One year of SCCR

The Stroud Coronavirus Community Response group started a year ago, when some individuals who were concerned about the looming pandemic formed a Facebook group. A year on, the Facebook group has over 5,350 members and includes over 3,250 posts and over 25,000 comments.

On 9th March 2020 we started to invite people to join, and by the end of the day there were 25 members. The aim was to provide a space for the community to share resources and mutual support in response to the crisis.

A year on, the Facebook group has over 5,350 members and includes over 3,250 posts and over 25,000 comments. Key information has been added to this website, which includes 120 daily/weekly updates that summarise either the activity in the group and/or the local data. In this post we have brought together some reflections from the team on the past year, and the next steps.

We also want to take a moment to recognise the extraordinary efforts of everyone who has contributed to protecting and supporting each other. Please use the comments below this Facebook post to mention the people or groups you’d like to thank.

Nadin Hadi says:

“I had literally just landed in Stroud when covid hit. I’d had a little early warning of the scope of what was coming, after meeting a pandemic flu expert on 29th February and I was bracing for a year or more, a change unlike anything I’d seen in my lifetime. I was wrapping my head around it, when I saw a call out on Stroud Sisterhood [another Facebook group], looking for ways the community could organise. 

“I started the SCCR group on Facebook on 8th March. I wanted to get clear evidence-based information out there, so people could understand what was going on, how to keep themselves and their loved ones safe –  and provide a space for organisations, groups and individuals to communicate and connect. 

“Other volunteers came forward to help with the group  and became some of the first people I knew in Stroud and were an incredible team. We spent hours researching answers to questions and finding good data and best practice 

“I got to see some incredible kindness. People putting up their hands to pick up prescriptions and shopping, walk dogs, check in on family members for concerned out of town relatives, making masks, scrubs and visors, cooking meals,  donating hand sanitiser and much more.

“I stepped back in May. The initial step up was a headlong sprint and I’m awed by James and the rest of the team’s contributions and dedication, keeping everyone informed and being a resource that people can trust. 

“It certainly wasn’t the year or the move I’d imagined coming to Stroud and it’s had its hardships moving somewhere new. Everyone has their pandemic story.  I’m curious to see what happens next, what do we take from this year, individually or collectively, how we come together again after so much time apart and what might change going ahead.”

James Beecher says:

“It feels a lot longer than a year at this point – the time immediately “Before Lockdown” is hard to remember. My involvement was prompted by a piece I read online that stressed that ‘Those who are lucky enough to be unconcerned about the virus should at least care about those who have reason to be very worried.’ A couple of friends (who had previously given me a copy of the boardgame “Pandemic” – which I can’t see myself playing again any time soon) had started talking about the virus before others were doing so, and eventually their concern about what seemed like a lack of preparedness, and a lack of seriousness in the reaction from people rubbed off on me. I had in the past been inspired by groups like Mutual Aid Disaster Relief (for instance through a short video on mutual aid work around Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina), and imagined something similar might be needed.

As it turned out, small Neighbour Network, Mutual Aid and other community support groups emerged by themselves, and at the beginning we mostly played a role of signposting to them. Alongside collating information about what was happening. Natasha, Fran and I started pulling together a daily summary of both the local support activity and the evolution of the pandemic and government response.

When things were more settled, I started an update that was more oriented toward the data on the numbers of people testing positive, or being hospitalised. This felt particularly important in the context of local misinformation, which culminated in people locally – as well as across the country – bizarrely, falsely – and insultingly – claiming that hospitals were ‘empty’. People have been very kind about these weekly updates, and the attempts our moderator team have made to answer questions about the changing government guidance/legislation… but it’s hard to know if they were the best use of the time I’ve had – though putting them together certainly helped me to get my head around what was going on (a little, anyway!).

Still, I continue to think the most important volunteer work has been by others – around supporting people to isolate, and with the wider pressures of the pandemic, getting food, PPE and face coverings to those who need them… and lately supporting the vaccination efforts.

