Lewisham Council is part of Locality's Keep it Local network, and has committed to unlocking the power of community: building strong local partnerships, sharing power and maximising local strengths. Councillor Jonathan Slater describes how working together with community organisations and volunteers has been key to the council's swift response to the coronavirus crisis.
Only by working together, as one team, have we been able to support those in need, share intelligence and respond to new challenges as they emerge.

Lewisham has a long and proud history of working closely with the voluntary and community sector to transform people’s lives. The strength and dedication of those groups and individuals has always been there but the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted just how much of the difference they make to our community. It has also challenged us, as a Council, to consider new ways of working and what we want to continue as ‘the new normal’.

Our priority in Lewisham has long been to tackle inequality. As coronavirus cases began to escalate in the UK and the Government slowly moved towards lockdown, our focus was on quickly developing a system of support for those who were vulnerable to the virus and lockdown’s many implications.

Shortly after lockdown, we launched Lewisham’s COVID-19 Response Hub in partnership with Lewisham Local, Voluntary Services Lewisham, Age UK Lewisham & Southwark and Lewisham Foodbank.

Volunteers have been key to the COVID-19 Response Hub

At the time of writing, over 2,000 volunteers have signed up through the Hub and more than 7,500 food parcels have been delivered. Many of the hub volunteers have been matched to the foodbank, demand for which has shockingly increased by over 150 per cent since this time last year. The service has been expanded to include a personal shopping or essential item service, with volunteers being reimbursed by the Hub.

Within the first few days, the Hub was receiving over 60 phone calls a day, peaking at 300 a day in the last week of April. The Hub provides food parcels and essential deliveries to vulnerable residents and those who otherwise cannot obtain them, signposts to other services, and offers telephone befriending to those who feel isolated. Due to demand, the Hub service was extended to seven days a week so it could be as reactive as possible.

The outpouring of generosity and desire to support others has been overwhelming.

The Hub is also working closely with key partners in the voluntary sector, such as Citizens Advice Lewisham, to ensure that residents experiencing financial hardship are supported effectively.

The outpouring of generosity and desire to support others has been overwhelming. I sincerely hope that, whatever the future holds, we have an army of volunteers in Lewisham who will continue their vital work in the future.

The Keep it Local principles have broken down barriers that could have prevented us from collaborating effectively

As a Keep it Local Council, we have embraced the Keep it Local principles of working with the community to transform places and lives. All of our voluntary partners involved in the hub response are local to Lewisham and the pandemic has challenged us to break down many barriers and silos that could prevent us from collaborating effectively. Only by working together, as one team, have we been able to support those in need, share intelligence and respond to new challenges as they emerge.

The economic and social ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic will be felt for months if not years to come. But it has also shown that councils can truly work in partnership with their local voluntary and community sector, and develop integrated solutions to residents’ complex financial and social situations. By thinking about a whole system approach and how services are coordinated at a local level, we can adapt to how communities will need and rely on us in the future.

Councillor Jonathan Slater
Lewisham Council

Read the “We Were Built for This” report

Locality’s “We Were Built for This” report calls for community organisations to be given the resources and trust essential to leading the recovery from the coronavirus crisis, with input from community organisation chief executives and council leaders from across England.

Read the report