On Monday 23rd March, for the first time in our 18 years of service we (Community Links (South Lanarkshire)) closed our doors due to COVID-19 lockdown.  Our team, similar to almost everyone else in the country, began working remotely, making use of the latest sophisticated technology – ensuring continued support and services to and with our communities.Our community-led services, most of which were community based and volunteer ran, also closed, however, supporting our volunteers and service users in a protective and safe environment during this time continued to be a priority for us.

Our volunteers, who are always at the forefront of what we do, found themselves in a very different situation and we were concerned for them, so we set up a system where our volunteers are contacted regularly (over 45 currently active) by our staff through various communication channels including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, texting, good old-fashioned telephone calls and regular group video chat sessions.   We encourage them to maintain contact not only with us but also with each other to sustain their relationships, moral and positive mental health and well-being.  The determination and goodness of our volunteers shines through even during these difficult times, with many quickly and organically, adopting new volunteering roles in the form of assisting neighbours, family, and friends which is so important at this time not only to have a positive impact for them as individuals but also for their community.

Unfortunately not all the volunteers are in a position to support others and some volunteers and service-users are now experiencing difficulties mainly the additional financial constraints, medical or isolation issues.  We continue to be there for them to assist with anything we can whether that be sign posting to other services, wellbeing visits, foodbank referrals, deliveries of necessary items and prescription pick-ups.

As many people turn to social platforms for information, we have and will continue to use this tool to keep in touch not only with our volunteers but the wider community. Our strategy includes sharing the official messages on COVID – 19 and providing information, links and challenges to our local communities, to help improve mental, physical and emotional wellbeing – our content has been adapted to encourage as much interaction as possible.  We have added a new hashtag in addition to our regular #teamcommlinks – the new hashtag is #Quaran-TEAM

Partnership working has never been as important as it is now and we are at the very heart of this within our local areas.  Our local foodbank (Hamilton District Foodbank) is supported, helping collect donations including Fareshare, completing referrals, preparing parcels for delivery and some administrative duties. The foodbank themselves were experiencing the effects of COVID due to several their regular volunteers self-isolating which put initial pressure on the service which has now been resolved.

(Update provided by Community Links South Lanarkshire)