Thankfully, the data trends are looking good lately – the numbers of infections and people in hospital have been falling. Gloucestershire continues to be one of the areas of the country with the fastest vaccination roll-outs, and it seems that together with other measures this should mean ‘lockdown’ and most of the restrictions of the past year will relatively soon be a thing of the past. I imagine the Facebook group will be needed for some time – if less used – as our local communities deal with the after-effects in terms of social and economic impacts, and the strain on emotional and mental health – particularly that of NHS workers. Lots of people talk of going ‘back to normal’, but for too many people ‘normal’ before the pandemic wasn’t great – and I’m interested to see how our community continues to look for ways to support each other and work to improve things in the months and years to come.”

Rachel Sleigh says:

“Around the same time as SCCR launched I had a similar chat about the need for a local mutual aid group in Berkeley. We said we’d talk properly later in the day, by which time I had a Facebook group with 100 members, and lots of offers of help. It felt like everyone was thinking the same way, I just created the vehicle and gave it a tiny nudge. People’s desire to help each other was overwhelming. I’d never loved my home town as fervently as I did in those early days, for the certainty I had that we would all pull together was eclipsed by how far people were prepared to go for each other.

I created little Facebook groups to facilitate neighbours, the local graphics company created a leaflet which volunteers walked miles to put through doors across the area, with phone numbers to call. This morphed into a helpline that’s still operating today. What started out as matching volunteers up with people needing help developed into a slick arrangement with our town council arranging fruit and veg from the local grocer for those struggling to access money or food, and our local Co-Op taking phone orders, which a team of volunteers picked up and delivered 3 days a week.

As time passed the Facebook group became more about information, frequently from SCCR or shared with SCCR, so when I was invited to join the admin team it seemed a no-brainer. I’m past predicting what the future will hold, I just hope we can make the best use of what we have built in our communities to address some of the aspects that have made lockdown so hard for so many.”

Natasha Wilson says:

“I got involved right at the beginning, the first meeting. It was clear to me and others that there was going to be a need for the community to pull together to support each other in lockdown. At the start I was busy recruiting people for the group (Nick), trying to leaflet my local streets and pull together local networks, find the gaps and help people find support etc. I then set up the Stroud housing offers and requests group as I could see people needed to self isolate or quickly find housing. We offered our shed to someone! I then spent every evening pulling together info for James Beecher to do the daily update. I also set up the Stroud co-listening Facebook group to enable people to find another person to share listening support with. I moved away from the SCCR group as I needed to focus on work – the need for psychotherapists has skyrocketed in the last 6 months, as the virus and lockdown has taken its toll on mental health. I’m looking forward to an SCCR drink or even a party when we can…”

Sarah Dixon says:

“It’s a bit of a blur now in my memory, but I remember having a strong ominous feeling a couple of days ahead of many of the people around me, and feeling a sense of urgency to bring people together for mutual support. I joined the group forming early on and I mostly was making posters and graphics. I also took part in the discussions of what the group needed to be doing, and the moderation, and creating content for the group. I was so grateful for the various local and national government grants which allowed me to dedicate significant amounts of time and donations to the community group and other people and projects I care about.

It’s been so important for my own wellbeing to be part of the group and have that sense of purpose so I am so grateful to the whole team. I am really interested to see how the group might evolve as this particular crisis gradually fades a little in its central importance in our lives. I hope we all can learn so much from this, and become more resilient communities and better citizens for whatever the future brings.

I have lost an old friend in Ecuador to Covid – things there have been extremely difficult for everyone, with little or no government support and much lower access to healthcare. The inequities exposed by the pandemic are something I want to focus on changing as we go forward. I also hope we can collectively memorialise the losses properly, and offer a lot of support to those most affected, even while we celebrate the return of being together.”  

Nick Turner says:

“I was discussing the early covid news with Natasha in early March 2020 and she mentioned a group was starting to help support people. I had recently been made redundant so offered my time, specifically to set up and develop the website and mapping system to share information  and links.  We registered the domain name on 13 March.  I remember at the time that people suggested this could be needed for about 6 months and me thinking it would definitely be shorter than that.  It’s still a little hard to take in that it’s been a full year. We’ll never know all the changes and upheaval and loss that people have felt but it’s good to know that the group and website helped the launch of mutual aid  groups very early on, long before any official support was available.”

