The view from: Govan HA

Jul 29, 2020

Our blog series, The View From, explores how housing associations have been responding to the Covid-19 crisis. In this blog, Rory Brown, Community Inclusion Assistant, and Ryan Davidson, Community Inclusion Officer, discuss how Govan HA has responded to the Covid-19 crisis.

We started contacting tenants the week before lockdown. There was about four or five staff who had been sent to work from home and they were calling tenants to get a grasp on who required more help and what their support needs might be.

There were people who were self-isolating because they had symptoms or because of their age and their circumstances, and then folk who couldn’t get out to access the pharmacy or doctor. We tried to very quickly gather information to develop a wrap-around service. We had a lot of support staff on the front-line delivering food, doing shop runs and gathering prescriptions.

We linked in with other third-sector organisations to see what their capacity was and what support they could offer. A lot of them were in a similar position – they were trying to gather information as they went.

We linked in with two other organisations to deliver a food service: a hot food van run by the Salvation Army and a school packed lunch programme delivered by another of our partner organisations.

Then we looked to link in with other third-sector organisations as and when they were able to offer support. Part of that was us looking at the facilities that we had that were available to offer to other organisations. For example, Govan Help had started their own food response but had nowhere to run it from, so we offered them our hub space.

We’ve got 1,600 people in our social rented properties, and about 650-700 factored properties which are still service users. We also have regular service users who access our community hub and community programmes.

There were at least 120 people getting support for food via deliveries to their properties; the food van was catering for upwards of 110-120 people a day.

That doesn’t include (GYIP) Govan Youth Information Project who were part of that, who were handing out 130-150 packed lunches per day on the same site. They’ve also delivered 1,000 activity packs during lockdown.

After week five or six, Well Fed Scotland, a food charity, approached us to say they were aware of the work we were doing, our rapid response, and how central we were to the approach in Govan. They’d been funded to deliver pre-cooked meals and asked if they could partner with us to deliver 150 pre-cooked meals per day through the delivery vans.

It was all hands-on deck.

Once we realised that our physical contact with tenants and regular service users would have to be limited, we began looking at alternative methods for contacting and engaging with them, such as using the digital platforms, and making iPads and tablets and wifi and data more accessible. Cheap mobile phones were an instant win as tenants didn’t have to be taught how to use the device and were a quicker way of keeping in contact: tenants could contact us, as well as social workers and support workers.

We managed to access some emergency funds through the Big Lottery and Foundation Scotland that was split between the food provision service, the digital inclusion service, activity packs and PPE for volunteers and people who were using their cars and covering their expenses.

Round the same time as we started doing the food provision, a decision was made to close our two community centres – a community hub and digital hub. Those two spaces meet two very obvious needs – around food provision and connectivity. People come in to get fed but then there was provision around wifi and computers.

When we started doing food provision, we fitted the truck with wifi so that when people came and got food from the truck they could also access free wifi. With all the public spaces like libraries and fast food restaurants closing, wifi had become harder to access. The food truck did a route around Govan every day and people knew that if they were in that area they could get free wifi.

Before lockdown we had been operating our digital lending library for the last three years. Historically that’s been linked to one-to-one tuition for tenants and supporting community learning. Through the library, people were able to access IT classes and then take a device away for a week, learn on it and come back and use it again. All those devices were in-house when lockdown happened, so we quite quickly deployed all those devices to tenants that we needed to be in regular contact with, or third sector partners who didn’t have devices to work and operate on.

We were then approached by SCVO to pilot the Connecting Scotland fund that they announced which was £9 million. They wanted to see how that could work quite rapidly. The Scottish government asked us and the Glasgow Disability Alliance to pilot something, using 15 devices with a lump sum of data on each of them that we had to give to tenants who were totally offline. Some staff underwent digital champion training so they could tutor people through using those devices.

The scheme worked really well. The feedback from it was that having a lump sum of data on a SIM card wasn’t the most economic approach. For example, we had one gentleman in his 70s who discovered YouTube for the first time and flew through his data in the first three days and then phoned us up wanting another top up. We were doing that for four weeks and topping them up, £20 every four days. It was interesting, particularly in his case because he was a tenant we hadn’t known before the welfare checks. He was shielding. He had a health condition. The more we spoke to him over phone, we realised he had nothing in the house, he had no TV, he had no access to information. We are keen to get a house visit to him and see how we could support him after the lockdown. It was quite a nice opportunity meet some of our harder to reach, more invisible tenants.

