COVID 19 Community Response Forum & Community Call
The Community Call Initiative was announced by the Minister for Housing on Friday 27th March 2020. This saw the establishment of COVID 19 Community Response Forums in each local authority area chaired by the Chief Executive of the Council. In Sligo, the Community Response Forum had its inaugural meeting virtually on Sunday, 29th March, 2020, and was chaired by Mr Ciarán Hayes, Chief Executive of Sligo County Council.
The purpose of the Forum as a collaborative entity was to lead and co-ordinate the response needed in the unprecedented experience of a pandemic facing Sligo. The Forum quickly set about considering the best ways to bring all the relevant statutory and voluntary agencies together to meet this immediate need and ensure that those most vulnerable and most impacted were supported. This multi agency forum which consisted of 24 statutory and non statutory agencies and the community sector met twice weekly from March to July and addressed a trajectory of needs which arose as the community navigated its way through the pandemic. Issues such as food provision, befriending, volunteerism and wellbeing, were discussed in a co-ordinated fashion. Recognising the need to mobilise the community and voluntary sector to assist individuals and families with their needs, Garda vetting for volunteers had to be cleared and authorisation issued to allow volunteers travel outside the 2 km limit which was imposed at the time. This involved the Council working with The Volunteer Centre, Sligo PPN and An Garda Siochana. Indeed, solutions were developed to create and match volunteers to needs arising from dog walking to lawn mowing and many in between.
The co-ordinated approach provided by the Forum ensured that information sharing was joined up and that members had up to date information to disseminate and inform their own services. Most importantly, the Forum ensured that relevant and correct information was distilled to a community level via its members and their extensive networks.
The Forum membership covered agencies from a statutory perspective such as the HSE, the Gardaí, Dept Employment Affairs & Social Protection, Tusla, An Post, Local Community Development Committee, Civil Defence, Cranmore Regeneration, and other non statutory, voluntary, and community support organisations such as Sligo Leader Partnership, Public Participation Network, GAA, Sligo Volunteer Centre, Sligo BID, Local Link, Citizens Information, Alone, IFA, Sligo Traveller Support Group, Northside Community Partnership, Order of Malta and many more.
Pictured above: Ciaran Hayes, CE of Sligo County Council ,Chairing the COVID 19 Community Response Forum meeting in June 2020.
Community Support Helpline
In tandem with the establishment of the COVID Community Response Forum, the Community Support Helpline was set up by the council as a one stop shop to take calls, emails and texts and provide critical support to people in the community who were impacted due to restrictions imposed.
The Corporate, IT and Community sections of the council worked hand in hand and in haste to establish the Helpline which was operated by council staff 7 days a week 12 hours a day from 8.00am to 8.00pm. Through this initiative, council staff connected with local agencies, community networks and individuals who were able to help solve problems on the ground in their own locality. The support line staff developed a catalogue of responses to frequently asked questions and set about solving challenges for its callers from food deliveries, requests for hot food, pharmacy collections and transport queries.
Working in tandem with the PPN, staff of the Community Support Help line quickly set about researching services in Sligo that were open to address some of the queries received. Indeed the important liaison with volunteers via the support line meant that important local knowledge was added to the information that was being gathered and in turn fed into the PPN’s useful databank of community groups and services available. This was mapped geographically to easily identify both community and voluntary groups on the ground who were willing to assist callers to the support line for everyday tasks. The PPN registered and mapped over 80+ groups who were involved with the Forum response efforts.
Key Activities of the Sligo Community Response Forum
Transportation to medical appointments and delivery of essential medical supplies
Transport to testing centres was initially included in the remit of the Community Forum but this was reduced to non-Covid related transport requests only and the Order of Malta and Sligo Civil Defence took on many trips for members of the community to hospital appointments and clinics.
The adequate provision of food to people who were in need due to a change in circumstances became apparent to the Community Response Forum from the get go.
