Sam Froud Powell, ACE’s Community Support Coordinator, spoke to The National Lottery Community Fund about how ACE has responded to community need throughout the Coronavirus pandemic. You can read the full article on their website – it’s really good! Here’s a taster of it, focusing on the support we have been able to offer through food distribution and over the phone.
Support with food
“We focused on making best use of our resources, our building. We basically turned The Dusty Forge into a food distribution hub, serving pantry members and providing emergency food parcels.” With donations from local churches and individuals as well as Fare Share supplies, more food was coming in than ever before.
The pantry became a delivery service, working with reduced numbers. Some low income families didn’t qualify for free school meals, but still found it difficult financially. Those who were shielding were another priority, along with people whose anxiety or mental health issues made it difficult to shop. “We know families and pantry members who haven’t left the house over the course of the pandemic. We’re trying to be sensitive to those situations.” Similarly, “if someone’s a single parent with three or four children, it’s just not a nice experience to go to a socially distanced supermarket. Even though they’re not shielding, we recognise that it’s harder for them.”
From the start of lockdown in March until the end of June, ACE made 650 pantry deliveries, and sent out 300 free emergency parcels for people who were shielding or lacking support. Again, the aim was to fill gaps in services, coordinating with Cardiff Council to avoid duplication. They plan to reopen the pantry shop, with social distancing, at the end of August. Deliveries will continue for the smaller group who still need them, recognising that it’s a valuable option for the service. (The pantry is now open for collection by appointment as of September.)
Support over the phone
ACE’s advice line received 500 calls by the end of June (now over 700 up to September). ACE set up a new rota, with calls transferred to staff’s home mobiles, and requests logged in a central spreadsheet. Most calls are for help with food, prescription deliveries or money and benefits.
Many callers are claiming Universal Credit for the first time, and may just want to ask about how it works. For more complex problems, advisers can signpost to in-depth advice. Others are struggling to make claims online, due to lack of devices or internet skills. With a donation from Tesco Mobile, ACE distributed 25 handsets and data to people who were digitally excluded. Staff also supported people to navigate the application system.
Signposting to grant schemes such as the Welsh Government’s Discretionary Assistance Fund can help with essential items, such as replacement washing machines. “Within that cohort of 500 callers, we’ve supported people to access £15,000 of grants.”
Some of the advice line’s callers simply felt isolated and alone, and wanted someone to talk to. ACE responded with a new phone friend service, training volunteers to make regular wellbeing calls. “The support line isn’t really set up for people to have a 20-minute chat, so we’ll offer a friendly follow up call.” It’s popular with both service users and with volunteers, mobilising those who can’t take part in the practical activities.
Sam, who coordinates the practical side, feels lucky to work alongside a dedicated health and wellbeing team. “It’s really important that people are whole people – they don’t just need food and washing machines. We’re trying to provide things in a joined up way.”