When the supporting communities fund came through from the Scottish government, we were asked how we could get devices into the hands of people who most needed them. It made more sense to us to use an intermediary model where we would procure the devices, get them prepped and set up and then give them to ten organisations locally who had been meeting the needs of local people during lockdown. Many of these organisations were in contact with people who had dropped out of a service because they couldn’t afford connectivity or were trying to reach service users who didn’t have internet at all.

The first round, which we’ve just finished, involved us deploying 120 tablets to ten organisations locally. Instead of giving them a lump sum of data, we moved to giving them unlimited data. Each device has two months of unlimited data covered from the fund. At the end of the two months, the pay-as-you-go element sits with the organisation, as do the devices. For us, there was a bit of a legacy to this. It wasn’t just about giving people devices, it was about having devices as a community resource locally and growing that element as well as its legacy.

There was also a lot of chat about how organisations could start to adapt their approach to community work post-Covid, taking some of the learning we’ve experienced during this period and acting on that.

One of the organisations, Creative Steps Programme, has got 120 users with health conditions. Part of their programme is about getting them out of the house and getting them engaged with the community in order to increase their confidence and their health outcomes.

The last five weeks has been about trying to reduce those barriers to connectivity and data. Our aspiration has been to create a digital culture in Govan, where more people are able to get and access learning. The lending library approach and those ten organisations have been part of this.

We’ve also developed an amazing partnership with Glasgow Clyde College. Before the lockdown they had a service called Gift Tech, which was part of our learning programme where the college bought new machines since their old ones were being decommissioned and scrapped. For the same amount of money, the college found that they could up-cycle them and distribute them to people in need.

When lockdown happened, we contacted GiftTech and asked them if they were still operating, because many of our residents need devices. But they didn’t have an infrastructure or distribution point in mind since the college had closed during lockdown. So we were able to act as that distribution point. We used the food network to distribute the devices so that people could collect food on a particular day and there would be a PC collection next to it. Over the past five weeks, 35 PC computers have been distributed.

At the start of the Connecting Scotland pilot we asked them who they were thinking about to receive the devices: they said they preferred a scatter shot approach, that we would try and engage with different sorts of tenants. So we allocated some to our older residents, some to refugees and asylum seekers, and some to people who’d just lost their job and then linked them in with Jerry who is their local job match coordinator. He has started these conversations about getting CVs up to date, practising telephone interviews or Skype interviews.

Jerry had put 120 people into work last year, which works out as roughly £1million in salaries and new income in the area, but 80% of those people have now lost their jobs and incomes. So we’ve been trying to get ahead in tackling that issue again.

Before lockdown we offered a lot of services in the community: a free breakfast every morning, free community meals every week, a men’s group and a women’s group. We’ve been concerned about how we deal with issues of people not attending them – every time the regular service users access these services it’s not just for food but for the social aspect, so they can keep up a routine to stop themselves from using drugs and alcohol.

Since lockdown, a lot of these service users have supported each other in the absence of staff and services being there, which has been hugely positive.

One of our regular service users called Stephen is a recovering drug user and also agrophobic. He was one of the guys we’ve been concerned about. When we were in Govan recently, we popped into Greggs to get lunch and Stephen was standing outside and he had his false teeth in for the first time in a long time. He had lost a lot of weight previously, but he seemed to have put the weight back on. We had a chat with him and said how well he was looking considering, and he said all the guys and girls have been great, we’ve all looked after each other, everybody has rallied round. All bar one of the regular users seems to be avoiding any kind of substance misuse. They are looking after each other and doing food runs. They’re hanging out at each other’s places, which isn’t great in terms of the social distancing, but it’s probably better that they’ve got a bit of support than using drugs and getting involved in other things that are a higher risk.

There has been a lot of people who we’ve walked past in the street and we’re thinking, they’re looking great now, or they’re looking so much better now because of some of this behaviour.

We’re lucky that we’ve got a view of what’s happening on the street and have been able to stay connected to our residents. It’s allowed us to feel a lot more plugged in than we would do otherwise.

Govan has been highlighted in so many fronts in terms of its Covid-19 response. It’s been highlighted in the media and at a political level as well. It’s been great to see how quickly it has responded. The organisation has found its areas of expertise and have just got on with finding solutions to the problems that were coming up.

Read more blogs in our ‘The view from’ series on our News & Views page

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