Andersons and the Riverside hotel, which were closed due to the Pandemic, stepped up and came on board to help provide a quota of free hot dinners to supplement the meals on wheels endeavours. This was a very generous and welcome offer from the commercial sector, its self in a crisis, and was immediately oversubscribed. Other producers and retailers and many BID members came up with their own initiatives to see how they could make a contribution either volunteering or providing some produce to food needs arising.
Sligo Food Cloud Initiative
Sligo Leader Partnership CLG through the SICAP Programme linked with Food Cloud to address the provision of groceries for local families who were identified as in need. This saw a weekly allocation of salient foodstuffs to Sligo from Foodcloud. Collaboration was to the fore in this venture with Sligo County Council making available the Cleveragh Sports Complex to the initiative as a Depot for food storage and packaging with the Council’s Civil Defence making the weekly trips to Galway to pick up the Sligo supplies. This was enhanced by the donation of other food, vegetables etc from local sources.
The Sligo Food Initiative of the Community Response Forum, coordinated by Sligo Leader Partnership in conjunction with Civil Defence and local businesses, delivering food packages to families most in need during this pandemic
Stepping up with PPE:
At the onset of the pandemic PPE was in short supply and generous local donations were made to address this shortage in getting essential PPE to those people in services and essential community positions who needed it.
Hand sanitizers were donated from GSK, face shields manufactured by IT Sligo, face covers from North West Sews and some financial donations from local business and industry were accepted by the Forum and passed on to support and equip the many volunteers working in hostels and out in the community.
Pictured above: Donation of visors being made by IT Sligo to Sligo COVID Community Response Forum.
Health & Wellbeing:
With concern mounting over the possible impact that the extent of restrictions could have on the mental health of individuals and the community the focus of the Forum moved to the coordination of health and wellbeing information including mental and physical health supports to the community and in particular those less active were essentially trapped in their homes and most feeling the impact. The Council website and social media became a focal collective location for a collaboration of all efforts emerging locally and nationally in this realm both from the Councils own Healthy Ireland programme and many other contributors. Many partners such as Sligo Sports and Recreation Partnership, HSE, GAA, Local Media, Sligo IT and St Angela’s provided wonderful quality material on a range of offers across health and wellbeing that extended to cover Play and Education. Visit https://www.sligococo.ie/Wellbeing/ for more information.
Local Community Development Committee (LCDC)
Sligo LCDC was established in 2014 for the purposes of developing, coordinating and implementing a coherent and integrated approach to local and community development. The committee is made up of representatives from the local government and local development sectors, public bodies and representatives of social, economic, environmental and community interests.
The LCDC has been to the forefront in supporting communities on the ground. The committee’s interagency structure placed it in a key position to respond to community needs during the pandemic with grants approved and issued under the DRCD COVID 19 Emergency Grant Scheme. This was a unique fund strictly designed to cover costs that community and voluntary groups incurred from being part of the community call and carrying out support activities under Covid-19. The Sligo allocation was €63,000 and saw the funding of many groups including meals on wheels providers and community groups who were active in the provision of essential services.
The 2nd Grant scheme which was administered by Sligo Leader Partnership on behalf of the Local Community Development Committee’s Social Inclusion measures was specifically targeted at the identified groups under the social inclusion programme. The sum available under this scheme was €33,923. This supported a number of projects such as on Meals on Wheels and provision of technology to groups developing local projects to support and sustain community needs.
Sligo LCDC holding a virtual meeting in April 2020
DRCD COVID 19 Emergency Grant Scheme Recipient Care Bags for the Elderly – Tubbercurry Old Fair Day
Sligo LCDC was also to the forefront in approving funding for community organisations under the Community Enhancement Programme. The Department of Rural and Community Development allowed LCDC’s flexibility to use some of this funding for COVID-19 related expenditure by community groups. On the 22nd June, the Department of Rural and Community Development (DRCD) gave notification of the 2020 round of the ‘Community Enhancement Programme’ (CEP). The allocation to Sligo LCDC for 2020 was €56,540. On August 10th an additional fund of €116,932 under the CEP was announced by the Department aimed specifically at maintenance, improvement, upkeep of community centres, and community buildings.