‘We need a cultural shift in the way we think in Cambridge after Covid’ – Coleridge Community Action Group lead

We asked Sarah Goggin from the Coleridge Community Action Group for her reflections on the community response to Covid 19 in Cambridge and what we can learn to build a more equitable city that promotes well-being for all.

My experience of how local aid organisations have mobilised to respond to Covid-19 began back in March when, donning gloves, I joined volunteers in delivering leaflets about the community action group that was being formed to coordinate the coronavirus response in Coleridge. This included a helpline and an opportunity to volunteer with tasks such as shopping, collecting prescriptions, phone chats and dog walking. The response was huge with 150 volunteering with a team behind the scenes to coordinate it.

Spirit of WW2

Across the city in each ward, community networks sprang up consisting of local councillors, churches and resident’s associations among other groups collaborating for the benefit of all. There has been a remarkable community spirit of people coming together to support one another and some people have likened it to the community spirit of WW2 and of course, the NHS clap brought us together each Thursday at 8 p.m.

A food parcel. David Hawgood – Creative Commons licence BY-SA 2.0

There are many stories that have cheered the heart such as, when one of our young volunteers, who regularly delivered milk and bread to one elderly resident, brought her a bunch of flowers to cheer her up. One lady when asked if she needs anything emailed, “Thank you I have run out of milk and chocolate biscuits, and currant tea cakes (not a lot). Only if you have time xxx”

Hardship peaks

However, the hardship that some residents already endured started to peek through with requests for help such as paying for fuel and we had one lady who needed a cooker for her flat. The Cambridgeshire Coronavirus Community Fund has raised more than £400,000 to help vulnerable people during the pandemic. Emergency grants have been awarded to community groups and charities to provide advice, information, support, and essentials including food, medicine, and other essential items. (You can donate here).

“Thank you I have run out of milk and chocolate biscuits, and currant tea cakes (not a lot). Only if you have time xxx”

Cambridge Sustainable Food has been coordinating the emergency food provision efforts in the city in partnership with Cambridge Food Poverty Alliance and making sure that food is getting to those residents in need. I made a visit to Cambridge Regional College where bags of shopping and homemade meals such as tasty curry, pasta dishes and freshly baked banana bread were being prepared in the kitchens by furloughed chef volunteers for families in poverty, locally in Kings Hedges and across the city. This was another stark reminder that there are many already struggling with poverty and the coronavirus pandemic has increased this situation.

Food in the community

Food hubs have developed alongside food banks and are receiving donations from wholesale distributers, supermarkets, and residents. With self-employed businesses on hold and people being laid off work or furloughed, many are finding themselves in tight financial situations and struggling to put food on the table. One young resident in Cherry Hinton, Nick Selin has used his furlough to make a Community Hub Cookbook using ingredients generally found at the hubs e.g. Scones with Satsuma Marmalade and Sweet Stuffed Potatoes and Caramelised Carrots. Some hubs have been visited by 60 – 70 families at a time. How many of us realise there are families who have no money to buy food in our city?

(The Community Hub Cookbook is free to download at www.cherryhinton.com   If you would like a printed copy please mail:nickselin1@aol.com. He is fundraising for the Cherry Hinton community food hub and fridge and would appreciate any donation large or small https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/nickscookbook.)

What can we learn to support vulnerable people in normal times?

We are not out of this pandemic yet. It is a wakeup call for many and it has highlighted some of the needs of those around us.

The generosity of spirit from businesses, organisations and individuals needs to continue as we donate money and personal goods to those in need. For those who are empowered with resources we can share with those who are less fortunate in our city as well as looking further afield globally.

It is a wakeup call for many and it has highlighted some of the needs of those around us.

In this new normal, we need a cultural shift in the way we think. We need to treat people with dignity, kindness and understanding. People who had a regular income before COVID19 may now be out of a job and people who were struggling before may find things harder. Shelter, the homelessness organisation, says one in three families are only one pay packet away from losing their home which is a sobering thought.

We can use some of our time to get involved in local initiatives to alleviate inequality and poverty, to lobby government for change for longer term solutions and to  encourage the continuity of the community spirit of looking out for our neighbour.




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