The view from: Community Gateway

Apr 17, 2020

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been speaking with numerous housing associations about their response to the Covid-19 crisis. We wanted to share some of their experiences, so will be starting a blog series called, The view from. The sixth in the series comes from Sian Coulton, Community Engagement Manager, Community Gateway, who are based in Preston.

When the crisis started, the first issue we looked at was food distribution. We already had an existing food distribution programme in place, and we’ve been able to link this into a city-wide approach to the issue. There are over 25 hubs across Preston and a further 10 food banks, each of which is providing food parcels to families and people in need.

The strong, pre-existing relationships meant that it’s been easier to coordinate the response, so we can share resources across the city and refer vulnerable people into each other’s hubs, depending on their need, location and the day of the week, as different hubs open at varying times. This co-ordinated approach is making sure that there is enough food for everybody who needs it.

We have experience of running food hubs in half term and holidays, when tenants struggle to feed their children who usually get free school meals. Now everyone who has children at home every day has seen their shopping bills go up. We’re running two hubs every week, securing fresh and frozen food, so we can give people a mix of food to last them for a week.

We have also started to deliver a weekly mobile pantry to provide a comprehensive food hamper for a few pounds to those customers over 65, self-isolating or vulnerable who cannot get out to do their shopping or don’t have any support. Our first delivery began last week, with 27 individuals receiving food from the pantry, including fresh fruit and veg plus a bag of ambient food.

Linked to that has been our work with a local social enterprise called The Larder. They are offering fresh nutritional meals that are ready cooked and can be delivered either hot or cold for reheating, depending on the needs of the individual. We take referrals from different partner organisations as well as have conversations with our own tenants to work out the best form of support for them.

We’ve also started a new initiative with The Larder to encourage children to learn how to cook, whilst also providing them with nutritional meals.  Colleagues from Community Gateway deliver food parcels with fresh ingredients and recipe cards to families, and then we send them a link to a video filmed by The Larder staff showing them how to cook each meal.

The project has gone down really well. People are really engaging with it. At the moment, our only issue is the number of people we can enrol on the scheme. We’ve had to limit it to 36 families but have had a lot more who want to take part, so we have been sharing the recipes and videos with them still, with them providing their own ingredients. We’re looking to repeat the initiative over the summer holiday as well.

We’re also aware that many tenants are struggling to keep their children entertained, whilst having them at home every day. So as well as the online cookery masterclass, we’re also providing resources, links to fun activities and as educational activities online. We’ll be carrying on with these over the next few weeks, helping our residents through these difficult times.

The whole organisation has got involved, as colleagues who are unable to fulfil their normal duties have been getting involved with food deliveries and on the phone lines. We have been phoning all our customers to check on their welfare and ask if they require additional support, so we can keep in tune with our communities and respond to any future emerging needs.  We have set up our own Support Hub to allow us to facilitate any request we receive. Tenants can call or email for individual support or can make use of the dedicated section on our website to access information around other local trusted providers.

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