COVID at Christmas: how the Hub can help

Since its launch on 2 April, more than 2000 people across Peterborough have been in touch with the Peterborough Local Community Resilience Group – widely known simply as ‘Peterborough Hub’. Its role is to provide a point of contact for all local community groups and to support those who are vulnerable and in need of help and support but who are not classed as being high risk (shielded), whether they are needing assistance to source food or medicine, are requiring support around benefits, or simply feel lonely. The Moment talked to the Hub’s co-ordinator Wendi Ogle-Welbourn, who is Executive Director for People and Communities at Peterborough City Council.

How did the Peterborough Hub come about?
When the pandemic hit, there was a national requirement for the top tier authorities in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire to set up a county hub, which was responsible for meeting the needs of those people in the ‘shielded’ category – those on the list that government set up for our most vulnerable people. But also, the government said it was necessary to have local hubs. So, we set up local hubs in Peterborough, with each of the five districts across Cambridgeshire having their own local hub. I agreed that I would chair a group called the Delivery Group, which would have overall responsibility for the development and delivery of the hub work, set up under the Safer Peterborough Partnership Board, which is our community safety partnership. Basically, the Delivery Group brought together all the voluntary and community organisations, faith communities, parish councils, City Council, RSLs (Registered Social Landlords) such as Cross Keys Homes and projects like the Light Project – essentially, all of the people together who are doing things to help Peterborough residents, but under the banner of what we could do together in response to the pandemic. There are actually over 60 local voluntary community organisations that we’ve brought together. Through Peterborough City Council we set up a dedicated number in our customer service centre, so, you can call 01733 747474, say you need some help and support, and then you’re put through to our County Council dedicated hub staff. Those hub staff listen to what the person’s needs are, and then they refer the caller on to the relevant people. They triage it, if you like.

Have needs changed as thepandemic has progressed?
The main things that were needed at the beginning of the pandemic were food supplies and medication deliveries. People couldn’t go out to get their own shopping or have people to get it for them due to lockdown. But also simple things like taking the dog for a walk, or basic home maintenance – because they couldn’t get people to come in. Befriending was important too; a lot of people – not just older people – felt very lonely and isolated if they lived alone. So, some of our volunteer agencies were a listening ear and provided befriending, but we also delivered things like arts and crafts packs and activity packs for children. Some of our voluntary organisations who are a bit more specialist were also providing a higher level of emotional support where people had low-level mental health needs. More recently, there have been people falling into economic hardship because they had lost their jobs, and we were providing advice and guidance on what they needed to do in terms of paying the bills, or signing on to get Universal Credit. And then, for young people, we had Youth Inspire who provided a whole range of activities online for young people, which I thought was brilliant.

We feature local heroes Carol Avery and Mohammed Saeed in this issue – but have other efforts stood out?
Cross Keys Homes has been absolutely brilliant. They haven’t just supported their own residents – with, I think, a millionpound Be Kind fund for things their residents needed – they actually provided the link to all the other registered sociallandlords in Peterborough, so if somebody phoned up and they were living in one of the RSL properties, we’d go to CrossKeys, they’d contact the RSL that was responsible and say to them ‘This person’s been in touch with the Council, they need support…’ and get them to do it. We’ve had donations to provide iPads for people in care homes, because they couldn’t have visitors, so they could still contact their families and their loved ones. We had iPads again for those families whose children needed to do work at home online and didn’t have the equipment. There were also a lot of people who phoned in who had never had to ask any organisation or agency for help before. A lot of them were really distressed about having to do that, and I think because they were local agencies, organisations and volunteers who were providing that support, they were perhaps kinder to them as well. It wasn’t just something they had to do, it was something they wanted to do. And obviously, we have the food bank, who did an absolutely amazing job in terms of making sure everybody got regular parcels of food as and when they needed them. But just anything anybody said they needed, we were able, through that network of people in Peterborough, to meet every single need. It didn’t matter how big or small it was, we could phone up any time of the day and someone would respond. It was just amazing.

What will the Hub and its organisations be doing over Christmas?
In normal times, the churches and community organisations cook meals for people on Christmas Day who are on their own. Well, we won’t be able to do that in the same way this year, so we’ve got to find other ways to make people feel that it’s a celebration. We need to give people hope. That’s the thing – people can’t see an end to this. So, somehow we’ve got to create some joy.

Has the pandemic brought permanent changes?
What we’ve decided is that we feel that when we get through the pandemic, we want to continue working in this way in Peterborough. The Delivery Group will continue and be the forum in which we look at and respond to the changing needs in Peterborough. And they’re all really up for that. We had a brilliant presentation event on Zoom, which was attended by over 50 people, where I read out about 30 examples of things that different agencies and organisations had done. Honestly, it brought a tear to my eye. It was just amazing – the extra mile people went. And they did it because they wanted to do good in the city, for the city. So, I’ve really enjoyed actually coordinating it all and bringing everybody together. It’s been quite amazing for me.

People are often quite negative about Peterborough, focusing solely on its problems. Has this experience shown another side to the city?
I just can’t tell you how impressed I am – and proud, actually – of the people in Peterborough. I’ve worked in a number of different local authorities over 35 years, and I have to say, in Peterborough, when the chips are down, we all do come together. When the EDL came to Peterborough, we all stood side by side and said ‘We are not letting this impact on the relationships we’ve built here…’ We dealt with that without there being any big issues, and it’s been the same with the pandemic. All the different faiths have come together to support people – not just their own religion, whoever needs that support in their area, all of the different communities. We’ve put all of our differences to one side, and we are working together to make sure every individual knows that whatever their problem, however big, however small, they will get the help they need. Just phone up that one number, and we will find someone to help you.

See also: this issue’s interviews with local heroes Revd Carol Avery and Mohammed Saeed

People who need help and support should get in touch with the Peterborough CRG by visiting the Coronavirus (COVID-19) information pages or by calling 01733 747474. The hub is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Organisations offering help city-wide can also be found on the Peterborough Information Network:

Further community coronavirus information can be found in the latest (Dec 2020) print issue of The Moment and online here.

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