Crawley Borough Council EH team is leading the way in making sure vulnerable people are receiving essential supplies.
And it has just ramped up its operation to cover East and West Sussex’s ‘tier 1’ (most vulnerable) groups.
While initially the EH team was left sitting on their hands when the lockdown was first announced, they were soon handed a large project to ensure tier 2s – those aged 70 and over – had access to food.
The team sprang into action setting up the COVID-19 community hub and also quickly took on responsibility for tier 1 people (those who have been advised to self-isolate for three months) in the Crawley area – on behalf of the county council.
As part of this work EH has delivered, for free, food and sanitary parcels to 450 tier 1 and tier 2 people across Crawley. Because this work was so successful it is now assisting both East and West Sussex County Councils to ensure tier 1s have supplies, providing a further 200 packages.
The EH team is also working with local charities to assist them in supporting tier 3s (people on benefits or using food banks). They have used their contacts in the community including charities and businesses to secure supplies, help with logistics, forklifts and transport.
EH and licensing manager Tony Baldock said: “We moved very quickly in Crawley to get this up and running. I think some councils were saying ‘We're going to do nothing for tier 2 people.’
“Because my team has been so brilliant – as they always are – we have been asked if we can expand. Others are now asking us how we’ve done it, and please can we piggy-back on?
“The leader of the council here thought it was really important to look after our vulnerable community.
“We are now moving into a charging structure because otherwise we would go bankrupt, if we carried on. But we we’ve basically now got a system in place and we can do the same thing at cost.”
The government announced that it would launch a scheme to provide supplies for tier 1 people. The county councils are responsible for administering this but Baldock said there have been problems with some of the products supplied by central government.
For instance, some of the things that turned up included six-litre bottles of squash that an elderly or unwell person would not be able to lift. His team has been able to swap out and replace these items.
The team has also been working with the third sector to help them secure supplies for the 8,000 tier 3 people in the area, and ensure they are not stepping on their toes.
“We don’t want vulnerable people that would normally be helped by those charities put in a worse position by us buying up all the stock,” said Baldock.
“We've got a good relationship with these people and are sharing resources, we're using our procurement lines to help the charities get their foodstuffs too.”
Baldock said the business community has been “fantastic” and mentioned the budget chain Aldi, who have helped them secure stock.
Peter Lamb, the leader of the council, singled out the chain in the local press for being the, “the one supermarket who, when the call came out, actually answered and agreed to sell us food wholesale so that people could get the food packages made up”.
Higgedy Pies has committed to regularly donating its products. And Gatwick Airport has opened up its border inspection post freezers, where some of these products can be stored to build up a surplus with which to supplement food parcels in case supplies run low again.
But it was not just EH working on this project. While Baldock’s team was working on pulling together and sourcing supplies, the council’s wellbeing team have been working at the “front end” of the community hub, fielding and triaging calls for food and emotional support.
EHN Extra spoke to another local authority – in Northern Ireland – which had also used its EH and wellbeing teams to quickly spring into action to assist vulnerable groups with supplies. In the Northern Ireland case, wellbeing sat within EH.
Baldock was positive about EH’s place within the council, working so closely with his wellbeing colleagues.
He said: “We've had a bit of a chequered past in that we've been all over the place in the council up to about 18 months ago, when we were taken into community services, which is really productive.
“It includes our wardens, includes people that look after parks, people who do rubbish etc and it is a much better fit for us.
“Even though my service area is distinct I'm still part of the senior management team within community services. So that is a kind of a similar thing to the NI model.
"We really play a proper part in that world with lots of cross over. We were with forward plans and strategic housing and you'd think that would be a marvellous fit, but it wasn't to be honest.”
• If you would like to get in contact about setting up a hub email [email protected] putting 'COVID-19 community hub' in the subject line.