Local government’s proudest achievement over the past few months? Playing a leading role in the national response to coronavirus by making it possible for millions of vulnerable people to stay at home for 12 weeks, shielded from any potential contact with COVID-19, by delivering food, medicine and social care to their doorsteps.
Alongside the rest of the sector, London’s 32 boroughs and the City of London Corporation welcomed national government recognition that hubs providing services for shielding residents would need to be led and embedded on a local level.
At the time of writing, London boroughs have contacted and triaged the needs of more than 198,000 people and used local community hubs to deliver around 84,000 food parcels. Officers have made just over 232,000 outreach attempts – emails, calls, letters or texts – to vulnerable Londoners, and more than 41,000 visits to people’s homes.
Key to the success of London’s community hubs was managing demand. As well as London’s share of the 1.5 million vulnerable people identified by the NHS, boroughs realised there would be additional cohorts in need of support, including families experiencing food poverty because of the economic impact of coronavirus.
Boroughs worked hard to ensure all communities knew that hubs were being set up – hugely reassuring in the early days of lockdown, when reports of panic buying were rife. Officers also triaged potential service users to ensure they received the right level of care. This led to hubs eventually encompassing a broader range of support, including medicine deliveries, as these needs were identified locally.
Collaboration was also crucial – between individual boroughs and at sub-regional level, as well as via London Councils and pan-London resilience partners, such as London Fire Brigade and the Army. Organisations shared information on a range of topics, including storage premises and transport providers, so that borough and organisational boundaries did not hinder practical solutions that would benefit vulnerable Londoners.
“Community hubs became a credible coordinating point for stakeholders and built trust among the vulnerable people accessing services”
Another important element was engaging and working with community, faith group and voluntary sector partners and businesses. This focused the goodwill and energy of these groups, and enabled boroughs to incorporate existing infrastructure and expertise – such as food bank networks – into hubs. When issues emerged with the quality of food being delivered to shielding residents, partner organisations helped boroughs access other food sources to supplement the parcels.
As a result, community hubs became a credible coordinating point for stakeholders and built trust among the vulnerable people accessing services, reassured by the involvement of organisations they knew and the suitability of the content of food deliveries.
Setting up and running community hubs has been a real test of London local government. It has increased financial and service pressures – contributing to a £1.3 billion funding shortfall in borough budgets this financial year – but has also given us a chance to demonstrate our capabilities.
We have shown ourselves to be uniquely placed to work with community partners to create and deliver services. Our reward is not just the satisfaction of a job well done; this will be our calling card with national government as we continue to add value to the national COVID-19 response through local delivery of the NHS test and trace programme, and seek the resources to sustain our vital work.