The crucial role community businesses play in crisis

Crisis is when community matters most

Charlotte Cassedanne

Head of Communications, Power to Change

The coronavirus pandemic has yet to hit the UK in full. Delaying the infection seems to be the goal to reduce the strain on our NHS. Soon, there will be a crucial role for community businesses to play as the infection spreads, and Power to Change will try and support you as best we can.

On Boxing Day 2015, Hebden Bridge in Calderdale was badly flooded. Community-owned Hebden Bridge Town Hall opened its doors in response to become the flood support centre. This year’s floods were just as severe, yet the community was ready to react. When disaster strikes, community businesses are often the ones providing frontline support. From hurricanes in the U.S. to severe flooding and snow in the UK, community businesses often turn into crisis centres, coordinating relief logistics, sheltering the most vulnerable, using the trust they have built up over the years to keep local people updated.

Community businesses can help mobilise local people and coordinate volunteer efforts, which will be much needed in the coming weeks. Volunteer management apps like Twine can help. A Sheffield City Councillor was telling me how citizens will need to step up to continue to deliver adult social care if frontline council staff are infected. They’ll need a mix of volunteers. Some who are willing to deal with ‘bodily fluids’. It’s not glamorous, but it is crucial, if we want to free up the NHS to deal with more critical cases.

And we’ll also need volunteers who can keep in touch with people who are isolated to prevent loneliness. According to The Campaign to End Loneliness, people who are lonely have an increased likely mortality rate of 26% and older patients living along are 50% more likely to access emergency care services. So preventing them needing the NHS is crucial. Eden Project Communities, the National Lottery Community Fund, the Campaign to End Loneliness, Neighbourhood Watch and Next Door have created a handy 5 step Community Action Response poster to help you get local people involved.

Much of this can be done over the phone or online now as well to limit groups of people meeting in person. Community businesses have been slow to adopt free technology like Skype, Zoom or Whatsapp as their services revolve around face to face contact. Local Trust have created a useful guide about alternatives to meeting in public. This will be a steep learning curve for many but also an opportunity. Many community businesses will need to move from a community of place in person, to a community of place online to keep people connected, now more than ever.

Power to Change will be lobbying government to extend business support and relief to community businesses, and continue working closely with delivery partners to help you as much as we can.

There’s also some practical resources out there to help you put contingency plans in place for your community business including:

 

Whatever happens, community businesses will rise to the challenge with creativity and care. And we’ll be there beside you.

How is your community business preparing or dealing with coronavirus? Share your experience with us by emailing comms@powertochange.org.uk