Sue Flook says:

“Stroud’s capacity to pull together as a community never ceases to move me. I’ve seen this through my involvement with SCCR and this was certainly the case when I went for my vaccination at Beeches Green. It was 7pm on a cold February day, but I received a warm welcome from every one of the volunteers and members of staff. Having had the first vaccine dose feels like a big step forward, but I’m aware that we all have a long way to go.”

Martin Philips says:

“This time last year, I was away visiting friends and family oop north with my wife. The feeling was one of dread: we were in a crowded food hall and I was thinking “this isn’t safe, let’s get out”. That was reinforced when we found ourselves on Cheltenham station looking at the crowds arriving before the horse racing festival. After having a good summer despite everything, things were clearly going downhill towards the end of the year.  I only found this group around Christmas time, and feeling rather useless and needing to volunteer to do something I offered my help, albeit in a small way. The professionalism of the group is amazing, there’s not much that someone can’t help with. I fear that the group will be needed for many months to come, although the emphasis is likely to change and a better future will arrive.”

Karin Burnett says:

“I was a member of the group and was extremely impressed with the quality and quantity of posts and information that were being provided.  I work in scientific and medical research and was keeping a keen eye on the information coming through on coronavirus, such as transmissibility and vaccine development.  There is quite a lot of misinformation out there so I offered my services to the group to help with report and data checking and to seek out relevant and informative pieces that may be of interest to people using the group.”

Claire Biggs says:

“I joined the group very recently, having become aware of the statistics that the group publish every week.  I found that they helped me to make sense of what was going on; that seeing statistics and facts presented in calm, clear and measured tones, without the drama of the national news and relating to the area where I live, was reassuring and calming, even though the situation was so bad.  I wanted to help, so now I gather some of the figures that SCCR publish each week.  It’s really nice to be able to pitch in a little bit, and I’m even more impressed with what the group does and the amount of work that they all put in.”

Fran Barton says:

“I don’t think I was alone in not really getting the scale of the crisis until it was here and happening. It all happened so suddenly, even with some prior awareness. I am grateful to those in our community like James for standing up and saying, “look we need to take this seriously and prepare quickly for how we need to respond… This is important.” It was another little while until I found out about the Facebook group that Nadin had created, and I joined in in a fit of enthusiasm, also helping Tash with setting up the Neighbourhood Network in our area, making sure we had a map and a spreadsheet of all the residences, sharing the latest safety guidelines, getting leaflets through doors, adminning the WhatsApp group, helping people on Facebook find their local neighbourhood network, helping with some of the daily updates. It was a whirl.

It all felt so peaceful where I lived. In my middle-class street with my middle-class job working at home at a screen, with the countryside to walk into… SCCR helped remind me that for so many people it wasn’t like that at all. Families crammed together with no garden space, people with jobs on the frontline with little to no protective equipment, and so on.

The problem was, even in my relatively comfortable world, I burned out more quickly than I would like to admit. I couldn’t manage the work for the group on top of the day job and my own needs and my family. Community resilience is great, but individual resilience is bloody hard (is that even a thing?) The street whatsapp group sputtered, before going almost completely silent. It wasn’t what I’d imagined it would be, at all. I guess in our atomised households, most people are either just carrying on relatively fine, and don’t need the group, or are totally not fine but don’t want to join a whatsapp group or are not confident enough to use it to ask for help. Supporting a community is bloody hard work.

I am left with a huge amount of admiration for those who have kept on managing this community response, as well as their day job and their family and everything else. I think Zoe Williams is right that there are basically two kinds of exit from the full pandemic into whatever comes next: we build a more equal society and its infrastructure, or we go into an orgy of individualism. SCCR shows us one of the main ways we can sustain the better society we need, and we all need to support it, and our neighbours, as much as we are able.”

As well as continuing to post updates on infections, the vaccines and vaccination rollout, impacts of the pandemic and resources for people to support each other, SCCR will be marking other anniversaries as they come around over the coming weeks and months. Please join the conversation in our Facebook group.