Innovation and creativity inspired by the pandemic – the view from Sandwell

  • The borough of Sandwell in the West Midlands has a large voluntary sector
  • Organisations very quickly responded to need within the community when the COVID-19 crisis hit
  • Local CVS, SCVO, share some of the responses they’ve seen and how they adapted themselves

Libby Mahoney, Small Groups Development Officer from Sandwell Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) reflects on how the local voluntary sector responded to the pandemic. Located in the West Midlands, Sandwell is a metropolitan borough in the Black Country. It is made up of six towns – Oldbury, Rowley Regis, Smethwick, Tipton, Wednesbury and West Bromwich. It has a large voluntary sector including voluntary-run community groups, charities, not-for-profit businesses, faith communities and social enterprises.

Libby said: “The creativity and resilience shown here has been first class. There have been so many examples of community organisations thinking on their feet to continue to support their communities and others.

“When COVID-19 hit the UK in March, it brought an instant shut down of community organisations and centres which had delivered much-needed community services and activities here in Sandwell. As doors closed to the physical world, many organisations took the step of adapting their delivery. They underwent a period of digital innovation in order to continue to support the most vulnerable within their communities – from children and families through to older people, and everyone in between!

“The pandemic lockdown made community organisations, big and small, re-assess the needs of their community and how they could continue to address them. The imagination, resourcefulness and innovation at the height of the lockdown just goes to show the creativity and resilience of organisations, residents and service providers here in Sandwell.

“‘Pop-up’ COVID-19 support groups appeared almost overnight at a very local level and an army of over 700 COVID-volunteers came together to lend a helping hand to support those most at risk. We’ve also seen:

  • new telephone befriending services
  • development of ‘meals on wheels’ for those most in need and vulnerable
  • ‘Fish, Chips and Zoom’ chats replacing luncheon clubs and other similar gatherings
  • ‘Zoom cafés’ where participants brought their own cakes and cuppas and the community centre brought the conversation or short artistic performance (in partnership with a local arts organisation)
  • numerous events such as ‘virtual afternoon tea’, ‘dial a story’, ‘doorstep fitness’ and ‘virtual fitness sessions’ all from the comfort of your own home!

“Community organisations have risen to the challenges presented, showing just how determined they are in supporting and continuing their service provision at a time when it matters the most. In many cases they have joined forces with other community organisations, service providers and others to prevent duplication and to maximise their ability to support local residents by sharing resources and communication channels to get the messages out for those wishing to access the services on offer.

“And more is continuing to happen as groups take advantage of the funding provided by a whole range of funding bodies – developing new services and adapting old ones to better meet the needs of communities and individuals in the ever-changing circumstances around us.

“SCVO, too, has adapted quickly to the changing environment. Working from home, the staff team has learned a whole host of new skills (mostly digital) to take our support services online. We ran virtual ‘meet the funder’ events, virtual training workshops and networking sessions (bringing organisations together to share with and learn from each other). All of this in addition to our regular support services, which we delivered remotely helping people to turn their ideas into reality. We have also been busy working to champion our sector and the fantastic community opportunities that have arisen.

“Whilst the road to recovery is something of an unknown quantity, the message from across Sandwell is loud and clear – groups are wanting to ‘bounce back’ stronger, ensuring the new connections made during lockdown are retained, nurtured and built upon in order to harness the volunteers that came forward and further develop the creativity that was born during the pandemic.

“Sandwell unfortunately has recently seen a rise in new COVID-19 cases which has led to local restrictions being placed on social gatherings. These don’t prevent ongoing support activities from taking place but they do present new challenges for community organisation and service providers who are working to meet the demands of the local community. SCVO is confident that with collaborative working and organisations all pulling together we can overcome these challenges to continue to deliver much-needed services when it matters the most.”

You can read more about how charities adapted in response to coronavirus in our recent post. If you are running a not-for-profit organisation, you may find our guide to Risk assessments for local community organisations helpful, when deciding on how to run local activities.