The power of local partnerships

Karen LoftusOn International Volunteers Day, Karen Loftus, chief executive of Community Action Network, looks at how partnership working has proved essential in responding to the pandemic.

People of goodwill step up in their thousands across Dorset

Charities, community organisations and volunteers supported by local infrastructure are rising to the challenge of supporting communities through the pandemic. Community Action Network (CAN) for the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole area, Dorset Community Action (DCA) and Volunteer Centre Dorset (VCD) are working in partnership with councils and the NHS to support thousands of people through the pandemic and beyond.

In Dorset we set the tone for a local strength-based approach. We stepped up quickly to provide a coordinated response.

What does it look like?

Partnerships are the only way to prioritise resources and get things done. We have to acknowledge it’s not just the brilliant new volunteers making it happen. Many charities and community groups across the county swung immediately into action. Small community groups were created, and local charities and community organisations changed the way they operate and collaborate to make sure people get the help they need.

Local infrastructure charities CAN, DCA, VCD have been working as a team with the council and NHS colleagues, making sure new and established organisations knew where to come for help and didn’t feel alone. The work carried out by volunteers includes:

  • delivering shopping and food parcels
  • collecting medication
  • coordinating hot meals and food banks
  • befriending phone calls
  • managing money
  • patient transport
  • doorstep chats to help with loneliness.

People ready to help in their community

During the middle of March 2020, we put out a call to action to our communities. We have networks that span many different communities and have developed trust over many years, so within a few days thousands of people came forward wanting to help. Volunteers were immediately deployed to support people shielding, plus others that needed our help, quickly showing that the volunteers were making a huge difference in their neighbourhoods. Many are still friends with the people they were asked to help, building an all-important sense of community with a shared purpose. One lady told us ‘You have set me up with a lovely girl, I couldn’t wish for anyone nicer – she’s a gem’ and ‘My volunteer is a lifesaver – he’s a five star chap’. A volunteer told us ‘I just wanted to help, now I love it and want to do more volunteering.’

All of this has been done on a shoestring, but with huge amounts of community spirt, and building a reserve of hundreds of community volunteers. We’ve worked incredibly hard to keep both the people receiving help and volunteers safe. This includes guidance, training, DBS checks and acting as a point of reference and advocate for them.

Not just for pandemics

Many charity and community organisations are hanging by a thread. Nearly 60% in Dorset tell us they might not survive. Given that nearly a third of people living in England and Wales (the Charity Commission 2017) have received support from a charity, that’s very worrying. The pandemic has given a focus for leaders across our sector to work collaboratively on local solutions with each other and the public sector. We’ve learned so much and know our communities really well, this is a huge asset and it can’t be achieved by a top down national approach. A legacy from the pandemic we’re working to maintain is the momentum of people and of goodwill, with local charity infrastructure organisations working hard to make it happen.

Come and talk to us – we’re here at the heart of the community, and our only agenda is to help.


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