How the community came together – my lockdown story (by Frances Coates – Knowle West Alliance Community Development Worker)

It all happened so quickly at the beginning…One minute we were going about our normal lives, and the next everything had stopped and we were shut inside our homes.  Just before we went into lockdown, I remember going to see my Line Manager and saying how concerned I was that I wouldn’t be able to do my job in lockdown.  Everything revolved around engaging with people face-to-face and going to various different groups in the community.  How could I carry out this work from behind a laptop?  Fortunately, having Knowle West Alliance means that people with great ideas from the local organisations could work together to come up with a way forward.  Working with the Council, the Knowle West CV-19 Response Hub was born and I had a new role as a Volunteer Coordinator.

It hasn’t been easy with a big drop in our family income and all the kids at home.  We’ve struggled with lack of time, money, space and positive communication!  My 4-year-old spent the first few weeks of lockdown being a complete rascal (and she’s a pretty spirited child anyway!) – I know she was just upset and confused, but it’s hard when your child is really playing up and you’re trying to work from home.  She became a regular in my Zoom meetings and has spoken to quite a few of my colleagues on the phone!  My 16-year-old has struggled with the school workload at home and has no idea what she’s going to do after 6th form now that she hasn’t had the support with choosing possible next steps or been able to visit any unis.  My 14-year-old is just fed up being stuck at home with her family and not seeing friends – It’s difficult to talk to someone who never takes their earphones out and has their hood up regardless of the weather! 

Despite all this, I feel lucky.  I still have a job and one which makes me feel proud.  It’s wonderful to be working in such a responsive way and more closely with a much wider group of colleagues who are helping in so many ways from coordination, ringing residents in need and befriending to doing practical jobs such as shopping.  I match residents in need of support with volunteers who give up their time and go out of their way to help without asking for anything in return.  When I send out an email asking for support for someone, I can be sure that within a couple of hours (and usually much more quickly) someone will have offered to help.  Sometimes when emails from volunteers come back, it brings a tear to my eye – human kindness is so powerful.  I have gained a better insight into the issues that some of our local residents face, listened to and played a part in amazing local stories and had the chance to interact with many new people and get to know others better.  Even though I haven’t seen people for a while, I speak to some of them on the phone and, though it’s more time-consuming, I’ve had one-to-one chats that I may never have had if I’d just seen them in the Park Café or the Inns Court Centre in a group.  We’ve also still managed to give out some of our Small Grants and provide useful information to the community via our website and Facebook page – even more important during these challenging times. 

One of the most positive things to come out of this are the links we’ve built with others in the community as we all pull together to help as best we can.  I’ve organised excess food distribution from Connaught School, had sunflowers delivered to Ilminster Avenue School and various local residents, and the Alliance has been distributing meals made by Knowle West Health Association and Square Food Foundation to residents all over the estate.  I think these relationships will last well beyond this crisis and can only strengthen the community.