Lockdown begins

Back in March, the Coronavirus crisis began to take hold in the UK. We were starting to see what the potential impacts would be, particularly in accessing key supplies whether that be a result of the financial impact of the crisis, or of vulnerabilities and shielding meaning you can’t get the supplies you normally would.

We’re lucky in that we have a great network of partners that we work with, so we immediately reached out to find out what everyone was doing and how they may be able to support our customers as part of the community they serve. We knew that our existing key partners, such as the One Can Trust who are our local food bank, the council, and many other newly emerging groups would be key, so our team followed up on all the information we had so we could capture details of the different groups we could tap into.

With the information we had about our partners, and additional information shared with us, we soon had details of over 50 local projects which are offering support to help our communities face the challenges of the current crisis, and where we could refer our residents to for support, or they could self-refer.

It has been incredible to see the community response that has helped so many to cope throughout this crisis. It really showed how much the community was coming together, and that we were proud to be part of. Some of our staff members were volunteering with local groups in their own time, and some signing up to the national scheme for Community Responders. Still, we asked whether there was more we could do to help our residents.

There must be more we can do

With many of our residents in a vulnerable group and shielding, we knew that it would be key for us to play whatever part we could to help make sure that no-one went without support to stabilise income, food, medicine or a regular call to check in.

We had already started proactively contacting all our residents that we knew would be hardest hit by the crisis, including all residents in our sheltered schemes - checking in with them to make sure they were okay and to find out if they needed any support whether that be with financial advice, wellbeing, but also with access to food and medical supplies. We would then offer this support directly, or ensure they were able to link up with one of our partner organisations. Some of our residents already had support from friends and family members or were already in touch with one of the fantastic community organisations. It was important to us that our residents knew there was support out there for them.

We recognised that we could help fill the gap where some residents may need help with food supplies - and an area we could make a positive difference. These would help to top up parcels available from other organisations and could bridge the gap between making a referral to another organisation and the first food parcel arriving.

Shortly after lockdown began we reached out to supermarkets, wholesalers and even farms to see if we could help with food parcels. However, in March not only were supermarkets seeing their busiest month on record, they were also receiving increasing requests for help from community groups working to support the vulnerable. At this time, it wasn’t possible for us to secure access to quantities of food to help with food parcels so we had to look at other ways to support our vulnerable customers.

Who we are working with

We have a great long-standing relationship with both the One Can Trust and FareShare and were able to partner up with them to help us support our residents.

We worked with One Can Trust on a new referral option. This ensured that people who were shielding but didn’t have access digitally to their money or were unable to secure a home delivery slot could get support via a paid-for parcel option. This was about being able to help someone who might not be struggling financially, but due to a combination of circumstances simply couldn’t purchase the food they needed. This meant, that where this support was really needed we could pay for a parcel to help someone get through the next few days/weeks. One Can offered this support early-on in the crisis to ensure that the unique nature of these circumstances didn’t prevent people going without the support they needed.

FareShare also offered to support us through their food donation scheme to help some of our most vulnerable customers. FareShare work with supermarkets to combat food waste and have supported us to provide up to 60 parcels a week since April 2020. To supplement the donations that they were able to provide us with, we also purchased items to top up the donations. The most common items purchased were milk, toilet roll and baked beans - ensuring people had the essentials and that there was a good mix of fresh and dry goods.

Every week, our staff volunteers have been collecting, cleaning and packing every item before they were ready for delivery. We always call our residents who are due to receive them to let them know the delivery is on the way and so we can carry out health screening to allow us to take the right precautions when we deliver the parcels. We take the safety of our residents and staff very seriously. All staff wear gloves and masks whilst making deliveries, as well as maintaining social distancing.

To date we have delivered nearly 500 parcels, but this is just part of a bigger community effort. As the weeks have passed, and people have gradually been able to secure regular access to food, the demand for our food parcels is dropping and will shortly come to an end. However, we will only do this once we have checked that everyone we have provided food to has the support they need.

We’re incredibly grateful to all staff members who volunteered during this time, whilst continuing to perform their regular duties.

Making a difference

We know that what we are doing, as well as the work that our partners are doing are really appreciated by our residents, and it’s really rewarding when someone takes the time to tell us what it means to them.

"I would sincerely like to thank you and all of the Red Kite staff who are involved with making up these food parcels and delivering them. There was such a selection of goodies within these parcels that I did not know what to start on first. This type of thing makes me feel proud to be a Red Kite tenant."

"To everybody at Red Kite and all helpers and shop keepers, thank you for your food parcel, I really do thank you. It is people like you who have put themselves out to help others has put my faith back in this community of ours. I really do appreciate everything you are doing for us. I cannot thank you all enough, but I say a prayer for you every night to keep you safe and well and happy".

"Thanks to everyone at Red Kite that are that are doing these wonderful things".

What comes next?

When the crisis hit, all of us - both individuals and organisations alike were faced with a rapidly changing situation and had to make quick decisions on how best to respond, and as a community we really did come together. Now it feels as though we are entering the next phase, with new challenges and opportunities for us to work together on.

It has never been more important for organisations and communities to work together. We want to continue to play our part and help provide support to those key organisations that make the world of difference to people, exploring how best to use our grant funding streams to support the amazing work being done by others.

If you’re interested in working with us, or know someone that might need our support just get in touch with us at volunteering@redkitehousing.org.uk.