue with their research while shielding. They have continued to make contact on a fortnightly basis and the relationships that have developed through the group have enabled members to support each other by staying in frequent contact while isolating at home. This has been invaluable since most members live alone and nearly all fall into the at-risk category.
Below is a quote from one resident who came into contact with the group at their regular Whitecross Street Party stall and has now been a member for 2 years:
"... I was drawn to the old map on the stall at the Whitecross Street Party and got chatting. Everyone was so friendly. They invited me to join in and now I'm a regular… I'm fascinated by this area because my family are from Finsbury and this is where I grew up. It is lovely to find others who are as interested in local history as me".
Artbox supports artists with learning disabilities to create, exhibit and sell their own artwork. At the advent of lockdown Artbox had to suspend all their face-to-face art sessions that take place at their studio on the Caledonian Road. Instead they switched to supporting artists by phone and through video calls, and by matching those interested in keeping in regular contact with a volunteer. They also produced regular blogs with ideas for creative activities and delivered art kits with essential art supplies to all the artists, encouraging and motivating them to keep creating art while at home. Natalie Pink, Artbox’s Co-Director says “Coronavirus restrictions have helped us see the need for a 'virtual studio' to engage artists remotely that could not only be of use during this and any future lockdowns, but could also be a resource if/when artists are unable to attend the physical studio for significant periods of time due to physical/mental health issues for example”.