The view from: Pobl Group

May 6, 2020

Over the past month, we’ve been speaking with numerous housing associations about their response to the Covid-19 crisis. We wanted to share some of their experiences in our blog series called, The view from. This blog comes from Samantha Howells and Dafydd Hellard who are part of the community regeneration team at Pobl Group in South Wales.

From a community regeneration perspective, this crisis has pushed our work to the forefront. As an organisation, Pobl prioritises asset-based community development, and we’re seeing that happen organically in communities right now. Neighbourhoods are coming together to support each other and really show that they care.

Our team and the wider organisation have been careful not to overpower that. Instead, our aim is to work with our local partners to strategically bolster it. As a result, we’ve been able to really listen to our communities, understand where the gaps are, and help them accordingly.

Accessing funding on behalf of smaller community organisations has been a big part of how we’ve been doing that. Working in partnership, we’ve accessed funding to the tune of around £48,000 through various sources, such as the community resilience fund. Since many of these groups have formed in response to Covid-19, they don’t have constitutions or bank accounts in place yet so we’ve been holding their accounts for them to ensure that they can still access funding. 

On an individual level, one of the most impactful things we’ve done as an organisation is welfare calls. Through them we’ve been able to link vulnerable residents to existing community provisions and support their individual needs. That could be as simple as getting them essential supplies or medications, delivering food parcels or providing digital support.

In some cases, we’re seeing people in huge amounts of crisis – the situation has made anxiety and mental health a lot worse. Our team has been working more intensively with those people during this time, shifting the way in which they’re delivering that support.

Sometimes we can overcomplicate our involvement with communities and this has really shown us that often the most valuable thing to do is simply pick up the phone. The consideration and the care that we’ve shown towards our customers through these calls has also led to an increase in customer satisfaction and trust in us.

Culturally as an organisation, it’s changing us. It’s taught us that engagement, compassion and care doesn’t just sit with support staff but is actually a culture that needs to cut across organisations and inform roles that maybe aren’t as people facing. We’ve had to become flexible – and more creative, too. For example, trades teams have now been redeployed to support with logistics around food banks and the local authority’s free school meal service.

However, it’s been our initiative with a local group called the Prescription Riders Gwent that’s been our most innovative partnership. This has highlighted how housing, the third sector and community groups can come together to share local knowledge, maximise resources and deliver a service that is led by the community.

The initiative was born after Pobl were approached by a motorcycle group who wanted to do something to help in the community. At the same time our welfare calls were showing us that people were anxious about their prescriptions: they didn’t want to wait in a queue at the local pharmacy for half an hour. Since the guys in the motorcycle group have natural PPE on them, with their gloves and helmets, they seemed the ideal candidates to deliver prescriptions!

Over the last two weeks Prescription Riders Gwent has really blown up and expanded. Working closely with GAVO (Gwent Association of Voluntary Organisations) we’ve been able to help them to register as community key workers via Volunteer Wales. To make the process easier Pobl have accessed an app through GAVO that centralises the referrals: we receive the referrals, put a task on the app for all of the volunteer riders to see, and if they’re able to do the collection they just click accept.

Like other community volunteer groups, the riders have been signed up to our E-Learning training and taken modules on coronavirus awareness, keeping safe in the community, affective use of PPE, and safeguarding.

The consortium of housing associations in Gwent are interested in rolling this out in their organisations. We’ve even been approached by the Welsh government who are keen to see how this works and collate the data to share with pharmacies.

As an organisation I think we can be very proud of how we’ve responded to the crisis, however now is the time we should also be asking ourselves: how has this been received by customers, what do they most value, and what are we going to take forward in terms of our long term approach?

For us as a regeneration team, this crisis has really given us a massive real-life example of why asset-based community development is so important. There’s so much we can learn from this moment. This should form the way in which we interact with customers longer term.

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