One hundred and twenty three days into the coronavirus lockdown and I am bowled over by the achievements that our teams, volunteers and local partners have made. They have shaped and delivered a comprehensive community offer to support and give hope to our communities living through this life changing crisis.
We often describe ourselves at The Pioneer Group as being community focused; that’s part of our heritage and DNA. It has been a common theme from our genesis with the Housing Action Trust in the 90’s, through the time of Castle Vale Community Housing Association to 2015 and right up to today.
Once in a generation, society’s institutions and social structure are posed with profound challenges that are so game-changing that all the known certainties are blown away and new ways of working are needed quickly and without any rule books to guide us.
In a few days we had to re-engineer how we would continue to meet the immediate needs of our residents and local communities through remote services and sharpened communication. But in crisis situations, just covering the immediate needs of residents isn’t enough – we had to drive deeper.
So in those first few days in late March and in April, amidst the uncertainty and worry of COVID-19, we started to address the real threats of hunger and poverty, mental health and well-being, having a job and being able to make ends meet.
Individual employees and our frontline teams were at the heart of our activity. We put together 10 different elements in our community offer and gave a voice to those who responsible for delivering each offer through weekly videos, social media updates and blogs which can be found on our website at www.pioneergroup.org.uk/news.
Our teams set the bar high in shaping our community offer and did this in partnership with our local schools, the neighbourhood police teams and especially our close partners Spitfire Services, Active Arts, Wrekin Housing Group and the Community Environmental Trust. The positive feedback we’ve had from the community has been heartening and has and given new impetus to the special community bond we have in Castle Vale as well as in our other communities in North and East Birmingham.
Our fundraising activity, overseen by our Castle Vale Charities Partnership, has brought in over £300,000 in this 12-week period to fund the different programmes and activities in our offer.
We are immensely proud of the innovation, passion and desire of the teams who have made this happen right across our organisation. Much of the work has also been on a voluntary basis and above and beyond the day job.
Of course, we aren’t just focusing on Castle Vale but in all our communities across Stockland Green, Falcon Lodge and Erdington. In particular our work through the Erdington Task Force has brought together a partnership that will help tackle the immediate, and long term, social and economic challenges that the pandemic is posing. We will continue to work with a common purpose and a new settlement across charities, housing, foodbanks, faith groups, volunteers and residents.
As we are seeing changes to government guidelines in relation to the lockdown there has been a mobilisation across our teams to risk assess and bring back our core services safely. But as we, alongside other local organisations, are doing this we understand the ‘normal’ we once knew won’t be in place for a long time yet.
Part of this means continuing to refine and develop our community offer, although some of this will change. For instance, our food supply and distribution arrangements will change from the week after next, but we will be looking at new ways of tackling long-term hunger in communities. This includes working with Spitfire Services and local schools on a summer breakfast club, continuing to support those most vulnerable households and exploring longer term solutions such as ‘Food Pantries’ and even growing our own produce!
There remains a massive challenge for our residents and communities with significant economic and social uncertainties to be addressed in the months ahead. If we carry on the way we have, our residents and our communities will be in a better place.